“”Of two methods which are equally effective in preventing murder, the one involving least harm to the murderer is to be preferred. The harm to the murderer is wholly regrettable, like the pain of a surgical operation. It may be equally necessary, but it is not a subject for rejoicing. The vindictive feeling called ‘moral indignation’ is merely a form of cruelty. Suffering to the criminal can never be justified by the notion of vindictive punishment. If education combined with kindness is equally effective, it is to be preferred; still more is it to be preferred if it is more effective.
|—Bertrand Russell, What I Believe|
Capital punishment or the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment where the state kills an individual as punishment for a crime. A decree that one be punished in this manner is a death sentence, while the enforcement itself of such a decree is known as an execution. The term capital punishment was borrowed from the Latin capitalis ("[of/relating to] the head"), referring to the once-common method of execution by beheading.
State judicial homicide is considered immoral and completely unnecessary in most of the developed world with only four such states in the category actually practicing killing their citizens for crimes listed here in order of the number of avoidable deaths perpetrated by the state: United States, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan (ROC). Death sentences are more prevalent in the developing world and are currently handed down and carried out in about a quarter of the world's countries, including countries with very large populations such as China (PRC), Egypt, India, Indonesia and Thailand. The Council of Europe prohibits the use of the death penalty by its members, and Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the use of capital punishment. The United Nations General Assembly has also passed three non-binding resolutions calling for an end to the death penalty.
China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Korea and the United States are the nations which perform the most executions.
Recently, in the US, most executions have become quick, semi-private affairs without the gore and spectacle of a public execution nor the carnival atmosphere the spectating crowd often enjoyed. A few countries, however, such as Saudi Arabia, still make executions free entertainment in the village square for those who find booing and blood and death a fine way to spend their Saturday afternoon and render Allah's will. In fact, Abrahamic religions have traditionally embraced, if not encouraged, execution over the centuries, and the end of the death penalty in the developed world emerged, by no coincidence, with the secularization of Europe and commonwealth countries.
There are many issues that question the efficacy and morality of the death penalty including: a notable number of innocents being executed; a lot of evidence which shows the death penalty does not actually work as a deterrent; the disproportionate death sentences handed to minorities in the US; the very high cost of multiple appeals and decades of death-row imprisonment in the US, the strong psychological toll on those obliged to to kill other humans and the act itself violating the dignity and integrity of an autonomous human being.
Death penalty laws
While most cultures have historically used capital punishment, many countries, particularly Western and democratic ones, have moved, or are moving, away from the application of this punishment. Italian philosopher and politician Cesare Beccaria condemned capital punishment in his 1764 treatise On Crimes and Punishments. Early moves towards abolition began in some European countries during the mid 19th century, but the move away from capital punishment gathered momentum a century later, in the years following the Second World War, as human rights became a more significant political issue. Capital punishment began to be seen by more and more people as state-sanctioned homicide while proponents took offense to the use of the term and proposed numerous questionable arguments on how killing a prisoner was not somehow homicide but instead an inherently necessary act. The 1950 European Convention on Human Rights recommended that the death penalty be abolished in European nations or restricted to times of war. Protocol 6 restricted the death penalty to times of war, and Protocol 13 later provided for the complete abolition of the death penalty. The vast majority of European countries have adopted both of these protocols, excepting a few in Eastern Europe. The United Kingdom abolished the death penalty for virtually all offenses in 1969 (although it still remained a theoretically valid sentence for treason until the passage of the Human Rights Act in 1998). In December 2007 the United Nations General Assembly approved a moratorium on the death penalty, which calls for a worldwide suspension (not necessarily abolition) of capital punishment. The moratorium is not binding but established an international consensus against the death penalty.
Currently, 141 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. 108 countries have completely removed it from their books, 7 countries have it only for extraordinary crimes or crimes committed under exceptional circumstances, 26 countries have abolished it de facto, while 54 countries retain it.
