Is capital punishment dying?
A new report reveals that there have been many milestones in the decline of the death penalty this year — fewer executions (35), fewer death sentences (72) and more exonerations (seven).
The Death Penalty Information Center, which is anti-capital-punishment, released its year-end report Thursday, showing that the overall trend away from the death penalty’s use has continued.
"The death penalty doesn’t really function as a regular part of criminal justice. Most think it is OK, but it’s hardly being used," the DPIC's executive director Richard Dieter said in an interview with Yahoo News. “This is becoming outside our standards of decency. I think if they do [abolish] the death penalty, it may be seen as an aberration.”
The number of executions reached its lowest point in 20 years. Furthermore, the number of states conducting executions, seven, was the fewest in 25 years.
Eighty percent of the executions were in only three states: Texas, Missouri and Florida.
New death row sentences reached their lowest number in the 40 years of the so-called modern death penalty era.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all death penalty laws because they were “too random and unpredictable,” according to Dieter.
So the system was rebooted in the mid-'70s with states rewriting their death penalty laws, ushering in this modern era.
The past year saw more death row inmates being cleared of all charges than any other year since 2009.
“There is clearly the risk with the death penalty that you execute people and then you find out that they are innocent,” said Dieter.
Additionally, botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona galvanized anti-death-penalty activists and outraged many members of the public.
“Executions are on hold in many states, partly because of the difficulties in establishing an acceptable protocol for lethal injections,” Dieter wrote in the report. “Some states tried new drugs and new combinations of drugs, resulting in three badly botched executions and an urgent call from the President and other national leaders for change.”
But not everyone feels the same.
Six in 10 Americans continue to support the death penalty for convicted murderers, which is consistent with the public’s views since 2008, according to a Gallup poll from October.
The American public’s approval of capital punishment has fluctuated over time, from its lowest point of 42 percent in 1966 to its highest of 80 percent in 1994, Gallup said.
Generally speaking, the public at large tends to favor the death penalty over life imprisonment. But the topic is still divisive.
Conservative economist Thomas Sowell argues that those who think sentencing a known killer to "life without the possibility of parole" could protect the public as effectively as the death penalty ignore three scenarios: “(1) life without the possibility of parole does not mean life without the possibility of escape or (2) life without the possibility of killing while in prison or (3) life without the possibility of a liberal governor being elected and issuing a pardon.”
On the other hand, right-wing commentator Ramesh Ponnuru has said, “On the core issue — yes or no on capital punishment — I'm with the opponents. Better to err on the side of not taking life. ... The state has the legitimate authority to execute criminals, but it should refrain if it has other means of protecting people from them. Our government almost always does.”