Viewpoint

Another capital flaw

From an editorial Thursday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

District attorneys who choose to bring capital charges often do so as an expression of the public’s outrage over a heinous crime. But a new report suggests that putting a defendant on trial for his life also can involve another sort of outrage – the pursuit of flimsy cases at high cost to taxpayers and great damage to the accused.

The Center for Death Penalty Litigation looked at problems with cases from an unusual perspective. Instead of focusing on defendants who were wrongly convicted, the center studied 56 North Carolina capital cases brought between 1989 and 2015 that ended with an acquittal or dismissal of all charges.

The finding of 56 cases is a high number over the past quarter-century given that the state’s death row population is 148. But the report found shoddy cases derailed by serious errors or misconduct.

Pursuing these cases has cost taxpayers nearly $2.4 million, the report estimates. But dollars hardly measure the full cost. Defendants in these cases spent a total of 112 years in jail awaiting trial, more than half of them based on the testimony or statements of witnesses who were found to be unreliable.

This report adds another chapter to the evidence that the death penalty and the pursuit of it can border on being crimes in themselves. The record demands that the wrongs wrought by this pursuit of vengeance be ended by the pursuit of justice.

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