The United States is the only western country to not have fully abolished the death penalty, with many states and the federal government still retaining the ultimate penalty, at least on the books. In 1972 a moratorium was placed on executions by the Supreme Court, not because capital punishment itself was ruled unconstitutional but because of perceived procedural flaws. After these were ironed out, executions resumed in 1976. Poor defendants unable to afford their own lawyers are more likely to be on death row. Plea bargaining, local politics, and the state or county where the crime happened also affect the likelihood of a death sentence. Capital punishment is a legal penalty in 27 states (although three of them[note 1] currently have governor-imposed moratoriums), but over 80% of executions are in The South, with a few counties accounting for disproportionate numbers.  The death penalty is applied in a somewhat arbitrary manner; it is not limited to the "worst of the worst." Very few people are actually sentenced to death or executed in the United States. Regions with no capital punishment include Alaska, Hawaii, New England and parts of the Midwest. Even in these regions, however, some federal offenses such as treason, the murder of federal employees, or in some cases espionage, remain capital since federal law takes precedence. Although the only three federal prisoners until July 2020 executed since the moratorium (all under George W. Bush) were from death penalty states, 12 of the 47 current federal death row inmates are from abolitionist states.
Sadly, injustices are still regularly discovered, with 140 wrongly convicted people released from death row since 1973. A peer reviewed statistical analysis concluded that at least 4% of people on death row are innocent. It is estimated that 3% of American executions are botched, but the proportion of lethal injections botched is much higher.
On July 25, 2019, former Attorney General William Barr directed the Justice Department to adopt a new rule surrounding the federal death penalty; this change allowed for executions to resume after a 16-year hiatus. Among the changes to policy included using a single drug for the injection, pentobarbital, rather than the standard three-drug cocktail typically used for executions. This sparked controversy, as it violated the mandate that federal executions be carried out "in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence is imposed". Five executions were scheduled and initially planned for December of 2019 and January of 2020, but a combination of debates over the method of execution, as well as appeals to various state and federal courts, delayed the executions for several months. The first person executed under the new regulations was Daniel Lewis Lee, whose execution was met with criticism. Lee's lawyer stated that there's a myth that the federal death penalty is the "gold standard" of capital punishment systems. "The federal death penalty... is arbitrary, racially biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science." These words became very common in criminal justice circles over the year as more people were executed, many of whom were involved in racially biased cases.
Executions were set for decades-old cases, many of which were opposed by the families of the victims. Additionally, the executions of Lee and Wesley Ira Purkey were decided in emergency SCOTUS decisions that took place in the middle of the night, adding another layer of unfairness and false sense of emergency. Of course, the greatest injustice of these cases was that they were taking place in the midst of the pandemic and the BLM summer of 2020, when Black people were going through systemic hardships as is. For a president to disregard the problems of systemic racism while simultaneously adding to them in the worst way possible was perhaps one of the turning points in Trump's reelection campaign, a final nail in the coffin of seeing him as a reasonable person. It was noted at the time that the move did little for his campaign or to keep America safe, and also that Trump (and other political leaders) used the death penalty primarily as a political tool.[note 2] It was also greatly stated that the death penalty has little deterrent effect on crime, further solidifying the lack of need to reinstate it.
Despite countless objections, protests, and pleas from victims' families, 13 executions occurred between July 14, 2020, and January 16, 2021. These executions broke 2 precedents: most executions by a president since Grover Cleveland in 1896, and the first time executions occurred during the transition period of presidents.
President Biden promised during his presidential campaign to abolish the federal death penalty; however, he has yet to do so.
Other nations where capital punishment is legal
Capital punishment also remains legal in most of Asia and the Carribean, some African countries and the Middle East. Usage varies from nation to nation. For example, in the United States the death penalty is usually reserved for homicide-related crimes, and in Japan for multiple homicides. Some countries, such as Russia and South Korea, still retain death penalty laws but have stopped issuing death sentences in recent years. In China, the death penalty is applied for various crimes against the state, including high levels of embezzlement and tax evasion, murder and child molestation, and killing pandas. Executions happen very quickly in China, so quickly that the government maintains a fleet of "execution vans" that condemned prisoners are hustled into, killed, and popped right out the other end. China executed more than 1,000 people in 2015, according to human rights charity Reprieve. In India, crimes such as mutiny, treason, murder and serious drug trafficking can be a capital offense. However, the Supreme Court of India has issued 'rarest of rare' criterion for using capital punishment. Some Islamic nations such as Mauritania, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates punish sodomy and sometimes adultery as well as apostasy (abandoning religion or converting to another faith) with death. Israel is an interesting case, as Israel has abolished capital punishment for civil crimes only, and the only persons ever executed by the State of Israel were the alleged traitor Meir Tobiansky (who was convicted by a kangaroo-y military court in 1948 but turned out to be innocent - whoops) and Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was convicted and executed for his part in the Holocaust.
