Death penalty can’t be arbitrary decision
On his last day in office, Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 death-row inmates and galvanized the national debate on the death penalty.
It was a bold move, and a wholly irresponsible one.
For one person — in particular, an elected official leaving office the next day — to wipe out the decisions of 167 judges, juries and prosecutors with a single stroke may have drawn needed attention to injustices in the system under which the inmates were sentenced, but it also exposed the ultimate flaw.
No one should have such power.
The same can’t happen in Nevada, which has a nine-member Pardons Board including the governor, attorney general and justices of the Supreme Court.
Each case should be decided on its own merits.
Nevada’s death-penalty laws do need attention to bring them into compliance with recent rulings in federal courts requiring juries to make the final determination and to resolve issues involving juveniles and the mentally retarded.
Nevada also must address the inequities which have put a disportionate number of minorities and poor people on death row. Justice for all.
Those are matters for the Legislature, which will again address the death penalty this session. If Nevada is to maintain a death penalty at all is also a matter for the Legislature, not the governor nor the Pardons Board.
In Illinois, studies and investigations have exposed horrifying abuses in the system. Nevertheless, Ryan tried to justify his actions by saying he couldn’t distinguish among individual cases because that would be like “playing God.”
He said the dealth penalty had been applied in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner.
In the eyes of the families of the victims in at least some of those cases, however, there could hardly be a more arbitrary and capricious act than Ryan’s blanket decree.