Over the past decade, public opinion and legal perspectives on capital punishment have undergone significant shifts. The decreasing number of executions and death sentences can be attributed to several factors, including concerns about wrongful convictions, the cost of capital punishment, and evolving moral and ethical considerations.
Concerns about Wrongful Convictions. One of the primary reasons behind the declining use of the death penalty is the growing awareness of the potential for wrongful convictions. Several high-profile cases have exposed flaws in the justice system, leading to the exoneration of individuals who were wrongfully sentenced to death. These cases have raised doubts about the reliability and fairness of capital punishment.
The advent of DNA testing and advancements in forensic science have played a crucial role in revealing wrongful convictions. The ability to re-examine evidence and uncover new information has provided a compelling argument against the irrevocable nature of the death penalty. As a result, many individuals and organizations have become more hesitant to support its use.
The Cost of Capital Punishment. Another significant factor contributing to the decline in the use of the death penalty is the exorbitant cost associated with capital punishment. The lengthy and complex legal process involved in death penalty cases, including multiple appeals and extended periods of incarceration, can result in substantial financial burdens for states.
Studies have consistently shown that the cost of prosecuting a death penalty case is significantly higher than that of a non-capital case. These expenses include the costs of specialized legal representation, lengthy trials, and increased security measures. As states face budget constraints and prioritize funding for other essential services, the financial burden of capital punishment becomes increasingly difficult to justify.
Evolving Moral and Ethical Considerations. Changing societal attitudes towards punishment and the value of human life have also played a role in the declining use of the death penalty. As the public becomes more aware of alternative sentencing options and rehabilitation programs, the idea of taking a life as a form of punishment is being questioned.
Religious and moral beliefs have also influenced the shift in public opinion. Many religious groups and organizations have voiced concerns about the ethical implications of capital punishment. The belief in the potential for redemption and the sanctity of life has led to calls for more humane alternatives to the death penalty.
The Future of Capital Punishment in the United States. As the number of executions and death sentences continues to decline, it raises questions about the future of capital punishment in the United States. Some states have already taken steps to abolish or place moratoriums on the death penalty, while others are reevaluating their policies.
Public opinion polls consistently show a shift towards favoring alternatives to the death penalty. However, there are still proponents who argue for its retention as a necessary deterrent and retribution for heinous crimes.
Ultimately, the declining use of the death penalty reflects a broader societal shift towards a more nuanced and compassionate approach to criminal justice. As the United States continues to grapple with the complexities of capital punishment, it is clear that the conversation surrounding its use will persist, and the debate over its morality and efficacy will continue.
Twenty-nine states — the majority — have either “abolished the death penalty or paused them by executive action,” according to DPIC. And only five states, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, conducted executions, “tying 2016 with the lowest number of states in 20 years. Together, Texas and Florida
accounted for more than half of this year’s 24 executions.”
This year did see an increase to 24 executions from last year’s 18 executions, which “can be attributed to Florida’s return to executions after a lengthy pause as its governor launched a presidential campaign,” the report noted.
DPIC also points out that Gallup released a poll last month that found that for the first time since 2000, when it began asking whether respondents believed the death penalty was fairly applied, 50% said it was not fairly imposed, while 47% believe it is. That’s a five-point increase in the percentage since Gallup last measured it in 2018.
Too often, when a person is about to be executed in our country, the governors, prosecutors, and politicians calling for their deaths describe them as “monsters” who have forfeited their right to live.
Patty Jenkins, Film Director, Screen Writer, Film Producer writes that No one is born a monster and …. Many, perhaps the majority, were subjected to horrific physical, sexual, or psychological abuse from the time they were infants. Often, they’re people who have severe mental illness or serious drug and alcohol addictions. I know this because, in 2003, I wrote and directed a film, “Monster,” about a woman often described as one. Her name was Aileen Wuornos; she was convicted of killing and robbing seven men when she was working as a sex worker along Florida highways in 1989 and 1990. The state executed her in 2002.
Aileen was born to a teenage mother and a father who died in prison. Abandoned by her mother when she was four, she was legally adopted by her grandparents, both of whom were alcoholics. Her grandfather physically and sexually abused her, and at 14, she was raped by a family friend and gave birth to a baby boy whom she placed for adoption.
Thrown out of the house when she was 15, she supported herself as a sex worker for the rest of her life.
It’s a tragic story, but one that is all too common among the individuals who are sent to death row.
So far this year, 23 people have been executed. Most, if not all, had been abused, neglected, or abandoned as children. To read the bios of each is to understand that, like Aileen, too many never had a chance. They weren’t monsters; they were the products of a society that failed them from the time they were born to the time they were executed.
How can our society fail to recognize that “monsters” like Aileen and others who are demonized in the courts and the media were created, not born?
We are killing individuals who never got to live a life free from fear, cruelty, abandonment, abuse, and hate. Death Penalty Focus has been trying to stop this cycle of violence for 35 years. I support them because they believe, as I do, that a civilized society doesn’t kill its citizens, even those who have committed egregious crimes.
Please join me in supporting DPF. You will help them continue their mission to educate, advocate, and organize. They believe, as I do, that the more our citizens learn about our broken death penalty system, the closer we will get to abolishing it.
Patty Jenkins, Film Director, Screen Writer, Film Producer
A Note from Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ
“Look at my face when you’re there. You have a dignity no one can take from you. I’ll be the face of dignity and love for you.”
Those are the words I’ve spoken to each of the individuals I’ve accompanied to the execution chamber in the last 30 years. I say it because when the government straps these people down and kills them, they are trying to deny them their dignity and their inherent self-worth, and I refuse to allow them to do that.
Our government has executed nearly 1600 individuals since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Sixteen hundred people killed after they were rendered entirely defenseless. That is torture, according to both the UN Convention against Torture and the Catholic Church. It’s why I’m asking you to join me in supporting Death Penalty Focus because they believe, as I do, that it is incumbent on all of us to do whatever we can to stop the torture of our fellow citizens. They’ve worked tirelessly for 35 years to abolish this brutal punishment and need our help in the struggle.
“I’m asking you to join me in supporting Death Penalty Focus because they believe, as I do, that it is incumbent on all of us to do whatever we can to stop the torture of our fellow citizens.”
There are so many reasons we need to abolish this inhumane punishment. The racism is undeniable. The legacy of slavery lives on in the criminal justice system. How else can we explain the fact that the percentage of Black people account for only 14% of the U.S. population but comprise 41% of our country’s death row population? Innocence is another factor. More than 195 people have been released from death row since 1973 based on evidence of their innocence. How many more were executed who were innocent? How many more innocent people are on death row now awaiting execution?
It is up to us to end this. We, the people, must do what our leaders refuse to do. We can succeed, but it will take more effort, time, and, yes, more resources. So, please donate any amount with which you’re comfortable and join me and my friends at Death Penalty Focus and, together, we will prevail.
Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