How having the death penalty delays trials

The death penalty should be abolished because it is a barbaric practice. I wrote yesterday about the renewed drive to abolish it and later I came across this article that provides another reason to end it, in that prosecutors demanding the penalty results in trials being delayed. This arose in the case of the student who went on a rampage in a high school in Parkland, FL.

It’s been more than 1,000 days since a gunman with an AR-15 rifle burst into a Florida high school, killed 17 people and wounded 17 others.

Yet, with Valentine’s Day on Sunday marking the three-year milestone, the trial of 22-year-old Nikolas Cruz is in limbo.

The case could have been all over by now. Cruz’s lawyers have repeatedly said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. But prosecutors won’t budge on seeking the death penalty at trial.

Even in the best of times, death penalty cases typically take years to go to trial. In Broward County, the average time between arrest and trial is about 3 1/2 years. Some complex cases have taken up to 10 years to get to trial.

“Even if we didn’t have the pandemic to contend with, getting a death penalty case with this many victims to trial, in Florida, would have taken at least this long,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Miami. “The deposition process alone can take years, and then there are the experts and mitigation specialists.”

If Cruz is convicted and sentenced to death, the appeals would probably stretch for decades. It’s also possible the case could get reversed and sent back for another sentencing hearing or trial, forcing victims’ families to confront it all again.

Defenders of the death penalty might argue that it is precisely because it is there that Cruz is willing to bargain a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence. Although that argument makes intuitive sense, the evidence does not seem to support that idea. There is also evidence that some people plead guilty for crimes that they did not commit because they faced zealous prosecutors who threatened them with death if they did not confess.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    There is also evidence that some people plead guilty for crimes that they did not commit because they faced zealous prosecutors who threatened them with death if they did not confess

    It’s worse than that. Timothy Evans and Stefan Kisko did nothing. The one was executed, the other certainly would have been, and in any case spent years in prison and died within a year of getting out, and neither really understood the charges against them or the consequences of their pleas.

  2. says

    Rightwingnut aren’t just selevtive and racist in why they try to execute. It’s also who try to avoid executing.

    Remember the anti-abortion assassin James Kopp, who shot and mudered a doctor? He escaped to France and the US asked for his return. France said “We won’t return him unless you take the death penalty off”. John Ashcroft folded as easily as kleenex, putting up zero argument.

  3. rockwhisperer says

    The death penalty isn’t likely to go away until our culture in the US evolves beyond revenge-oriented thinking. We want PUNISHMENT. We want to hurt our criminals, and if they commit horrific crimes, we want to hurt them fiercely. Concepts like reform, addressing a level of mental incompetence beyond merely being able to tell that an action is unlawful, treating disorders that make people greatly desire hurting others, are simply not acceptable ideas. Mind you, we don’t necessarily know how to do any of those things well…yet. But from many people, I get a profound sense that the only reasonable way to deal with people who commit crimes is to punish them, preferably torture them, and in extreme cases take their very lives. When I ask why this is preferable to fixing them (assuming that such would be possible), I’m told that they DESERVE evil treatment. They caused hurt, and should receive equal, or preferably greater, hurt in return. Never mind eye for an eye, it is all senses for an eye.

    I don’t get how this makes me, my fellow humans, or my society any better. I don’t know what science currently says about the actual deterrent effect of retributive justice, but I suspect it is far less than its advocates believe. I also mostly see deterrence trotted out as an excuse. The real desire is to HURT THE [SLUR]S.

  4. jenorafeuer says

    Oh, heck, no, it doesn’t work as deterrence. It’s pretty obvious just comparing violent crime rates of the U.S. to other countries.

    And it makes perfect sense once you realize that, in order for the possible punishment to possibly work as a deterrence, the offender must believe there is a chance of being caught. There’s way too much evidence out there of people who assume they’re far too clever to get caught.

    Not to mention the way this can backfire. If somebody knows that they’re likely to be caught now and they’re going to face serious punishment, they may start thinking along the lines of ‘well, maybe if I kill all the witnesses I’m less likely to get caught’ or ‘if I’m going to be killed anyway, I might as well do something worth dying for’. The death penalty can arguably make crimes worse because people are less likely to come along peaceably.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    It comes back to this: what is the point of a penal system? IIRC, it usually comes down to:
    1. Deterrence -- to prevent possible future crime by showing that it doesn’t pay. Capital punishment demonstrably doesn’t have this effect at all, as has been said above.
    2. Retribution -- the aforementioned base desire to seek revenge against the one offending against society. It does do that… somewhat. But see also how long drawn out the process is, in the US at least -- it’s questionable whether execution five or ten or twenty years after the fact meets this requirement.
    3. Rehabilitation -- obviously doesn’t achieve this.
    4. Protection/prevention -- well, the executed party is not able to murder again, but life in prison achieves the same result, so there’s not really an argument for CP against a whole-life tariff.
    5. Justice: here’s the kicker. The only thing I can guarantee about CP, anywhere, any time, is this: sooner or later, an innocent person will be executed. And for me at least, that is the argument-ender. Nobody can reasonably suggest it can’t happen, and nobody can reasonably suggest it’s acceptable, EVER. And if you think it might be acceptable, by all means, volunteer to be the first. Oh, you don’t? Then you don’t really believe in it.

    History will harshly judge the last few nations that persist in killing their own citizens in cold blood.

  6. Holms says

    Defenders of the death penalty might argue that it is precisely because it is there that Cruz is willing to bargain a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence.

    If that was the case, the prosecutors would have accepted the plea for life immediately.

  7. says

    Another thing that has to happen is there should be no more elected positions within the injustice system. Get rid of prosecutors’ and judges’ incentives to keep adding to their conviction rates and body counts.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Having the death penalty doesn’t delay trials if the cops carry it out immediately on the street.

    It’s only liberals that drag it out and make things complicated.


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