Balko links to this article by an attorney named Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry about the death penalty. He calls the Troy Davis execution “an unconscionable miscarriage of justice,” yet he still comes out in favor of the death penalty. He examines many of the arguments for and against it, admitting that it has no deterrent value for instance, and says that he is “ultimately and reluctantly” in favor of the death penalty because “most of the arguments against the death penalty are bunk.”
I would suggest that arguments like this could cause one to doubt his reasoning ability in this regard:
All that being said, I haven’t broached a final argument against the death penalty, which is the risk of a miscarriage of justice. The death penalty is irreversible, and in the case of a miscarriage of justice there can be no reparation to the condemned.
And my answer to that is… That there’s no good answer. It is surely better to let a hundred guilty men go free than let one hang, and the mind reels at the thought of an innocent man hanging, as they surely have throughout history. That’s the reason why John Paul II personally opposed the death penalty. It’s also the reason why my parents and my wife do.
There are rejoinders: someone who is wrongly executed cannot ever be compensated, but can someone who was wrongly imprisoned for 10 years ever truly be compensated in any meaningful way? Punishment of the innocent is terrible to contemplate whatever the punishment, and yet society must punish and will always be imperfect.
Everyone who makes this argument should spend 20 minutes with a few people who were convicted of a capital crime, then exonerated and released after a decade or more in prison. I obviously can’t speak for every exoneree, but I’ve spoken to many. And I’d wager a good deal of my next paycheck that every one of them will tell you that (a) they’re pretty darned happy they weren’t executed, and (b) there’s a huge difference between incarcerating an innocent person and executing one.
Like Balko, I’ve interviewed people who have been exonerated after being wrongfully convicted and spending years, even decades, in prison. I would love to see Mr. Gobry try to make this argument to one of them with a straight face. No, there is no way of adequately making up for those lost years or for the horrors of being imprisoned for so long. But being let out, finally, and allowed to live the rest of your life with loved ones is still a hell of a lot better than being killed by the state. Indeed, those years after release are probably a lot more meaningful and joyous to them than most of our lives are to us because they have been deprived of those things unjustly for so long.