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…

Has the death penalty come to an end in North Carolina?

Jury box
This case is about the constitutional protection every person in America deserves. It is not about whether Marcus Reymond Robinson, Quintel Augustine, Christina Walters and Tilmon Golphin deserve our sympathy. They don't.

Golphin and his brother killed a Cumberland County deputy and a state trooper in a 1997 traffic stop. Walters led some gang members on an initiation ritual that saw 2 women randomly kidnapped and killed in 1998. Augustine killed a Fayetteville police officer in 2001 - although he claims he was wrongfully convicted and is factually innocent. And Robinson killed a teenager in a 1991 robbery.

The crimes was horrific enough that they challenged our opposition to the death penalty.

But that's the other factor here: The public and even many politicians are losing their taste for executions. The last one in North Carolina was 12 years ago and there are none scheduled, despite having 143 inmates on death row. If this state is caught up in the national trend, it's possible that the death penalty has already come to a de facto end.

These 4 were removed from death row in 2012 when a judge found black jurors were illegally blocked from serving on their juries. Under the provisions of the state's Racial Justice Act, passed in 2009, their sentences were changed to life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

The state appealed that verdict and in 2015 the N.C. Supreme Court said the trial judge had erred in the way he held the hearing and the state deserved another chance to make its case. The 4 killers were returned to death row. And around the same time, the General Assembly repealed the Racial Justice Act.

But now the 4 say their 5th Amendment rights against double jeopardy were violated when their death sentences were reinstated. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment to mean that once a death sentence has been revoked for a specific crime, it can't be reimposed.

As for whether the 4 should be executed, that's another question that also seems separate from this appeal. It appears the state has distanced itself from carrying out executions, but politicians lack the backbone to discuss the issue and decide whether it's time to change this state's maximum penalty for capital crimes to life without parole.

The best we can expect from this case is a simple ruling on a 5th amendment issue. We'll have to wait for another time to see the debate we really need to have.

Source: Charlotte Observer, Opinion; Editorial Board, July 21, 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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