This handbook will not only provide an up-to-date reference that brings together known information, but will also offer previously unpublished comprehensive literature reviews and original research findings. Skip to main content Skip to table of contents.
Advertisement Hide. Editors view affiliations Marieke C. Front Matter Pages i-xi. Front Matter Pages Marieke C. Liem, William Alex Pridemore. Pages Paul R. Smit, Rinke R. Carol L. Trent, William Alex Pridemore. Patricia L. Engen, Kelly M. Homicide Followed by Suicide in Europe. Liem, Dietrich Oberwittler.
Terrorism in Europe from Present. Alcohol and Homicide in Europe. Immigration and Homicide in Contemporary Europe. Firearms and Homicide in Europe. Homicide in England and Wales. Subsequently 38 state legislatures and the Federal government enacted death penalty statutes patterned after those the Court upheld in Gregg. Congress also enacted and expanded federal death penalty statutes for peacetime espionage by military personnel and for a vast range of categories of murder.
Executions resumed in Since then, states have developed a range of processes to ensure that mentally retarded individuals are not executed. Many have elected to hold proceedings prior to the merits trial, many with juries, to determine whether an accused is mentally retarded. In , the Supreme Court held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution forbid imposition of the death penalty on offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed, resulting in commutation of death sentences to life for dozens of individuals across the country.
As of August , over 3, men and women are under a death sentence and more than 1, men, women and children at the time of the crime have been executed since Despite the Supreme Court's ruling in Gregg v. Georgia , et al, the ACLU continues to oppose capital punishment on moral, practical, and constitutional grounds:. Capital punishment is cruel and unusual.
It is cruel because it is a relic of the earliest days of penology, when slavery, branding, and other corporal punishments were commonplace. Like those barbaric practices, executions have no place in a civilized society. It is unusual because only the United States of all the western industrialized nations engages in this punishment. It is also unusual because only a random sampling of convicted murderers in the United States receive a sentence of death.
Capital punishment denies due process of law. Its imposition is often arbitrary, and always irrevocable — forever depriving an individual of the opportunity to benefit from new evidence or new laws that might warrant the reversal of a conviction, or the setting aside of a death sentence. The death penalty violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
It is applied randomly — and discriminatorily.
It is imposed disproportionately upon those whose victims are white, offenders who are people of color, and on those who are poor and uneducated and concentrated in certain geographic regions of the country. The death penalty is not a viable form of crime control. When police chiefs were asked to rank the factors that, in their judgment, reduce the rate of violent crime, they mentioned curbing drug use and putting more officers on the street, longer sentences and gun control.
They ranked the death penalty as least effective. Politicians who preach the desirability of executions as a method of crime control deceive the public and mask their own failure to identify and confront the true causes of crime. Capital punishment wastes limited resources. It squanders the time and energy of courts, prosecuting attorneys, defense counsel, juries, and courtroom and law enforcement personnel.
It unduly burdens the criminal justice system, and it is thus counterproductive as an instrument for society's control of violent crime. Limited funds that could be used to prevent and solve crime and provide education and jobs are spent on capital punishment. Opposing the death penalty does not indicate a lack of sympathy for murder victims. On the contrary, murder demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. Because life is precious and death irrevocable, murder is abhorrent, and a policy of state-authorized killings is immoral. It epitomizes the tragic inefficacy and brutality of violence, rather than reason, as the solution to difficult social problems.
Many murder victims do not support state-sponsored violence to avenge the death of their loved one. Sadly, these victims have often been marginalized by politicians and prosecutors, who would rather publicize the opinions of pro-death penalty family members. Changes in death sentencing have proved to be largely cosmetic. The defects in death-penalty laws, conceded by the Supreme Court in the early s, have not been appreciably altered by the shift from unrestrained discretion to "guided discretion.