ISIS uses the death penalty for almost any offense against anything, though Saudi Arabia likely executes more, including 47 on January 2, 2016, alone, and at least 157 in 2015, many for drug offenses and protesting. Still, Saudi Arabia's 2015 numbers are well below Iran's and Pakistan's, which are reported to be 957 and 322, respectively. (The US came in fifth with 28.)
In the USA the current primary method of execution is by lethal injection. The standard before recent times was a cocktail of three drugs that paralyse before killing. Although it is claimed by some that this is more humane than gas, electrocution or hanging, the method can potentially mask pain. It is estimated that just over 7% of lethal injections are botched.
A growing shortage of the drugs used for killing convicted criminals has begun to affect the practice of capital punishment in the United States. The European Union refuses to allow export of drugs for lethal injections, leading many states to use untested and/or unreliably sourced drug cocktails. In October of 2015, Ohio announced it would be postponing executions until at least 2017 due to an inability to acquire the deadly drugs. Some states are using secrecy laws to prevent close examination of precisely what they are doing and US attorney general Eric Holder has called for greater transparency.
During 2014, there were four seriously botched lethal injection executions.
- In the state of Ohio, Dennis McGuire was executed using a drug combination which a Harvard anesthologist warned would leave him conscious and aware of what happened while he suffocated. McGuire gasped for 10 minutes, clenched his fists and tried to rise from the gurney. Amnesty International considers suffocation a form of torture.
- In Arizona, Joseph Wood gasped for roughly 2 hours and was injected 15 times before finally dying. There are widespread fears that Wood was tortured. Since the potency of drugs that needed so many injections is unknown we cannot currently establish how much he could feel. There have been calls for an inquiry.
- Oklahoma used an experimental drug cocktail as a substitute for the now-unavailable standard mixture in order to execute Clayton Lockett. Lockett died an agonizing death in an obviously botched execution. For part of the time blinds were drawn to prevent witnesses observing exactly what happened. Oklahoma state refuses to name the supplier of the drugs. In a blog post appearing shortly thereafter, biologist PZ Myers wondered why it was difficult to conduct judicial executions in a humane manner when euthanizing animals painlessly is a simple process. Isaan Tharoor, a blogger for the Washington Post argues that other gruesome forms of execution are more humane than what happened to Lockett, whether that's beheading, firing squad, hanging, or falling from a height.
- In Missouri, Russell Bucklew was executed by lethal injection. Bucklew had a medical condition which Amnesty International fears greatly increases the risk of a painfully botched execution. Bucklew has since been executed, showing how little the Eighth Amendment actually matters to the state.
This problem has only gotten worse over the years, with seven of the nineteen attempts at lethal injection in 2022 being botched. This is because of pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals refusing to assist in executions, resulting in states getting execution drugs from shady sources, as well as the fact that many death row prisoners are old and have serious medical issues means that many things can go wrong when an execution is attempted.
In the United States, many Evangelical Christians support the death penalty despite being "pro-life", making the distinction between "innocent" life and "non-innocent" life. Judgment is not, as is often stated, left to God. Of course, without capital punishment, their religion would have had a lot of trouble getting started. Indeed, the Bible lists a vast number of "crimes" which "merit" the death penalty. Then again, the Bible never mentions a crime for which the criminal has to go to jail either and has multiple crimes that are punished with exile, torture, or giving the criminal the status of a slave (as incarceration at the time wasn't used as a punishment). Why Evangelical Christians don't want to forbid imprisonment and reintroduce the punishment of exile and slavery as a status specifically for criminals is a mystery to which we will never know the answer.
Capital punishment is generally supported by conservatives — you know, the ones against abortion because they "hold to the sanctity of life", yet somehow seem to feel that an adult life has no particular sanctity if it is being lived by a person who, for whatever reason, has committed a particular crime. Interestingly, many conservative voices who find government interference highly offensive (government prohibiting prayer in public school, obliging people to have health insurance, or taking people's guns away) seem fine with the government taking away someone's life, the ultimate state interference.
Thankfully, it's not true of all conservative or religious groups; some people and religious organizations that are anti-abortion, such as the Roman Catholic Church and those subscribing to a "consistent life ethic", are also anti-capital punishment and often anti-war, too.
