We are current and former prosecutors, police, correctional officers, and other members of Montana’s law enforcement community. Some of us support the death penalty in principle, others oppose it; some of us have sought it and some of us have not. But we have all dedicated our lives to the safety of the people of our state, arguably the most important responsibility of government. After much deliberation, we have concluded that Montana is better off without the death penalty. The death penalty should be repealed and replaced with life without any possibility of parole.
First, the death penalty diverts millions of dollars, and countless time and energy from more effective crime-fighting measures. During the three decades that Montana has had a functioning death penalty, we have sentenced only 13 people to death. Only three of those cases have resulted in executions. Montana citizens have borne the costs of those death penalty trials and reversals, diverting precious resources that could make our jobs easier and bolster our efforts to keep the public safe: for example, more police on the streets and correctional officers in the prisons, upgraded equipment for police and corrections officers, and expanded resources for catching and prosecuting criminals before they commit another serious crime.
Second, the death penalty harms victim’s families with years of appeals that force them to relive the crime over and over again. Executions are irreversible. For this reason, the courts devote much greater scrutiny to a death penalty case than any other kind of case. The result of that scrutiny is a decades-long appeals process that drags victims’ families through a prolonged legal process that delays healing and causes more pain. Many of us have had to bring terrible news to murder victims’ families and have had to stand by helplessly while the system re-victimized them.
Finally, no system is infallible and Montana could choose to lock murderers away for life. Today, states across the country are using life without the possibility of parole to keep murderers off the streets with no chance of release. Montana should choose that option. Our state has seen exonerations in recent years and a crime lab that offered inaccurate information in criminal proceedings. These exonerations occurred years after legal appeals had run out. Life without parole is swift and sure, while the death penalty is neither. Life without parole is a severe punishment that expends fewer law enforcement resources, and spares victims’ families an almost interminable process of appeals.
We bow to no one in our support for tough law enforcement policies. We believe, however, that tough law enforcement policies must also be smart and effective. After much study and deliberation, we have come to believe that the death penalty is neither smart nor effective. It is a diversion from the real needs of the law enforcement community.
We support legislation to end the death penalty in Montana and replace it with life without parole.
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