Capital punishment is permitted by our Constitution and limited under the Eighth Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty is used almost exclusively for aggravated murders committed by mentally competent adults. There are at least 3,035 inmates currently on Death Row and 39 people were executed in 2013. Since 1976, 34 states, the military and our federal government and have executed about 1,392 inmates who were convicted of murdering at least one person. Of those executed, 56% were white and 35% were black. This group also included 15 women. Texas is the leader in capital punishment with 518 executions during this time. Oklahoma is second with 111.
Supporters of the death penalty believe it serves justice, is a fitting punishment for murder, and allows closure for the families of crime victims. Others claim retribution, or the biblical concept of an â€œeye for an eye,â€ justifies the death penalty. Some believe capital punishment deters people from committing murder, and gives prosecutors a bargaining chip in the plea-bargain process. Many say the death penalty is an appropriate punishment because it guarantees a murderer will not kill again. Studies have found that about 8% of those on Death Row have a prior homicide conviction.
Opponents say the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment and is unevenly administered to people without wealth, people of color and to innocent people as well. They say poor defendants and minorities receive the death penalty much more often than defendants who can afford more competent representation. Our Justice Department has reported that white defendants are more likely than black defendants to negotiate plea bargains that save them from the death penalty in federal cases. It has also been acknowledged that the legal representation of defendants in many capital cases has been inadequate. It estimated that 15% of those we have executed have been innocent. Death penalty opponents claim there are many systemic problems that result in innocent people being convicted of murder. These include mistaken identification, coerced confessions, reliance on jailhouse informants, reliance on faulty forensic testing and poor access to reliable DNA testing. At least 18 inmates on death row have been exonerated since 1973 -most after serving lengthy sentences. DNA analysis of crime scene evidence has often been the determining factor in these inmates being found innocent.
Supporters of the death penalty also use DNA testing to make the case that those now on death row have been tested, proven to be truly guilty and should therefore be executed. Some say we should halt further executions until the guilt of all death row inmates can be assured. However, death penalty opponents say no system, given human nature and frailties, could ever be devised or constructed that would work perfectly and absolutely guarantee that no innocent person is ever put to death. They recommend mandatory life sentences for criminals convicted of heinous crimes. They say that, considering legal costs and the appeals process, executing an inmate costs taxpayers millions more than a sentence of life in prison without parole. They add that capital punishment prevents justice in cases where the executed is eventually found to be innocent. Our Supreme Court has ruled the death penalty is constitutional despite the â€œtheoretical possibilityâ€ that an innocent person might be put to death.
Due to recent voluntary drug embargoes by European manufacturers and others, most of the traditional lethal injection drugs, such as pentobarbital and sodium thiopental, are no longer available. This has led some states to experiment with unapproved and untested drug combinations in order to continue executing inmates. These states refuse to divulge the type or source of these new drugs, which have resulted in a number of botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona. It took 25, 43 and 100 minutes for these new drugs to kill inmates in these states, and anesthesiologists say they likely did so in great pain. Advocates claim this violates our 8th Amendment protections from cruel and unusual punishment, saying it is illegal to use unknown and untested execution drugs before their effectiveness and constitutionality can be evaluated. Some states are now considering the use of the electric chair or firing squad for executions.
Pending Legislation: None
I oppose reforming current death penalty policy
I support a moratorium on federal executions to review whether the death penalty is consistent with constitutional requirements of fairness, justice, equality and due process, and wish to identify a legislator who will reintroduce S.132 – National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2003 (108th Congress 2003-2004)
I support abolishing the federal death penalty and wish to identify a legislator who will reintroduce H.R.2574 – Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2003 (108th Congress 2003-2004)
I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill requiring prisons to disclose of the type and origin of lethal injection drugs intended to be used for execution; and prohibiting execution by means of lethal injection until this method is proven to conform to the protections provided under the Eighth Amendment.