Dominican Sisters of Peace

 

The Justice Committee has proposed that the Congregation adopt a Corporate Stance opposing the Death Penalty. 
We believe that, in light of our Chapter Commitments to create environments of peace by promoting non-violence and to promote justice through solidarity with those who are marginalized, this is an appropriate action for our Congregation to undertake.


The Dominican Sisters of Peace [and Associates] claim our charism to preach truth with hope in God’s promise for our future.  

IT’S TIME TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY
“I realize that I cannot stand by silently as my government executes its citizens. If I do not speak out and resist, I am an accomplice.”  Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate

There are currently 30 states that have the death penalty including Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and the Federal Government. Sisters and Associates are present in these states.  The Peace and Nonviolence Committee has proposed a Corporate Stance to eliminate the death penalty. Here is our rationale.

When reflecting on the death penalty and determining a rationale for opposition, our primary resource comes from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. In the Hebrew scriptures, mercy is offered for the offender.  God grants protection for Cain, the murderer.  In Leviticus, we are instructed, “You shall not take vengeance … but love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the Christian scriptures, Jesus teaches that we are to love and forgive those who harm us.  In Jesus’ words, we move to active love and forgive those who harm us.  In its opposition to the death penalty, Presbyterian USA notes the sacrifice of Jesus, “By trading places with the guilty and enemy, by dying in place of the murderer, Barabbas, Christ closed off any sacrificial reason for the death penalty.”  A scripture-based faith perspective calls believers to stand in opposition to the death penalty.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly called for the abolition of the death penalty. Pope John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae (1995), wrote, “The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.  Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitely denying criminals the chance to reform.” In 2018, Pope Francis declared that there is no acceptable reason for using the death penalty.

Paragraph 2267 in the Catholic Catechism has been revised to state:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

Most religious denominations oppose the death penalty.  The National Council of Churches, representing 35 mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches, has opposed the death penalty since 1968.  American Muslims accept the death penalty because it is addressed in the Qur’an but believe it should apply to a small number of crimes.   The state of Israel abolished capital punishment in 1954 except for those who committed Nazi war crimes. Jewish bodies across the spectrum (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox) all recognize biblical support for the death penalty while opposing capital punishment laws and practice among secular society. Buddhist doctrines hold nonviolence and compassion for all life as a major influencing factor in all decision making so the death penalty is inconsistent with Buddhist teachings and the belief in reforming people. There is no official Hindu statement on capital punishment.  However, Hinduism opposes killing, violence and revenge, in line with the principle of ahimsa (non-violence).

Scientific studies demonstrate that executions do not deter people from committing murder, in fact, states without the death penalty have much lower murder rates. A report by the National Research Council, titled Deterrence and the Death Penalty (2012), made the case that studies claiming that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on murder rates are “fundamentally flawed.”  The 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South, which accounts for over 80% of executions had the highest murder rate, while the Northeast, which has less than 1% of all executions, has the lowest murder rate.

Race is often a factor in sentencing a person to death. 75% of people executed were convicted of murdering a white victim, while people of color are victims of murder in more than 50% of US homicides. Of the 2,738 prisoners on death row since April, 2018, 42% are white while 58% are people of color including 42% black. This compares to the general population which is 61% white, 13.4 % black and 18.1% Latino. 

Most of the prisoners on Death Row are poor.  According to the Catholic Mobilizing Network, an organization working to eliminate the death penalty, poverty of the accused is a primary factor in determining who is executed. They make the argument that poor people accused of capital offenses do not have access to adequate counsel, are often suffering from mental illness or addiction, have experienced more childhood abuse or trauma, and experience racial discrimination. Comments by prisoners on death row indicate that they know which attorneys could get them freed but they can’t afford them.

Innocent people can be and are executed. Innocent people can be and have been executed. With the creation of the Innocence Project, DNA tests have overturned the convictions of many falsely accused prisoners, however, DNA was a factor in fewer than 30 death row exonerations so far.  Since 1973, 164 prisoners have been exonerated of the crime that resulted in their death penalty sentence. The risk of executing an innocent person exists as long as the death penalty remains in practice.

One of the arguments for the death penalty is that it allows the loved ones of the victims to have closure.  Unfortunately, with the current system of appeals, the execution might not occur for many years, denying the loved ones of relief. In 2010, a death row inmate waited for an average of 178 months (roughly 15 years) between sentencing and execution. The death penalty takes away the opportunity for reconciliation and mercy between the family of the victim and the perpetrator of the crime.

The primary way that executions are carried out is through lethal injection – administering death-causing drugs via injection. It was intended to be a “humane” way of executing prisoners but can cause excruciating pain that is masked by paralyzing drugs. As late as 2013, most of these injections were composed of three drugs including sodium thiopental.  Companies producing this drug have refused to sell it to penal systems because it was not developed for executions and companies do not want to damage their reputations. Sodium Thiopental is no longer legally imported into the United States. Efforts to find a suitable alternative have been thwarted because the manufacturers of those drugs also refuse to sell them for executions. This has caused states to use different combinations of drugs which lead to ‘cruel and unusual’ suffering. As drug supplies run out, states are looking at other forms of execution including the electric chair and firing squads. It’s unclear whether the public will support these types of punishment given the possible pain and suffering.

The cost of capital cases is significantly higher than in non-capital cases. Most capital cases are limited to cities that can afford the cost of a capital trial. Death penalty cases require

  • More pre-trial preparations,
  • More pre-trial motions,
  • More experts hired by both the prosecution and defense,
  • Two defense lawyers instead of one,
  • A much longer and more complicated jury selection process, and
  • A two-phase trial – the first phase to determine guilt or innocence and the second phase for sentencing.  

In Kansas, the average cost of the defense for capital trials is about $400,000 compared to $100,000 for a non-capital trial. In Ohio, the death penalty is three times more expensive than other sentencing options because

  • Additional experts, investigation, and evidence are necessary for the sentencing phase,
  • A death sentence requires multiple appeals that can last years or decades, and
  • Housing on death row is more expensive than a maximum security prison cell (Ohioans to Stop Executions).

The Dayton Daily News reported that death penalty cases cost $3 million compared to $1 million for life sentence cases. Opponents of the death penalty make the case that the money saved from not having the death penalty as a sentencing option could be used for providing help for families of homicide victims or implementing more effective ways to reduce rates of criminal violence.

The expense of capital cases to a municipality can also impact any funds available for Victim Compensation. In 1984, Congress passed the VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) that set up the Crime Victims Fund to provide support to crime victims or their survivors. The federal fund is financed by federal criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties, and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys’ offices, federal courts, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Some states also use taxes to supplement these funds.

In summary, our Catholic faith compels us to reject the death penalty as a way to punish individuals who have committed capital crimes. The Church’s ethic of life recognizes the value of life from conception to natural death. Pope Francis has officially taught that the death penalty is not acceptable. Moreover, there are many practical reasons to end this practice including science, race, poverty, innocence, closure and mercy, lethal injection problems, and expense. We recommend that the Dominican Sisters and Associates of Peace support this corporate stance.


Dominican Sisters of Peace Death Penalty Corporate Stance -  PROPOSED

Approved by Leadership, April 15, 2019


We, the Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates, respect the dignity of human life from conception to natural

death. Therefore, we believe that the death penalty should be abolished because it is contrary to our Catholic

faith.

We urge immediate commutation of all death sentences and passage of legislation to repeal all statutes

authorizing capital punishment at the state and federal levels. We pledge our support to efforts to

abolish the death penalty. 


 

 

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