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

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…

Twelve Indian States Think the Death Penalty Shouldn’t Be Abolished

Only Tripura and Karnataka have so far told the home ministry that the practice should be done away with.

New Delhi: Fourteen states and union territories have replied so far to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ query on the death penalty, and only two of them – Karnataka and Tripura – want it abolished. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Delhi have voted against doing away with the practice, Indian Express reported.

In 2015, the Law Commission of India, with Justice A.P. Shah as chairman, had recommended doing away with the practice for all non-terror-related crimes.

“… Although there is no valid penological justification for treating terrorism differently from other crimes, concern is often raised that abolition of death penalty for terrorism-related offences and waging war, will affect national security. However, given the concerns raised by the law makers, the commission does not see any reason to wait any longer to take the first step towards abolition of the death penalty for all offences other than terrorism related offences,” the report had stated.

The ministry had then asked state governments for their opinion on this recommendation.

“We have been writing to states but only 14 have replied so far. Some of the big states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are yet to give comments. And Tripura, after the change in regime, may change its stand,” a senior government official told the newspaper.

Most of the states who think the practice should be retained reportedly argued that the death penalty acts as a good deterrent for crimes such as murder and rape. State governments aren’t alone in this belief. According to a recent study by the Centre on the Death Penalty, several former Supreme Court judges also hold a similar view.

Far from thinking about abolition, states seem to be in the process of increasing the range of crimes that come under the death penalty. Just last week, Rajasthan’s assembly gave its assent to a Bill which will send those found guilty of raping girls below the age of 12 to the gallows. Madhya Pradesh also has a similar law, and Haryana is in the process of creating one.

The argument that the states are reportedly using – that the death penalty acts as a deterrent – is one that has been widely questioned. Activists have been saying for years that in cases of rape, this is likely to encourage the accused to kill the victim, so that s/he cannot testify, rather than not committing the crime at all.

A 2009 study in the United States found that 88% of criminologists in the country do not believe death penalty to be an effective deterrent. “There is overwhelming consensus among America’s top criminologists that the empirical research conducted on the deterrence question fails to support the threat or use of the death penalty,” the study by Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock of the University of Colorado concluded.

In 2017 alone, 109 people were sentenced to death by sessions courts in India, the Centre on the Death Penalty found. This is down from 149 in 2016.

A previous report by the Centre had found that 95% of death sentences awarded are eventually thrown out by the higher courts – but only after the undertrials spend years on death row. Even more surprising was the statistic that nearly one-third of those sentenced to death by lower courts are ultimately acquitted. The Centre had also found that marginalised sections of society may be more likely to find themselves on death row – three-quarters of all death row prisoners (during the period of the study) were from lower castes or religious minorities.

Source: The Wire, March 12, 2018

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