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The pressure is mounting. With arguments heard Monday in the first appeal in a death penalty case since the 1995 law was enacted, newspapers around the state have been running articles that justify the elimination of the death penalty in New York. It is amazing how Americans are so easily misled. Exaggerations and misinformation are being disseminated by anti-death penalty groups, and the mainstream media have swallowed their beliefs hook, line and sinker. Examples include a recent article in the Syracuse Post Standard saying that the death penalty is too expensive and is racially biased, to studies issued by liberal-leaning institutions of higher learning saying that innocent people are being executed. I find it necessary to continually correct and defend our state’s capital punishment statute from anti-death penalty groups, individuals and organizations due to one simple fact — our death penalty statute is a good one and has helped make our state one of the safest in the country. It is becoming fashionable to join the anti-death penalty cause because of the rapid decline in murders and violent crime around the nation and in New York state. Times have been good, and Americans are a compassionate and forgiving people. However, the “bad times” were not that long ago, when murder and violent criminal behavior ruled the day on New York streets and in local communities. That is why we cannot, and should not, rest on our laurels and think that violent criminal behavior will go away like the seasons. Like a virus, it mutates and kills indiscriminately when an opening arises. Our state’s death penalty statute has already made an immediate and far-reaching impact on the lives of everyday New Yorkers. Since the death penalty went into effect in 1995, New York is the safest it has been since the 1960s, when the death penalty was previously in existence. Although well-meaning, death penalty opponents will continue to throw mud on the justification and reintroduction of the death penalty, no matter how much statistical information confirms that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime, especially violent criminal behavior. FACTS TELL THE STORY Look at the facts surrounding New York’s death penalty. Statistics on violent criminal behavior in our state do not lie. New York continues to lead the nation in the decrease in murders and violent crime, even during the current economic recession. Anti-death penalty advocates use statistics indicating that in good economic times there is always a decrease in murder and violent crime. However, that is not the case in New York. Even though the nation and the state are in the midst of an economic slowdown, what we see in New York is a continued decline in murder, due in part to stricter enforcement of existing laws, as well as the reintroduction of the death penalty. The lawyers representing the six individuals convicted of capital murder are for the most part, challenging the validity of New York’s death penalty law by, in my opinion, insinuating that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. The claim is that on one occasion a legally sanctioned death by lethal injection went awry. In fact, in 1997, as part of an extensive public relations campaign against the death penalty, anti-death penalty groups relied on Jack Kevorkian, the advocate of physician-assisted suicide. This shows to what lengths anti-death penalty groups will go to discredit a law that is saving thousands of lives yearly. The numbers are staggering. Since 1994, murders statewide have decreased by 53.2 percent, forcible rape has decreased by 31.4 percent, robbery has been reduced by 54.0 percent and aggravated assault has decreased by 31.6 percent. In New York City, the rates are even more attractive: the murder rate is at the 1960s’ level. Why are the majority of those accused of capital murder choosing life without the possibility of parole? That is easy. Because they know what the alternative is. Anti-death penalty advocates say the death penalty is not a deterrent? I disagree. Another anti-death penalty argument is proportionality. As of January 2002, six capital cases have resulted in penalties of death. Some of these cases have been tried upstate and some downstate. Why should a jury in New York City decide differently than an upstate jury, or for that matter, district attorneys in New York City as opposed to upstate district attorneys? The problem with the proportionality argument is that proportionality has essentially been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. The concept of being judged by a jury of your peers, wherever you live, is alive and well. The fact remains that we have district attorneys and we have juries that in a democracy make difficult, gut-wrenching decisions that may be different and are hard for many anti-death penalty advocacy groups to swallow. MODEL LAW Justice is never cheap, nor should it be — to ensure that those accused of capital murder have every opportunity to defend themselves in our courts. New York’s capital murder statute is the model that many states are utilizing, as it is thorough in protecting the accused as well as the law-abiding. Our death penalty statute is a well-balanced law, and it is a major reason why New York is one of the safest states in the country. The Senate Codes Committee will continue to monitor certain cases pending before the Court of Appeals that have a direct impact on civil and criminal codes, especially as it hears the Darrel Harris capital murder appeal. My involvement in New York’s capital punishment statute spans over two decades. I and my fellow colleagues in the State Legislature have spent an enormous amount of time and energy in re-establishing capital punishment in New York, ensuring that it is a statute that could pass constitutional muster. If need be, the Senate Codes Committee will be ready for any decision by the Court of Appeals on this important public safety issue. Dale M. Volker is a Republican New York State Senator from Erie County.

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