July 2008 Archives

July 7, 2008

Is the Death Penalty on Life Support?

While 37 states continue to authorize the death penalty, evidence continues to accumulate which shows that it may be headed for extinction in the United States. Consider these recent developments:

  1. The number of executions actually carried out continues to decline each year.  Forty-two executions were carried out in 2007, compared to 53 in 2006 and 71 in 2002.  
  2. In 2007, 110 death sentences were handed down, compared to 114 in 2006 and 128 in 2005.
  3. Forty eight states authorize the sentence of Life Without Possibility of Parole (LWOP), a sentence increasingly favored by juries as an alternative to the death penalty.
  4. In the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that child rapists cannot be sentenced to death. This decision is consistent with the Court's other recent death penalty rulings, including the ones making it unconstitutional to execute people who rape adults (Coker v. Georgia, 1977), who are mentally retarded (Atkins v. Virginia, 2002) or who were under the age of 18 at the time of a crime (Roper v. Simmons, 2005).
  5. A June 2008 report issued by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (PDF) concluded that the state spends $138 million per year on the death penalty, and that it could save $100 million of that by replacing the death penalty with LWOP.

Polls indicate that a majority of Americans still favor the death penalty. However, as reflected by the steady decrease in the number of death sentences handed down, support is eroding. If these trends continue and the death penalty eventually fades into oblivion, the official Cause of Death may be listed as "too expensive".