By Adjunct Professor Paula Mitchell
This op-ed originally appeared on Justia.com.
Capital punishment in the United States is often considered in terms of its constitutional vulnerability. Does it violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment? Is the delay in the appeal and post-conviction remedy process cruel and unusual? Are condemned inmates provided with adequate representation during capital trials? Is the death penalty evenly applied? These are some of the legal issues at the heart of longstanding legal debates over our use of capital punishment.
But on a more practical level, any debate over the efficacy of the death penalty should also include a discussion of the enormous psychological toll capital punishment takes on jurors, Justices, Governors, and even executioners. These individuals have been speaking out with greater force recently about how it feels when the responsibility of taking the life of another person falls on the shoulders of an individual.
Perhaps that is what Justice John Paul Stevens (Retired) had in mind when he stated last year:
"I really think that in regard to the death penalty . . . I'm not sure that the democratic process won't provide the answers sooner than the court does, because I do think there is a significantly growing appreciation of the basic imbalance in cost-per-person benefit analysis. And the application of the death penalty does a lot of harm, and does really very little good."