Wednesday, March 05, 2008


More Harm Than Good

There is a murder case in Knoxville that is attracting a lot of news coverage. The case involves the murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom aged 21 and 23 respectively. The state is seeking the death penalty for the four individuals that are being charged for the murder. On Monday, March 3rd, WVLT (Volunteer TV) ran a story about Tennessee's death penalty in conjunction with the Christian-Newsom murder. You can view the video by clicking HERE.

Highlights of the video include District Attorney General Al Schmutzer stating the following: "if we cannot actually carry out what we say we are going to do in a reasonable amount of time, then we really need to get rid of it because I think it's doing more harm than good." You may remember that General Schmutzer is on the committee to study the administration of the death penalty in Tennessee.

I think that Schmutzer's argument is a valid one. If the intent of the death penalty is to enact the punishment worthy of that sentence, then the state of Tennessee is failing. The average death sentence in Tennessee is over 22 years. The death penalty is promised to families after the murder of their loved ones. Those who find solace in the knowledge that the perpetrator will be executed have to wait two decades while reliving the story over and over again as the inmate seeks his/her appeals. Only 3% of homicides result in a death sentence. The state of Tennessee has only executed 4 inmates since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Why is the state spending millions on a public policy that has been realized 4 times in over 30 years?

Fortunately, questions such as that are being answered in the reform oriented study committee. Those who would have you believe that the study committee has an abolitionist purpose or is holding up executions in the state of Tennessee are flat out wrong. The committee is made up of a cross-section of the law and is chaired by a pro-death penalty state senator (Sen. Doug Jackson). Executions are not occurring because the US Supreme Court is undergoing a case questioning the constitutionality of the current lethal injection protocols.

I want to thank General Schmutzer for stating what he believes. A public policy that makes promises it does not keep should not be in existence. And, a public policy that is arbitrary, capricious, and costly should not be in existence.

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