The REAL Death Penalty in the US
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
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.
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
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 email@example.com, 713-622-5491,
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
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