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January 14, 2007

MSM figuring out death penalty is dying

Though I have been talking about the slow death of the death penalty for more than two years (see here and here for early buzzing), the mainstream media is now finally starting to cover the story extensively.  On Friday, ABC News had this piece focused mostly on lethal injection issues entitled, "Death Knell for the Death Penalty?"  And today, the Washington Post has this intriguing piece entitled "Dead End -- Capital Punishment: At a Crossroads, or Is This the Exit?"

The provocative Post piece provides a look at these issues in a way that should really appeal to law-and-literature types.  It also includes these notable insight:

Americans (including the president) do support the death penalty. They do so at 67 percent, though their betters -- newspaper editorial writers, the French -- tell them they shouldn't. The United States is one of four countries that account for about 95 percent of the world's executions (the others being China, Saudi Arabia and Iran).

Americans support it three decades after all of Western Europe stopped, calling it outdated, unfair and barbaric. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch -- oh, you know. Opponents generally portray it as being on its way out, though that is hardly clear.

Two months ago, voters in Wisconsin asked to reinstate the death penalty -- 153 years after abolishing it. The non-binding referendum, which said the penalty would be used only for vicious crimes where DNA evidence proved guilt, passed at nearly 56 percent. "It passed in 71 of 72 counties, and in some counties the vote was at 68 percent," said state Sen. Alan Lasee (R), who pushed the bill.

This despite the patchwork nature of capital punishment, the fact that there is really little rhyme nor much reason as to who gets executed, and why.  (A man is executed in North Carolina for killing his stepdaughter, but the BTK Killer in Kansas and the Green River Killer in Washington get life in prison.) It is so seldom used (56 times last year) that it has long since stopped being a working part of the criminal justice system. In the past 20 years, prosecutors and supporters have begun saying it is needed because it "brings closure" to victims' families, but they can't possibly mean that, because that would imply that 99 percent of the families of victims never get closure.  The system is filled with what Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun once called "arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice and mistake."

January 14, 2007 at 09:06 AM | Permalink


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What is really annoying about this whole thing is the blatant disregard for the rights of society here. Capital punishment is unquestionably constitutional. Yet it gets thwarted by the courts. The courts have shackled the states by imposing Byzantine procedures, thereby creating some of the "arbitrariness" (as if following all of the procedures presecribed by the Supreme Court makes something arbitrary).

The racial discrimination claims are overblown. The pain issue on lethal injection is ridiculous.

Doesn't anyone want to stand up for democracy?

Posted by: | Jan 14, 2007 12:31:33 PM

My understanding is that in many European countries the death penalty still enjoys popular support, but was discontinued not due to popular wish, but judicial fiat. Funny how so many elitist-minded people really despise democracy.

Posted by: Steve | Jan 14, 2007 1:21:03 PM

The relevance of the comment about the BTK killer escapes me. Yes, people who commit murder in states which have no death penalty at the time of the murder do not get the death penalty. Neither do those who commit murder, or even genocide, in Europe or Canada. And the point is ...?

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 14, 2007 1:35:23 PM

One of the worst things about our current death penalty regime is that it is so under-used that it does not constitute the deterrent that it should.

Posted by: Trent | Jan 14, 2007 7:21:41 PM

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