"The death penalty does not serve as a deterrent. There is absolutely no reliable empirical data to establish that the death penalty serves as a deterrence. Under our constitutional checks and balances, it is not and never will be carried out in a swift and certain manner."

Indiana State Senator Cleo Washington '85

Related Articles in this Issue

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Calls Guidelines "Political Sentencing."

Mike McCarty '90: Breaking the Cycle of Violence

Cleo Washington '85: Fighting "Vindictive Justice"

Todd Shellenbarger '87: Witness for the Prosecution?

A Judge's Defining Moment—Steve Heimann '77

Defending Church Burners and Taxpayers—Steve Riggs '81

The System's Fatal Flaw—Jim Bond '64

 

 


Magazine
Winter 1999

Law & Order in America:
"Remarkable Progress" or the Calm Before the Storm

Fighting "Vindictive Justice"

South Bend attorney and Indiana State Senator Cleo Washington '85 was co-author this year of Senate Bill 298, which would abolish the death penalty in Indiana and commute the sentence of the 44 people on death row to life imprisonment without parole. Wabash Magazine asked Senator Washington: Why must the death penalty be abolished in Indiana, and what drives you to push for this bill that has such an unlikely chance of passage?

The Indiana Constitution, Article 1, Section 18, states "the penal code shall be founded on the principles of reformation and not of vindictive justice." The death penalty is clearly vindictive justice. Although it has been found to be constitutional, it remains immoral and inhumane. When Plessy v. Ferguson, the doctrine of "separate but equal," was decided in 1896, many scholars realized that although it sanctioned blatant discrimination (constitutional) it was immoral. However, it took more than a half of a century before Brown v. Board of Education reversed the holding in 1954. I hope it does not take the Supreme Court until 2026 to rule the death penalty is by nature "cruel and unusual punishment" and in violation of the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Additionally, Indiana now has the option of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LIWP). Most of Indiana's LIWP inmates are housed in the State Prison and the Pendleton Correctional Facility at an approximate cost of $17,000 per year. I believe a detailed cost analysis would show the prosecution of a death penalty case creates too much economic hardship on smaller counties. I believe the more prudent use of the [state's] limited resources would be to concentrate more funding toward rehabilitation of those entering the criminal justice system for the first time. It would reduce recidivism and comply with the philosophy of reformation inherent in Article 1, Section 18.

The death penalty does not serve as a deterrent. There is absolutely no reliable empirical data to establish that the death penalty serves as a deterrence. Under our constitutional checks and balances, it is not and never will be carried out in a swift and certain manner. If all of the constitutional checks were removed, the entire appeals process, then there would be more merit to the argument. However, since we know that well over 50% of the cases where the person received the death penalty are eventually overturned it is more than wise to maintain the safeguards.

For example, Anthony Porter, of Chicago, came within 48 hours of being executed for a crime he did not commit (he is the 10th person freed from death row in Illinois since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977). The actual murderer recently confessed after being chased down by a group of zealous journalism students at Northwestern.

The best criminal justice system in the world will never be perfect. So long as human beings make decisions, they will also make mistakes.

Beyond these matters, a substantial majority of Indiana legislators consider themselves Christian. What would Jesus do? The entire New Testament gives only one example where Jesus dealt with capital punishment. In John 8 they brought a woman before Jesus who had been caught in adultery. They had the unmitigated audacity to explain to him what the law of Moses was "we are to stone her to death." Jesus' response was "he among you who has not sinned let him cast the first stone."

Many Christians reject his position as too liberal. But it is the only position articulated by Christ in the Bible. And the Bible is clear, II Timothy 3:16, that all scripture is given by the divine inspiration of God, not only the scriptures that fit our particular political philosophy.

Editor's note: In late February, 1999,S enate Bill 298 was defeated in committee by a vote of 7 to 4.

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