Thursday, February 4, 2010

More Evidence on How the Death Penalty Fails as Public Policy

Nearly 50 years ago, as concern grew in the country about the fairness of death penalty laws, the American Law Institute published a "model statute" aimed at helping state lawmakers draft laws to ensure that death sentences were meted out fairly and consistently.

Last fall, the institute withdrew its support for the model death penalty law. The decision was a striking repudiation from the very organization that provided the blueprint for death penalty laws in this country.

In a series of decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court laid the foundation for this collision. The following quote from the article sums up many of the problems facing the administration of capital punishment:

"The death penalty cannot balance the need for consistency in sentencing with the need for individualized determinations. Its administration is unequal across racial groups. There is a grave lack of resources for defense lawyers. The law is distorted by the politics of judicial elections, and it consumes a disproportionate share of public resources."

Contributing to the overall problems, the Court continues its pattern of rejecting or ignoring social science evidence that many of the facets of administration do not work - guided discretion, bifurcated trials, death qualification, etc. - as intended.

More states are considering abolition, but it seems the driving force is the cost of this failed policy. But other factors such as the number of wrongful convictions, race, social class, and victim family advocacy are taking their toll on the popularity of capital punishment. The withdrawal of intellectual support should hasten the demise of this failed public policy.

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