"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, September 13, 2015

U.S.: New Initiative Tracks Upcoming Death Penalty Cases

The Next to Die aims to bring attention, and thus accountability, to these upcoming executions. As impartial news organizations, The Marshall Project and its journalistic partners do not take a stance on the morality of capital punishment, but we do see a need for better reporting on a punishment that so divides Americans. Whether you believe that execution is a fitting way for society to deplore the most heinous crimes, or that it is too expensive, racially biased and subject to lethal error, you should be prepared to look it in the face.

As with most criminal justice issues, capital punishment is primarily enforced at the state level. More than half of the states have statutes permitting and regulating the death penalty. (There is also a federal death penalty, which was last used in 2003).

Several states have litigation pending against the death penalty, which has put a halt to executions, at least temporarily. Pennsylvania, a state with one of the most populous death rows, has signed 16 execution warrants this year but has not actually executed anyone since 1999, and the governor has recently declared a moratorium. Similarly in California, the state with the most inmates condemned to die, executions have been on hold since a 2006 ruling. Nebraska’s legislature recently repealed the death penalty, a largely symbolic gesture as the state hasn’t executed anyone since 1997.

Then there are the states that are still actively executing inmates on death row. Many operate under the cover of secrecy laws and despite a nationwide shortage of lethal injection drugs. The de facto leader by count alone is Texas, a state that has executed 528 people since 1976. In all, there are nine states that have executed people since 2013: Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio and Arizona. We are also watching Arkansas, which plans to resume executions after a 10-year hiatus. 

New Initiative Tracks Upcoming Death Penalty Cases

A new partnership between The Marshall Project and several media properties will shed light on capital punishment in the United States with a project called The Next to Die. According to an email from The Marshall Project announcing the initiative:

In partnership with five newsrooms – The Tampa Bay Times, Houston Chronicle, Tulsa Frontier, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and AL.com – we have created the first comprehensive, up-to-date schedule of executions in the United States. Featuring real-time tracking of every upcoming execution, an embeddable [see our right-hand sidebar], responsive widget, and profiles of the men and women scheduled to die, The Next to Die humanizes those on death row and shines a light on a lethal issue that is too often shrouded in secrecy.

The group has also compiled a database on the 1,414 executions in the United States since the Supreme Court lifted the suspension on executions in 1976.

Recent opinion polls have indicated the the public’s feeling toward executions is changing and some states have placed a moratorium on them. In the 1980s and 1990s a solid majority favored the death penalty, but a poll earlier this summer from Quinnipiac, showed that 48 percent of people preferred life without parole for convicted murderers, compared to 43 percent who preferred the death penalty.

The change in public sentiment can be attributed to several factors, but highly-publicized botched executions undoubtedly have played a role.

Source: BNR, Shawn Drury, September 12, 2015

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