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Brownback Opening Comments During Death Penalty Hearing

Location: Washington, DC

Brownback Opening Comments During Death Penalty Hearing

Committee discussed both sides of capital punishment

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Sam Brownback today chaired a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution titled, "An Examination of the Death Penalty in the United States." The committee heard from witnesses on both sides of the debate, including families affected by crime and academic experts on capital punishment and the American criminal justice system.

"The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution provide that no person may be deprived of life without due process of law," Brownback said in his opening statement. "Yet the Eighth Amendment prohibits in undefined terms the use of cruel and unusual punishment. In subsequent decisions, the Supreme Court found what it deemed to be a popular consensus against use of the death penalty in cases involving mentally disabled or minor defendants. Reading these provisions together, it seems our founding document neither demands nor prohibits capital punishment. Instead, the Constitution generally permits the people to decide whether and when capital punishment is appropriate.

"So each generation may - and good citizens should - consider anew the law and facts involving this solemn judgment. I believe America must establish a culture of life. If use of the death penalty is contrary to promoting a culture of life, we need to have a national dialogue and hear both sides of the issue. All life is sacred, and our use of the death penalty in the American justice system must recognize this truth.

"I called this hearing in order to conduct a full and fair examination of the death penalty in the United States. I believe it is important for lawmakers and the public to be informed about a punishment which, because it is final and irreversible, stirs much debate. It is my intention to explore in this hearing the various aspects of capital punishment, from the statistics on deterrence to the views of crime victims. It is my hope that by carefully reflecting on America's experience with the death penalty, the people can make informed judgments worthy of the Constitution's faith in future generations."

Senator Brownback is a member of the Judiciary Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights.

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