In a New York Times op-ed, mentioned previously in Morning Docket, Professor Zachary Shemtob and I argue that executions should be made public. More specifically, we argue that executions should be broadcast live or recorded for future release, on the web or on television.
Public execution has some unsavory connotations, perhaps dating back to the days when hangings took place before rowdy crowds in the public square. But when you stop and think about it, the idea really isn’t all that crazy….
We begin our piece with a discussion of the recent execution of Andrew Grant DeYoung in Georgia. DeYoung’s execution was videotaped so that defense lawyers could gather evidence on whether lethal injection caused unnecessary suffering (to use in a different inmate’s death-penalty case).
The videotape was not released to the public. Should it have been? Here’s what we write:
Right now, executions are generally open only to the press and a few select witnesses. For the rest of us, the vague contours are provided in the morning paper. Yet a functioning democracy demands maximum accountability and transparency. As long as executions remain behind closed doors, those are impossible. The people should have the right to see what is being done in their name and with their tax dollars.
Transparency has been a major theme of my writing over the years. With my first blog, Underneath Their Robes, I tried to shed light on the often opaque federal judiciary. Here at Above the Law, my colleagues and I reveal some of the secrets that law firms and law schools don’t want the public to know. The criminal justice system could benefit from greater transparency as well.
Although there are occasions when secrecy is truly required, transparency is generally a good thing. Having more information available helps people make more-informed decisions. If transparency can help young people decide whether to attend law school, and if it can help lawyers decide which firms to work for, surely transparency can and should be applied to something as important as capital punishment.
Looking the death penalty in the eye can help citizens decide whether they support capital punishment and, if so, how it should be implemented. As we explain:
[The need for transparency is heightened by] the current debate on whether specific methods of lethal injection constitute cruel and unusual punishment and therefore violate the Constitution….
When another Georgia inmate, Roy Blankenship, was executed in June, the prisoner jerked his head, grimaced, gasped and lurched, according to a medical expert’s affidavit. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Mr. DeYoung, executed in the same manner, “showed no violent signs in death.” Voters should not have to rely on media accounts to understand what takes place when a man is put to death.
Are there valid objections to televising executions? There certainly are. Professor Shemtob and I respond to several of them in our op-ed, which you can read over at the NYT.
Executions Should Be Televised [New York Times]
Video of a Lethal Injection Reopens Questions on the Privacy of Executions [New York Times]