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2018 Death Penalty report: Saudi Arabia’s False Promise

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With crown prince Mohammed bin Salman at the helm, 2018 was a deeply violent and barbaric year for Saudi Arabia, under his de facto leadership.
PhotoDeera Square is a public space located in front of the Religious Police building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which public executions (usually by beheading) take place. It is sometimes known as Justice Square and colloquially called Chop Chop Square. After Friday prayers, police and other officials clear the area to make way for the execution to take place. After the beheading of the condemned, the head is stitched to the body which is wrapped up and taken away for the final rites.
This year execution rates of 149 executions, shows an increase from the previous year of three executions, indicating that death penalty trends are soaring and there is no reversal of this trend in sight.
The execution rates between 2015-2018 are amongst the highest recorded in the Kingdom since the 1990s and coincide with the ascension of king Salman to the t…

The U.S. Supreme Court should strike down the death penalty

US Supreme Court
After more than 40 years of experimenting with capital punishment, it is time to recognize that we have found no way to narrow the death penalty so that it applies only to the “worst of the worst.” It also remains prone to terrible errors and unacceptable arbitrariness.

Arizona’s death-penalty scheme is a prime example of how capital punishment in the United States unavoidably violates the Eighth Amendment’s requirement that the death penalty not be applied arbitrarily. The Supreme Court will soon consider accepting a case challenging Arizona’s statute and the death penalty nationwide, in Hidalgo v. Arizona.

Forty-five years ago, in Furman v. Georgia, the court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional because it was administered arbitrarily. Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote that the death penalty was “cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” As a result, Arizona and other states rewrote their death-penalty statutes in an attempt to narrow the punishment to the worst offenders. The Arizona legislature passed a law in 1973 that required prosecutors to prove at least one of six aggravating factors before the death penalty could be imposed.

The constitutionality of the death penalty returned to the Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. There, the court concluded that state lawmakers could “minimize the risk of wholly arbitrary and capricious” executions by specifying aggravating circumstances for which the death penalty could apply. In the four decades since Gregg, Arizona and other states have expanded their list of aggravating factors, such as committing murders for hire or committing multiple murders. Since 1973, the Arizona legislature has more than doubled its number of aggravating factors to 14.

Scholars call this problem “aggravator creep.” As a result of Arizona’s ever-expanding list of aggravating factors, 99 percent of those convicted of first-degree murder are eligible for execution. This wholly fails to meet the constitutional duty to narrow the punishment to those murderers who are “most deserving” of the punishment.

It has also opened the door to disturbing racial trends. Studies show that people in Arizona (and nationally) accused of murdering white victims are much more likely to receive the death penalty. There are also geographic disparities: Some counties do not pursue the death penalty, while Maricopa County, where the defendant in the Hidalgo case was tried, imposed the death penalty at a rate 2.3 times higher than the rest of the state over a five-year period.

The Hidalgo case exemplifies the problems with our current capital punishment regimes, problems that several Supreme Court justices have expressed interest in addressing. It also presents these constitutional problems cleanly, without the procedural obstacles that sometimes dissuade justices from hearing important constitutional cases.

Instead of continuing, in the words of Justice Harry A. Blackmun, to “tinker with the machinery of death,” the court should hold the death penalty unconstitutional nationwide.

In doing so, the court would be recognizing our country’s movement away from capital punishment: Eleven states that have the death penalty on their books have not had an execution in the past 10 years — four states have suspended the death penalty, and 19 have abolished it entirely. Each year, the death penalty continues to shrink as its use becomes not less but more arbitrary: Death sentences have declined by more than half in just the past five years. Executions went from a modern-era high of 98 in 1999 to 20 in 2016. A handful of counties — just 2 percent — are driving the death penalty while the rest of the nation has moved on.

One reason jurors are increasingly uncomfortable in choosing death is the growing awareness that too many condemned people are, in fact, innocent. In the modern era of the death penalty, 160 people have been exonerated and freed from death row because of evidence that they were wrongly convicted. A painstaking study from the National Academy of Sciences concluded that 4 out of every 100 people sentenced to death in the United States are innocent. When even 1 in 1,000 would be unacceptable, the continued use of the death penalty undermines the public’s confidence in the criminal-justice system.

The court should acknowledge that capital punishment — in Arizona and everywhere else — violates human dignity and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. At the very least, it should enforce the requirement that the death penalty be available only in the rarest of circumstances.

Source: The Washington Post, Opinions, Laurence H. Tribe, November 2, 2017. Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University.


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

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