An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  - Gandhi
 

Some Facts about the Death Penalty

Each of these facts address a common misperception about the death penalty — use them to stimulate civil dialogue to advance public will for abolition.  Download a PDF Flyer with this info (for printing and distributing).

  1. The death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime. Consistent  with previous years, the 2010 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South had the highest murder rate and accounts for over 80% of executions. The Northeast & West  have the lowest murder rates and  hold less than 1% of all executions.
  2. The death penalty costs more than life imprisonment.It costs taxpayers from $2 to $5 million per death sentence for the trials and appeals. Life in prison averages $1 million (40 years at $25,000/year). Louisiana State Attorney General, & former District Attorney, says that he can try a second-degree murder case for $15,000-20,000 instead of $250,000 for a death penalty trial.
  3.  Innocent people get executed.  Of 350 persons mistakenly convicted of potentially capital crimes, 139 were sentenced to death, and 23 were actually executed. Researchers say that there are probably many more cases not yet identified.  (Stanford Law Review study of 1900 to 1985) 142 people have been exonerated after years on death rows.  10 of these are from Oklahoma.
  4. The death penalty perpetuates violent crime.  As a symbol of “being tough on crime,” the death penalty helps politicians get elected. Since it does not reduce violent crime, it wastes resources. States that have abolished the death penalty can redirect the money saved into programs that actually reduce violent crime.
  5. Racism #1:  Minority defendants are more likely than white defendants to be sentenced to death for the same crimes. Research into sentencing patterns shows that blacks are three to four times as likely to be sentenced to death as whites charged in similar cases.
  6. Racism #2:  The death penalty punishes primarily those who kill whites. Although homicide victims are six times more likely to be black  than white, 77 percent of death penalty cases involve white victims..
  7. Poor people are executed much more often than wealthy murderers.  Over 99% of the people on death row are indigent, according to one U.S. Appeals Court judge. Persons of all income levels commit murder, but poor people are the primary recipients of the death penalty.
  8. Mentally ill people are executed.  Even though the law forbids the execution of those who are mentally ill, experience shows that the determination of sanity is generally made after very limited contact with the accused, often by psychiatrists employed by the prosecution. Inevitably, some who are ill are declared “sane,” and fit for execution.
  9. Inconsistent sentencing.  Only one out of 100 convicted of murder is sentenced to death. Those sentenced to death are not necessarily those whose crimes are the worst – rather, they tend to be the poor, people of color, and those whose victims are white.
  10. Public support for the death penalty is decreasing.  When offered a range of sentencing options, respondents in several polls have shown a preference for life imprisonment rather than execution.
  11. Many Victims’ families oppose the death penalty.  Connecticut’s successful campaign to abolish the death penalty was led by family members of murder victims with statements like this, “If we are serious about caring for victims, we will repeal the death penalty.  It only prolongs pain for families as it inevitably drags out the legal process and leaves families in limbo waiting for an execution that may never come.”’
  12. Only the U.S. of all industrialized nations & western democracies still use the death penalty since South Africa has renounced it and the USSR no longer exists.

Louisiana Prosecutors Deeply Concerned about Costs of the Death Penalty

Citing the costs of seeking the death penalty, Louisiana prosecutors are “cutting way back,” according to State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.  A former district attorney, Caldwell compared trying a capital case to “playing on a $100-a-roll table instead of a nickel or dime table.”  He explained that he could try a second-degree murder case for $15,000 to $20,000 instead of $250,000 to put a death-penalty defendant on trial.  Caldwell said the cost of expert witnesses and investigators was one reason for the price difference.

District attorney Linda Watson said the costs of prosecuting a capital case are too much, especially for an impoverished region.  Since parishes usually have to pay for legal defense costs and housing for jurors during trials, in addition to the prosecutor’s expert witnesses and investigators, her office usually pursues life in prison instead.  “The cost of a death penalty case is unbelievable,” Watson said.

Governor Bill Richardson Signs Bill Abolishing Death Penalty in >New Mexico

March 18, 2009 New Mexico became the 15th state to abandon capital punishment and the 3rd in the last 2 years, following recent actions in New Jersey and New York in 2007. The new law substitutes the punishment of life without parole for the death penalty in future cases.  In a statement, Gov. Richardson cited the 130 inmates freed from death row since 1973 and added

The sad truth is the wrong person can still be convicted in this day and age, and in cases where that conviction carries with it the ultimate sanction, we must have ultimate confidence, I would say certitude, that the system is without flaw or prejudice. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably not the case.

Many family members of murder victims applauded the repeal: “This is recognition of the false promise that the death penalty offered, and a realization of how murder victims’ family members’ needs can truly be served,” said Lorry Post, Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR).

Cathy Ansheles of Santa Fe and a member of MVFR, reacted to the bill’s passage, “It’s a great relief to know that families will no longer be put through the turmoil of the death penalty. Finally, resources can be directed to where they will really do the most good.”

In his statement, Gov. Richardson noted, “While today’s focus will be on the repeal of the death penalty, I want to make clear that this bill I’m signing actually makes New Mexico safer. With my signature, we now have the option of sentencing the worst criminals to life in prison without the possibility of parole. They will never get out of prison. Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe.” A statewide poll in 2008 had shown that 64% of New Mexicans supported replacing the death penalty with life without parole and restitution to victims’ families.

Kentucky’s Public Defender Faces Shutdown–Legal Experts Call for DP Moratorium

Several legal authorities and public officials are calling on Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to suspend the death penalty pending resolution of the state’s budget crisis.  Kentucky’s public defender system will exhaust its current budget by May 21 with two months remaining in the fiscal year, forcing it to shut down. “The budget shortfall creates a likelihood that counsel will be unavailable or unable to properly proceed, thereby jeopardizing prosecutions and resulting in flawed, unreliable outcomes, expanded litigation and reversal of convictions,” said Daniel T. Goyette, Chief Public Defender for Jefferson County and an Adjunct Professor at the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. “As a former Commonwealth’s Attorney, I see insurmountable legal obstacles to prosecuting death penalty cases when the defendants are not adequately represented by counsel for any reason, including a budget crisis,” added Marc S. Murphy, former Jefferson County Commonwealth’s  Attorney. “The constitution guarantees an accused defendant the right to have effective assistance of counsel” said Robert G. Lawson, former dean of the University of Kentucky College of Law, who has been extensively involved in law reform efforts in Kentucky as principal drafter of the Kentucky Penal Code.  “We are hearing from the people in the defender system that they are unable to render effective assistance due to the budget cuts. I support a moratorium on executions at this time.”

Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice James E. Keller of Lexington said: “I’m not opposed in principle to the death penalty, but at this time I support a moratorium on the death penalty while the state reviews whether it should be retained, or at least reviews how it has been implemented since it has been reinstated.”

Another legal expert, Chase Law School Professor Michael J. Z. Mannheimer, an authority on federal death penalty cases, said, Prosecuting and defending capital cases causes such a drain on public resources that I believe the death penalty to be unwise even in normal times.  In the current economic environment, pushing ahead with capital cases and actual executions is fiscally irresponsible.”

Death Penalty Information Center, www.deathpenaltyinfo.org, Postings March 2009

 PDF of above info: Facts About the Death Penalty 2013