The death penalty is a very timely topic of debate. From an extremely important case before the Supreme Court right now to the death penalty verdict for the Boston Bomber it is ever more present in the public eye. There are numerous facts that people do not know about the death penalty and many states are proposing new legislation in an attempt to abolish or regulate the death penalty differently.
Death Penalty in the News
The death penalty has grasped national headlines due to three major events in May 2015. The first is the new Supreme Court case, Glossip vs. Gross, in which the justices will consider the methods that states use to execute their criminals, pertaining especially to the drug Midazolam. This trial will examine the constitutionality according to the Eighth Amendment of the drug’s ability to put inmates in a deep enough coma that they do not feel the pain from the execution.
Second is the death penalty verdict given to Dxhokhar Tsarnaev for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon attack that left 3 dead and over 260 injured. The jury found that the death penalty was the appropriate punishment for 6 of the 17 capital counts that Tsarnaev was found guilty of. Karen Brassard, who suffered severe leg injuries in the bombing commented on the verdict, “Happy is not the word I would use. There’s nothing happy about having to take somebody’s life. I’m satisfied, I’m grateful that they came to that conclusion, because for me I think it was the just conclusion.” Massachusetts does not have a death penalty for state crimes and polls taken throughout the trial indicated that residents of Massachusetts favored life in prison.
The third story is that of the colossal bike gang shootout in Waco, Texas on May 18, 2015. A fight that originated in the bathroom between rival gang members and escalated quickly. It resulted in 9 deaths and 170 arrests. Although charges for all of the members have not yet been filed, the New York Times stated that capital murder is a possibility for members. In Texas capital murder can carry the death penalty.
Facts on the Death Penalty
Below is a map detailing which states still have the death penalty and how many executions have been preformed since 1976.
Currently 32 states allow the death penalty, although many of them do not exercise their ability to execute. The first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes was Rhode Island in 1852 and the last was Maryland on May 2, 2013. The five states that have executed the most people between 1608-2002 are Virginia (1,361), New York (1,130), Pennsylvania (1,043), Texas (1,031), and Georgia (1,031). The types of execution that have been approved and carried out by states are lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging and firing squad. The top five US executions by crime are murder (81%), rape (6%), slave revolt (2%), break-in burglary (2%) and robbery (1%).
There has been no credible evidence that capital punishment deters the crimes that it is assigned to more than the possibility of a longer prison sentence deters people. Race also has played a large roll in who receives the death penalty and who does not. According to a report from the General Accounting Office in 1990, “in 82 percent of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e. those who murdered whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.” There can also a problem with the quality of lawyer that defendants have representing them. Many defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own lawyer and the lawyers that are appointed to them are often overworked, underpaid or lacking the trial experience needed for death penalty cases. Executions cost more taxpayer money than keeping an inmate in prison for life proportionately. Although executions themselves cost relatively little, an estimated cost of $100 total for the drugs, other costs increase their actual cost substantially. The Kansas Judicial Council found that cases where the death penalty is considered cost up to four times more than cases that do not. This article details how the death penalty cases consistently cost more than life without parole cases.
Recently, Kwame Ajamu, who spent 27 years in prison on death row for the murder of a Cleveland-area money order salesman, was exonerated and the judge dropped all charges against him. In December 2014, the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century, George Stinney, was exonerated for the murders of two young girls in 1944. He was executed three short months after a three hour trial where the jury deliberated for only 10 minutes. As these examples show, there is always the possibility that the justice system has failed and that an innocent person will be executed.
Here is an infographic detailing the causes of wrongful convictions.
Bills and the Death Penalty
There are many different bills that have been proposed due to botched executions and growing public opinion that it is not the right thing to do. Here is a list of the pending death penalty cases on the 2015 SCOTUS calendar.
Nebraska proposed LB 258 to repeal their death penalty. They have not executed anyone in nearly 18 years and have never used lethal injection. Arizona recently denied a motion, SB 1015, to find the state’s death-penalty statute unconstitutional. The judge in the case stated that he was trouble by the “evolution of the death penalty” in Arizona. Delaware also had a recent bill, SB 40, fail to clear a House committee similar to one proposed to years ago aimed at abolishing their death penalty. Washington proposed two bills, HB 1739 and SB 5639, aimed at eliminating the state’s death penalty in favor of life incarceration. Montana also believes that people on death row should spend the rest of their lives incarcerated without parole proposing HB 370 to abolish the death penalty. State Represntative David Moore stated, “And to me, personally, I couldn’t imagine a worse fate than being locked up on prison for the rest of my life.”
State Representative John Cabello filed to create the Capital Crimes Litigation Act of 2015, or HB 4059, that would reinstate the death penalty in Illinois. The death penalty would only be used for convicted murderers who kill first responders like police officers and firefighters, those who kill children, commit murder on school grounds, kill several people, or murder as a result of terrorism.
A bill, SB 162, proposed in Ohio would not allow the death penalty to be imposed on a murderer with a mental illness that “significantly impaired” their ability to exercise rational judgment, follow the law, or appreciate the nature of their crime. This bill carries a significant amount of importance because the Aurora Movie Theater Shooter, James Holmes, is standing trial for the death penalty in Colorado currently and is using not guilty by reason of insanity as a defense. A poll shows that Coloradans’ support of his execution has dropped from 66% in 2012 to 55% in 2014. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, called off a recently scheduled execution, describing the death penalty system as flawed and inequitable, essentially putting all executions in Colorado on hold.
Below is an infographic detailing Colorado’s expenses of the James Holmes trial.
Texas recently proposed a bill, HB 564, which would ban snitch testimony for death penalty cases as a result of prison inmates’ testimony in exchange for rewards within the prison. They also proposed HB 341 what will ban the death penalty in law of parties cases.
Check out this stakeholder page for all of the bills pertaining to the death penalty.
This was an incredibly interesting post for me to do. At the beginning, I was for the death penalty. I believe in letting the punishment fit the crime and was under the impression that keeping inmates in prison for life cost taxpayers much more money than executions. However, after learning that death penalty trials cost the public so much more than life without parole, my opinion has changed. I also do not believe that it is right to have something that is legal that can possibly take the life of an innocent person because the justice system is not perfect.