During this legislative session, there has been renewed discussion of bringing back Iowa’s death penalty which ended in 1965. There are opponents to bringing back the death penalty who have based their opinions on financial and budgetary concerns, opponents who have religious or moral disagreements to the death penalty, and opponents who believe it would give murderers additional fame and publicity when the media covers their death penalty appeals. Without getting into those debates, I simply raise the question if we should trust the state to execute people based on their previous history of carrying out executions.
We have no idea what a new death penalty in Iowa would look like once it gets out of the legislature and there are many scientific and case studies of innocent people imprisoned and even executed that should give us cause for concern. When emotions are high, we often make irrational decisions that have unintended consequences.
Proponents of the proposed death penalty legislation claim that the new death penalty will only be used in rare cases. Whenever new legislation is proposed, it almost always starts small. As time goes by, the Overton window moves, and the legislature grants itself more power and authority by passing additional laws. Before you know it, the original law looks nothing like what the new legislation is doing.
In addition to not knowing what would be in the legislation, the government has a horrendous track record with criminal justice. The National Registry of Exonerations lists 2,164 criminal exonerations that have taken place and 353 of them listed were exonerated from DNA evidence. In 2014, a study released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claimed that 4.1% of people sentenced to death in the United States were likely innocent. In 2015, the FBI admitted that the hair analysis, which was used in 32 death penalty cases, was a flawed analysis.
Once a person is executed, we cannot bring them back no matter what evidence we later find or confessions are made. Why should we trust the legislature with the responsibility of passing legislation that would end human life when we may have such a high rate of innocent people being executed?
The role of the government is to protect life, liberty, and property. Bringing back the death penalty will not protect any of those things. In fact, based on previous studies and results we know that it can be used to end innocent lives mistakenly. Our state motto proudly says, “Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain.” How can we live up to our motto if we execute even one innocent person?
The risks are too high. We cannot trust the state to execute people. The legislature should kill this bill before it gets out of committee.
Jake Porter is a business consultant from Council Bluffs and a 2018 Libertarian candidate for Iowa Governor.
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