The Garden City Telegram
3/12/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Justice time

No sense to rush with death-penalty appeals.

Kristafer Ailslieger, a deputy solicitor general for the Kansas attorney general's office who has worked on death penalty cases, believes capital punishment inmates intentionally drag out the appeals process because they're the ones marching toward the executioner.

His was an interesting choice of words in that while defendants may be in no rush to exhaust their appeals, no one will be marching toward the executioner in Kansas anytime soon.

Nine inmates in state prisons are under death sentences, but none has exhausted his appeals, a condition that many find unacceptable given the time that has elapsed since some of them were sentenced to death.

A bill that would limit to 3 1/2 years the time inmates have to appeal their death sentences to the Kansas Supreme Court has been approved by the Senate and moved to the House, where it will get a hearing in the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

While few really harbor doubts about the guilt of those who now are on death row in the state, the limited time frame proposed for appeals is awfully short. If the seemingly interminable appeals process now in place is one extreme, a 3 1/2 year time frame for cases to reach the Supreme Court may be the other extreme.

Surely, there is room for compromise that will speed justice but not rush it.

Rushing justice can lead to mistakes, which include executing the wrong person.

Investigations undertaken in recent years have found multiple cases in which the wrong person was convicted of a crime that carried the death penalty. And while the right people may now be on death row in Kansas, a system that encourages speed opens itself to mistakes. Our justice system is not infallible.

Kansans recently heard about a mistake the California justice system made in the case of a Kansas native who spent 24 years in prison there for a murder he didn't commit before finally being exonerated of the crime. ...

Family members and friends of murder victims understandably want justice, but punishing the wrong person for a crime doesn't give them justice.

The appeals process should allow the time necessary to ensure Kansas never sends the wrong person marching toward the executioner.

-- The Topeka Capital-Journal