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Good riddance: Capital punishment in America slowly fading away

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THIS EDITORIAL in The New York Times focuses on a welcome trend:

More states are coming to recognize that the death penalty is arbitrary, racially biased and prone to catastrophic error. Even those that have not abolished capital punishment are no longer carrying it out in practice.

In 2013, Maryland became the sixth state to end capital punishment in the last six years. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the penalty, and it is dormant in the federal system and the military. Thirty states have had no executions in the last five years.

As it becomes less frequent, the death penalty also becomes more limited to an extremely small slice of the country, and therefore all the more arbitrary in its application. All 80 death sentences in 2013 came from only about 2 percent of counties in the entire country, and all 39 executions — more than half occurred in Texas and Florida — took place in about 1 percent of all counties, according to a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center. Eighty-five percent of all counties have not had a single execution in more than 45 years.

Public support for the death penalty — an important factor in the Supreme Court’s consideration of its constitutionality — is at its lowest level in four decades, and 40 percent of people surveyed by Gallup say they do not believe it is administered fairly. Surely that is due in part to the hundreds of exonerations based on DNA testing — including 18 death-row inmates — which continue to reveal irreparable failures throughout the system.

Of course none of this matters to, say, Troy Davis or Cameron Todd Willingham, both of whom were executed in recent years despite deep doubts about their guilt. Nor is it of much use to the 3,100 people still sitting on death row around the country.

The argument is not that all of these people are innocent, or that they deserve to be released. Most would be justly imprisoned for most if not all of their life. But the death penalty as applied in America now — so thoroughly dependent on where the defendant lives and how much money he can spend on his defense — violates the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection, and no longer can overcome the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

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4 Comments

  1. Sometimes the threat of capital punishment is enough. How many crimes have been solved because the accused makes a plea deal for a life sentence instead of death in exchange for full disclosure, which often results in closure for the victim’s families?

  2. Neftali: Yeah, so what if some people are wrongly executed? It’s worth it if the death penalty is going to give some folks closure, right?

  3. Get real Pat, no one wants to wrongly imprison or execute anyone. That’s why we have a lengthy appeals process. And DNA evidence has greatly reduce the potential for wrongful imprisonment.

    Yes, it’s a tough sell. But liberals claim that capital punishment is not a deterrent when it clearly is. Granted, it’s clearly not a deterrent to preventing crime, but it clearly is useful in solving crime cases. Without it, prosecutors have lost significant leverage.

    Think of it this way. Bad person “A” commits a murder with bad person “B”, but only bad person “A” is apprehended, and the police don’t know who is “B” but they have multiple reasons to believe “B” exists. They only way you can get “A” to talk is through negotiation. I suppose you could threaten solitary confinement, but liberals don’t seem to be in favor of that either. So how in the world do they expect crimes to be solved? I’m sure they are not okay with person “B” continuing to roam the streets.

  4. Neftali: Check these numbers:

    For 2012, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 4.7, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 3.7.

    For 2011, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 4.7, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 3.1.

    For 2010, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 4.6, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 2.9.

    For 2009, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 4.9, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 2.8.

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