On the flip side, individuals such as pundit Bill Maher espouse views which could be said to amount to a "consistent death ethic", with Maher humorously referring to himself as being "pro-death" due to his support of abortion and euthanasia as well as the death penalty.
Secular arguments which defend capital punishment (ostensibly secular, at least) argue that it's a deterrent against murder, permanently prevents further murders by the same offender and is a just response for murder at least in the most extreme cases (i.e. they deserve it).
The Roman Catholic Church is now consistent in its pro-life stance, opposing both abortion and all cases of capital punishment, although some American Catholics don't seem to have noticed.
Opponents of capital punishment usually cite a number of reasons for their position, from the view that it creates a moral vacuum at the heart of society wherein the only body with the authority to legitimately and with premeditation kill is the State, that it is institutionalized barbarism, and pointing to the small but significant number of cases where the death penalty has been enacted and the accused has been subsequently demonstrated to be innocent of the crime for which they suffered the ultimate penalty. There are many examples of innocent people being executed — see below for more. There is (in the U.S.) currently a program funding DNA testing of evidence to exonerate potentially wrongly convicted inmates on death row, which is producing a steady trickle of freed prisoners.
There is also the rather abstract concept that a state is subservient to its people and may never take their lives for any reason. This concept sees judicial executions as unlawful and therefore murder according to a higher law.
Incidentally, the United States, after all these years, still has one of the worst murder rates in the developed world. Something is definitely not working.
“”I’ve never seen a rich man executed.
|—Death row guard Willie W.|
Another issue for the U.S. and its continued use of the death penalty is the evident racial bias in its application. Black males are far more likely to be sentenced to death for similar or even lesser crimes than white males, and the death penalty is more likely to be imposed when the victim is white. 77% of death row defendants are there for killing a white person while half of murder victims are black.
A gender bias is also evident, with very few women receiving the death penalty, even in light of the disparity in criminal incidence. Both of these biases indicate to outside observers that in spite of the protestations of its supporters that the death penalty is all about deterrence, it has a much murkier rationale that puts the whole process on a very dubious footing. This effect is attributed to the US practice of having the death penalty requested by the prosecution during and after conviction, rather than by a more impartial source such as a judge. Of course, judges aren't free of bias, either, and may impose harsher penalties during an election year.
Finally, there is a class bias. On top of inconsistent application of punishment, the inmates are poor and underprivileged, which generally means lack of access to lawyers.
“”The object of causing pain to the criminal is presumably deterrent. If prisons were so humanized that a prisoner got a good education for nothing, people might commit crimes in order to qualify for entrance. No doubt prison must be less pleasant than freedom; but the best way to secure this result is to make freedom more pleasant than it sometimes is at present.
|—Bertrand Russell, What I Believe|
“”Hanging is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been murders since the beginning of time, and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the end of time. If death were a deterrent, I might be expected to know. It is I who have faced them last, young lads and girls, working men, grandmothers. I have been amazed to see the courage with which they take that walk into the unknown. It did not deter them then, and it had not deterred them when they committed what they were convicted for. All the men and women whom I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single murder.
The supposed deterrent effect is also dubious as it doesn't deter against the main motives for murder: passion, compulsion, and profit. The first two cannot be deterred against practically by definition. In the case of the third, no one commits a crime anticipating that they will be apprehended and punished - those who do anticipate such scenarios usually have plans to get away with it, be it destroying the evidence, framing someone else, hiding from law enforcement, or getting a good lawyer to beat the rap. Additionally, there is the "might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb" effect — once someone is subject to the ultimate penalty, there is nothing to hold them back. Once the "point of no return" has been reached (i.e. rape, murder, etc.), there is no longer a deterrent against further crimes to avoid capture and punishment, particularly when the culprit is trying to evade capture (the idea is that they might have reached the limit of legal punishment, but as long as that limit is short of death there's still a worse outcome to avoid by surrendering).
A hypothesis exists that the death penalty or executions actually increase homicides.
FBI data shows that over the last 20 years, the murder rate has, on average, been higher in states which retain the death penalty than those which do not.
