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It’s understandable why society wants the death penalty and why our leaders seem determined to have and use execution as punishment for violent crimes. It’s not as easily understood how we can allow cases to extend over so much time.

The death penalty is the ultimate punishment for the worst of criminals. We must be certain, with a defense being vigorously mounted for accused criminals, that guilt is established.

Already, a flawed legal process allows those sentenced to death to remain on death row for two decades and longer after their crimes. That’s not the way the process should work. Capital cases should receive top priority, getting a thorough and complete review. And they should be handled quickly.

Appeals should be prioritized. Last-minute stays, as a matter of routine, are as inexcusable as the years it takes from sentencing to execution.

Recent years have seen the problem grow more pronounced.

Executions and new death sentences have been declining in South Carolina and across the United States. South Carolina has not executed anyone since May 6, 2011.

The complication has been in the method: use of lethal injection.

States have been unable to obtain drugs because pharmaceutical companies that compounded them in the past have received a great deal of outside pressure to end the practice.

Without the drugs, states have had no way of executing inmates on death row unless, as in South Carolina, they choose to die by electrocution.

South Carolina lawmakers are addressing that issue this session.

The Senate has approved a measure that switches the default mechanism of execution from lethal injection to electrocution. The change would allow the Department of Corrections to use electrocution if lethal injection is not available.

While lethal injection remains the most acceptable method of administering capital punishment, complications surrounding the process should not mean capital punishment is non-existent.

Upstate Republican Sen. Shane Martin said, “Our statutes have no meaning if they are not enforced. This bill enables the enforcement of our laws and justice for victims across South Carolina. I trust that the House will act swiftly to ensure justice in South Carolina.”

But the most pressing problem is not the only one.

Until we change the procedures surrounding capital cases, the death penalty is no good as a deterrent – and really not even very good as retribution. Too many times there is sympathy for the person being executed as the stories of the victims are deep in the past. The victims, let us remember, are not around to tell their stories.

Victims are punished as cases drag on and on. If a life prison term really meant a life prison term, the victims certainly could rest easier.

Call punishment by death or life in prison with no chance to get out nothing but retribution if you will, but time it is for people to pay the price for their actions.

If the electric chair is the only certain method of execution available, use it.

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