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January 1, 2013

New York Times rings in new year with old arguments against death penalty

This new editorial from the New York Times, headlined "America’s Retreat From the Death Penalty," repeats the Gray Lady's long-standing opposition to the ultimate punishment. Here are excerpts from this latest capital lament:

When the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, it said there were two social purposes for imposing capital punishment for the most egregious crimes: deterrence and retribution.  In recent months, these justifications for a cruel and uncivilized punishment have been seriously undermined by a growing group of judges, prosecutors, scholars and others involved in criminal justice, conservatives and liberals alike....

The punishment is supposed to be reserved for the very worst criminals, but dozens of studies in state after state have shown that the process for deciding who should be sent to death row is arbitrary and discriminatory....

All of these factors have led the states to retreat from the death penalty in recent years — in both law and in practice. In 2012, Connecticut became the fifth state in five years to abolish the penalty. Nine states executed inmates, the fewest in two decades. Three-fourths of the 43 executions in 2012 were carried out in only four states. The number of new death sentences remained low at 77 — about one-third the number in 2000 — with just four states accounting for almost two-thirds of those sentences. While 33 states retain the death penalty on their books, 13 of them have not executed anyone for at least five years.

Those 13 states plus the 17 without the penalty means that 30 states are not carrying it out — and that includes California, which retained the death penalty in a November referendum vote.  Almost one-quarter of the 3,146 death row inmates in the United States, as of October, are imprisoned in California, but that state has not executed anyone in seven years....

In January, executions are scheduled to take place in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas. As it happens, major reviews of the death penalty are under way in each of those states.  The reviews are very likely to find that those states have failed to meet standards of fairness under the Constitution, just as reviews of the capital systems in other states have concluded in the last decade.

The large number of states no longer carrying out executions indicates a kind of national consensus.  It points to “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” an idea that the Supreme Court has evoked in judging the constitutionality of punishments.  The court used that analysis most recently when it ruled that mandatory life sentences without possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders even if they are convicted of homicide.

It should similarly recognize that under evolving standards capital punishment is cruel and unusual and should be abolished.

January 1, 2013 at 11:41 PM | Permalink


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??"but dozens of studies in state after state have shown that the process for deciding who should be sent to death row is arbitrary and discriminatory.... ""??

The Denver Post has an article describing the work of Rhonda Fields, African-American of Colorado.
Here are some of its reporting which I find poignant:

|---"She's spoken to reporters, to lawmakers, to community activists and congregations....
police and prosecutors are [now] more likely to protect witnesses, said Gretchen Fronapfel — the Aurora detective">>>

---"Fields may find a similar comfort — she is president of Voices of Victims, which Cannata founded to help families
cope with parole hearings and appeals...">>>

---"Fields and Wolfe have started the Fields Wolfe Memorial Fund, which, along with Colorado State U. awards
scholarships of $1,500/sem to two local students who attend Javad's and Vivian's alma mater.">>>

---""We grieve differently," Fields said...she still makes Javad's favorite pork chops, string beans and mashed
potatoes every Jan. 29 — his birthday."

---"Javad Marshall Fields [and his fiancee] was killed to stop him from testifying in a murder trial...even
now, [his mom would not] tell him to keep quiet....' I couldn't undo the values he was raised with."

---"She just wishes she could have protected him...."I blame myself that I couldn't save him."" |

{{Here's her defiant stance on the death penalty}}
"As state Rep. Rhonda Fields' Democratic colleagues attempt to gather support for ending capital punishment
through legislation...she has started work on a...counterproposal..."Colorado lawmakers should not slam the door on justice for those who commit heinous crimes".


Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 2, 2013 11:42:43 AM

Excellent. We're slowly moving in the right direction. We'll be a better country when we have no drug war and no capital punishment.

Posted by: Scarlett Rose | Jan 2, 2013 11:44:18 AM

Scarlett --

I see where you're coming from, but you don't take it far enough. We'd be a better country if we abandoned incarceration, since it's only used by the Ruling Class to savage minorities and the poor. To the extent right-wingers claim it's used as a punishment for crime -- ha, ha, -- we all know that the only "crime" around results from police corruption and planting evidence.

Right on! Kill the pigs!!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 2, 2013 12:38:19 PM

|-| Clarence Darrow Is Dead in Chicago |-|
" Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES: CHICAGO, March 14, 1938 -- Clarence Darrow, famous criminal lawyer, recently described as one who thoroughly understood human nature... was known internationally as a criminal lawyer. Defender in a hundred or more murder trials, no client of his had ever died on the gallows or electric chair. "
"...to him man was merely a clod, a helpless organism continually "condemned for getting out of step with the crowd, not for doing evil."

"The reason I talk to you on the question of crime, its cause and cure,
is because I really do not in the least believe in crime....
I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be.
They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account
of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and
for which they are in no way responsible."~Darrow, 1902

Scarlett: "no drug war and no capital punishment" -- how about no punishment at all? --

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 2, 2013 2:05:14 PM

On the death penalty and drug war, I think a middle ground between ending both and "no punishment" is possible & many of various political persuasions think so too. As to slippery slopes, calling Prof. Volokh!

Posted by: Joe | Jan 3, 2013 11:23:03 AM

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