Justice Department Promulgates New Rules on Death Penalty

The Justice Department has promulgated a new rule that would allow Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to “fast-track” federal death penalty cases, cutting down on the number of appeals. Like many things done by the Bush Administration, the new rules are flawed in both their conception and their execution.

Mr. Gonzales’ history with death penalty cases has been well-chronicled. As counsel to Governor Bush in Texas, Mr. Gonzales presided over brief and sloppy sessions for reviewing clemency requests. Often minimizing evidence favorable to the defendant and exaggerating the prosecution’s case, Mr. Gonzales helped send at least several dubious cases to the execution chamber. A man who appears to care little for justice and the rule of law, preferring a quick path to the electric chair, should not be entrusted with such powers.

The death penalty itself has debatable deterrent effect on violent crime. The obvious hypocrisy of those who espouse the culture of life while most loudly espousing this bloody form of justice aside, the country should have a true conversation about the death penalty. Many current cases are on hold because of concerns that the actual methods are cruel and inhumane. Furthermore, their are constant concerns that the innocent will be put to death in the drive for quick justice and revenge. Finally, I personally wonder if life in prison would not be a greater punishment than death: it forces criminals to reflect upon what they have done and grapple with their sins – something they most likely escape when they loose their mortal coil.

The death penalty has its supporters, and after a true debate we may decide that it is a necessary and integral part of our justice system. But we should have this debate. The new Justice Department regulations move in the wrong direction, stream lining a process that cannot be reversed.

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