Independent Christian Voice


There no "undo" option with the death penalty

In the wake of the apparent wrongful execution of a Texas man, conservative blogger Clayton Cramer examines the perils of today's current application of the death penalty. One of the chief reasons he opposed the death penalty is "there is no Undo button," which poses a profound problem when someone's guilt is subsequently placed in doubt. If the conviction is proven to be wrongful, you can't "undo" the death penalty if it has already been carried out. Cramer goes on to raise a very important point:
At one time, a number of states required two eyewitnesses to a murder before the state could impose the death penalty. Why? Because America was a Bible-believing nation at the time of the Revolution, and reformed many of its criminal statutes in that era to conform to the Bible. Numbers 35:30 says:
Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
Even though I disapprove of the death penalty, using the Bible's standard on this would certainly have prevented the execution of Ruben Cantu for a crime that he apparently did not commit. Liberals, unfortunately, would never tolerate writing a law with Biblical input today.
The last comment was superfluous; I, for one, would welcome Biblical input in this process — in fact, I wish Republicans and conservatives would allow more Biblical input, but include the whole Bible, not just the snippets they want to lord over others... but that's for another post. Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast also likes the idea, yet challenges Cramer on why it will be tough to enact:
That's a terrific idea, and I think Cramer might be surprised at what liberals can tolerate. The reason a two-witness rule would have difficulty being enacted isn't because "liberals" oppose it, but because prosecutors and police unions would throw the loudest hissy fit you've ever heard. Trust me on this one -- I know from experience. After the scandals arose surrounding the Tulia drug stings, the ACLU, NAACP, and LULAC teamed up with ministers and victims families from the group Tulia Friends of Justice to help pass a bill requiring corroboration for undercover testimony in drug cases. (The original bill would have required corroboration for any undercover testimony, but the final, passed legislation required it only for confidential informants or "snitches," not police officers.) Still, it has had a big impact. The biblical requirement for corroboration was very much a part of the debate surrounding the Tulia legislation, a message carried door to door at the Texas Legislature in 2001 by Reverends Charles Kiker and Alan Bean from Tulia Friends of Justice. (I've still got a copy of the flyer they distributed with a headline reading, "The Bible and the ACLU Agree: Require Corroboration for Drug Sting Testimony.") In fact, as Rev. Kiker would be quick to point out, the corroboration requirement in Mosaic law is more extensive than what Cramer cites. In Leviticus 19:15 we're told that all accusations of crime must be corroborated: "One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." Jesus (Matthew 18:16) and the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 13: 1 and 1 Timothy 5:19) both affirmed this tradition for New Testament believers. [...] Corroboration for eyewitness testimony would be an appropriate, initial reform in the wake of Ruben Cantu's wrongful killing by the state of Texas -- but it's needed not just in murder cases but for all eyewitness testimony, which is notoriously unreliable. Cantu and the Tulia cases are the tip of the iceberg -- across the country prosecutors routinely secure convictions based on uncorroborated testimony for all kinds of cases. I don't know if Cramer's suggestion (or Moses', I suppose, depending on how you look at it) is "liberal" or "conservative," but who cares? It would be a great first step toward preventing more wrongful convictions and executions in the future.
This would, of course, require our society to get past its bloodthirsty need for harsh vengeance to make sure that the justice system has convicted the person actually guilty for the crime, not the one that seems most guilty-looking. We need to honestly examine our current justice system and open our eyes to the gross disparities that plague it. If we are going to maintain a death penalty, we need to make for damn sure that we get it right. Even just one wrongful conviction is one too many.


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