However, one should be careful not to confuse correlation with causation. That states with the death penalty have higher murder rates than states without does not necessarily mean that there is a causal relationship between murder rates and capital punishment. The April 18, 2012 report by the National Research Council of the National Academies reviewed more than three decades of research and concluded that studies claiming a deterrent effect on murder rates from the death penalty are fundamentally flawed. Criminologist Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon said: "Nothing is known about how potential murderers actually perceive their risk of punishment." The report concluded: “The committee concludes that research to date on the effect of capital punishment on homicide is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates".
No European Union country has the death penalty and the homicide rate in the US is over four times higher in the US than the EU.
Racism is a factor in determining who gets executed. In the US, an execution is more likely in a murder case if the accused is black and the victim is white. A study in Philadelphia showed blacks were significantly more likely to get the death penalty than whites or defendants of other races regardless of the severity of the murder.
Blatant racist language on the part of the police indicates the biases at play: a Texas police officer told Clarence Brandley, who was later convicted of the murder of a white high school girl: "One of you two is gonna hang for this. Since you're the nigger, you're elected." Brandley was exonerated in 1990 after ten years on death row.
Judges are also known to drop an occasional N-bomb when the accused's life is at stake. In preparing for the penalty phase of an African-American defendant's trial, a white judge in Florida said in open court: "Since the nigger mom and dad are here anyway, why don't we go ahead and do the penalty phase today instead of having to subpoena them back at cost to the state." Anthony Peek was sentenced to death and the sentence was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court in 1986 reviewing his claim of racial bias. Juries can also engage in racist language. One black member of the jury (that convicted a black man) later described an atmosphere of racial intimidation. A white juror said execution would leave "one less nigger to breed".
“”"To make that transformation from corrections officer to executioner … it was hard," he said. "You have to get away from yourself. You have to eliminate yourself."
|—Jerry Givens, executioner|
Death penalty proponents often complain that taxpayer dollars would have to be used to support criminals in jail. (So off with their heads, eh?) In fact, the death penalty actually costs more in the US due to increased investigative expenses, appeals (paid for by taxpayers), and the cost of the execution itself. There are also arguments that bring up the diminishing space in jails, but they fail to consider that people sentenced to death are placed on death row (usually for over a decade and often multiple decades at least in the US) and need to be supported. Most death sentences result in them being overturned, or the person dying before execution.
There is also a psychological cost for the death penalty for most people involved, one of the less documented consequences of the death penalty, as most of the procedure is done in secrecy and most executioners are anonymous. Many workers involved in executions, in their efforts to treat death row inmates with decency, have reported suffering post traumatic stress disorder or similar symptoms, including flashbacks and nightmares, and they have entered bouts of deep reflection after the execution. Most do experience painful feelings and cope through suppression, but others with disassociative methods suffer from stress, guilt, and depression. In an interview with Jerry Givens, who worked 17 years executing 62 people, Givens stated that his work with execution has made him change his views from supporting the death penalty to opposing it, and he had to deal with a lot of moral disengagement, which took a toll on his psyche. Families related to the executed person must also cope with this loss.
Peer reviewed research suggests at least 4% of those sentenced to death in the United States are innocent. Since 1977, 140 prisoners have been released from death row over evidence of wrongful conviction and more than 1200 were executed. There have been documented cases of executing innocent people.
“”For every nine people that we have executed in America, we have identified one innocent person on death row.
|— Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative speaking to the BBC|
Many people support the death penalty in theory but oppose it in practice for just this reason (often in addition to the complications of cost and uneven justice detailed above).
