As the first state in the nation to
abolish the death penalty, Michigan has a long history of taking a
progressive stance against the archaic practice of capital
punishment. Currently, the state is being forced to defend its
precedent: After the deaths of two Detroit police officers last
month, a new bill has been introduced by state Rep. Larry Julian
(R-Lennon) that calls for a new amendment to the state constitution
allowing the use of capital punishment in Michigan.
While the bill will encounter difficulty receiving the support
in Lansing that it will need in order to get on the ballot, this
move to reintroduce the death penalty in Michigan is nothing but an
overreaction on the part of lawmakers to the events of the past
Despite U.S. Supreme Court-mandated changes to the mechanism of
the death penalty in the mid-1970s, improved investigation methods,
such as the now widespread use of better genetic forensics, have
helped discredit the institution of capital punishment as having
been as responsible for the deaths of a number of innocent
citizens. In a study of 34 states in the years between 1973 and
1995, James Liebman of Columbia University found that one in 20
death row inmates were later found to be innocent.
Capital punishment is also incredibly costly, often requiring
long prison stays and expensive methods of execution. The legal
fees alone associated with the process are staggering, due to the
numerous appeals that defendants are allowed before a death
sentence is carried out. These fees often prevent poorer defendants
from quality legal representation — critical when the
difference between guilt and innocence is a human life.
Furthermore, a number of studies have demonstrated that many
minority groups are disproportionally represented on death row,
casting doubt on our justice system’s ability to effectively
wield capital punishment. Despite composing a fraction of the
population, people of color have composed a full 43 percent of
those executed since the resumption of the death penalty in 1976.
As of the fall of 2000, the Justice Department found that
minorities were many times more likely to receive a death sentence
Statistics aside, the deaths of two police officers, though
tragic, are not enough to justify the reintroduction of the death
penalty in the state. Intrinsically flawed, the practice of
state-sponsored execution should have no place in modern society.
In practice and in theory, the institution of capital punishment
falls short of even the most basic standards of justice and is
ill-deserving of reintroduction in any capacity.