A federal judge has questioned the constitutionality of an 8-year-old law.
In a ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Sessions declared the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act unconstitutional because the sentencing phase denies defendants the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses.
His ruling was made in the wake of a number of other recent decisions concerning the death penalty. They include a ruling in June by the U.S. Supreme Court that found juries and not judges must hand out death sentences, as well as a ruling in New York where a judge declared the death penalty, in and of itself, unconstitutional.
At the same time, federal judges in Virginia and Pennsylvania have upheld the Federal Death Penalty Act.
Clearly, a divide is forming between those who support the death penalty in its present form and those who don't.
Keep in mind, the controversy is not about the death penalty itself, but about the application of it. Sessions is concerned with whether or not the death penalty is fairly applied.
The death penalty should be the most carefully applied punishment the government's correctional system hands out. The reason is obvious - when a person is gone, they're gone.
Defendants should have the right to cross-examine witnesses. That person's life is at stake. The government is constantly finding out about another innocent person who was put to death.
Sessions is right. Before a person is put to death, let's make sure - absolutely positive - we have the right person.