The FBI has found the states with the death penalty have the highest murder rates. Innocent people are too often sentenced to death. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed. In , the Supreme Court declared that under then-existing laws "the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty… constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Georgia , U. The Court, concentrating its objections on the manner in which death penalty laws had been applied, found the result so "harsh, freakish, and arbitrary" as to be constitutionally unacceptable. Making the nationwide impact of its decision unmistakable, the Court summarily reversed death sentences in the many cases then before it, which involved a wide range of state statutes, crimes and factual situations.
But within four years after the Furman decision, several hundred persons had been sentenced to death under new state capital punishment statutes written to provide guidance to juries in sentencing.
These statutes require a two-stage trial procedure, in which the jury first determines guilt or innocence and then chooses imprisonment or death in the light of aggravating or mitigating circumstances. In , the Supreme Court moved away from abolition, holding that "the punishment of death does not invariably violate the Constitution. Subsequently 38 state legislatures and the Federal government enacted death penalty statutes patterned after those the Court upheld in Gregg. Congress also enacted and expanded federal death penalty statutes for peacetime espionage by military personnel and for a vast range of categories of murder.
Executions resumed in Since then, states have developed a range of processes to ensure that mentally retarded individuals are not executed. Many have elected to hold proceedings prior to the merits trial, many with juries, to determine whether an accused is mentally retarded. In , the Supreme Court held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution forbid imposition of the death penalty on offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed, resulting in commutation of death sentences to life for dozens of individuals across the country.
As of August , over 3, men and women are under a death sentence and more than 1, men, women and children at the time of the crime have been executed since Despite the Supreme Court's ruling in Gregg v. Georgia , et al, the ACLU continues to oppose capital punishment on moral, practical, and constitutional grounds:. Capital punishment is cruel and unusual.
It is cruel because it is a relic of the earliest days of penology, when slavery, branding, and other corporal punishments were commonplace. Like those barbaric practices, executions have no place in a civilized society. It is unusual because only the United States of all the western industrialized nations engages in this punishment. It is also unusual because only a random sampling of convicted murderers in the United States receive a sentence of death.
Capital punishment denies due process of law. Its imposition is often arbitrary, and always irrevocable — forever depriving an individual of the opportunity to benefit from new evidence or new laws that might warrant the reversal of a conviction, or the setting aside of a death sentence. The death penalty violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. It is applied randomly — and discriminatorily.
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It is imposed disproportionately upon those whose victims are white, offenders who are people of color, and on those who are poor and uneducated and concentrated in certain geographic regions of the country. The death penalty is not a viable form of crime control.
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When police chiefs were asked to rank the factors that, in their judgment, reduce the rate of violent crime, they mentioned curbing drug use and putting more officers on the street, longer sentences and gun control. They ranked the death penalty as least effective.
Politicians who preach the desirability of executions as a method of crime control deceive the public and mask their own failure to identify and confront the true causes of crime. Capital punishment wastes limited resources.
It squanders the time and energy of courts, prosecuting attorneys, defense counsel, juries, and courtroom and law enforcement personnel. It unduly burdens the criminal justice system, and it is thus counterproductive as an instrument for society's control of violent crime. Limited funds that could be used to prevent and solve crime and provide education and jobs are spent on capital punishment.
Opposing the death penalty does not indicate a lack of sympathy for murder victims.
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On the contrary, murder demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. Because life is precious and death irrevocable, murder is abhorrent, and a policy of state-authorized killings is immoral. It epitomizes the tragic inefficacy and brutality of violence, rather than reason, as the solution to difficult social problems. Many murder victims do not support state-sponsored violence to avenge the death of their loved one.
Sadly, these victims have often been marginalized by politicians and prosecutors, who would rather publicize the opinions of pro-death penalty family members. Changes in death sentencing have proved to be largely cosmetic.
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The defects in death-penalty laws, conceded by the Supreme Court in the early s, have not been appreciably altered by the shift from unrestrained discretion to "guided discretion. A society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings. An execution is a violent public spectacle of official homicide, and one that endorses killing to solve social problems — the worst possible example to set for the citizenry, and especially children.
Governments worldwide have often attempted to justify their lethal fury by extolling the purported benefits that such killing would bring to the rest of society. The benefits of capital punishment are illusory, but the bloodshed and the resulting destruction of community decency are real. Deterrence is a function not only of a punishment's severity, but also of its certainty and frequency.
The argument most often cited in support of capital punishment is that the threat of execution influences criminal behavior more effectively than imprisonment does. As plausible as this claim may sound, in actuality the death penalty fails as a deterrent for several reasons. A punishment can be an effective deterrent only if it is consistently and promptly employed. Capital punishment cannot be administered to meet these conditions.
The proportion of first-degree murderers who are sentenced to death is small, and of this group, an even smaller proportion of people are executed. Although death sentences in the mids increased to about per year , this is still only about one percent of all homicides known to the police. Of all those convicted on a charge of criminal homicide, only 3 percent — about 1 in 33 — are eventually sentenced to death. Between , the average number of death sentences per year dropped to , reducing the percentage even more.
Mandatory death sentencing is unconstitutional. The possibility of increasing the number of convicted murderers sentenced to death and executed by enacting mandatory death penalty laws was ruled unconstitutional in Woodson v. North Carolina , U. A considerable time between the imposition of the death sentence and the actual execution is unavoidable, given the procedural safeguards required by the courts in capital cases. Starting with selecting the trial jury, murder trials take far longer when the ultimate penalty is involved. Furthermore, post-conviction appeals in death-penalty cases are far more frequent than in other cases.
These factors increase the time and cost of administering criminal justice.
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We can reduce delay and costs only by abandoning the procedural safeguards and constitutional rights of suspects, defendants, and convicts — with the attendant high risk of convicting the wrong person and executing the innocent. This is not a realistic prospect: our legal system will never reverse itself to deny defendants the right to counsel, or the right to an appeal. Persons who commit murder and other crimes of personal violence often do not premeditate their crimes.
Most capital crimes are committed in the heat of the moment.
Most capital crimes are committed during moments of great emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when logical thinking has been suspended. Many capital crimes are committed by the badly emotionally-damaged or mentally ill. In such cases, violence is inflicted by persons unable to appreciate the consequences to themselves as well as to others. Even when crime is planned, the criminal ordinarily concentrates on escaping detection, arrest, and conviction.