Monday, August 08, 2005

Stevens on the Death Penalty

Justice John Paul Stevens, the patriarch of the Supreme Court’s liberal faction, dished out a stiff criticism of the death penalty this week.

Stevens said DNA evidence has shown "that a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed erroneously. . . . It indicates that there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal justice," he said.

The debate over the morality of the death penalty is unlikely to reach a consensus any time soon. But the argument that our death penalty, in its current incarnation, suffers from some very real shortcomings is supported by ample evidence.

Chief among the death penalty’s problems is the execution or near-execution of innocents. Via Amnesty International:

Since 1973, 119 prisoners have been released in the USA after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. There were six such cases in 2004 and two up to June 2005. Some prisoners had come close to execution after spending many years under sentence of death. Recurring features in their cases include prosecutorial or police misconduct; the use of unreliable witness testimony, physical evidence, or confessions; and inadequate defense representation. Other US prisoners have gone to their deaths despite serious doubts over their guilt.
Check out the full list of death penalty facts and figures on Amnesty International’s Web site.

--Matthew McCoy