Not time yet to end death penalty

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ISSUE: New Jersey ends capital punishment.

New Jersey officials have permanently suspended the death penalty, and predictably, calls for other states, including Florida, are sure to follow. But not so fast, folks.

Clearly, Florida has had its own issues with capital punishment. Malfunctions in the electric chair resulted in gruesome executions that forced the state to move toward lethal injections. That it took Florida that long to end its use of the barbaric electric chair doesn't inspire confidence.

It didn't help, either, that the lethal injection process had a mishap in late 2006 when needles used for one execution were placed incorrectly, reducing the effectiveness of the lethal cocktail and prolonging the execution. At the time, Gov. Jeb Bush correctly suspended the executions pending an investigation, which ultimately produced safeguards.

Since then, the death penalty has been the focus of state and national court reviews. The Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously in November that the lethal injection process does not violate the state constitution.

Lethal injection procedures are also scheduled to be examined by the U.S. Supreme Court starting next week. Floridians should hope the federal high court comes to the same conclusion.

There are those who have moral qualms about the the death penalty. Others raise additional concerns, including fears it is applied to certain groups more frequently than others, and that there is always the risk of executing someone who is innocent.

But what those concerns really point to is the frequency and conditions under which the death penalty is applied.

Those qualms can be ameliorated by limiting the death penalty's application to instances where the crime is particularly heinous and the body of evidence is overwhelming.

That's why the death penalty ought to remain on the punishment menu. The state and its citizens ought to have the right to institute it in those cases where they deem it is the punishment that best fits the crime.

BOTTOM LINE: Florida should not follow suit, at least for now.

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Chan Lowe is the editorial cartoonist for the Sun-Sentinel.

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