Why I will not seek the death penalty as DA

In the first week of my campaign for District Attorney, I announced a very important decision and shared it in a self-recorded videoI have committed not to seek the death penalty if elected as DA.

Ultimately, a jury decides whether to impose the death penalty, but the DA has the discretion to seek or not seek it. If elected, the DA’s Office I run in Chatham and Orange Counties will not seek the death penalty.

I’m making this decision because the death penalty goes against the values I hold and because of what I’ve learned in my 16 years of experience in the court system. 

Here’s why I’m against the death penalty:

  • It is the only punishment we can’t undo. You can let someone out of prison, but you can’t un-kill them.
  • It is cruel. No matter the actual means of how you physically end someone’s life, there’s nothing more inhumane than telling someone when they’re going to die, then taking them into a room, strapping them down and killing them. Regardless of what that person did, I hold myself and our government to a higher standard than vicious murderers.
  • It is racist. Defendants of color are far more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants, and those convicted of killing black victims are less likely to be sentenced to death than those with a white victim. While we work to make the criminal justice system more fair and equitable overall, we need to stop killing people of color.
  • It is not a deterrent. Research shows no evidence that jurisdictions with the death penalty have a lower violent crime or murder rate than those without.
  • It is expensive. It’s actually less expensive for our society to imprison someone for life than to execute the death penalty.

But what about victims of violent crime and families left behind by murder?  Sadly, I have sat and cried with victims and their families in grief many times over the past 16 years. Listening to victims is a responsibility I take very seriously as DA. But the death penalty does not provide closure to victims. Decades or life in prison can allow victim’s families to move on, while the death penalty triggers years of appeals. We can seek justice without the death penalty.

The death penalty is a complicated societal issue, one that I am ready to discuss in greater depth with our community members in the months ahead. But for the reasons briefly cited above and more, I will not seek the death penalty in my district.

I hope our district can lead the state and the nation in taking a stance against the death penalty and I ask for your support in doing so. I also welcome your thoughts and engagement on the issue.

– Jeff

Updated Dec 2021: My original post noted that I would be the first elected DA in North Carolina to make this office policy and definitive public statement against the death penalty. It has recently come to my attention that a District Attorney in another NC district has made a similar pledge. I was pleased to hear of this!

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