Troy Davis' execution has brought a wave of re-evaluation of capital punishment.
Today's New York Times carries the editorial, "An Indefensible Punishment."
When the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty 35 years ago, it did so provisionally. Since then, it has sought to articulate legal standards for states to follow that would ensure the fair administration of capital punishment and avoid the arbitrariness and discrimination that had led it to strike down all state death penalty statutes in 1972.
As the unconscionable execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last week underscores, the court has failed because it is impossible to succeed at this task. The death penalty is grotesque and immoral and should be repealed.
The court’s 1976 framework for administering the death penalty, balancing aggravating factors like the cruelty of the crime against mitigating ones like the defendant’s lack of a prior criminal record, came from the American Law Institute, the nonpartisan group of judges, lawyers and law professors. In 2009, after a review of decades of executions, the group concluded that the system could not be fixed and abandoned trying.
It is time Americans acknowledged that the death penalty cannot be made to comply with the Constitution and is in every way indefensible.
Earlier coverage of the ALI action, begins at the link.
In the current issue of Newsweek, Scott Turow writes, "The Death of the Death Penalty." Turow, a best-selling author and former federal prosecutor, served on the Illinois Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment.
The executions last week of Troy Davis in Georgia and Lawrence Russell Brewer in Texas, as well as the United States Supreme Court’s recent decisions to stay the execution of two other Texas inmates, Duane Buck and Cleve Foster, have pushed the death penalty back into the national spotlight. Davis’s case, which inspired protests around the world, and Brewer’s, whose crime earned him universal loathing, remind us of the intense and conflicting emotions that continue to surround the vexed issue of capital punishment.
The truth is that the death penalty in the U.S. is withering, albeit at a pace too slow for many. That may seem like a paradoxical observation coming after a week in which two men were put to death and two others still stand hours away from execution, but there is no doubting that momentum is moving against capital punishment.
In the past seven years, four states (New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, and New York) have abandoned it. Even in the 34 states where executions remain lawful, death sentences have grown rarer. There were 46 executions in the U.S. last year, compared with 85 a decade before. From 2000 to 2010, juries across the country imposed only half the number of death sentences they had in the 1990s.
The Supreme Court’s weather eye on Texas is part of the court’s decade-long retooling of the death penalty. In 2002, it barred death sentences for the mentally retarded, and in 2005 for anyone under 18 at the time of the crime. As the years pass, and more and more states grow frustrated with the outsize costs and mistakes of the capital system, the court, I suspect, will find our evolving standards of decency prohibit capital punishment altogether. As Troy Davis or Cleve Foster or Duane Buck or even Lawrence Brewer would probably tell you, that day cannot come soon enough.
Greg Mitchell posts, "Think the Death Penalty Can't Be Abolished in USA? Here's How it Happened Before," at the Nation. Mitchell's latest book is Dead Reckoning. Here's the opening:
With polls showing that roughly six in ten Americans still support capital punishment in the U.S. (even with that number declining somewhat) it’s hard to make the case that the practice will be abolished any time soon. But I’ve argued otherwise, pointing to support dropping to under 50% when life without parole is listed as an option, and the continuing fall in the number of executions in America.
Still, most in the media find the end of executions in the U.S. a farfetched dream. I’d guess that most probably are not even aware that the death penalty was once banned in America – and not so long ago. And it happened rather suddenly and unexpectedly.