A society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings. An execution is a violent public spectacle of official homicide, and one that endorses killing to solve social problems — the worst possible example to set for the citizenry, and especially children. Governments worldwide have often attempted to justify their lethal fury by extolling the purported benefits that such killing would bring to the rest of society. The benefits of capital punishment are illusory, but the bloodshed and the resulting destruction of community decency are real.
Deterrence is a function not only of a punishment's severity, but also of its certainty and frequency. The argument most often cited in support of capital punishment is that the threat of execution influences criminal behavior more effectively than imprisonment does.
As plausible as this claim may sound, in actuality the death penalty fails as a deterrent for several reasons. A punishment can be an effective deterrent only if it is consistently and promptly employed. Capital punishment cannot be administered to meet these conditions. The proportion of first-degree murderers who are sentenced to death is small, and of this group, an even smaller proportion of people are executed. Although death sentences in the mids increased to about per year , this is still only about one percent of all homicides known to the police.
Of all those convicted on a charge of criminal homicide, only 3 percent — about 1 in 33 — are eventually sentenced to death. Between , the average number of death sentences per year dropped to , reducing the percentage even more. Mandatory death sentencing is unconstitutional. The possibility of increasing the number of convicted murderers sentenced to death and executed by enacting mandatory death penalty laws was ruled unconstitutional in Woodson v.
North Carolina , U. A considerable time between the imposition of the death sentence and the actual execution is unavoidable, given the procedural safeguards required by the courts in capital cases. Starting with selecting the trial jury, murder trials take far longer when the ultimate penalty is involved. Furthermore, post-conviction appeals in death-penalty cases are far more frequent than in other cases. These factors increase the time and cost of administering criminal justice.
We can reduce delay and costs only by abandoning the procedural safeguards and constitutional rights of suspects, defendants, and convicts — with the attendant high risk of convicting the wrong person and executing the innocent. This is not a realistic prospect: our legal system will never reverse itself to deny defendants the right to counsel, or the right to an appeal. Persons who commit murder and other crimes of personal violence often do not premeditate their crimes.
Most capital crimes are committed in the heat of the moment. Most capital crimes are committed during moments of great emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when logical thinking has been suspended. Many capital crimes are committed by the badly emotionally-damaged or mentally ill. In such cases, violence is inflicted by persons unable to appreciate the consequences to themselves as well as to others. Even when crime is planned, the criminal ordinarily concentrates on escaping detection, arrest, and conviction.
The threat of even the severest punishment will not discourage those who expect to escape detection and arrest. It is impossible to imagine how the threat of any punishment could prevent a crime that is not premeditated. Furthermore, the death penalty is a futile threat for political terrorists, like Timothy McVeigh, because they usually act in the name of an ideology that honors its martyrs. Capital punishment doesn't solve our society's crime problem. Threatening capital punishment leaves the underlying causes of crime unaddressed, and ignores the many political and diplomatic sanctions such as treaties against asylum for international terrorists that could appreciably lower the incidence of terrorism.
Capital punishment has been a useless weapon in the so-called "war on drugs. It is irrational to think that the death penalty — a remote threat at best — will avert murders committed in drug turf wars or by street-level dealers. If, however, severe punishment can deter crime, then permanent imprisonment is severe enough to deter any rational person from committing a violent crime.
The vast preponderance of the evidence shows that the death penalty is no more effective than imprisonment in deterring murder and that it may even be an incitement to criminal violence. Death-penalty states as a group do not have lower rates of criminal homicide than non-death-penalty states. Use of the death penalty in a given state may actually increase the subsequent rate of criminal homicide.
Perhaps because "a return to the exercise of the death penalty weakens socially based inhibitions against the use of lethal force to settle disputes…. In adjacent states — one with the death penalty and the other without it — the state that practices the death penalty does not always show a consistently lower rate of criminal homicide.
For example, between l and l, the homicide rates in Wisconsin and Iowa non-death-penalty states were half the rates of their neighbor, Illinois — which restored the death penalty in l, and by had sentenced persons to death and carried out two executions. On-duty police officers do not suffer a higher rate of criminal assault and homicide in abolitionist states than they do in death-penalty states.