In Missouri, Larry Griffin was convicted of murder based on the evidence of a criminal, Robert Fitzgerald, who was released from prison the day Griffin was convicted. Wallace Conners, who knew Griffin and was an eyewitness to the shooting, said Griffin was not there, but Conners was not called to give evidence. Griffin died by lethal injection in 1995. In Georgia, Troy Davis was executed although there was inconsistency in the evidence of different prosecution witnesses. Most non-police witnesses contradicted or recanted their evidence and said they gave evidence under police pressure. One of the few who did not recant was implicated as the shooter by other witnesses. In Texas, Carlos DeLuna was executed for the brutal murder of a woman. The real murderer was almost certainly a different man, Carlos Hernandez, though prosecutors maintained Hernandez was a figment of DeLuna's imagination. After the execution investigators tracked Hernandez down, and he had a police record including violence against women and the suspected murder of another woman, so police should have been able to find him. Also in Texas, Claude Jones was convicted of capital murder based on evidence from an accomplice and a strand of hair. The accomplice later stated his evidence in court was untrue and had been given to get himself a reduced sentence. Then-governor George W. Bush refused to delay the execution to test the DNA of the hair and Jones was executed. Subsequent testing proved the hair was from the victim and not Jones. Yet another Texas case involved Cameron Todd Willingham whose three daughters died in a fire. The prosecution maintained the fire was an arson he started, while fire experts have stated that the forensic evidence was seriously flawed. This forensic evidence was questioned while Willingham was still alive, but the execution went ahead nevertheless, sanctioned by Rick Perry (the man behind 278 executions). In 1992, Johnny Garrett was executed for the murder of a nun, Sister Taeda Benz. 12 years later a man named Lencio Rueda was implicated in the murder of a woman named Narnie Bryson, who had died in almost identical circumstances to Sister Benz and when pressed by Garrett's lawyer admitted that the bloody shirt found at the scene of Sister Benz's murder belonged to him. Garrett's family have requested DNA testing to clarify the matter, only for the state to threaten to sue.
In the United Kingdom in 1950, Timothy Evans was hanged for the murder of his wife and child. Another man, John Christie, had committed both murders and testified as a prosecution witness against Evans at his trial. The Evans case was a factor in the later abolition of capital punishment in the UK.
In Pakistan in 2014/2015 after a terrorist outrage that killed over 100 people, a moratorium on the death penalty was ended. Many risk dying without a proper trial: one notable case is a man who, aged 14, was tortured into confessing to a crime he quite likely did not commit and has suffered the agony of death row for over a decade. It can be assumed that almost every execution in the Islamic State is of dubious legality and grossly unjust.
Delay and death row conditions in the USA
“” I have little doubt about the cruelty of so long a period of incarceration under sentence of death. It might also be argued that it is not so much the State as it is the numerous procedures that the law demands that produce decades of delay. But this kind of an argument does not automatically justify execution in this case. Rather, the argument may point instead to a more basic difficulty, namely the difficulty of reconciling the imposition of the death penalty as currently administered with procedures necessary to assure that the wrong person is not executed.
|—Justice Breyer, in a dissenting opinion over the execution of Manuel Valle who was on death row for 33 years|
Condemned prisoners in the United States typically spend 10 years or more in solitary confinement on death row, but a few prisoners have spent over 30 years there. African American Anthony Ray Hinton for example was released after almost 30 years enduring the harsh conditions on Alabama's death row. For 10 years before Hinton's release experts maintained the guns Hinton was accused of using did not match evidence in the murders he was convicted of.
Prisoners are isolated for 23 hours a day in small cells (8 by 10 feet is a typical size), and the majority of death row prisoners have hard beds without mattresses. Prisoners' chances to get social contact, exercise, employment and education are severely limited. For some the combination of isolation and uncertainty causes serious mental deterioration. Some prisoners decide they would rather die than face longer time on death row.
Prosecutors and judges are more often than not elected and want to show voters they are tough on crime, while defense lawyers are frequently underpaid and lack resources to work effectively. Only people who agree with capital punishment may serve on capital juries, therefore many death sentences are passed (studies also show pro-death jurors are more likely to convict). Between 1973 and 1995 5% of death sentences led to execution, while 68% were later reversed. Courts later decide two thirds of prisoners experiencing the agony of death row should not be there.
Delay in the Commonwealth
The 1993 Privy Council case of Pratt v AG of Jamaica highlighted the psychological suffering that is experienced by guilty prisoners and also by those later exonerated while they are on death row. The defendants had been convicted of murder in 1979, and had spent over 10 years on death row waiting for their execution whilst the underfunded and overstretched Jamaican legal system reviewed their appeals. At the time, 23 prisoners on death row had been awaiting execution for more than 10 years and 82 prisoners had been awaiting execution for more than five years. On three separate occasions, death warrants were read to them and they were removed to a holding cell and prepared for their hanging, only to be saved at the last minute by lawyers. Lord Griffiths is a Law Lord who got his position in the House of Lords through his legal ability and is not a hereditary peer. Griffiths, in a masterful piece of legal writing, observed that:
“”There is an instinctive revulsion against the prospect of hanging a man after he has been held under sentence of death for many years. ... we regard it as an inhuman act to keep a man facing the agony of execution over a long extended period of time ... A state that wishes to retain capital punishment must accept the responsibility of ensuring that execution follows as swiftly as practicable after sentence, allowing a reasonable time for appeal and consideration of reprieve. It is part of the human condition that a condemned man will take every opportunity to save his life through use of the appellate procedure. If the appellate procedure enables the prisoner to prolong the appellate hearings over a period of years, the fault is to be attributed to the appellate system that permits such delay and not to the prisoner who takes advantage of it.
