Do Desperate Times Really Call For Desperate Measures?

Recently, lawmakers in Mexico have proposed reinstating the death penalty to deal with rising kidnapping and murder rates.  According to the LA Times, lawmakers will hear arguments regarding this amendment to the constitution next week.  Talk of executing criminals in Mexico has become more frequent by some politicians as the number of unsolved kidnappings, many resulting in murder, soars.  One such lawmaker said, “In Coahuila the death penalty is not the issue, it’s how we should kill (the criminals); by firing squad, slashing their throats, hanging or something lighter, like lethal injection.”

But let’s step back for a minute.  The reality of the situation in parts of Mexico is that the vast majority of these crimes, many the consequence of a violent drug war, go unsolved and some believe that corrupt police are benefitting by bribing drug cartels in exchange for insider information.  And protecting innocent victims becomes impossible when victims’ families refuse to report the crime to a police force they feel can’t be trusted.

Because the current administration under President Calderon is unlikely to pass any amendment to legalize state-sanctioned executions, the lawmakers pushing for such a measure need to address the real problems in the region.  Before they jump to threatening “throat slashing”, legislators need to target the causes of the organized crime wave and the police force, charged with protecting its citizens, needs to regain credibility.  How can the citizens of Mexico trust authorities to carry out justice on death row when they can’t trust them to carry out justice on their streets?

Inmate ordered off death row in North Carolina

Clinton Smith, a man sentenced to die in 1998 for the death of his daughter, was ordered off death row last week by state Supreme Court judge John Jolly, Jr.  Mr. Smith cannot read or write and has an IQ of less than 70.  He was found to be mentally retarded and, therefore, ineligible for the death penalty, according to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia.   His sentence was changed to life in prison. 

The question remains, however, as to why Mr. Smith’s death sentence was not lessened six years ago after the Court ruled that executing the mentally retarded was cruel and unusual.  And how many other mentally retarded inmates await execution despite a Supreme Court ruling intended to protect them?  Unfortunately, justice for these inmates may be tied up in subjective definitions of “mental retardation”.  Each state has its own definition, many relying on vague qualifiers such as “subaverage general intellectual functioning” and “deficits in adaptive behavior”.  Many also rely on IQ scores, with one point meaning the difference between life and death.