Tuesday, December 20, 2011

State by State: The uneven treatment of the death penalty

The Christian Science Monitor examined why support for the death penalty seems to be on the decline.  Although nearly two-thirds of Americans still support the death penalty the article provides a glimpse into the very different ways the death penalty is handled across the country.

Polls showing the growth of support for life-without-parole sentences over the death penalty hint at changing attitudes that have likely had an effect on other high-profile cases, reported the Monitor. That includes the decision by Pennsylvania prosecutors this month to decline a new capital sentencing hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Instead of facing execution, Mr. Abu-Jamal, who has steadfastly declared his innocence, will remain in prison for the rest of his life.

California meanwhile, is in the middle of a debate over abolishing the practice in part because of its cost. The state, which is expected to hold a referendum on the issue next year, has spent $4 billion on its death row system and has executed 13 people since 1978.

In California, housing death row inmates is almost twice as expensive as housing someone in the general prison population, and trial costs can run up to $1 million per case, up to 20 times the cost of a murder trial where prosecutors are not asking for the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

While a number of states – including Illinois, New Mexico, New York, and New Jersey – have abolished the death penalty in recent years, its application and efficacy continue to be hotly debated even in New England, where only one person has been executed since 1960.

The brutal slaying of a Connecticut family led to the death penalty conviction of one of two convicted killers in a case that has led legislators to reconsider a proposed death penalty ban in that state, with many lawmakers now favoring leaving the sanction in place for only the most heinous crimes, reported the Monitor.

Meanwhile, an attempt in North Carolina to repeal the two-year-old Racial Justice Act, which allows death penalty convicts to argue that their convictions were racially based, failed when Governor Bev Perdue vetoed the repeal attempt on Wednesday. Prosecutors had argued the law is too broad, allowing nearly all 158 prisoners on the North Carolina death row – both black and white – to file for relief under the law.

To read more: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2011/1215/Why-the-death-penalty-is-at-historic-low-in-the-US

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