06 January 2007

US Death sentences at 30 year low

The number of death sentences passed in the United States during 2006 dropped to the lowest level since capital punishment was reinstated 30 years ago. The reduction seems to reflect misgivings about both the safety of capital convictions and the human rights issues arising from administering death row.

The latest annual report from the Death Penalty Information Centre (DPIC), shows that US judges and juries issued 114 death sentences in 2006, down from 128 the previous year. Courts in many states appear to be favouring sentences of life without parole as an alternative that is less drastic, equally satisfactory in terms of public safety and much less expensive to administer.

Ten states have in effect halted executions because of concerns that their favoured method, death by lethal injection, inflicts intolerable pain on the condemned prisoners. Illinois is in its seventh year of an open-ended moratorium on executions and New Jersey is considering abolishing its death penalty. Earlier this week, a special commission established by the New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, an outspoken death penalty opponent, concluded that justice would be better served by sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

"There is no compelling evidence," the report said, "that the New Jersey death penalty rationally serves a legitimate penological intent. There is increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency. The penological interest in executing a small number of persons guilty of murder is not sufficiently compelling to justify the risk of making an irreversible mistake."

The death penalty exists in 38 of the 50 US states but is only regularly applied in a small handful of them, led by Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma. Those states which have put the death penalty on hold because of concerns about the inhumane aspects of lethal injection include California, Florida, Ohio, Arkansas, Delaware, South Dakota, Maryland and Missouri.

This report appeared in today’s Independent


Anonymous said...

Being American it's only fit I weight in first say- I'm squarely 'ifty-fifty'. Point in case to (disprove? the evolving standards of decency)- Scott Peterson. Since when did the all out right to live one's bliss(and dely responsibility) take such a nasty gripping choke-hold? To be sure there was no bio-chemical cause for his actions. Just boring, pedistrian fear of responsibility. Most men would've taken the cowards path out, seen the child born, cheated on his wife, lived in abdject dispair and dumped her sorry ass for a piece of fresh meat. Instead, Scott turned to the animal. The male lion, if you will, that sees his future blurred and born in another, better. Humans are meant to deny that impulse, evolved to deny it. But not completely, hence the death penalty. There are times that I think the death penalty's only true failing is blind speed.

Steve Bates said...

Texas leads the U.S. in executions, and my county (Harris County, which is more or less the city of Houston) leads Texas. Why? Because we have a hang-'em-high district attorney, a man who has built his political career by obtaining capital convictions. Maybe he also believes in what he does; I don't know.

But the lesson I've taken from the heretofore dizzying pace of executions in Texas is that defendants are, on average, not receiving an adequate defense. There is no public defender here; the right to counsel is fulfilled by assigning cases on a rotating basis to a list of attorneys who sign up for the task. Many have never tried a capital case before. All are provided so little money that they cannot hire experts, private detectives, etc. to assist in the defense. In other words, contrary to centuries of legal tradition and principle, the system is predisposed to convict. If you're accused of murder in Harris County, you're effectively guilty until proven innocent... and good luck doing that.

I wonder how fond anonymous (above) would be of the death penalty if he (she?) knew how many capital defendants do not receive an adequate defense. Actually, I don't wonder; I know too many people who simply don't care, and a few more like Mr. Bush who do care and are fine with that, as long as they get their requisite number of executions.

(Note, for the record: "hang 'em high" is metaphorical; Texas uses lethal injection... which, as it turns out, may be just as cruel.)

jams o donnell said...

Well said Steve. The judicial process in your county sounds like it is open to serious risk of miscarriages of justice. Because of the high stakes the defnedants should be given the opportunity to mount a proper defence.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

A boy in Harris County hung himself this week in an attempt to imitate Saddam's execution. Monkey See Monkey Do. I'm for the death penalty, but under a certain set of restrictions involving mental competency and irrefutable evidence. Despot dictators get an automatic pass to the gallows in my book.

jams o donnell said...

That is absolutely awful ewbl. It doesn't matter where one stands on the death penalty that was a tragedy.

jams o donnell said...

that is terrible ewbl. It doeswnt matter where one stands on teh death penalty. THat was a tragedy

snowflake5 said...

Part of the reason for the drop in executions is that George Dubya is in the White House instead of the Texas Governor's mansion. When he was in charge of Texas, executions were at a record high.

People are still dying through his incompetance of course, but not through executions.

Still, only two years to go before he is pensioned off.

jams o donnell said...

On the other hand there has been no real shortage of governors wishing to show thmesleves as tough on crime thriyugh execution. I am glad a number of states have stopped to think about the whole issue. I hope they make the right choice (ie abolition)..

Still two years before he goes. At least we get a new leader sooner.