On Capital Punishment

“Capital punishment is becoming marginalized and meaningless in most of the country.”  Richard Dieter

“Americans generally favor the death penalty by a roughly 2-1 margin—62 percent to 31 percent in the Gallup survey, and 61 percent to 35 percent according to Pew.”  Valerie Richardson

Killing Capital Punishment

Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times, December 31, 2012, p. 14

The death penalty, al­ready on the decline across the United States, could face its own demise at the hands of several state legislatures next year.images-3

Accelerating attend, lawmak­ers in Colorado, Maryland and New Hampshire are expected to make a push for pulling the plug on capital punishment in the next legislative session, fol­lowing the moves of Connecti­cut, which abolished- the death penalty this year. Any action would continue the national trend away from capital punishment.

Only nine states carried out executions this year, down from 13 states last year.

The same number of people, 43, were executed this year and last, but it was a steep drop from the 85 in 2010, according to a report released two weeks ago by the Death Penalty Informa­tion Center.

“Capital punishment is be­coming marginalized and meaningless in most of the country,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC executive.

In 2012t fewer states have the death penalty, fewer carried out executions and death sentences, and executions were clustered in a small number of states.”

Despite the decline in the number of executions, polls con­sistently show that voters support the idea of capital punishment. In a closely watched test at the ballot in one of the nation’s bluest states, Californians in No­vember rejected Proposition 34, which would have eliminated capital punishment, by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, even though some late polls suggested that the measure would pass!

Polls from Gallup and the
Pew Research Center late last
 year found that Americans generally favor the death penalty by a roughly 2-1 margin — 62 percent to 31 percent in the Gallup survey, and 31 percent to 35 percent ac­cording to Pew. Both polls also found rising
opposition to the death penalty
since the mid-1990s and falling 
support for capital punishment.
 According to Gallup, the 62 
percent in favor is the lowest the 
pollster has recorded since 1972. 
California has 724 inmates on
death row, the largest number in
the nation and nearly twice as
 many as Florida with 407.

At the same time California has not carried out an execution in seven years, and while voters opted to keep the death penalty, there port noted that support was far lower than in 1978, when 71 percent voted to reinstate capital punishment.

Even with the November vote, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said recently that she does not ex­pect executions in California to resume for at least three years because of problems with the lethal-injection process.

Support for the death penalty remains stronger in red states. South Dakota acted to strengthen its capital-punishment law by limiting death-row inmates to one post-conviction appeal, to be filed within two years. Of the 43 people put to death this year, three-fourths were from four states: Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.

But Connecticut became the fifth state in five years to repeal the death penalty.

The Connecticut bill, signed in April by Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, was not retroactive, meaning, that the 11 inmates now on death row still face execution pending appeals.

Sixteen states have abolished the death penalty, and three more may join their ranks next year.

In Colorado, Maryland and New Hampshire, a combina­tion of Democratic legislative majorities and Democratic gov­ernors has created a favorable “climate for abolishing capital punishment.

“These are states like Con­necticut, New Mexico and New Jersey where the use of the death penalty is very sparse, and yet it’s still expensive to continue and it takes a lot of time and resources,” Mr. Dieter said.

New Hampshire Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan has made it clear that she opposes the death penalty, unlike outgoing Gov. John Lynch, a fellow Democrat who signed a bill in 2011 extending capital punish­ment to home invasions.

In Colorado, the legislature came within one vote of passing a bill to repeal capital punishment in 2009.

After flipping the state House from Republican to Democrat in November, Democratic law­makers are expected to intro­duce repeal legislation as early as January.

But such legislative efforts often clash with high-profile crimes that can shake voter sen­timents. Connecticut abolished the death penalty eight months before a lone gunman entered a schoolhouse in Newtown, Conn. and fatally shot 20 stu­dents and six schoolteachers and administrators.

The Newtown gunman, Adam Lanza, killed himself, but the state narrowly missed the dilemma of what punishment to mete out had the perpetrator survived.

The problem is more than theoretical in Colorado. Any law against the death penalty enacted next year presumably would apply to James Eagan Holmes, the graduate student accused of murdering 12 people in July at an Aurora movie theater.

Supporters of capital punish­ment are expected to frame an abolition effort as an attempt to save the life of the accused mass murderer if he is convicted.

In Maryland, where debate over ending the death penalty is a hardy perennial, another bill to eliminate capital punishment is expected to be introduced in January.

Standing in the way is a 3-year-old compromise that restricts the death penalty to cases with conclusive DNA or video evi­dence, or a videotaped confes­sion, which still has support from some Democratic lawmakers.

The DPIC report also showed that three states that traditionally have carried out multiple execu­tions — North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — have not had any this year.

Mr. Dieter attributed the de­cline in part to the recent spate of cases in which people convicted of crimes were found to be in­nocent after the introduction of DNA evidence.

“As that was happening, we started to see the steady drop starting in 2000, with this year representing a low,” said Mr. Dieter.

“The availability of life with­out parole offers an alternative to the death penalty, so that if a mistake was made, you can rectify it.”

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