Politics

Former Georgia Chief Justice Calls For Elimination Of The Death Penalty

| by Ethan Brown

A former chief justice of the state Supreme Court of Georgia called for the end to the practices of capital punishment.

Norman Fletcher was a member of the state’s highest court from 1989 to 2005, presiding over 25 executions during his tenure, Think Progress noted. Despite recently condemning the death penalty, the former chief justice upheld death sentences numerous times during his tenure.

However, Fletcher has recently had a chance to reflect on his career after receiving the Southern Center for Human Rights’ Gideon’s Promise Award for creating Georgia’s public defender program. During his acceptance speech, Fletcher admitted his mistakes and called for lawmakers to abolish the death penalty.

“With wisdom gained over the past 10 years, I am now convinced there is absolutely no justification for continuing to impose the sentence of death in this country,” Fletcher said.

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He added that the penalty is “morally indefensible” and is not thoroughly conducted by the courts. He added that is "makes no business sense." The high cost of the death penalty has come into media focus in the last few years, with an article from The Atlantic in April noting that death-penalty prosecutions "cost nearly three times as much as those seeking life sentences." According to the article, these added expensives come from "years of appeals, countless hours of testimony from experts and witnesses, and thousands of man-hours for both prosecutors and public defenders."  

It can also cost more to house death row inmates, Forbes noted last year. In Kansas, it costs twice as much to house death row inmates than prisoners in the general populations -- $49,380 per year compared to $24,690 per year, to be exact. In fact, a 2011 study in California showed that the death penalty cost taxpayers roughly $184 million each year, despite the fact that only 13 people have been executed in the state since 1976. 

During his time in office, Fletcher was seen as one of the most liberal voices on the bench, despite approving legislation that would continue the practice of the death penalty in the state, AJC.com wrote.

Fletcher also believed the practice to be somewhat unsuccessful, stating “There can be no doubt that actually innocent persons have been executed in this country.”

Top lawmakers in other states have issued moratoriums on their state’s death penalty programs. A federal moratorium previously existed, but was removed in 1976.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania recently placed a ban on the death penalty in his state. He has since received pushback from the state’s Supreme Court, questioning whether the newly-elected governor was within his authority to do so.

“I have a lot of good friends who are prosecutors who disagree with me on this," Wolf said. "But if I’m going to be the person to sign a death warrant, I’m going to want to make sure that we’re doing this fairly and that it’s the right thing to do."

Sources: Think Progress, AJC.com, WITF.org, The Atlantic, LA Times, Forbes

Photo Credit: freedomoutpost.com, thinkprogress.org