The Death Penalty
During the week of September 21, 2011, three people were executed in the United States. Two of them were extensively covered in the media, for different reasons. The Troy Davis case drew a lot of attention because Davis had been claiming for years he was innocent. His execution date had been rescheduled four times due to court proceedings, however he was executed on September 21. His case drew international attention because of the involvement of public figures and prominent groups, such as Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Amnesty International, who called for a review of his case. His case led to the reigniting of debates about the existence of capital punishment, namely the death penalty, in the United States.
The other case, a man named Lawrence Brewer, was publicized after it led to politicians in Texas calling a halt to prisoner’s last meals before they are executed. The officials said it was because inmates were abusing the system, asking for large amounts of food, and then not eating it, as in the case of Brewer. Texas has carried out more executions every year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, executing 475 people since it was reinstated nationally in 1976.
However, some states are choosing to take a different route. A poll taken recently showed that 48% percent of California voters would rather someone get life without parole than the death sentence. Eleven years ago, only 37% of California voters said they would favor life without parole over the death sentence. These numbers reflect a shift in the attitude towards the death penalty that has been happening nationwide.
Recent studies in California have shown that it costs taxpayers more to maintain the death penalty than to imprison inmates for life. A 2008 study in California found that it costs $90,000 more a year for inmates on death row than other inmates. Another 2008 study conducted in California showed that at the time, there were 670 inmates on death row, incurring costs of around $63.3 million annually. An ACLU report in California is 2008 found that death penalty trials in California have cost as much $10.9 million dollars.
The primary costs associated with capital cases are not the costs of the actual execution, but the costs involved during the steps of the court processes. There have to be two trials, one for guilt, and one for sentencing. Every step of the process takes longer and requires more resources. The costs for processing evidence are often higher due to the types of evidence, in many cases DNA. Typically there are more attorneys involved and the cases are much more complex. The main reason that the death penalty costs more is due to costs associated with the trial process, which, with appeals, often goes on for years.
Many people have spoken out against the death penalty, calling it unconstitutional, arbitrarily applied, and racially biased. There are currently 18 states, and the District of Columbia, that have banned the death penalty and 32 states that allow it, plus the U.S. government and the military. Within the 32 states that have it, 18 of them have not executed anyone in the last five years. Since 1976, 15 states and the U.S. government have executed under 10 people each. The South accounts for around 80% of executions, and also has the highest murder rates, which may suggest that the application of the death penalty does not serve as an effective deterrent to murder or other violent crimes.
A fact sheet on the Death Penalty Information Center website states that since 1973, 130 inmates who were on death row were released after being found innocent after more evidence came to light in their cases. This is a shockingly high number. If this many people were released, how many more are sitting on death row, or in prison who are innocent? In many cases, it was due to DNA evidence that there was not technology to analyze at the time of their conviction. On September 22, two men in North Carolina were exonerated of their murder charges and freed from prison. Their release, after a decade in prison, came because of new evidence, including a confession from someone else and DNA evidence that implicated other suspects.
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