Innocent people are too often sentenced to death. Since 1973, over 156 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed.
But within four years after the Furman decision, several hundred persons had been sentenced to death under new state capital punishment statutes written to provide guidance to juries in sentencing. These statutes require a two-stage trial procedure, in which the jury first determines guilt or innocence and then chooses imprisonment or death in the light of aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
In 1976, the Supreme Court moved away from abolition, holding that \"the punishment of death does not invariably violate the Constitution.\" The Court ruled that the new death penalty statutes contained \"objective standards to guide, regularize, and make rationally reviewable the process for imposing the sentence of death.\" (Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153). Subsequently 38 state legislatures and the Federal government enacted death penalty statutes patterned after those the Court upheld in Gregg. Congress also enacted and expanded federal death penalty statutes for peacetime espionage by military personnel and for a vast range of categories of murder.
Capital punishment is cruel and unusual. It is cruel because it is a relic of the earliest days of penology, when slavery, branding, and other corporal punishments were commonplace. Like those barbaric practices, executions have no place in a civilized society. It is unusual because only the United States of all the western industrialized nations engages in this punishment. It is also unusual because only a random sampling of convicted murderers in the United States receive a sentence of death.
The death penalty is not a viable form of crime control. When police chiefs were asked to rank the factors that, in their judgment, reduce the rate of violent crime, they mentioned curbing drug use and putting more officers on the street, longer sentences and gun control. They ranked the death penalty as least effective. Politicians who preach the desirability of executions as a method of crime control deceive the public and mask their own failure to identify and confront the true causes of crime.
Mandatory death sentencing is unconstitutional. The possibility of increasing the number of convicted murderers sentenced to death and executed by enacting mandatory death penalty laws was ruled unconstitutional in 1976 (Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280).
A considerable time between the imposition of the death sentence and the actual execution is unavoidable, given the procedural safeguards required by the courts in capital cases. Starting with selecting the trial jury, murder trials take far longer when the ultimate penalty is involved. Furthermore, post-conviction appeals in death-penalty cases are far more frequent than in other cases. These factors increase the time and cost of administering criminal justice.
Prisoners and prison personnel do not suffer a higher rate of criminal assault and homicide from life-term prisoners in abolition states than they do in death-penalty states. Between 1992 and 1995, 176 inmates were murdered by other prisoners. The vast majority of those inmates (84%) were killed in death penalty jurisdictions. During the same period, about 2% of all inmate assaults on prison staff were committed in abolition jurisdictions. Evidently, the threat of the death penalty \"does not even exert an incremental deterrent effect over the threat of a lesser punishment in the abolitionist states.\" Furthermore, multiple studies have shown that prisoners sentenced to life without parole have equivalent rates of prison violence as compared to other inmates.
Although inflicting the death penalty guarantees that the condemned person will commit no further crimes, it does not have a demonstrable deterrent effect on other individuals. Further, it is a high price to pay when studies show that few convicted murderers commit further crimes of violence. Researchers examined the prison and post-release records of 533 prisoners on death row in 1972 whose sentences were reduced to incarceration for life by the Supreme Court's ruling in Furman. This research showed that seven had committed another murder. But the same study showed that in four other cases, an innocent man had been sentenced to death. (Marquart and Sorensen, in Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 1989)
Constitutional due process and elementary justice both require that the judicial functions of trial and sentencing be conducted with fundamental fairness, especially where the irreversible sanction of the death penalty is involved. In murder cases (since 1930, 88 percent of all executions have been for this crime), there has been substantial evidence to show that courts have sentenced some persons to prison while putting others to death in a manner that has been arbitrary, racially biased, and unfair.
Both gender and socio-economic class also determine who receives a death sentence and who is executed. Women account for only two percent of all people sentenced to death, even though females commit about 11 percent of all criminal homicides. Many of the women under death sentence were guilty of killing men who had victimized them with years of violent abuse. Since 1900, only 51 women have been executed in the United States (15 of them black).
