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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Death penalty is a form of torture. Abolish it

Gallows
In retaining the use of the death penalty, India is in the company of Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and the US. Top it all, capital punishment has not proved a deterrent to violent crime in India. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe must bend towards a more reformative version of justice rather than a retributive one.

At least 60 former Supreme Court judges have expressed concern over India’s criminal justice system in remarkably candid interviews conducted by the National Law University in association with The Death Penalty Project. Among the issues they have flagged are the frequent use of torture, fabrication of evidence in criminal cases, a flawed legal aid system, all of which contributed to wrongful convictions.

That’s not all. Delays in judicial proceedings -- all too common in India -- mean that undertrials often spend longer in custody than the maximum time for which they can be sentenced for the crime in question. Worryingly, despite these reservations on the state of the system, judicial support for the death penalty had not significantly dipped. There is a great deal of subjectivity in awarding the death penalty as the “rarest of rare” doctrine has been interpreted differently in different courts and by different judges.

In the words of one judge, such arbitrariness is “horrible and terrifying.” It raises questions about the very legitimacy of the death penalty, which seems to often be influenced by personal prejudices and inconsistent legal procedures. At the root of this is the broken criminal justice system. The police forces in different states are stretched to breaking point, and they are not trained in new policing methods relying instead on old forms of interrogation which are often inhuman and violative of fundamental rights.

Poor evidence collection has meant that cases either drag on forever or fall through the cracks. The Supreme Court itself has raised questions about arbitrary sentencing that have not been satisfactorily answered. In addition to the possible miscarriage of justice, there is the matter of how inhumane a long wait is to the convicted prisoner, and prisoners on death row usually wait the longest before their sentence is carried out.

As the law commission put it, “During this time, the prisoner on death row suffers from extreme agony, anxiety and debilitating fear arising out of an imminent yet uncertain execution.” It also weighed in against solitary confinement and the degrading conditions that prisoners on death row live in.

This in itself constitutes a form of torture. This form of punishment goes against the grain of democratic traditions which uphold the dignity and human rights of all individuals, even those thought to have committed heinous crimes. In retaining the use of the death penalty, India is in the company of Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and the US. Finally, capital punishment has not proved a deterrent to violent crime in India. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe must bend towards a more reformative version of justice rather than a retributive one.

Source: hindustantimes.com, Editorial, December 21, 2017


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but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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