This week on West Wing, Best Wing Molly and I basically spent the whole time reinforcing each others opinions on the death penalty with a few side anecdotes about Tony Hillerman, murder at sea, and Kenny, Joey Lucas' sign language interpreter who is probably my favorite person in any television series. Listen to the episode here, and follow us on Twitter here.
Episode 7, which summarizes Take This Sabbath Day, has a ton of facts and we were pretty fired up when we were talking about it, unlike everyone else in that Fake White House. In this episode, the Supreme Court denies a stay of execution for a man facing the death penalty, which means the President is literally the only person who can save this man's life. The actions of the Supreme Court mean that this man was facing the Federal death penalty, which is applied in cases of treason, terrorism, large scale drug crimes and federal murder.
Murder becomes a federal crime punishable by the death penalty when someone is murdered in connection with a drug arrest (as is the case in this episode), when an elected official is murdered, or a murder for hire. Murder can also become a federal crime based on where it is done, like murder at sea, or killings on a Native American reservation.
Because of the 1885 Major Crimes Act, certain crimes, including murder, are prosecuted federally if they are committed on Native American reservations. This means that someone who lives on a reservation in New Mexico could face the federal death penalty for a crime, even though the state of New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009, thanks to the tireless efforts of State Representative Gail Chasey (in addition to being a powerful state legislator and all around amazing woman, Representative Chasey gave me my first political internship). If you ever needed proof of how racist our justice system was, this is a good place to start.
According to Molly, this tug-of-war between tribes and federal law enforcement is an issue in many Tony Hillerman books, and according to me, there is a middle school in Albuquerque named after Tony Hillerman, because there aren't a ton of famous people to name things after in Albuquerque.
We both have a lot of problems with the death penalty, which are discussed in detail on the podcast, but one of the main empirical issues with the death penalty is that it costs so much more than regular prison. Housing an inmate in prison for a year costs between 40,000 and 168,000 dollars. By contrast, the death penalty costs up to 11 million dollars a year, as death penalty trials are 50% more expensive than trials where lawyers seek life without parole. In California, it costs 300 million per execution, as death penalty proceedings can drag on for up to 25 years, costing taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars.
Seems like some of that 300 million could be put to better use, remedying societal ills, but hey, our government's priorities aren't always right. We go into far more detail on the podcast about our death penalty opinions, hangovers, liquor laws in Buffalo New York, and the dark side of the walk-and-talk, so what are you waiting for? Check out the podcast! And if you really want to support us, follow us on Twitter! We're promise to be as fun as Josh Lyman after a night of heavy drinking.