Steven Fairlie of Fairlie & Lippy, P.C. in North Wales, Pennsylvania, was recently interviewed for a Penn State study about the death penalty. An excerpt follows:
1.) What is your position concerning the death penalty? Are you for or against it?
I am against the death penalty. It is my belief that Pennsylvania spends a billion dollars or more each year on death penalty litigation. This would not just be the costs that are estimated for conducting a trial, but also for handling appeals (often 20 years or more versus a few for a non-capital case), paying the lawyers, and housing the inmates on death row, which is done differently than in the rest of the prison. How can you justify such an overwhelming expense for a penalty that has not been imposed in roughly 20 years? Some would disagree with that estimate, but I don’t count the twice it was imposed at the prisoner’s request. What is the point of a death penalty that only gets imposed when a prisoner asks for it? Forget the morality – the death penalty cannot survive any type of cost-benefit analysis whatsoever, since it is never actually carried out. Where else do we pay a billion dollars or more for something we know we will never get?
2.) What do you feel is the main controversy surrounding capital punishment and why has this been an ongoing debate for so many years?
The biggest controversy around the Pennsylvania Death Penalty is the morality of it. Some people believe strongly in “an eye for an eye” but others are troubled by the finality of the death penalty. DNA has proven that the safeguards in our system don’t always work and that the innocent can be convicted. Life in prison actually costs the state less than putting someone to death, and allows us to try to fix the wrong if we find out, from future scientific advancements, that someone was wrongfully convicted.
3.) Do you think that life in prison is a better punishment opposed to the death penalty?
Yes, for the reasons set forth in the two answers above.
4.) Do you feel that the death penalty is necessary in certain cases in order to prevent certain criminals from repeating their crime?
No, I think maximum security prison and life without parole is sufficient to protect society from the worst of the worst.
5.) Why hasn’t Pennsylvania abolished the death penalty altogether?
The death penalty has long been popular with voters. I believe most voters are not familiar with all the facts about the costs and also tend to believe that anyone convicted must have done the crime. Based on this information, it is easy to support the death penalty. As a result, politicians are afraid to do anything other than support the death penalty as it is an issue that can cause them to be voted out of office – getting labeled “soft on crime.”
6.) What method does Pennsylvania use today to carry out the sentence of death?
7.) In your opinion what are the pros and cons of the death penalty?
The pros and cons of the death penalty in Pennsylvania are fully discussed above.