State Senator Virgil Smith has taken on what may seem like an insurmountable task in bringing the issue of the death penalty for cop killers to the Senate floor. But according to Smith, he promised one of his constituents that he wouldn’t let 2015 pass without having addressed the issue.
James Bowens, the father of now deceased Detroit Police Officer Matthew Bowens, approached Smith some time back and asked that he commit to changing the law. And it’s easy to understand why Bowens feels the way he does – a man named Eric Lee Marshal allegedly shot and killed his son, Matthew, along with another officer named Jennifer Fettig.
Michigan took the death penalty off the books in 1847
But understandable or not, Smith has a long fight ahead of him and more than 100 years of precedent to overcome in getting this law changed. Michigan took the death penalty off the books in 1847, the first state to outlaw the killing of convicted criminals for ordinary crimes, and in 1962 the death penalty was abolished for all crimes.
Changing Michigan’s constitution would require a two-thirds vote, both in the Senate and in the House, in addition to a statewide vote of Michigan residents. In other words, a significant number of government officials, along with everyone else who lives here, would have to be in favor of this change for it to happen. And it doesn’t look like that is currently the case.
So how does Smith propose to bring about this change in legislation?
Well, he admits up front that it won’t be easy, but feels that because his resolution is exclusively for the killers of police officers, it isn’t the same thing as asking to reinstate the death penalty for all, or even some, crimes. Because police are on the front lines, protecting civilians and often paying with their lives, Smith feels that this is a special circumstance that warrants a break from tradition.
But those who are vocal about a “kill-free” state will fight tooth and nail to see that this change never takes place. Even Senator Rick Snyder, who is a former Sheriff and a virulent supporter of the rights of crime victims, says he could never support the return of the death penalty. He feels that there is too large a margin for error, and human lives are too precious to be held in the hands of a state government.
The Michigan Catholic Conference, for example, has spoken out against the reinstatement of the death penalty, saying that Michigan should be proud of it’s tradition of having been the first english-speaking government in the whole world to abolish the death penalty.
What do you think? If Michigan residents were called on to vote about the death penalty, what would your opinion be?