Saturday, June 09, 2007

Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty Moratorium

A new study conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center shows that while 62 percent of those surveyed still support the death penalty, 58 percent think there should be a moratorium on executions while wrongful convictions and wrongful death sentences are investigated (though 69% of the public believes that reforms will not eliminate all wrongful convictions and executions).

87% believe that an innocent person has already been executed in recent years, and over half say that fact has affected their views on the death penalty: "Among those who had changed their position on the death penalty over the last ten years, more people became opponents of the death penalty than proponents by a margin of 3 to 2. Support has been lessened because of the many DNA exonerations that have occurred." Perhaps even more interesting, almost 40% of the public believe that they would be disqualified from serving on a jury in a death penalty case because of their moral beliefs. Women, African-Americans, and Catholics particularly believed they would be excluded.

According to Amnesty International, the U.S., Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and especially China accounted for more than 90 percent of judicial executions in 2006. A lot of good company we're keeping there.

While its depressing that so many still support the death penalty despite strong beliefs innocent people have been executed and that it is not a deterrent to future crime, the numbers on a moratorium are encouraging. As has been noted on TWM before, we all pretty much oppose the death penalty because of wrongful convictions, lack of fairness in the system, and because it's not a deterrent. We could theoretically support the death penalty if those problems were fixed, but it's hard to see how such reforms could be realistically achieved. But a moratorium is certainly preferable to the status quo and would allow at least some progress to be made toward these goals. Of course, we pretty much can't expect anything like that here in Texas.

Sen. Russ Feingold has introduced the National Death Penalty Moratorium Act (S. 132) several times since 2000. This bill would suspend executions by the federal government and encourage states to do the same, while a National Commission on the Death Penalty examines the fairness of the administration of the death penalty at the state and federal levels. He has also introduced the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act (S. 122) which would abolish the use of the death penalty by the federal government and commute any standing death sentence to life without parole. When you find time you might write to your representatives and senators to support such legislation.

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