If anything, I’m even more opposed to police accidentally shooting bystanders or shop clerks mistaken for robbers. Well we know that happens. And yet, I’m still in favor of cops carrying guns. I’m against — absolutely against — all sorts of accidental deaths that are the direct result of government messing something up. I’m against Air Traffic Controller errors that lead to deaths, but I’m still in favor of flying and air traffic controllers. It is a scandal, given how much we spend on the death penalty and all the endless appeals, for any mistake to go as far as it has. But why is it that the death penalty is the only government function that must be abolished after a single error?The examples Goldberg cites are situations where split-second judgments are called for—and sometimes go awry. But the death penalty, of course, takes years and even decades to carry out. We've made a considered judgement to do it badly.
If you're poor and accused of capital murder, you're screwed. If you're black and accused of capital murder, you're screwed. If your lawyer falls asleep during the trial, you're screwed. And if evidence later emerges that you might well be innocent, well ... you may well be screwed.
This isn't a split-second judgment. This is a system riddled with structural problems guaranteed to produce unjust and unfair outcomes. It's a system that lawmakers have tried, over the years, to stack the deck in favor of those unjust and unfair outcomes.
Put it this way: If this was the EPA rulemaking process we were talking about here, Goldberg would be screaming bloody murder. Or, to borrow Goldberg's analogy: If police training seemed designed to produce the shootings of innocent bystanders on a regular basis, and if Congress had acted to make it easier to shoot innocent bystanders efficiently, we'd be alarmed. We'd be talking about changing that system, certainly.
It's not a single error that's the problem—though that error, if ever conclusively proven, will likely become a focal point of the death penalty debate. It's that the whole system is rickety. We shouldn't trust it with our lives.