Between and , for example, lethal assaults against police were not significantly more or less frequent in abolitionist states than in death-penalty states. Capital punishment did not appear to provide officers added protection during that time frame. In fact, the three leading states in law enforcement homicide in were also very active death penalty states : California highest death row population , Texas most executions since , and Florida third highest in executions and death row population.
If anything, the death penalty incited violence rather than curbed it. Prisoners and prison personnel do not suffer a higher rate of criminal assault and homicide from life-term prisoners in abolition states than they do in death-penalty states. Between and , inmates were murdered by other prisoners. Evidently, the threat of the death penalty "does not even exert an incremental deterrent effect over the threat of a lesser punishment in the abolitionist states.
Actual experience thus establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the death penalty does not deter murder. No comparable body of evidence contradicts that conclusion. Furthermore, there are documented cases in which the death penalty actually incited the capital crimes it was supposed to deter. These include instances of the so-called suicide-by-execution syndrome — persons who wanted to die but feared taking their own lives, and committed murder so that the state would kill them.
For example, in , Daniel Colwell , who suffered from mental illness, claimed that he killed a randomly-selected couple in a Georgia parking lot so that the state would kill him — he was sentenced to death and ultimately took his own life while on death row. Although inflicting the death penalty guarantees that the condemned person will commit no further crimes, it does not have a demonstrable deterrent effect on other individuals. Further, it is a high price to pay when studies show that few convicted murderers commit further crimes of violence.
Researchers examined the prison and post-release records of prisoners on death row in whose sentences were reduced to incarceration for life by the Supreme Court's ruling in Furman. This research showed that seven had committed another murder. But the same study showed that in four other cases, an innocent man had been sentenced to death. Recidivism among murderers does occasionally happen, but it occurs less frequently than most people believe; the media rarely distinguish between a convicted offender who murders while on parole, and a paroled murderer who murders again.
Government data show that about one in 12 death row prisoners had a prior homicide conviction. But as there is no way to predict reliably which convicted murderers will try to kill again, the only way to prevent all such recidivism is to execute every convicted murderer — a policy no one seriously advocates. Equally effective but far less inhumane is a policy of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Constitutional due process and elementary justice both require that the judicial functions of trial and sentencing be conducted with fundamental fairness, especially where the irreversible sanction of the death penalty is involved.
In murder cases since , 88 percent of all executions have been for this crime , there has been substantial evidence to show that courts have sentenced some persons to prison while putting others to death in a manner that has been arbitrary, racially biased, and unfair. Racial discrimination was one of the grounds on which the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in Furman. Half a century ago, in his classic American Dilemma , Gunnar Myrdal reported that "the South makes the widest application of the death penalty, and Negro criminals come in for much more than their share of the executions.
Our nation's death rows have always held a disproportionately large population of African Americans, relative to their percentage of the total population. Comparing black and white offenders over the past century, the former were often executed for what were considered less-than-capital offenses for whites, such as rape and burglary. Between and , men were executed for rape, of whom — 90 percent — were black.
A higher percentage of the blacks who were executed were juveniles; and the rate of execution without having one's conviction reviewed by any higher court was higher for blacks. In recent years, it has been argued that such flagrant racial discrimination is a thing of the past. However, since the revival of the death penalty in the mids, about half of those on death row at any given time have been black. More striking is the racial comparison of victims. African-Americans are six times as likely as white Americans to die at the hands of a murderer, and roughly seven times as likely to murder someone.
Young black men are fifteen times as likely to be murdered as young white men. So given this information, when those under death sentence are examined more closely, it turns out that race is a decisive factor after all. The classic statistical study of racial discrimination in capital cases in Georgia presented in the McCleskey case showed that "the average odds of receiving a death sentence among all indicted cases were 4. Baldus et al.
