Officials in more and more states are considering a return to use of the gas chamber, electric chair, and even firing squads for delivering the ultimate punishment. The New York Daily News has reported that a shortage of lethal injection drugs and questions about their effectiveness are driving the eye to alternatives.
As a strong supporter of the death penalty, I have to disagree on the effectiveness issue. The problem with the death penalty today is not the final method of implementation — although I would fully support the use of firing squads for mafia hit men who kill others with guns. Rather, the problem is with the time it takes to carry out an execution in the United States. Further, there is a glaring and long list of inmates who have been cleared of crimes after decades in prison.
Assuming the United States can overcome its problems with false imprisonment, the death penalty needs to be far swifter. At present, more than a decade on average passes between the time of conviction and the actual execution. This defeats the purpose of the death penalty, not just to punish the offenders, but to also send a message to other would-be offenders. It also costs an enormous amount of money.
Instead, I recommend the establishment of a death penalty review investigation panel, independent of the state, that imposes the death penalty. This panel should be made up of death penalty opponents whose sole purpose is to seek evidence that the convicted person was not the killer or responsible for the death for which he was convicted.
This would not be a group of people who could use technicalities to delay the execution. Only solid evidence of non-participation or proof the person was not or could not be responsible would be enough to overturn the sentence.
Using this kind of system should reduce the possibility of a false conviction or execution to near zero. (I don’t believe in perfect solutions.) It would also give opponents to the death penalty an active role in saving the lives of those who may be innocent and give an outside non-political review to each case. This tactic would also allow the time from conviction to execution to be reduced from more than a decade to one year.
Upon conviction, the one-year clock would start ticking, and the anti-death penalty panel would go to work to answer two questions: (1) did the convict commit the crime, and (2) were they the responsible party.
The speed of the executions combined with the new review system would make the death penalty a far more effective form of punishment and send a clear message to criminals regardless of which instruments are used to carry out the sentence.