Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Twelve Indian States Think the Death Penalty Shouldn’t Be Abolished

Only Tripura and Karnataka have so far told the home ministry that the practice should be done away with.

New Delhi: Fourteen states and union territories have replied so far to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ query on the death penalty, and only two of them – Karnataka and Tripura – want it abolished. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Delhi have voted against doing away with the practice, Indian Express reported.

In 2015, the Law Commission of India, with Justice A.P. Shah as chairman, had recommended doing away with the practice for all non-terror-related crimes.

“… Although there is no valid penological justification for treating terrorism differently from other crimes, concern is often raised that abolition of death penalty for terrorism-related offences and waging war, will affect national security. However, given the concerns raised by the law makers, the commission does not see any reason to wait any longer to take the first step towards abolition of the death penalty for all offences other than terrorism related offences,” the report had stated.

The ministry had then asked state governments for their opinion on this recommendation.

“We have been writing to states but only 14 have replied so far. Some of the big states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are yet to give comments. And Tripura, after the change in regime, may change its stand,” a senior government official told the newspaper.

Most of the states who think the practice should be retained reportedly argued that the death penalty acts as a good deterrent for crimes such as murder and rape. State governments aren’t alone in this belief. According to a recent study by the Centre on the Death Penalty, several former Supreme Court judges also hold a similar view.

Far from thinking about abolition, states seem to be in the process of increasing the range of crimes that come under the death penalty. Just last week, Rajasthan’s assembly gave its assent to a Bill which will send those found guilty of raping girls below the age of 12 to the gallows. Madhya Pradesh also has a similar law, and Haryana is in the process of creating one.

The argument that the states are reportedly using – that the death penalty acts as a deterrent – is one that has been widely questioned. Activists have been saying for years that in cases of rape, this is likely to encourage the accused to kill the victim, so that s/he cannot testify, rather than not committing the crime at all.

A 2009 study in the United States found that 88% of criminologists in the country do not believe death penalty to be an effective deterrent. “There is overwhelming consensus among America’s top criminologists that the empirical research conducted on the deterrence question fails to support the threat or use of the death penalty,” the study by Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock of the University of Colorado concluded.

In 2017 alone, 109 people were sentenced to death by sessions courts in India, the Centre on the Death Penalty found. This is down from 149 in 2016.

A previous report by the Centre had found that 95% of death sentences awarded are eventually thrown out by the higher courts – but only after the undertrials spend years on death row. Even more surprising was the statistic that nearly one-third of those sentenced to death by lower courts are ultimately acquitted. The Centre had also found that marginalised sections of society may be more likely to find themselves on death row – three-quarters of all death row prisoners (during the period of the study) were from lower castes or religious minorities.

Source: The Wire, March 12, 2018

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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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