14 November 2007

The Company We Keep: Capital Punishment

Thomas Miller-El. One week after a stay of execution.
Photograph © Ken Light

"Last year at least 1,591 people were put to death in 25 nations, but 91% of those were executed in six countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the US." That observation from The Guardian today in this story on three men sentenced to death for something they did not do. The story draws on figures and research provided by Amnesty International. Public opinion studies, like this one from the Pew Center, suggest that a large majority of Americans support the death penalty. The disconnect between public opinion and the legal and practical realities of the death penalty is striking. Let's spread democracy around the world while keeping company with the most repressive regimes on matters like the death penalty.

Speaking first of the U.S. it seems to me that given the rates at which the American Judicial System wrongfully convicts innocent men and women, the death penalty should be off the table. I recommend the Center on Wrongful Convictions for the record of such "mistakes" in the U.S..

The Supreme Court is set to hear cases that raise constitutional questions about the death penalty, namely whether any current method of imposing it can avoid the 'cruel and unusal punishment' clause. I doubt it. So there is a second, narrowly legalistic, reason for opposing the death penalty.

And, of course, a third reason for opposing the death penalty is that in the U.S. it is imposed in a hopelessly biased manner in which the race of the victim, the race of the accused, or both play an important role in who is sentenced to death. Here again we return to a sort of arbitrariness wholly in consistent with equality before the law. On this you can link to the Death Penalty Information Center. There you can find information too on Thomas Miller-El who was granted a new trial by the U.S. Supreme Court due to suspcisions that Texas prosecutors manipulated jury selection to exclude black jurors. At that time (2004) Miller-El had been on death row nearly two decades.

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