|Justice Stephen Breyer|
Breyer makes the case against "unusual" punishments
When the Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor a controversial lethal-injection drug, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote an impassioned dissent. He argued that not only was the specific drug combo unconstitutionally cruel, but the entire practice of lethal injection should be reconsidered. To back his argument, he brought charts.
"Cruel and unusual punishments" are expressly forbidden in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The first three items above are Breyer's reasoning for why the death penalty is cruel: The methods are unreliable, the sentencing is arbitrary, and the years of uncertain waiting before execution are torturous. It's the fourth item—the declining use of capital punishment across the U.S.—that Breyer uses to argue the unusual nature of executions.
Argument #4. Geographic Concentration of Executions Is Narrowing
Of America's 50 states, 30 have either legally abolished executions or just stopped conducting them. Of the remaining 20 states, only 11 have had more than four executions in the past eight years. That, writes Breyer, is "a fairly rare event."
The geography of executions is even more concentrated than these numbers imply.
Counties With Five or More Death Sentences
Breyer argues that it's not the number of states that are still executing prisoners that matters but the consistent decline. In the past two decades, no state has reinstated the death penalty. Just three states—Texas, Missouri, and Florida—accounted for 80 percent of executions last year.
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Source: Bloomberg, Tom Randall, June 30, 2015
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