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Opening Arguments

Right to view

Republican State Sen. Tom Wyss of Fort Wayne faxed me a copy of legislation he's introducing to put a right-to-view provision into Indiana's death-penalty statute. (It's not available online at the legislative site yet, but when it is, it should be Senate Bill 160). Under current law, relatives of the person being executed can view the execution, but family members of the victims can't. Wyss' bill would reduce from 10 to five the number of friends or relatives of the convicted person who may attend and allow up to "eight adult members of the immediate family of the victim to be present at an execution." (If there was more than one victim, the total number of relatives still can't exceed eight, and the Department of Corrections is supposed to develop procedures to choose who can be present at the execution if there are requests from more than eight people).

Wyss told me he doesn't know if it is true that seeing an execution would "really bring closure" for the vitcims' family members but that they should be given the option anyway. I agree with both sentiments. There are good reasons for victims' relatives not to view the execution, including the fact that it might leave them more agonized than relieved. But let them make the call and decide whether it's important to them or not.

In at least one state's experience, more executions have victim witnesses as time goes on:

In 1997, twenty-three out of thirty-seven executions had victim witnesses. In 1998, seventeen of twenty executions had victim witnesses, and in 1999, twenty-nine of thirty-five executions had victim witnesses. In 2000, thirty-four of forty executions had victim witnesses. In 2001, fourteen of seventeen executions had victim witnesses. In 2002, 25 of 33 executions had victim witnesses.  In 2003, 19 of 24 executions had victim witnesses. In 2004, there were 16 executions with all 16 having victim witnesses. Thus far in FY 2005 there have been 12 executions with 10 having witnesses.

If this site is accurate, 20 of the 38 death-penalty states have some kind of right-to-view provision. Probably they don't all follow the national protocol on victims as witnesses, but there is one.

Indiana already has quite a few laws concerning the rights of crime victims. This would be an important addition.

UPDATE: Doug of Masson's Blog points out that Sen. Waterman already has a right-to-view bill (S.B. 122). Looks like it leaves the number of condemned's friends and family at 10 and would allow only one relative of the victim. I like Wyss' numbers more.

UPDATE 2: Doug doesn't oppose the right-to-view effort but doesn't think it's as important as I do. The comment responding to him is from me.


Wed, 12/28/2005 - 8:55am

Senator Waterman has SB 122 which is "right to view" legislation:

Steve Towsley
Wed, 12/28/2005 - 11:52am

It seems backward to me to favor the condemned's family over a victim's relatives and friends.

The right to view is a victim's right to see justice done. It is one of the ways in which we convince good people to let the law handle the punishment rather than taking that satisfaction into their own hands.