It’s time to abolish New Hampshire’s death penalty

Eliminating state executions says nothing about criminals who kill, but it says a great deal about a society that does not

New Hampshire has not executed anyone for three-quarters of a century. Yet, it registered the second-lowest murder rate in the nation every year of this century. Our state is regularly ranked one of the safest in which to live, and by reported crime statistics was the safest in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

The time has come to embrace New Hampshire history, and abolish the death penalty.

We do not doubt that those who support capital punishment do so from a sense of outrage at the horror of murder, and in the belief that executions serve a necessary purpose. We share that outrage, but for us the question must be asked: What purpose is served by executions?

Can the purpose be deterrence, when analysis and experience show that those who kill do not consider the sentence before they act, or do not expect to be caught, or both?

Can the purpose of executions be protection from the killers, when life imprisonment without the possibility of parole provides that protection, and in light of published reports that no state has ever paroled a person from such a sentence?

Can the purpose be to provide consistency in prosecutions, when the decision whether to seek the death penalty can be so random and so easily influenced by public opinion, political pressure, and media attention?

Can the purpose be to achieve fairness when experience shows that the decision whether to impose death is completely dependent upon the composition of a particular jury and the emotions of individual jurors in each case, and when death is imposed more upon minorities and the poor than on the established and well-to-do?

Can the purpose be to save tax dollars, when it has been well established that to seek and carry out the death penalty costs more than to prosecute and imprison a person for life? And even if an execution might cost less, wouldn’t killing merely to save money be unthinkable?

If the purpose is to provide justice for victims, isn’t justice served by sensitivity to their plight, by swift apprehension and vigorous prosecution of murderers, by adherence to the constitution, and by fair and impartial trials?

Ultimately, isn’t the death penalty more about retribution than anything else? And even if retribution satisfies personal passion for some citizens, should it justify government executions in the name of all citizens?

For us, the principle for any killing is the same: The intentional taking of human life, except in self-defense or in the defense of others, is not acceptable no matter who does the killing. Abolishing the death penalty will not compromise public safety, but it may replace rage with reason, retribution with self-respect, and enrich the character of our people as a whole.

Joseph Nadeau is an international consultant and former N.H. Supreme Court justice. John Broderick is UNH Law School Dean and former N.H. Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Categories: Opinion