Death to the Death Penalty

By Molly Jager

It’s time to kill the death penalty. A Libertarian organization with 900 chapters in universities across the states called The Young Americans for Liberty, hosted a panel discussion on reasons to repeal the death penalty on October 16th. The panel, held at the University of Utah featured six speakers, all of whom are trained in law and have an interest in policy reform with regards to the legal system and death penalty proceedings.

One may not expect a conservative organization to host such a panel. It seems it would fit the interest of conservatives to keep the death penalty for reasons like, money in the prison system and Reagan-esque toughness on crime. The moderator introduced the panel and outlined the beliefs behind Young Americans for Freedom, explaining why a conservative group would oppose the death penalty. Keeping consistent with most Republican ideologies, he relates the sanctity of life and small government to their issues with the death penalty–We cannot uphold the sanctity of life while advocating for the death penalty. Reducing the size and scope of government would mean that no government should be able to kill one of its citizens. Capital punishment does not reflect a small, hands-off government.

This perception was further shifted by Pope Francis’ address to a general council recently remarking that the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel”, and that, “however grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.” Meaning human life is sacred and the death penalty objectifies human life and violates it by threatening to end it. This stance is poised to change the Catechism of the Catholic Church which has previously condemned use of the death penalty without taking a moral stance on the matter.

The hour-and-a-half-long discussion was riveting. From philosophical qualms, to case studies of innocent folks getting executed at the hand of the state, the conversation always reverts to a broken system. The death penalty is often used as a bargaining chip to more certain cases forward in court, or to get a false confession from the defendant. These cases can take decades and often millions of dollars to process, $1.6 million more than sentencing someone with life without the possibility of parole. These cases embolden the defendant with the extra media coverage they receive, while denying victim’s families the ability to heal as they must be present in trial with the defendant over and over again.

“How can we have a perfect solution in an imperfect system?” poses Janise Anderson, University of Utah law professor and Legal director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project. Short answer: we can’t.

The Facts:

The death penalty is already dying. National support for this policy is at its lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. During the 2016 state legislative session, Senator Steve Urquhart sponsored SB 189 which would have repealed the death penalty for future cases in Utah. This bill passed through the senate, but fell short by eight votes in the house. The 9 people who remain on death row will still have to serve their sentence. Despite this loss, folks who support the repeal see this as decisive step in the right direction. The panelists had suggested that the same legislation will be introduced in the 2018 session.

Never forget the importance of vocalizing support or dissent as a constituent. To learn more about ongoing action refer to the Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty  and Rocky Mountain Innocence Project. You can also call and to write your local representative.


Thank you to the panelists who spoke at the event:

– Marina Lowe – Legislative & Policy Counsel at ACLU – UT

– Jensie Anderson – Legal Director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project & University of Utah Law Professor

– Jean Welch Hill – Government Liaison & Director of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission of the Diocese of Salt Lake City

– Lindsey Layer – Federal Public Defender, Capital Habeas Unit

– Ralph Dellapiana – Director of Utahns for Alternative to the Death Penalty

– Darcy Van Orden – Executive Director of the Utah Justice Coalition

– Kevin Greene – State Director for Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty

This article was originally published on October 26, 2017.