If I haven’t made it known before, I am a native of Atlanta, Georgia. My state has been the center of some controversy with a convict named Troy Davis, who has been having numerous hearings in an attempt to get his death penalty repealed. According to Amnesty International, several of the witnesses in the case have recounted their testimonies, in addition to DNA testing coming back as false. However, judges are still unwilling to take Davis off of Death Row, for reasons I am not sure of.

This news, coupled with a recent report from Reason Magazine about corruption in the North Carolina forensics lab, has me thinking about the death penalty issue.

Some shockingly horrible facts about the North Carolina criminology lab:

The report found that SBI agents withheld exculpatory evidence or distorted evidence in more than 230 cases over a 16-year period. Three of those cases resulted in execution.

The state murdered three people.

Because many people consider Georgia and North Carolina to be somewhat close cousins in policy and people, reading this report in conjunction with the Troy Davis case makes me think about the viability and ultimate legitimacy of giving the state the authority to take your life.

I am… somewhat leery of the idea of the death penalty, but that is not saying too much. I am equally wary of forced acquisition of earned money by the government also, but that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary for a functioning government and society. Our government does a lot of things that are unjust, unfair, cruel, etc. The death penalty is probably one of those things, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t necessary for the proper functioning of a society or a government.

I suppose that is the real heart of the question for me and for most libertarians. Most anything that the state does is unjust, but we accept the fact that it is necessary. Does the death penalty come under that heading? Certainly, the death penalty in a system that has these gaping flaws:

The News & Observer reports that in one case two blood-spatter specialists ran through multiple experiments in order to produce even one that would make the blood patterns on a defendant’s shorts support the prosecution’s case. The two analysts are seen on video high-fiving after finally producing the desired result.

and occurrences such as this:

A substance that police falsely identified as blood was found in Taylor’s truck. But the field tests that police use to find blood at a crime scene have a high margin for error. More sophisticated lab tests showed that the substance wasn’t blood, but a SBI analyst testified at Taylor’s innocence hearing that technicians were told to ignore these tests if they contradicted the field-test results.

certainly are not necessary. Spending time and effort to put innocent people behind bars — or to kill them — is not something that any legitimate state should do.

But even if we could guarantee 100% accurate, scandal-proof forensics results, what do we gain by a death penalty that isn’t already gained by indefinite incarceration? But by that token, what is the real difference between indefinite incarceration and sentencing someone to death, from a state-power standpoint? The process for successfully indicting, then killing someone by the state costs taxpayers much more than to permanently imprison them, and the deterrent factor has long since been under debate, if not disproven.

Meanwhile, we have handed to our government the right over our very lives. We have handed the decision of our lives to the government and get no significant benefit in return.  And yet that is something that we, as Americans, largely resist. This is a cost with no tangible benefit. A contract in which we give and get nothing back.

I am not sure I am comfortable with that.

~V.A. Luttrell