Sep 02, 2009

Death Penalty: Popular Support Continues to Decline

A recent study commissioned by the National Jury Project indicates that support for the death penalty in California continues to erode. Two decades ago, about 80% of respondents supported capital punishment; support dropped to 66% in the recent poll. When respondents were given a sentencing alternative of Life in Prison Without Parole, support for the death penalty plunged to 26%.    

The decline is consistent with the sustained national dropoff in the number of executions.  For example, 71 people were executed in the US in 2002; that number dropped to 37 in 2008. 

Here's an even longer term trend.  In 1800, England had more than 200 capital crimes on the books.  By 1900, only 4 crimes carried the death penalty.  (I found these figures in a lecture given by a Dr. Odgers, included on p. 242 of Roscoe Pound's thrilling 1927 book, Readings on the History and System of the Common Law.) In the mid-1960's, England abolished capital punishment.

I generally have little sympathy for the "worst of the worst" who commit the horrific crimes that result in death penalties.  But eventually, I suspect that the risk of executing innocent people, the damatically higher costs that the death penalty entails, the availability of Life Without Parole, and the randomness in sentencing will result in most US states abandoning capital punishment.