Kemp and while the Court did not dispute the statistical evidence, it held that evidence of an overall pattern of racial bias was not sufficient. McCleskey would have to prove racial bias in his own case — a virtually impossible task. The Court also held that the evidence failed to show that there was "a constitutionally significant risk of racial bias In , the U. General Accounting Office reported to the Congress the results of its review of empirical studies on racism and the death penalty. The GAO concluded : "Our synthesis of the 28 studies shows a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty after the Furman decision" and that "race of victim influence was found at all stages of the criminal justice system process Texas was prepared to execute Duane Buck on September 15, Buck was condemned to death by a jury that had been told by an expert psychologist that he was more likely to be dangerous because he was African American.
The Supreme Court stayed the case, but Mr. Buck has not yet received the new sentencing hearing justice requires. These results cannot be explained away by relevant non-racial factors, such as prior criminal record or type of crime, as these were factored for in the Baldus and GAO studies referred to above. They lead to a very unsavory conclusion: In the trial courts of this nation, even at the present time, the killing of a white person is treated much more severely than the killing of a black person.
Of the white defendants executed, only three had been convicted of murdering people of color. Our criminal justice system essentially reserves the death penalty for murderers regardless of their race who kill white victims. Both gender and socio-economic class also determine who receives a death sentence and who is executed.
Women account for only two percent of all people sentenced to death , even though females commit about 11 percent of all criminal homicides. Many of the women under death sentence were guilty of killing men who had victimized them with years of violent abuse. Since , only 51 women have been executed in the United States 15 of them black. Discrimination against the poor and in our society, racial minorities are disproportionately poor is also well established. It is a prominent factor in the availability of counsel. Fairness in capital cases requires, above all, competent counsel for the defendant.
Yet "approximately 90 percent of those on death row could not afford to hire a lawyer when they were tried. As Justice William O. Douglas noted in Furman , "One searches our chronicles in vain for the execution of any member of the affluent strata in this society" US The demonstrated inequities in the actual administration of capital punishment should tip the balance against it in the judgment of fair-minded and impartial observers. Justice John Marshall Harlan, writing for the Court in Furman , noted "… the history of capital punishment for homicides … reveals continual efforts, uniformly unsuccessful, to identify before the fact those homicides for which the slayer should die….
Those who have come to grips with the hard task of actually attempting to draft means of channeling capital sentencing discretion have confirmed the lesson taught by history….
To identify before the fact those characteristics of criminal homicides and their perpetrators which call for the death penalty, and to express these characteristics in language which can be fairly understood and applied by the sentencing authority, appear to be tasks which are beyond present human ability. Yet in the Gregg decision, the majority of the Supreme Court abandoned the wisdom of Justice Harlan and ruled as though the new guided-discretion statutes could accomplish the impossible.
The truth is that death statutes approved by the Court "do not effectively restrict the discretion of juries by any real standards, and they never will. No society is going to kill everybody who meets certain preset verbal requirements, put on the statute books without awareness of coverage of the infinity of special factors the real world can produce.
Evidence obtained by the Capital Jury Project has shown that jurors in capital trials generally do not understand the judge's instructions about the laws that govern the choice between imposing the death penalty and a life sentence. Even when they do comprehend, jurors often refuse to be guided by the law. The effect [of this relative lack of comprehension of the law]… is to reduce the likelihood that capital defendants will benefit from the safeguards against arbitrariness built into the… law. Even if the jury's sentencing decision were strictly governed by the relevant legal criteria, there remains a vast reservoir of unfettered discretion: the prosecutor's decision to prosecute for a capital or lesser crime, the court's willingness to accept or reject a guilty plea, the jury's decision to convict for second-degree murder or manslaughter rather than capital murder, the determination of the defendant's sanity, and the governor's final clemency decision, among others.
Discretion in the criminal justice system is unavoidable. The history of capital punishment in America clearly demonstrates the social desire to mitigate the harshness of the death penalty by narrowing the scope of its application. Whether or not explicitly authorized by statutes, sentencing discretion has been the main vehicle to this end. But when sentencing discretion is used — as it too often has been — to doom the poor, the friendless, the uneducated, racial minorities, and the despised, it becomes injustice.
