As Christians prepare for Good Friday, Tennessee’s legislature is marking the occasion by making the electric chair the state’s method of execution if lethal injection is deemed unconstitutional or if the essential ingredients to carry out the lethal injection process are unavailable.
Needless to say the irony of the passage of the “Capital Punishment Enforcement Act” during the same week Jesus himself was executed by a Roman capital punishment enforcement act is profound. And the fact this action comes the same week that New Hampshire’s legislature is closer than ever to repeal only compounds the irony.
It would be easy for those of us in Tennessee who long for the death penalty’s demise to lose heart given this bill’s passage. But we shouldn’t.
This tragic attempt to “fix” the system actually demonstrates exactly what we have been saying: citizens are growing more and more frustrated with the state of the death penalty system and want to see change. However, this particular change is likely to only make things worse, creating an even longer and more expensive process with the inevitable litigation that will accompany this legislation.
In fact, such legislative “fixes” aren’t unprecedented in other states that have finally repealed the death penalty.
In 1995, Connecticut passed legislation that attempted to speed up the death penalty process and make the system more workable. It did neither, and frustration continued until repeal was achieved in 2012.
In 2009, the Maryland legislature attempted to make sure the death penalty did not result in the execution of an innocent person. The result was a system that did not limit this risk but instead allowed death penalty prosecutions on cases that involved only certain types of evidence–cases that were not necessarily the worst of the worst. Murder victims’ families continued to be divided and drawn through an endless process, and according to law enforcement, the death penalty was not very workable. Maryland repealed its death penalty last year.
What this bill does is remind us that we must rededicate ourselves to educating Tennesseans about why such ill-advised legislation only makes things worse. There is simply no fixing the death penalty, and the sooner our lawmakers figure that out, the better off our state will be.
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