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Nancy Smith

Group Claims Capital Punishment Is Anti-Conservative and Bad in Florida

January 23, 2015 - 6:00pm

It may surprise you to discover a growing number of social conservatives and libertarians are questioning the alignment of capital punishment with conservative principles and values.

More and more -- even in Florida -- they're rethinking and rejecting the death penalty, according to the man who is carrying the message across the nation, Florida included.

"American criminal justice," says Marc Hyden, "is a system marked by inefficiency, inequity and inaccuracy."

Hyden is the national coordinator for a network of political and social conservatives called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCATDP). And he has a special interest in Florida.

"Florida leads the nation in people being released from death row for wrongful convictions, as well as by the Timely Justice Act ... not to mention there's no requirement for a unanimous jury verdict in capital cases," he told Sunshine State News.

He said of the 150 death row inmates exonerated nationwide since 1973, 25 were in Florida. Illinois is the state recording the next highest innocence number, with 20.

This is why twice in recent months Hyden has embarked on speaking tours with liberty, tea party, and Republican groups in Florida -- in the Panhandle, Tampa, Fort Myers, and Orlando.

Hyden finds capital punishment "doesn't pass the conservative litmus test" on three counts: It isn't pro-life, isn't fiscally responsible and doesn't remotely represent limited government.

"Probably the biggest misconception of all is that it's cheaper to execute a prisoner in a capital crime than give him life without chance of parole. It isn't. In fact, it isn't even close. Capital punishment is a fiscal monster," he said. "The initial trial in a capital case is the most expensive part, far more than life-without-parole trials. And it costs twice as much to house an inmate on death row than in a maximum security prison."

In fact, Richard C. Dieter of the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center confirms that death penalty trials alone can cost $1 million more than ones in which life without parole is sought.

And a 2011 California study found the cost of incarcerating a death-row prisoner can outpace the cost of housing a general-population prisoner by $100,000 a year.

In some states, a death penalty case can bankrupt a county. Seattle Times writer Jonathan Martin found that in Washington state, criminal justice costs consume 80 percent of county budgets, and administrators routinely worry about the financial devastation a capital case will cause.

Worse, says a story in the New York Daily News, states pay for the death penalty whether they use it or not. In New Jersey, prior to abolishing it, taxpayers spent more than a quarter-billion dollars on a capital punishment system that, over 23 years, executed no one.

Said Hyden, "The DNA era has given us irrefutable proof that our criminal justice system sentences innocent people to die. Evidence we once thought reliable, like eyewitness identification, is not always accurate. DNA evidence has led to hundreds of exonerations, but it isnt available in most cases.

"Despite our best intentions, human beings simply cant be right 100 percent of the time. And when a life is on the line, one mistake is one too many. "

Hyden and many of the others who espouse the CCATDP point of view believe theUnited States government has perverted the relationship between citizen and state. They point to warrantless surveillance, militarized police and indefinite detention as mainstays in our way of life in the 21st century. How, they ask, can a government that so easily disregards the fundamental principles that created -- and limited -- it, be trusted with questions of life and death?

Hyden, who previously worked for the National Rifle Association, said CCATDP, launched in 2013, is a good fit for him personally. He describes the organization as an individual- and grant-supported nonprofit, with supporters rather than members per se in all 50 states -- including a growing number in Florida. Its parent group is Montana-based Equal Justice USA.

Many of the nation's conservative-thought leaders are strong supporters, including Ron and Rand Paul, Oliver North,Jay Sekulow, Ramesh Ponnuru and Richard Viguerie.

Says Ron Paul on the CCATDP website,I believe that support for the death penalty is inconsistent with libertarianism and traditional conservatism. So I am pleased with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penaltys efforts to form a coalition of libertarians and conservatives to work to end capital punishment.

There is no visible move afoot to end capital punishment in Florida, Hyden said.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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