The Privy Council concluded by holding that spending more than five years on death row constituted "inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment," which is prohibited in pretty much every human rights treaty. The two defendants had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
Interestingly, there's an argument that the main alternative to the Death Penalty in the United States, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, often referred to as Life Without Parole or LWOP, can be a more severe punishment, though not everyone agrees with this assessment and this may be more of a criticism of the state of the American prison and justice system in general than an argument for capital punishment. Regardless, there are those who advocate for abolishing the death penalty under the assumption that a life without parole sentence is even harsher.
In a nutshell
- Death Penalty Information Center
- Executed and possibly innocent
- Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty
- Next to Die
- ↑ California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania
- ↑ This article from 1996 shows that nothing has changed in decades in the U.S. political life: in 1996 President Bill Clinton defeated Senator Bob Dole in presidential election, using his Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 in much the way that Trump tried to use the death penalty.
- ↑ "Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries," Amnesty International
- ↑ "Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union" (PDF). Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- ↑ "moratorium on the death penalty". United Nations. 15 November 2007. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- ↑ Death penalty statistics 2013: country by country Ordered by number of definite executions, whereas North Korea would most probably rank higher if unknown cases were counted in.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Death Penalty Facts
- ↑ http://web.amnesty.org/pages/deathpenalty-index-eng
- ↑ The Clustering of the Death Penalty
- ↑ https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/state-and-federal-info/state-by-state
- ↑ https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/policy-issues/arbitrariness
- ↑ https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/facts-and-research/sentencing-data/death-sentences-in-the-united-states-from-1977-by-state-and-by-year
- ↑ See Image: Death penalty statutes in the United States.svg.
- ↑ http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/federal-death-row-prisoners
- ↑ US death row study: 4% of defendants sentenced to die are innocent
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 America's 'inexorably' botched executions
- ↑ "U.S. carries out the 1st federal execution in nearly 2 decades after Supreme Court clears the way”
- ↑ "U.S. carries out the 1st federal execution in nearly 2 decades after Supreme Court clears the way”
- ↑ “All Too Real: The President and Death Penalty Politics”
- ↑ "Tell Congress: Abolish The Federal Death Penalty."
- ↑ “All Too Real: The President and Death Penalty Politics”
- ↑ "Killing For Votes: The Dangers Of Politicizing The Death Penalty Process"
- ↑ abolished/#:~:text=The%20death%20penalty%20does%20not,UNGA%20Resolution%2065%2F206 Why The Death Penalty Should Be Abolished – International Comission Against The Death Penalty"
- ↑ "5 Reasons Why The Death Penalty Is Wrong | Human Rights Careers"
- ↑ “The Case Against the Death Penalty”
- ↑ “It’s time to stop federal executions and repeal the death penalty”
- ↑ In Trump’s final days, a rush of federal executions
- ↑ http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/631746/REVEALED-bloodthirsty-countries-highest-number-executions
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on Use of capital punishment by nation.
- ↑ http://www.cbsnews.com/news/saudi-arabia-beheadings-decades-executions/
- ↑ http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/saudi-arabias-executions-were-worthy-of-isis-so-will-david-cameron-and-the-west-now-stop-their-a6794046.html
- ↑ http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/631746/REVEALED-bloodthirsty-countries-highest-number-executions
- ↑ Creator of Lethal Injection Method: ‘I Don’t See Anything That Is More Humane’
- ↑ 32.0 32.1 Oklahoma inmate dies after 'botched' lethal injection
- ↑ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ohio-executions-delay-drug_56256bace4b0bce34701efc9
- ↑ Lethal injection: Secretive US states resort to untested drugs
- ↑ Eric Holder 'greatly troubled' by spate of botched executions The Guardian
- ↑ Doctor angry Ohio executed inmate despite 'horror' warning
- ↑ Introducing Amnesty’s New Global Campaign Against Torture
- ↑ Joseph Wood Received 15 Injections Of Untested Drug Cocktail During Arizona ExecutionArizona inmate Joseph Wood was injected 15 times with execution drugs
- ↑ McCain: Prolonged Arizona execution was 'torture'
- ↑ Arizona lawyers lead call for inquiry into Joseph Wood's two-hour execution
- ↑ Oklahoma execution: Clayton Lockett death witness speaks
- ↑ "Clayton Lockett writhed and groaned. After 43 minutes, he was declared dead"
- ↑ "Charles Pierce is a bit angry"
- ↑ 4 horrible forms of capital punishment more humane than Oklahoma’s botched execution
- ↑ TAKE ACTION: Stop the Execution of Russell Bucklew!
