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The REAL Death Penalty in the US

The REAL Death Penalty in the US: A Review
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters

NOTE: Detailed review of any of the below topics, or others, is available upon request

In this brief format, the reality of the death penalty in the United States, is presented, with the hope that the media, public policy makers and others will make a more responsible effort to present a balanced view on this sanction.

Innocence Issues

Death Penalty opponents have proclaimed that 118 inmates have been "released from death row with evidence of their innocence", in the US, since the modern death penalty era began, post Furman v Georgia (1972).

That number is a fraud.

Those opponents have intentionally included both the factually innocent (the "I truly had nothing to do with the murder" cases) and the legally innocent (the "I got off because of legal errors" cases), thereby fraudulently raising the "innocent" numbers.

Death penalty opponents claim that 24 such innocence cases are in Florida. The Florida Commission on Capital Cases found that 4 of those 24 MIGHT be innocent -- an 83% error rate in death penalty opponents claims. If that error rate is consistent, nationally, that would indicate that 20 of the alleged 118 innocents MIGHT be actually innocent -- a 0.3% actual guilt error rate for the over 7500 sentenced to death since 1973. None were executed.

It is often claimed that 23 innocents have been executed in the US since 1900.  Nonsense.  Even the authors of that "23 innocents executed" study proclaimed "We agree with our critics, we never proved those (23) executed to be innocent; we never claimed that we had."  While no one would claim that an innocent has never been executed, there is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

No one disputes that innocents are found guilty, within all countries.  However, when scrutinizing death penalty opponents claims, we find that when reviewing the accuracy of verdicts and the post conviction thoroughness of discovering those actually innocent incarcerated, that the US death penalty process may be the most accurate criminal justice sanction in the world.  Under real world scenario, not executing murderers will always put many more innocents at risk, than will ever be put at risk of execution.

(NOTE: The Professor Liebman/Columbia U. report finding a 68% error rate in death penalty cases has many errors of its own. Please review  http://www.prodeathpenalty.com/Liebman/Liebman.htm)

Deterrence Issues

Seven recent studies, all finding for deterrence.

One study, specifically, found that moratoriums on the death penalty sacrificed innocent lives. All of the other studies confirm that conclusion.

All the studies which have not found a deterrent effect of the death penalty have refused to say that it does not deter some.  The studies finding for deterrence state such.  Confusion arises when people think that a simple comparison of murder rates and executions, or the lack thereof, can tell the tale of deterrence.  It cannot. 

Both high and low murder rates are found within death penalty and non death penalty jurisdictions, be it Singapore, South Africa, Sweden or Japan, or the US states of Michigan and Delaware.  Many factors are involved in such evaluations.  Reason and common sense tell us that it would be remarkable to find that the most severe criminal sanction -- execution -- deterred none.  No one is foolish enough to suggest that the potential for negative consequences does not deter the behavior of some.  Therefore, regardless of jurisdiction, having the death penalty will always be an added deterrent to murders, over and above any lesser punishments.

Racial issues

White murderers are twice as likely to be executed in the US as are black murderers and are executed, on average, 12 months more quickly than are black death row inmates.

It is often stated that it is the race of the victim which decides who is prosecuted in death penalty cases.  Although blacks and whites make up about an equal number of murder victims, capital cases are 6 times more likely to involve white victim murders than black victim murders.  This, so the logic goes, is proof that the US only cares about white victims.

Hardly.  Only capital murders, not all murders, are subject to a capital indictment.  Generally, a capital murder is limited to murders plus secondary aggravating factors, such as murders involving burglary, carjacking, rape, and additional murders, such as police murders, serial and multiple murders.  White victims are, overwhelmingly, the victims under those circumstances, in ratios nearly identical to the cases found on death row.

Any other racial combinations of defendants and/or their victims in death penalty cases, is a reflection of the crimes committed and not any racial bias within the system, as confirmed by studies from the Rand Corporation (1991), Smith College (1994), U of Maryland (2002), New Jersey Supreme Court (2003) and by a view of criminal justice statistics, within a framework of the secondary aggravating factors necessary for capital indictments.

