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Considering the death penalty in Pennsylvania

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According to a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Senator Daylin Leach (D, Montgomery County) has proposed legislation that would end the use of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Leach believes that the capital punishment system is ineffective and too costly, both in financial and human terms.

“We are sending a number of innocent people to jail, so clearly the system is imperfect,” said Leach. “You can release someone from jail. If you execute someone who’s innocent, there’s no going back.”

And while lawmakers in Harrisburg will review the bill, its passage is unlikely. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee admitted that Pennsylvanians were not ready to accept a repeal of the death penalty, and even if they were, Gov. Rendell has promised he would veto the bill if it ever reached his desk.

We still have to give Leach credit for trying, though; whichever side of the argument you land on, it is important that we keep the debate over the death penalty active and relevant, and that we avoid complacency in the face of new ideas and new evidence. As more exonerations are secured, it becomes increasingly clear that grave mistakes can be and sometimes are made in our legal system. Even as we work to reduce and hopefully eliminate these mistakes, Leach’s argument challenges us to consider the weight of an innocent life against our desire to punish those who deserve the worst we can give them.

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