This Case Highlights Every Flaw With the Death Penalty
Today, I have a little taste in my mouth. I imagine it's similar to the taste Northern progressives had in their mouths during the Civil Rights Era, where you can't quite believe the immorality of what's going on in the South. Are we part of the same country? And why can't the Supreme Court do anything? Why doesn't the president act? How can Congress allow laws like these to stand on the books?
I don't know if Troy Davis was guilty. I have my doubts. But what I find really appalling is how the law worked in his case. Once he was convicted, his burden shifted from proving a reasonable doubt to proving his innocence. That might make sense for a drug or rape conviction, but it makes no sense in a capital murder case. No fair-minded person could look at the facts of the Troy Davis case and not have some doubt about the quality and veracity of the prosecutor's argument in court and even some of the police work that was done during the investigation. But that wasn't the standard the District Court or the Appeals Court or the Supreme Court or the Georgia parole board were using. That's wrong.
We have to treat a capital case differently. When the moment comes to carry out an execution, we have to go back over all the known facts and make a fresh assessment. We can't give so much deference to the original trial, especially when twenty years have lapsed and many parts of the prosecution's case have fallen apart or come into serious question. You cannot executive a person if there is substantial doubt about whether they even committed the crime.
The debate about Troy Davis should have been about whether he had been wrongly imprisoned for two decades, not over whether he could prove his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.
How did we arrive at a system where so much discretion is stripped away from the decision makers?
This case highlights every flaw with the death penalty. Even from the point of view of advocates of the death penalty, it took 20 years to get 'justice.' Whether we abolish the death penalty or not, this case proves that it is in need of an overhaul. Georgia might have killed an innocent man last night simply because the system didn't allow people to save him, despite the obvious doubts about his guilt.