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Support for Death Penalty Continues to Fall

New America Media, Commentary, Michael A. Kroll Posted: Dec 18, 2009

Editor's Note: The United States still employs the death penalty in its criminal justice system, as do Iran, Iraq, China and Cuba. But mounting evidence points toward a continuing erosion of support for capital punishment in states around this country and in the rest of the world.

Maybe its because the crime rate is going down Maybe its because of publicity about judicial mistakes Maybe its the impact of movies like Dead Man Walking Maybe its just the swing of historys pendulum

That is how I introduced a piece I wrote a dozen years ago under the title, Death Penalty Monolith Begins To Crack (Pacific News Service). The crack that was visible then has widened considerably.

According to the Year End Report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org):

The number of death sentences handed down in 2009 was the lowest since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976.
Even in the Death Belt, states like Texas, which averaged 34 death sentences a year in the 1990s, handed down just nine this year.
Three states in the past two years have abolished the death penalty, making New Mexico the 15th state to do so.
Eleven states considered an abolition bill, which passed in one house of Colorado and Montanas state legislatures, and which was adopted by Connecticuts legislature, but vetoed by the governor.
Nine more men under sentence of death were exonerated, bringing the total since 1973 to 139.
A poll of police chiefs nationwide revealed little support for the practice as a law enforcement tool (one of the most inefficient uses of taxpayer money in fighting crime)

While the DPIC report does not make predictions about the future, the movement to abolish the death penalty will also suffer disappointments and setbacks. For example, while public support for capital punishment continues to drop in California, which has the nations largest death row, the state may soon experience a spate of executions, which, because of two parallel legal challenges, has kept the state from executing anyone since Clarence Ray Allen was executed four years ago this January.

First, a federal court found Californias execution protocol did not meet the requirements of the Eighth Amendments ban on cruel or unusual punishment, and ordered the state to come with new procedures. But the state violated the Administrative Procedures Act and had to start over by soliciting public input on the proposals. In the meantime, individual cases continue to wend their way through the legal thicket that is death penalty law. A number have reached the end of the appellate process and await only the decisions in the challenges pending before the state court (procedural) and the federal court (substantive).

Both those challenges are likely to be decided early in 2010, and if they are decided in the states favor, a number of those individuals will soon be put to death in San Quentins death chamber.

But while we face the real possibility of imminent executions here, internationally, both California and the United States continue to find themselves ever more isolated in regards to the death penalty. A few examples:

* Last month, the Russian constitutional court ruled that the ban on executions would continue to be in effect.
Turkmenistan abolished the death penalty a decade ago.
Last year, Kyrgyzstan abolished the death penalty through a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the inherent right to life for everyone.
South Korea has signaled by letter to the Council of Europe that it guarantees the non-application of the death penalty.
This month, a minister in Japans ruling coalition promised that the Japanese government will work toward abolition.
China, which executes more people than any other country, has significantly reduced the number of offenses subject to capital punishment, and the vice president of the Supreme Peoples Court has promised more leniency in capital cases.
In Africa, even while Uganda debates the death penalty for homosexual conduct, other countries are following the lead South Africa established by abolishing the death penalty 11 years ago Kenya commuted the death sentences of 4,000 people to life in prison, and in June, Togo became the 15th country in Africa to abolish capital punishment.

While the United States remains in the international company of Iran, Iraq, China and Cuba in its insistence on putting its citizens to death, mounting evidence points toward continuing erosion of support for capital punishment in the state, in the country and in the world.

Related Articles:

Lawyers for Troy Anthony Davis File Final Appeal to Save Him

Sister Helen Prejean Demands Death to Capital Punishment

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