A Massachusetts governor’s panel has suggested a capital punishment system “as narrowly tailored, and as infallible, as humanly possible.” The group hopes it will be adopted as a model by the federal government, the military, and 38 states that now practice capital punishment, many of which are reconsidering their laws, reports the Christian Science Monitor. In a December 2003 Harris poll, 95 percent of respondents said U.S. courts sometimes convict innocent people of murder; of these, 51 percent opposed the death penalty. Public confidence in the practice has waned as new evidence has helped exonerate 60 death row inmates in 20 states.
Capital punishment is illegal in Massachusetts, which has not performed an execution in nearly 60 years.
The Massachusetts committee suggests five major changes: Only a narrow subset of the “worst of the worst” killings would be considered capital cases; scientific evidence, particularly DNA, would be required in every case to corroborate guilt; instead of proving a defendant’s guilt only “beyond a reasonable doubt,” prosecutors would need to leave “no doubt” in jurors’ minds; the state attorney general would review all prosecutors’ decisions to seek the death penalty to ensure consistency in its application; and judges would have broad discretion to turn capital-murder convictions into first-degree murder ones where they believe verdicts are not supported by sufficient evidence.
Death penalty opponents object. Says Joshua Rubenstein of Amnesty International: “We have a foolproof system now: no death penalty.”