Why I Will Not Seek the Death Penalty as Multnomah District Attorney
As I formally launch my candidacy for Multnomah County District Attorney, I’ve been looking at the issues and responsibilities of the office and thinking about how I can take the best approach to bringing smart, fair justice to all the people of our diverse county.
I’ve listened to experts in law enforcement, addiction treatment and recovery, mental health, harm reduction and victim services. I’ve spoken to crime victims and their families, as well as past offenders. I’ve met with advocates in legal services, housing, health care and education. I’ve sat down with religious, community and labor leaders. I’ve spent hours sharing ideas with elected leaders in Oregon and officials from other countries who pursue alternative approaches to criminal justice. And I’ve heard concerns from our young people — especially people of color — about how their communities and lives are directly impacted every day by the policies we pursue in our criminal justice system.
One thing has become very clear to me: The time has come to approach criminal justice differently in Multnomah County. There are big, complex issues we have to confront together. It won’t be easy, but that’s what committed leadership and integrity in public office are all about.
One compelling ethical and moral challenge stood out as I considered running for District Attorney, and I want to address it head-on and be crystal clear about where I stand from the very first days of my candidacy:
I oppose the death penalty.
I believe it is wrong.
As District Attorney, I will not seek the death sentence under any circumstance.
Let me tell you why:
- The death penalty is expensive, inefficient, racially-biased, and does not deter crime.
- There is a great deal of evidence that capital punishment is not applied evenly or fairly. People of color, people with cognitive impairments or developmental disabilities, and poor people are more likely to be sentenced to death.
- Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984, it has cost Oregonians tens of millions of dollars, and no person has been executed involuntarily since 1962.
- The death penalty heavily burdens our state’s courts and criminal justice system. In fact, each death penalty case costs the state between $800,000 and $1 million more to prosecute than standard aggravated murder cases.
- American history is sadly full of examples of citizens being executed and later found to be innocent. In addition, more than 156 innocent people have been released from death row in 26 states. Legal experts have estimated that one innocent person is exonerated for every nine who are executed.
This is not just an issue of conscience. It is also a test of leadership, honesty and effectiveness.
The recent move of the United States Department of Justice under President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr to reinstate the death penalty is a terrible step backward. Even in these dark times, I believe Multnomah County must keep moving forward and set an example for a modern criminal justice system that works.
The death penalty in Oregon is a failed policy, plain and simple.
It does not bring closure or more justice to victims and their families. It endangers the lives of innocent men and women. It is biased and barbaric. Taking a new approach to making our justice system smart, fair and accountable to all our communities means leaving this flawed relic of American history behind.
That is why, if I am elected District Attorney, I will say enough is enough and stop pursuing the death sentence. I believe a lifetime in prison is punishment enough for even the most violent crimes.
As Multnomah County District Attorney, I will no longer waste our office’s time and the taxpayers’ money on this flawed policy. Our state’s scarce resources could be better spent funding trauma-informed services for families of victims.
Starting my campaign out with a strong statement on the death penalty may not be politically smart. I’ve had more than a few political insiders advise me to just avoid talking about it — or to hide behind the idea that, because it is the law, there’s nothing I can do about it. But that’s not who I am — and it’s not the kind of District Attorney I want to be for the people of Multnomah County.
I look forward to a serious, principled debate on the death penalty and the many other challenges facing our criminal justice system in this campaign.
Together, let’s work for a fresh start and a new approach that brings a smart, fair justice system to all the people of our county.