Fails Victims’ Families

To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure. The death penalty is neither. Capital punishment pro-longs pain for victims’ families, dragging them through an agonizing and lengthy process that holds out the promise of an execution at the beginning but often results in a different sentence in the end. A life without parole sentence, on the other hand, begins as soon as victims’ families leave the courtroom and is served anonymously, outside the spotlight of the media cameras.

Neither swift nor sure

  • In Montana, it takes an average 17 years from the time of the crime to an execution. Victims’ families can agonize through over 20 years of appeals and re-trials, waiting for a final outcome in their loved ones cases.
  • In most cases, the promised final outcome of execution never comes. Over 83% of all death penalty cases in Montana are overturned.1 And most reversals occur after years of court appearances where the murderer is the center of attention. Victims’ families hold on to the promise of an execution, only to never see a different sentence imposed.
  • A life without parole sentence begins immediately—as soon as victims’ families leave the courtroom instead of leaving them in limbo for years—and is served anonymously, outside the spotlight of news cameras and public scrutiny.

The death penalty ignores the real needs of surviving families

  • The death penalty’s cumbersome and expensive process diverts millions of dollars and attention from the critical services that homicide survivors need to help them heal, including specialized grief counseling, financial assistance, and ongoing support. In most states, these services are sorely lacking.
  • The few services that are available are often provided through the prosecutor’s office, and when the criminal case is over, the services for the victim’s family members end, too.
  • For families in unsolved murders, there is the added pain of never learning what happened to their loved ones. Meanwhile, the perpetrators remain on the streets, free to kill again, while countless law enforcement hours are spent chasing a handful of executions instead of solving more cases.

The death penalty divides families when they need each other most

  • The death penalty has split families apart, forcing relatives with different perspectives on the issue to engage in a polarizing debate at the time when they need each other most. Families are asked to weigh in on the prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty at a time when they are still processing the shock of the news of the murder. They are in no position to evaluate how the long process will effect them years down the road.
  • In cases where the defendant and victim are related, families are even further torn apart. In a number of cases, for example, children must first cope with the murder of one parent and then suffer re-traumatization when the other parent is executed for the crime.

Can we make the system faster?

  • The death penalty is the nation’s only irreversible punishment. The process is longer because a life is on the line. Many of the extra procedures are legally mandated to reduce the risk of executing an innocent person.
  • Even these safeguards are not enough – at least 130 people have been exonerated from death row after wait-ing years or decades for the truth to come out. Streamlining the process would virtually guarantee the execution of an innocent person.

For more information, please visit Montana Murder Victims for Healing Montana murder victims for healing

1. Liebman, James. A Broken System: Error Rate in Capital Cases. Columbia Law School, 2000.