Fast-tracking executions could be legally dangerous
The state of Tennessee is infusing its commitment to the death penalty with a new level of zeal that should worry anyone who understands that our system of justice is carried out by humans and thus is fallible.
The Correction Department and the state attorney general have suddenly pushed for the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for 10 people on death row, four more than Tennessee has put to death in the past 53 years. When such a complex and deliberative process undergoes this kind of dramatic change, we have to ask what is really driving it.
Some say that the recent death by natural causes of the most notorious killer on the row, Paul Dennis Reid, is the reason. By this argument, the state does not want to “disappoint” anyone else who wants to see killers meet the same end as their victims.
Is this the best that we can do? Even if you discount the wish by some murderers on death row that they be executed rather than spend the rest of their lives in prison, the state is setting itself up for mistakes of multiple kinds.
The state getting its hands on a new lethal drug seems to have some correctional officials very eager, whether out of curiosity or because they fear someone will mount a legal challenge to the drug because they have the chance to use it. After all, it’s only been used a handful of times in other states. Will state officials treat the 10 condemned as guinea pigs?
This is not a chemistry experiment. It is supposed to be a component of a society that strives for justice and carries certain legal rights for everyone.
Yes, quite a few inmates on death row have been there for decades. Is that worse than the cost and the consequences of botching an execution or executing the wrong person?
Tennessee officials need to stop and think this through.