Class issues

No one disputes that wealthier defendants can hire better lawyers and, therefore, should have a legal advantage over their poorer counterparts.  The US has executed about 0.15% of all murderers since new death penalty statutes were enacted in 1973.  There is no evidence that wealthier capital murderers are less likely to be executed than their poorer ilk, based upon the proportion of capital murders committed by wealthier criminals. 

Arbitrary and capricious

About 10% of all murders within the US might qualify for a death penalty eligible trial.  That would be about 55,000 murders since 1973.  We have sentenced 7,300 murderers to death since then, or 14% of those eligible.  I doubt that there is any other crime which receives a higher percentage of maximum sentences, when mandatory sentences are not available.  Based upon that, as well as pre trial, trial, appellate and clemency/commutation realities, the US death penalty is likely the least arbitrary and capricious criminal sanctions in the world. 

Christianity and the death penalty

The two most authoritative New Testament scholars, Saints Augustine and Aquinas, provide substantial biblical and theological support for the death penalty. Even the most well known anti death penalty personality in the US, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, states that "It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical 'proof text' in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this.  Even Jesus' admonition 'Let him without sin cast the first stone,' when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) -- the Mosaic Law prescribed death -- should be read in its proper context.  This passage is an 'entrapment' story, which sought to show Jesus' wisdom in besting His adversaries.  It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment."  A thorough review of Pope John Paul II's current position, reflects a reasoning that should be recommending more executions.

 Cost Issues

All studies finding the death penalty to be more expensive than life without parole exclude important factors, such as (1) geriatric care costs, recently found to be $69,0000/yr/inmate, (2) the death penalty cost benefit of providing for plea bargains to a maximum life sentence, a huge cost savings to the state, (3) the death penalty cost benefit of both enhanced deterrence and enhanced incapacitation, at $5 million per innocent life spared, and, furthermore, (4) many of the alleged cost comparison studies are highly deceptive.

Polling data

74% of Americans support the death penalty, nearly half of those do not think the death penalty is used enough. This support rate is nearly within the margin of error of the all time high for general support. (Gallup 5/03).  Five months later it was 64% (Gallup 10/03). 81% of the American people supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh, with only 16% opposed. (June 2001). 81% of Connecticut citizens support he execution of serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross (January 2005)

Whatever your feelings are toward the death penalty, a fair accounting of how it is applied should be demanded.

copyright 1998-2005 Dudley Sharp
 
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, BBC and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Report, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
 

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Poster Thread
Highlights of 2009

 

Highlights of 2009

 

DC Beltway Sniper is Executed in Virginia - Read more..

Ohio halts execution, cannot find a suitable vein to use - Read more..

Ohio adopts new Lethal Injection Procecdure - Read more..

 

Inmates executed since 1976

2008 Year End Death Penalty Statistics

Current Death Penalty Statistics from the Dept. of Justice

Current U.S. Department of Justice Statistics

 

  • In 2008, 37 persons in nine states were executed -- 18 in Texas; 4 in Virginia; 3 each in Georgia and South Carolina; 2 each in Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma, and 1 in Kentucky.
     
  •   Of persons executed in 2008:
    -- 20 were white
    -- 17 were black
     
  •  All 37 inmates executed in 2008 were men.
     
  •  Lethal injection was used in 36 executions in 2008; 1 execution was by electrocution.

 

2007 Year End Death Penalty Statistics

Current Death Penalty Statistics from the Dept. of Justice

Current U.S. Department of Justice Statistics


In 2007, 42 persons in 10 States were executed -- 26 in Texas; 3 each in Alabama and Oklahoma; 2 each in Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee; and 1 each in South Dakota, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arizona.

Of persons executed in 2007:
-- 28 were white
-- 14 were black

All 42 inmates executed in 2007 were men.

Lethal injection was used in 41 executions in 2007; 1 execution was by electrocution.

Thirty-eight States and the Federal government in 2007 had capital statutes.