- ↑ "Missouri executes sociopath Russel Bucklew despite concerns about painful death"
- ↑ As Lethal Injection Turns Forty, States Botch a Record Number of Executions, Death Penalty Information Center 5 December 2022
- ↑ One might argue that these non-innocent individuals should have their
lives takenafterlives fast-tracked so that God can deliver the verdict sooner. That. however, conflicts with denominations that promote sola fides, because if they convert at the correct moment they will not be punished for those sins in their afterlife, and they will reap whatever rewards result from their timely conversion.
- ↑ The Pope's Statement retrieved Aug. 26 2008
- ↑ https://www.americanbar.org/groups/committees/death_penalty_representation/publications/project_blog/pope-francis-encyclical-death-penalty-opposition/
- ↑ 51.0 51.1 51.2 Osofsky, M. The Psychological Experience of Security Officers Who Work With Executions. Stanford Undergraduate Research Journal.
- ↑ Using the Death Penalty to Get Re-Elected
- ↑ https://www.jstor.org/stable/2577690
- ↑ https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/deterrence-or-brutalization-what-effect-executions
- ↑ https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-9125.1994.tb01148.x
- ↑ https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1067&context=clsoc_crim_facpub
- ↑ https://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?params=/context/mlr/article/1566/&path_info=
- ↑ http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/discussion-recent-deterrence-studies
- ↑ " | EU - World homicide rates
- ↑ he Increased Risks for Blacks Facing the Death Penalty
- ↑ Black Defendants and the Race of the Victims
- ↑ 62.0 62.1 The Sounds of Racism
- ↑ Electric chair haunts US former executions chief
- ↑ 64.0 64.1 Avalia, J.; Harris, M; Francescani, C. (December 17, 2007). Interview With an Executioner. ABC News. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
- ↑ Death Penalty Cost, Amnesty International
- ↑ DA disbarred for sending Texas man to death row. CBS.
- ↑ Many Prisoners on Death Row are Wrongfully Convicted
- ↑ US death row study: 4% of defendants sentenced to die are innocent
- ↑ 10 Infamous Cases of Wrongful Execution
- ↑ Does a death sentence always mean death?
- ↑ Convicted, Executed, Not Guilty The Top 5 Most Wrongful Executions Of All-Time
- ↑ The state of Georgia shamefully executed Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 despite serious doubts about his guilt.
- ↑ The wrong Carlos: how Texas sent an innocent man to his deathCarlos DeLuna Execution: Texas Put To Death An Innocent Man, Columbia University Team Says
- ↑ Results of DNA Testing Come Too Late for Claude Jones
- ↑ Cameron Todd Willingham: Wrongfully Convicted and Executed in Texas
- ↑ Hanged on 9 March 1950, granted a posthumous free pardon in 1966
- ↑ Paddy Reilly - Go Down You Murderers (The Ballad Of Tim Evans) A song describing powerfully the horror that was done to Tim Evans
- ↑ The execution of Timothy Evans
- ↑ Justice at risk as Pakistan rushes convicts to the gallows
- ↑ Life on Death Row in Alabama
- ↑ Alabama inmate freed after nearly 30 years on death row
- ↑ Time on Death row
- ↑ Torture on Death Row: Court Rules Against Automatic Use of Solitary Confinement for the Condemned
- ↑ Lifelong Death Sentences
- ↑  2 AC 1
- ↑ "Condemned man" presumably includes condemned women prisoners.
- ↑ Council ruling has implications for hundreds of people who have spent many years languishing in Commonwealth jails awaiting execution Pratt v Attorney General for JamaicaThe full text of the case can be found here
- ↑ The Marshall Project, what death penalty opponents don't get
- ↑