Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year in Death

The New York Times editorial Still Cruel, Less Usual, notes the ebbing tide of the death penalty this year:  "States are putting fewer people to death, and juries continue to favor the punishment of life without parole over execution when given the choice."  It cites the Death Penalty Information Center's report of 46 executions in 2010, which is 12% fewer than 2009, and down from 85 executions in 2000.

The reasons for the decline include concerns over questions of innocence given the growing number of exonerations (see Must Read), as well as the staggering cost of pursuing the death penalty in times of state and local budgetary crisis (the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice established that death penalty cases cost at least three times more than non-death cases).  And then there were the executions that could not be carried out because of the shortage of a lethal-injection drug. (See Lethal Lifesavers, Hide and Seek, Drug Problem).

The Times also points out an encouraging trend of "electoral victories by candidates who oppose the death penalty, like the new governors of California and New York and the re-elected governor of Massachusetts, suggest[ing] that it’s not a voters’ litmus test or political third rail."  (See Tough on Crime).

And, speaking of California, while we have gone another year without any executions thanks to the continued litigation over the lethal injection process, as the Los Angeles Times reports, the State "continued to buck a nationwide trend away from costly and litigious death sentences in 2010," adding 28 new prisoners to death row, which at 717, is the largest in the country.

Internationally we remain grossly out of step. Cuba just commuted the sentence of that nation's only death-sentenced prisoner.  In November, the UN Human Rights Council held a hearing on the United States’ human rights record, in which the U.S. delegation heard repeated calls from several countries to abolish the death penalty.  The United States is consistently one of the countries that carries out the most executions every year.  In 2009, the countries with the most executions were Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China and the U.S., and 2010 will likely put us in similar company.  (See We Are the World).

46 executions is 46 too many.  The Times editorial concludes:  "We can only hope the country is closer to putting its shameful experiment in state-sponsored death behind it."  Let's do more than hope -- support and join Death Penalty Focus, the ACLU of Northern California, and other groups that are dedicated to ending this "brutal anachronism."


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