As a community, we are all still reeling from the tremendous pain and anxiety that began with the tragic and shocking events that occurred at the Boston Marathon. It’s understandable that a sense of personal outrage would spark demands for retribution. Just a week after the Marathon bombings, an amendment to reinstitute the death penalty in Massachusetts was raised during the budget debate for Fiscal Year 2014. Immediately after the issue was brought up, an alternative amendment was approved, calling for an analysis of the costs of reinstating capital punishment in Massachusetts.
First, the cost of reinstating the death penalty is just one reason that the Boston Bar Association opposes capital punishment in Massachusetts. Our justice system has yet to emerge from a state of crisis and the courts can barely survive the waves of civil and criminal business already in our system. It’s impossible to imagine the extra burden on the system of a death penalty law without a massive infusion of money, personnel, and facilities. Proponents of the death penalty fail to consider the hefty costs a death penalty would impose on District Attorneys, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and the Department of Corrections
Second, mistakes do happen. Our justice system is exemplary, but it’s not perfect. As lawyers, we value the quality of justice in our Massachusetts courts, but we are acutely aware of the opportunities for and the actual occurrence of errors in our system. Mistakes are inherent not only in our justice system but also in our forensic laboratories. Recent revelations about failures in our state crime labs have been shocking. The potential for wrongfully applying the death penalty to an innocent person is substantial and scary.
Third, capital punishment does not deter violent crime. Appropriate prison sentences should be used to punish and deter those who kill.
What’s more, racial disparities in the administration of capital punishment are significant. Studies have shown that people of color receive the death penalty far more often than Caucasians.
The Legislature shouldn’t even consider adopting a law with the wide-ranging economic and social effects of capital punishment without understanding its current economic and social impacts. The Legislature should focus on ways to immediately improve our criminal justice system by ensuring the entire system is adequately funded.
The law must provide justice in every single case. This means adequately funded courts, ensuring high quality defense representation in all criminal cases, along with improvements and upgraded standards for our crime labs. Rather than call for the restoration of the death penalty in Massachusetts, we should look at the problems of violence in our society in a more comprehensive way. The death penalty is not the solution.
– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
Washington, D.C. – Here for an American Bar Association lobbying day on Capitol Hill that will emphasize the need for federal funding of legal aid for poor people, I had an interesting conversation with a guy whose accent quickly gave him away as being from a state with elected judges and a reputation of “pay to play” justice. Realizing I was from Massachusetts, he seemed eager to talk about the Boston Marathon. He knew a lot about the route, Heartbreak Hill, which he told me is actually just 4 rolling hills between mile 20 and 21. He’s read a lot of books on what it takes to be successful running a marathon. This brings me to his bad sports analogy.
Just as I was about to wish him good luck on his Hill visits , he said that one could equate preparing for and attending ABA Day in Washington to training for a marathon. I had to hear him out.
A little background on my southwestern colleague’s DC visit compared to mine. . . He’s spending 5 days in DC — with two full days before the two day meeting. By contrast, the Massachusetts contingency is squeezing everything into one jam packed day (following a welcome dinner the evening before). He says he spends his first two days walking the route between the Senate and Congressional office buildings. He likes to scope out the public entrances and assess how crowded the doors are in the morning at the very time he would be arriving for his meetings.
As he said, marathoners do this too. They read about the course, drive the course and some even run parts of the course during training. I believe him. He’s meeting with 3 members of his Congressional delegation tomorrow and three on Thursday.
We are meeting with 8 members of our delegation starting at 9:30 a.m. today. Our last meeting begins at 3:45. Here’s hoping this gives us enough time to make our 6:30 p.m. flight back to Boston. I’m already wondering if I’m going to remember which building is next to which and whether or not we have enough time to get from a 10:30 am meeting in Rayburn to a 11:00 am meeting in Longworth.
My colleague offered three comparisons between our lobbying day tomorrow and a marathon:
(1) Lobbying days and marathons are long and difficult. I’m not so sure I’d describe the lobbying day as difficult per se. Exhausting yes but not difficult.
(2) Lobbying days and marathons require staying on the course. Why run over 26 miles if you can’t stay on course? We intend to take full advantage of the time we have during our meetings to outline the importance of Legal Services Corporation. So I won’t take the time to ask Mike Capuano what happened in the primary and to pull Scott Brown aside and ask him if he’s pinched himself yet.
(3) Lobbying days and marathons require breaks and staying hydrated. I’m convinced we’re not going to have more than a quick lunch break tomorrow. So I really hope the ABA provided boxed lunch will be the fuel we need to get through our afternoon meetings.
The marathon analogy is a great lesson on persistence and staying on course. Marathons and ABA Day in DC are not for the weak or weary — no matter if you spread your meetings out over two full days or if you cram 8 meetings into a little more than 6 hours. Being from Massachusetts we are lucky that our Congressional delegation has such a strong history of support for LSC. Legal Services Corporation is the nonprofit agency that receives and disburses congressional funding to legal aid organizations. The BBA’s Volunteer Lawyers Project is one of their beneficiaries and last year Massachusetts received over $6 million in funding from LSC. We will be lobbying on two specific issues. The first issue is the reauthorization for LSC. LSC has been operating since 1981 without a renewed authorization and exists by virtue of its annual appropriation. The second issue we are looking for support is for a $20 million increase for LSC.
While our approach to the effort may resemble more of a full sprint than a marathon we will work hard to urge Congress to support legal aid.
– Kathleen Joyce