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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Trump's complicated past with the death penalty and due process

Donald Trump
The day after Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was charged with desertion in 2015 after being held captive in Afghanistan for nearly 5 years, Donald Trump tweeted that the former Taliban prisoner should "face the death penalty" for abandoning his post and endangering his unit.

On Friday, a military judge gave Bergdahl no prison time, a move that now-President Trump criticized on Twitter as "a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military."

Earlier this week, as the clock approached midnight, the President tweeted that the suspect who killed 8 by driving a truck down a Manhattan bike path "SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!" -- the 1st time he tweeted a call for capital punishment as sitting President.

Legal experts said the President's comment, followed by a subsequent tweet repeating his call the next day, could entangle prosecutors as they seek to seat an unbiased jury and deliberate over what punishment to seek.

For the last 1/2 decade of public life and beyond, Trump has consistently called for capital punishment against some of America's most high-profile criminals. But he's done so with limited concern for due process -- in both the justice system and the method of execution itself -- which courts have shaped and ethicists have debated in the US for decades.

Trump has called for the death penalty more than a dozen times in the last 5 years, including:

On Drew Peterson, who gained national headlines after the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, Trump tweeted to "change the law" and "bring back the death penalty!"

Trump called for the "DEATH PENALTY!" in a tweet against the "deranged animals" who killed two police officers in Mississippi in 2015.

He also tweeted that Jared Lee Loughner, who shot former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed a half dozen others in 2011, "should be given the death penalty, not his plea bargained life in prison -- which will cost the taxpayers many millions of dollars."

But it's not just the use of capital punishment that Trump has pushed for. He's also called for expediting the judicial process and hinted at skirting the justice system's due process and implementing more brutal methods of execution.

In 1 tweet against the Aurora, Colorado, shooter James Holmes, who shot 82 people in a movie theater, Trump called for a "fast trial" and for lawmakers to "immediately pass speed up legbostoislation."

On a gunman who shot and killed a former coworker at the Empire State Building in 2012, Trump recommended "fast trials and death penalty."

In the case of Boston Marathon bomber, Trump tweeted for a "quick trial, then death penalty."

After a string of missing children in October 2012, Trump called for "fast trial" and "death penalty" on Twitter.

But he's also entertained more gruesome methods of execution. He also called for a "very fast trial and then the death penalty" against "the animal" who beheaded a woman in Oklahoma in September 2014, then tweeting "the same fate - beheading?"

And in a February 2016 speech on the campaign trail, Trump mocked people who consider the death penalty unconstitutional and develop humane methods of execution while talking about the fight against ISIS and the immigration system.

"It's like these guys that commit murder, right? They commit murder. They kill someone. ... They go to jail. 'We don't want the death penalty. It's cruel and unusual punishment,'" he said. "And then you have another case when they get the death penalty, want to give them drugs to put them to sleep quietly and this. Look, we're in a fight for our lives."

Capital punishment is legal in 31 states and the federal government, according to the National Conference for State Legislatures.

On the campaign trail ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Trump proposed an executive order requiring mandatory capital punishment for killing a police officer. Legal experts highlighted multiple constitutional concerns with the proposal at the time.

Trump's support for the death penalty stretches back decades, when he ran multiple full-page ads in New York City newspapers in 1989 following the rape and assault of a Central Park jogger.

In the full-page ads, Trump said that "our society will rot away" until capital punishment is used more commonly. "I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid," he wrote. "They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.''

Trump interviewed with Playboy on the topic the next year. "When a man or woman cold-bloodedly murders, he or she should pay. It sets an example. Nobody can make the argument that the death penalty isn't a deterrent. Either it will be brought back swiftly or our society will rot away. It is rotting away," he said.

Trump's desire to expedite the justice system hasn't stopped at capital punishment. When asked on "Fox and Friends" in April 2013, he said he supported nixing the US Supreme Court's requirement that suspects be read their rights to remain silence and obtain a lawyer at apprehension -- dubbed Miranda rights.

"I don't think so at all," Trump said in 2013 when asked whether he thought police ought to maintain the Miranda requirement.

"What I don't like seeing is a lot of people are saying we did something wrong," he said, lamenting questions at the time over whether a Boston Marathon bombing suspect was read his Miranda rights properly. "Here we go again, I mean I see it all the time. We did something wrong. We didn't read their rights. They weren't told of their rights."

"You know we have to get back to business in this country. This is disgraceful," he said.

Source: CNN, November 4, 2017


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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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