Since 1900, in this country, there have been on the average more than four cases each year in which an entirely innocent person was convicted of murder. Scores of these individuals were sentenced to death. In many cases, a reprieve or commutation arrived just hours, or even minutes, before the scheduled execution. These erroneous convictions have occurred in virtually every jurisdiction from one end of the nation to the other. Nor have they declined in recent years, despite the new death penalty statutes approved by the Supreme Court.
In solitary confinement, inmates are often isolated for 23 hours each day without access to training or educational programs, recreational activities, or regular visits. Such conditions have been demonstrated to provoke agitation, psychosis, delusions, paranoia, and self-destructive behavior. To inflict this type of mental harm is inhumane, but it also may prove detrimental to public safety. When death row inmates successfully appeal their sentences, they are transferred into the general inmate population, and when death row inmates are exonerated, they are promptly released into the community. Death Row Syndrome needlessly risks making these individuals dangerous to those around them.
In Maryland, a comparison of capital trial costs with and without the death penalty for the years concluded that a death penalty case costs \"approximately 42 percent more than a case resulting in a non-death sentence.\" In 1988 and 1989 the Kansas legislature voted against reinstating the death penalty after it was informed that reintroduction would involve a first-year cost of more than $11 million.59 Florida, with one of the nation's most populous death rows, has estimated that the true cost of each execution is approximately $3.2 million, or approximately six times the cost of a life-imprisonment sentence.\" (David von Drehle, \"Capital Punishment in Paralysis,\" Miami Herald, July 10, 1988)
A 1993 study of the costs of North Carolina's capital punishment system revealed that litigating a murder case from start to finish adds an extra $163,000 to what it would cost the state to keep the convicted offender in prison for 20 years. The extra cost goes up to $216,000 per case when all first-degree murder trials and their appeals are considered, many of which do not end with a death sentence and an execution.
In 2011 in California, a broad coalition of organizations called Taxpayers for Justice put repeal of the death penalty on the ballot for 2012 in part because of the high cost documented by a recent study that found the state has already spent $4 billion on capital punishment resulting in 13 executions. The group includes over 100 law enforcement leaders, in addition to crime-victim advocates and exonerated individuals. Among them is former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, whose office pursued dozens of capital cases during his 32 years as a prosecutor. He said, \"My frustration is more about the fact that the death penalty does not serve any useful purpose and it's very expensive.\" Don Heller, a Republican and former prosecutor, wrote \"I am convinced that at least one innocent person may have been executed under the current death penalty law. It was not my intent nor do I believe that of the voters who overwhelmingly enacted the death penalty law in 1978. We did not consider that horrific possibility.\" Heller emphasized that he is not \"soft on crime,\" but that \"life without parole protects public safety better than a death sentence.\" Additionally, he said the money spent on the death penalty could be better used elsewhere, as California cuts funding for police officers and prosecutors. \"Paradoxically, the cost of capital punishment takes away funds that could be used to enhance public safety.\"
In 1996, in response to public clamor for accelerating executions, Congress imposed severe restrictions on access to federal habeas corpus and also ended all funding of the regional death penalty \"resource centers\" charged with providing counsel on appeal in the federal courts. (Carol Castenada, \"Death Penalty Centers Losing Support Funds,\" USA Today, Oct. 24, 1995) These restrictions virtually guarantee that the number and variety of wrongful murder convictions and death sentences will increase. The savings in time and money will prove to be illusory.
It is commonly reported that the American public overwhelmingly approves of the death penalty. More careful analysis of public attitudes, however, reveals that most Americans prefer an alternative; they would oppose the death penalty if convicted murderers were sentenced to life without parole and were required to make some form of financial restitution. In 2010, when California voters were asked which sentence they preferred for a first-degree murderer, 42% of registered voters said they preferred life without parole and 41% said they preferred the death penalty. In 2000, when voters were asked the same question, 37% chose life without parole while 44% chose the death penalty. A 1993 nationwide survey revealed that although 77% of the public approves of the death penalty, support drops to 56% if the alternative is punishment with no parole eligibility until 25 years in prison. Support drops even further, to 49%, if the alternative is no parole under any conditions. And if the alternative is no parole plus restitution, it drops still further, to 41%. Only a minority of the American public would favor the death penalty if offered such alternatives. 59ce067264