How law school changed a police officer’s view on the death penalty
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
As a state trooper, I had preset beliefs about the criminal justice system and the individuals with whom I dealt daily. I was very conservative and looked at issues as black and white with no middle ground: If you did the crime, you needed to do the time.
I did not have much sympathy for the individuals I brought to justice. I supported both the death penalty and maximum prison sentences — controversial issues that most state and federal legislatures and leaders continue to debate.
As a law enforcement officer, I perceived society to be against these policies. I heard so many excuses for the criminal behavior of individuals that I tuned the arguments for eliminating these completely.
I was inflexible and never took extenuating circumstances into consideration. I didn't look beyond the statutes, rules, regulations and ordinances. The law was the law, and my job was to enforce it.
Attending law school was an eye-opener for me. Law school forces students look at both sides of a situation. Students must delve deep into the circumstances and reasoning behind the law, the criminal justice system, politics and society.
This intensive process challenged my views that seemed at one time to be set in stone.
For example, I enrolled in a course that addressed the death penalty and by the time it was over, the information I discovered led me to re-evaluate my position. During the class, we explored the stories and circumstances of individuals who received death penalty judgments:
- We analyzed evidence used to convict and sentence individuals to death
- We discussed the number of defendants on death row exonerated after the development of DNA testing
- We evaluated unfair sentencing practices that are based on race
Today, we are the only civilized country in the world that still enforces the death penalty.
While in law school, I also worked at a post-conviction clinic and assisted a defendant who was serving life in prison and was convicted solely on the identification made by a single eyewitness. After reviewing the case, I concluded that the conviction was a miscarriage of justice. There were major discrepancies with the witness and the testimony provided, and other key evidence was not presented to the jury.
Law school and this particular clinic helped me to amend my stance on society and the criminal justice system. Through higher education and years of hands-on experience, I learned the criminal justice system has faults and is not always fair.
Today, I am against corporal punishment. There are extenuating circumstances that need to be considered when dealing with all members of society on an individual basis.
As a law enforcement officer or member of the criminal justice system, remember that we have the power to take someone's liberty or life; and this responsibility should never be taken lightly.
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