UNITED NATIONS -- Italy's premier Tuesday called for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its complete abolition, a move he said would guarantee better justice around the globe and an end to cultures of vengeance.
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Some years ago I predicted that international pressure would finally result in the death of capital punishment in the U.S. Obviously that has not happened yet, but there are some promising sign that both support and practice are beginning to change.
While we know that the traditional method of measuring the public's opinion is limited, even this standard shows that support has dropped from a high of 80% in 1994 to 67% in 2006. When asked the better question, do you favor life in prison or death for murderers, support for executions drops to 47%. The size of death row and the number of executions has also declined since 2000.
While this drop is welcome, it is too simple and early to say that the drop in public opinion is related, let alone has caused the decline in actual use of the death penalty. Other factors, such as the method of execution (lethal injection is being challenged in the courts) may play a role in the lower numbers of executions. On the other hand, changes in public opinion may have an impact in the decline in the death row population - prosecutors may be more reluctant to pursue capital cases for fear of losing and juries may not be imposing as many death sentences.
International opposition to capital punishment has had an impact on the death penalty in the U.S. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court took notice of the very limited practice of executing juveniles around the world (with the exception of the U.S. and seven other countries) when it finally banned the execution of juveniles.
I still maintain that the international pressure to abolish the death penalty may yet play a deciding factor in the retention of the death penalty, especially in the U.S. After the next presidential election, I hope that the eventual winner will want to begin to repair the damage to our credibility abroad. On the other hand, will the next president be mindful of international relations or will he or she fear the inevitable backlash from those who do not want the U.S. to be a partner in the global village?
Still, the retention of the death penalty makes it difficult for the U.S. to do "business" with other countries. Many countries prohibit extradition or sharing information with the U.S because of the death penalty. This factor has hindered efforts to interdict in terrorist efforts and has strained relations with many countries, such as Italy and Germany, because of the activities of our government on their soil. The U.S could not join the European Union because its members must abolish the death penalty. Will it be increasing difficult for U.S. business to conduct transactions with non-death penalty countries?