Mindful of such facts, the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association including 20 out of 24 former presidents of the ABA called for a moratorium on all executions by a vote of to in February The House judged the current system to be "a haphazard maze of unfair practices.
The Case Against the Death Penalty | American Civil Liberties Union
In its survey of the death penalty in the United States, the International Commission of Jurists reinforced this point. Despite the efforts made over the past two decades since Gregg to protect the administration of the death penalty from abuses, the actual "constitutional errors committed in state courts have gravely undermined the legitimacy of the death penalty as a punishment for crime. The ALI, which created the modern legal framework for the death penalty in , indicated that the punishment is so arbitrary, fraught with racial and economic disparities, and unable to assure quality legal representation for indigent capital defendants, that it can never be administered fairly.
Thoughtful citizens, who might possibly support the abstract notion of capital punishment, are obliged to condemn it in actual practice. Unlike any other criminal punishments, the death penalty is irrevocable. Speaking to the French Chamber of Deputies in , years after having witnessed the excesses of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette said, "I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me. Since , in this country, there have been on the average more than four cases each year in which an entirely innocent person was convicted of murder.
Scores of these individuals were sentenced to death. In many cases, a reprieve or commutation arrived just hours, or even minutes, before the scheduled execution. These erroneous convictions have occurred in virtually every jurisdiction from one end of the nation to the other.
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Nor have they declined in recent years, despite the new death penalty statutes approved by the Supreme Court. Disturbingly, and increasingly, a large body of evidence from the modern era shows that innocent people are often convicted of crimes — including capital crimes — and that some have been executed. He was convicted largely based on eyewitness testimony made from the back of a police car in a dimly lit lot near the crime scene.
This sample of freakish and arbitrary innocence determinations also speaks directly to the unceasing concern that there are many more innocent people on death rows across the country — as well as who have been executed. Several factors seen in the above sample of cases help explain why the judicial system cannot guarantee that justice will never miscarry: overzealous prosecution, mistaken or perjured testimony, race, faulty police work, coerced confessions, the defendant's previous criminal record, inept and under-resourced defense counsel, seemingly conclusive circumstantial evidence, and community pressure for a conviction, among others.
And when the system does go wrong, it is often volunteers from outside the criminal justice system — journalists, for example — who rectify the errors, not the police or prosecutors. To retain the death penalty in the face of the demonstrable failures of the system is unacceptable, especially since there are no strong overriding reasons to favor the death penalty.
Xuan “Song” Lai
Prisoners are executed in the United States by any one of five methods; in a few jurisdictions the prisoner is allowed to choose which one he or she prefers:. The traditional mode of execution, hanging , is an option still available in Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington. Death on the gallows is easily bungled: If the drop is too short, there will be a slow and agonizing death by strangulation.
If the drop is too long, the head will be torn off. Two states, Idaho and Utah, still authorize the firing squad. The prisoner is strapped into a chair and hooded. A target is pinned to the chest. Five marksmen, one with blanks, take aim and fire. Throughout the twentieth century, electrocution has been the most widely used form of execution in this country, and is still utilized in eleven states, although lethal injection is the primary method of execution. The condemned prisoner is led — or dragged — into the death chamber, strapped into the chair, and electrodes are fastened to head and legs.
When the switch is thrown the body strains, jolting as the voltage is raised and lowered. Often smoke rises from the head. There is the awful odor of burning flesh. No one knows how long electrocuted individuals retain consciousness. In , the electrocution of John Evans in Alabama was described by an eyewitness as follows:. Evans' body. Sparks and flames erupted … from the electrode tied to Mr. Evans' left leg. His body slammed against the straps holding him in the electric chair and his fist clenched permanently. The electrode apparently burst from the strap holding it in place.
A large puff of grayish smoke and sparks poured out from under the hood that covered Mr. Evans' face.