the DEATH PENALTY
THE DEATH PENALTY IN AMERICA
The death penalty has long been a source of controversy both globally and in the United States. There are currently 28 U.S. states where the death penalty is legal and 22 where the practice has been abolished. The United States also has a federal death penalty for federal prisoners.
However, in recent years there has been a trend against capital punishment.
Death sentences and executions are in decline; in 2020, there were 17 executions, 10 of which (56%) were carried out by the federal government. Additionally, in 2020 states imposed a record low of 18 new death sentences.
A Gallup poll from 2020 shows that popular support for the death penalty has declined to historic lows, with the percentage of Americans who support the death penalty dropping to 55%. That result ties with 2017 for the lowest level of support in 48 years. Opposition against the death penalty was recorded at 46%, the highest it has been since gallup started the poll in 1966. The downturn in support for capital punishment and the popularity of criminal justice reform in 2020 was apparent in this year's election results for prosecutors.
Not only is the death penalty system riddled with fatal flaws that lead to men and women being wrongfully convicted and executed, there are other issues surrounding capital punishment that make it an unjust, inhumane practice.
does it work?
One of the leading arguments for the death penalty is that it deters crime. However, numerous studies have refuted this deterrence argument:
In a 2009 survey, 88% of criminologists surveyed believed the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder.
A 2012 survey by the National Research Council titled “Deterrence and the Death Penalty” concluded that studies claiming the death penalty did deter murder were “fundamentally flawed” and should not be used when making legislative decisions.
The 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed the South had the highest murder rate of any U.S. region, while the Northeast had the lowest rate. The South accounts for over 80% of all executions, while the Northeast only 1%, again reaffirming that the death penalty does not deter homicides and rather that states without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates over time
RACE AND THE DEATH PENALTY
Racial injustice is inextricably tied to the death penalty in America. Statistics from the Death Penalty Information Center show that in 96% of 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, or both.
Though 12% of the U.S. population is black, 42% of prisoners on death row are black.
Racist ideologies and prejudices permeate our entire criminal justice system. People of color are more likely to be arrested, convicted, receive a death sentence, and be executed than white counterparts.
For more information on race and the death penalty, click here to visit the Death Penalty Information Center website.
It is estimated that over 3% of U.S. executions between 1890 to 2010 were botched. Most recently, the method of intravenous lethal injection has come under fire for causing extreme pain and suffering through botched executions.
In February 2018, an inmate in Alabama suffered for over 2.5 hours while medical personnel attempted to execute the man via lethal injection, causing 11 puncture wounds. The execution was called off after "hours of physical and psychological torture, forcing needles into his lower extremities" and the right femoral vein near his groin, "causing severe bleeding and pain."
In November 2018, it was discovered that the state of Texas gets its lethal injection drugs from a compounding pharmacy with a history of dangerous practices and violations.
Due to the potential issues with injections, inmates in various states are now requesting the electric chair or firing squad to avoid the potential of a torturous botched lethal injection.
For more information on botched executions, visit the Death Penalty Information Center here.
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:
“Everyone has the right to life.”
Article 3, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Article 5, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
At Witness to Innocence, we believe that the United States’ continued use of the death penalty is a violation of this declaration. Death row conditions and methods of executions have been proven to be cruel, inhumane, and often torturous.
International momentum toward a death penalty moratorium has been in the works for over a decade. UN General Assembly resolutions adopted in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 urge member states to protect the rights of those facing the death penalty, restrict the use of the death penalty, and reduce the number of offenses which are punishable by death. In 2007, when a resolution on a moratorium for executions was adopted by UNGA for the first time, it was supported by 104 states. In 2020 support rose to 123 states in favor of the resolution.
In addition to citing human rights and the potential of executing an innocent man or woman, other major arguments against the death penalty are the arbitrary nature in which it is used, the cost of executions, and the issue of innocence.
The criminal justice system and death penalty system are riddled with flaws that lead to wrongful convictions. As long as the death penalty exists in the United States, innocent people will continue to be sentenced to death, and some will be executed.
For every nine prisoners executed, one innocent person was condemned to die and later exonerated. But how many others were not as lucky to prove their innocence?
Abolition of the death penalty is the only guaranteed protection against these fatal mistakes.
Click here for more information about wrongful death row convictions.
For more information about WTI's work toward death penalty abolition, click on the links below: