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Another View -- Kevin Avard: The price of innocence is too high

March 12. 2018 6:29PM

SINCE THE DEATH penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1973, for every 10 people who have been executed across the country, one person has been exonerated. Can we continue to live with a 10 percent wrongful conviction rate in capital punishment cases? I cannot, which is why I have introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire.

I have reached the point where no argument made in favor of capital punishment can overcome the reality that having the death penalty inevitably means that innocent people have been and will continue to be wrongfully convicted and executed. The only way to guarantee that the innocent are not wrongfully executed is to abolish capital punishment.

In fact, no one in the state of New Hampshire has been executed since 1939. This not only opens up the question of whether this punishment is needed in our state. It would also allow New Hampshire to never be in a position to wrongly execute an innocent person now or in the future if we eliminate the death penalty today.

In lieu of capital punishment, those convicted of crimes that would previously have carried a death sentence would now result in sentences of life without parole (or LWOP). People can and will continue to debate whether LWOP is comparable to a death sentence; some say it is worse, others disagree. But, my view is this: a person wrongfully convicted and sentenced to LWOP can be released. A person wrongfully convicted and executed cannot.

As a lawmaker, I can no longer support a policy that we know for a fact results in the execution of people innocent of the crimes for which they are sentenced. What does it say about our state, and us as Granite Staters, if we continue to support a policy for which the price tag is the execution of the innocent?

Our justice system will never be perfect. We should and will continue to reform it the best that we can, but the reality is that we will never be able to guarantee that the justice system never gets a conviction wrong. As a society, we live with that. We do the best that we can every day. But we do not have to support a system in which our mistakes result in the unjust execution of human beings. We can at least prevent our criminal justice system from having that worst case scenario.

Schoolchildren are taught the phrase, “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?” Imagine if our children came home to ask, “Why do we kill people who are innocent to show that killing people is wrong?” If we work together to abolish the death penalty, we will never have to answer that unthinkable question.

Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, represents District 12.

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