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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

The Deterrence Myth: Prop 66 Death Penalty ‘Reform’ is just ‘Fools Gold’ for Californians

Execution chamber, San Quentin State Prison, California
Execution chamber, San Quentin State Prison, California
DEATH PENALTY POLITICS--When Mike Ramos, the current district attorney for San Bernardino County (and candidate for California Attorney General), pleaded for Californians to send him one million dollars at the end of April -- so he could afford "paid petition gatherers" to collect enough signatures to qualify "the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016" for placement on the November 8 ballot -- he asserted, "the threat, and application, of a working death penalty law in California is law enforcement's strongest tool to keep our communities safe." 

Other than the proverbial bridge in Brooklyn, no bigger, more bald-faced balderdash has heretofore been sold to Californian voters. 

Eviscerating the myth that the death penalty acts as a valuable deterrent, the Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund soberly observed in 2014, that "there's still no evidence that executions deter criminals." Delving into scientific studies done on the subject for Newsweek, including a 2012 study by the National Academy of Sciences (comprised of our nation's brightest scientific minds), Stanford Law Professor John Donohue’s assessment of the death penalty's deterrent value at the end of last summer was even bleaker. In a column called, “Does the death penalty deter killers?,” Donohue resoundingly concluded: "There is not the slightest credible statistical evidence that capital punishment reduces the rate of homicide." 

Instead of continuing such a deeply flawed policy, Donohue wrote: “A better way to address the problem of homicide is to take the resources that would otherwise be wasted in operating a death penalty regime and use them on strategies that are known to reduce crime, such as hiring and properly training police officers and solving crime.” (Formerly a professor at Yale and Northwestern Law School, Donohue is one of the leading empirical researchers in legal academia.) 

The shibboleth that the death penalty acts as a deterrent is just one of many reasons why “Proposition 66, ‘The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016,’ is Fool’s Gold for Californians.” 

Savvy, streetwise, sophisticated Californians have a superlatively better, more effective alternative to vote for, called Proposition 62, "The Justice That Works Act of 2016." Proposition 62 would (1) replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole; (2) require death row inmates to work and pay wages to their victims' families; and (3) save taxpayers a projected $150 million dollars a year. 

Apart from finally ending California’s ignominious and failed experiment with capital punishment -- making us a standard-bearer for other states where already, “practically speaking, the death penalty is disappearing” – do you know what’s best about Proposition 62? 

Unlike Proposition 66, the prospective benefits of Proposition 62 are not illusory, based on a bunch of baloney, glorified ballyhoo, or like death penalty proponents’ deterrence argument – bunk.

Source: City Watch, Stephen A. Cooper, July 18, 2016. Mr. Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015.

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