In 1972, the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) in Furman v. Georgia eliminated the death penalty. The Court, in striking down state-sanctioned killing, identified problems such as racism, arbitrary application, and the fact that ending people’s lives did little to nothing in the way of public safety.
While Furman abolished the death penalty, it did not take long to get the killing machine back up and running. In 1976, SCOTUS upheld a new set of laws in Gregg v. Georgia, paving the way to walk people back down the lonely hallway of death.
Forty-four years after Gregg, support for the death penalty is dwindling. For example, in 1998 —almost 300 death sentences were imposed in the U.S. Twenty years later, in 2018, only 43 were imposed. In the last 10 years, six states have rid themselves of the state-sponsored killings by either legislation or court order. Four others have imposed moratoriums on executions. As of April 2020, the death penalty is legal in 28 states, plus the federal government and military, according to deathpenaltyinfo.org.
For the same reasons SCOTUS tossed out the death penalty in Furman, the general public’s support for the death penalty is decreasing. The National Academy of Sciences has suggested that there are hundreds of Americans who are innocent and slated to be put to death. This suspicion points to the unsettling reality that both innocent men and women across the nation have been put to death under a broken criminal justice system that includes the death penalty.
Putting people to death based on faulty or incomplete police work, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, junk science, and a host of other issues has raised eyebrows even among conservatives and other tough-on-crime constituencies.
For example, the conservative-led state of Wyoming has been looking at repealing its stance on the death penalty, which proponents see as impractical, too costly, and a failure at deterring crime.
Since July 2, 1976, over 1,448 people have been executed, while 132 people have been exonerated. Those numbers should leave citizens to wonder how many of the 1,448 were innocent yet nevertheless put to death by the government, 2,373 people that were sentenced to die were resentenced. This means that courts have stepped in to correct errors that occurred during the trial process. While death sentences are declining year after year, the number of people of color sentenced to die in recent years has increased. The facts show that capital punishment has failed. People are recognizing this truth. When even one innocent person is put to death, the whole system has failed — and should be scrutinized. For those who aren’t bothered by the execution of a single factually innocent person, ask yourself what if it were you or someone you love. Would that single execution bother you now?
Perhaps in a government For the People, By the People we should be marching the death penalty to its own execution. Folks on both sides of the aisle seem to support this. Why wait when doing so may result in the execution of another innocent person?
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