Debate Magazine

Seriously now--The Death Penalty is the Law of the Land? NO, It is Not!

Posted on the 25 September 2011 by Mikeb302000
This is ignorance!
Michigan has never had the death penalty and Alaska and Hawaii, abolished the death penalty prior to statehood.
As of March 2011, the following U.S. states have fully abolished the death penalty: Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The District of Columbia has also abolished the death penalty. That means that only 34 US States have the death penalty.
The 1972 case of Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) led to the suspension of the death penalty in the United States, which ended with Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976). However, Furman began the debate on the fairness of the death penalty. One of the issues raised in 1972 Supreme Court ruling was that courts must follow consistent standards for death penalty sentencing. This ruling was intended to make the process for imposing the death penalty less subject to discriminatory bias.
In 96% of the states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, often both. A comprehensive study of the death penalty in North Carolina found that the odds of receiving a death sentence rose by 3.5 times among those defendants whose victims were white. A study in California found that those who killed whites were over 3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks and over 4 times more likely than those who killed Latinos.
Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3.1 exonerations per year. From 2000-2007, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year.
The death penalty's deterrent effect is also questionable. According to a survey of past and present presidents of the country's top academic criminological societies, 88% of these experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. Consistent with previous years, the 2010 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South had the highest murder rate. The South accounts for over 80% of executions. The Northeast, which has less than 1% of all executions, tied with the West for the lowest murder rate.
A study by Pepperdine University School of Law, published in Temple Law Review, “Unpredictable Doom and Lethal Injustice: An Argument for Greater Transparency in Death Penalty Decisions," surveyed the decision-making process among prosecutors in various states. The authors found that prosecutors' capital punishment filing decisions remain marked by local “idiosyncrasies,” suggesting they are not in keeping with the spirit of the Supreme Court’s directive intent to equalize the death penalty.
This means that “the very types of unfairness that the Supreme Court sought to eliminate” may still “infect capital cases.” Wide prosecutorial discretion remains because of overly broad criteria. California law, for example, has 22 “special circumstances,” making nearly all premeditated murders potential capital cases. The 37 states that have the death penalty have varying numbers and types of “death qualifiers” – circumstances that allow for capital charges. The number varies from a high of 34 in California to 22 in Colorado and Delaware to 12 in Texas, Nebraska, Georgia and Montana. The study's authors call for reform of state procedures along the lines of reforms in the federal system, which the U.S. Department of Justice initiated with a 1995 protocol.
Additionally, the death penalty is expensive. The California death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year MORE than the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life. Californian taxpayers have paid more than $250 million for each of the state’s executions. In Kansas, the costs of capital cases are 70% more expensive than comparable non-capital cases, including the costs of incarceration. Enforcing the death penalty costs Florida $51 million a year above what it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole. Based on the 44 executions Florida had carried out since 1976, that amounts to a cost of $24 million for each
The tide is turning against the death penalty because of its arbitrary nature, the possibility of executing an innocent person, and the cost of prosecuting these cases. Additionally, since the Court's decision in Furman, an international movement to abolish the death penalty has grown based on the human rights principles of the right to life and the right to be protected from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment both of which can be found in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, borrowing from the American Bill of Rights, emphasizes the right to life.
The death penalty inherently contradicts this principle. In 1976, the United Nations adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which, in Article 6, recognizes the death penalty as an exception to the right to life. Article 6 includes safeguards for implementation of the death penalty and denotes abolition of the death penalty as its ultimate objective. The United States signed the ICCPR in 1992, entering a reservation on Article 6. In 1989, the UN General Assembly adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR Aimed at the Abolition of the Death Penalty. To emphasize the notion that abolition of the death penalty reflects human progress, the first sentence of the Second Optional Protocol states that "abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and progressive development of human rights." The United States is not expected to sign the Second Optional Protocol because countries are unable to make reservations to optional protocols.
While the effort to end executions in the United States focuses on the procedures involved in imposing the death penalty, attempts to repeat the holding in Furman v. Georgia results in little response from the justice system because of public support for the use of execution.
The public, which is generally uninformed about the criminal justice system, represents a significant source of political pressure on prosecutors and judges to enforce the death penalty. Thus, for the United States to demonstrate an "evolving standard of decency" in conjunction with the rest of the world, the use of capital punishment must be challenged in the public arena if it is ever to be prohibited in the legal arena.

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