Bill to shorten death-row appeals process
From left, Center Director Samuel Hyde; Center Assistant Director Keith Finley; Steve Zaffuto, director and editor at the Channel; and Rick Settoon, Channel general manager. Public Info
For death-row inmates, the time between sentencing and implementation of the death penalty often extends over a decade, reaching an average waiting period of 14 years in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice.
Louisiana Rep. Kenny Havard seeks to minimize this waiting period through proposed legislation House Bill 71, which seeks to dispose of an exemption which grants death-row inmates additional time to file post-conviction appeals.
Dr. Kenneth Bolton, head of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and critic of House Bill 71, explains the significance and mechanics of the appeals process in layman's terms.
"Since death is the ultimate penalty, states have the obligation to get it right," said Bolton. "The appeal process is designed to explore all possible issues and ensure that an innocent person is not executed. In general, the appeals process involves three distinct areas of appeal that are addressed in order; however, how these areas are addressed varies slightly from state to state: a direct appeal of the issues and facts of the case, an examination of the effectiveness of counsel and the evidence provided to the defense and constitutional issues."
Should the bill become legislation, Bolton foresees more problems than solutions will be the result.
"There will be increased cost to the state due to law suits challenging the constitutionality of the bill, an increased possibility of executing an innocent person, no real benefit to deterring and fighting crime and no real help for the families of victims to help them adjust economically, socially and emotionally to the trauma caused by the crime," said Bolton.
Bolton asserts his belief that Havard's motivations for proposing the bill are strictly political, "giving a false impression that Louisiana is really interested in the families of victims."
Additionally, the proposed bill has stirred up the long-standing debate regarding the moral issues associated with enforcing capital punishment. Keaton Northington, junior occupational safety and health major and president of the pro-life student organization Southeastern Students for Life, discusses his views against the death penalty.
"I think the purpose of society's response to a criminal act is both punishment and protection," said Northington. "But I don't think we can take away the unalienable rights that people have. I believe everyone has the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to the pursuit of happiness, just like what the Declaration of Independence says. So when it comes to the death penalty, it takes away that right to life, and as a society, I think we have the means necessary to protect society from those people without having to kill them."
Steven Calbert, senior engineering technology major and member of Southeastern Students for Life, shares his counter viewpoint that capital punishment is sometimes necessary.
"I think there are cases where someone has just lost their conscience so that killing people doesn't affect them," said Calbert. "I think that those people are dangerous. Also, I just don't think that we have the means yet [to carry out] other solutions, economically speaking."
However, Calbert agrees that shortening the appeals process could be detrimental to the Louisiana justice system.
"I think that the appeals system is an integral part of our justice system," said Calbert. "It's another chance for them to prove their innocence. I think that it's a mistake to try and [decrease the time allowed for appeals]."
The 2014 Louisiana legislative session will begin March 10 and will conclude on June 2.
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