NEW VOICES: "It’s Time to End Montana’s Death Penalty"

In a recent editorial, the Great Falls Tribune reversed its long-standing position and called for the end of the death penalty in Montana. The paper cited the cost of maintaining the death penalty as a primary reason for why the punishment should be repealed. The editors joined in the efforts of a relatively new conservative group to end capital punishment: "[E]ven without definitive state data [on costs], we align with the Montana Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. It’s time to end capital punishment in Montana." The editorial concluded, “In a just society, the only way to impose capital punishment is to provide a skilled, capable defense for the accused. Access to appeals must be part of the process. Anything less would constitute an unjust system. The economic reality is that it’s a system we simply cannot afford.” Read full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: Evidence Does Not Support Death Penalty As Deterrent

Comparing State Homicide Rates
Click to enlarge

In a recent editorial, the Sacramento Bee of California sharply challenged the theory that the death penalty deters murders. The paper illustrated that homicide rates in California, New York and Texas have tracked virtually identically between 1974 and 2009, and yet each state has differed widely in its use of capital punishment (see chart). The editorial stated, “[D]uring that time Texas had 447 executions and New York had none; California had 13. Clearly, something other than executions has had an effect on declining murder rates. And that clearly is what we should focus on." The editorial also quoted a recent study conducted by the National Research Council finding that three decades of research on deterrence was “not informative” and “should not be used to inform deliberations requiring judgments about the effect of the death penalty on homicide." On September 9, the Sacramento Bee announced it was reversing its historic 150-year support of the death penalty and endorsing the repeal of California's capital punishment law.  Read the recent editorial below.

EDITORIALS: Sacramento Bee Ends Support for Death Penalty

The Sacramento Bee announced in an editorial that it is reversing its historic 150-year support of the death penalty and endorsing the repeal of California's capital  punishment law. The editorial called the state's death penalty an "illusion," which is rarely carried out, despite the large number of death sentences. It cited the high cost of the death penalty as one of the reasons for supporting repeal, noting, "California has already spent billions of dollars – one recent study pegged the figure at $4 billion – administering the death penalty since 1978, with little to show for it....In a state prepared to further cut public education, universities and public safety, do we really want to invest in accelerated executions?" The Bee also spoke to the needs of victims' families, who, rather than getting closure from the death penalty, "are being tormented by the inflated expectations that California's judicial system has foisted on them." It concluded, "The state's death penalty is an outdated, flawed and expensive system of punishment that needs to be replaced with a rock-solid sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole." Read full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: "We're wasting money on a process that accomplishes little"

A recent editorial in the Paradise Post of California called the state's death penalty a "charade" and recommended that it be ended.  The editorial cited figures released by the state's Legislative Analyst's Office, which found that repealing the death penalty would "save state and counties about $100 million annually in murder trials, death penalty appeals and corrections in the first few years, growing to about $130 million annually thereafter." The editorial also emphasized that since the death penalty law was enacted in California in 1978, 900 individuals have been sentenced to death, but only 14 (actually 13) have been executed, while 83 have died on death row and 75 have had their sentences reduced. Even assuming that executions resumed at their prior pace, the paper said it would take 906 years to execute just those presently on death row. The editorial concluded, "[W]e're wasting money on a process that accomplishes little. Knowing that there's a far better chance of an inmate dying in prison than via the death penalty, why continue the charade?" Read full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: "An Urgent Plea for Mercy"

A recent New York Times editorial encouraged the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reduce the sentence of death row inmate Warren Hill to life. Hill is facing execution on July 18.  The editorial noted that Mr. Hill's intellectual disabilities, including an IQ of 70, led the trial judge to find him mentally retarded. Georgia's Supreme Court, however, overturned the judge's ruling because mental retardation had not been proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." The Times noted that Georgia "is the only state with a statute requiring a defendant to meet [this] unfairly heavy burden," and added, "This unjust procedural requirement effectively denies protection for the mentally impaired, as required by the Eighth Amendment." The Times also said that clemency is appropriate for Hill because some jurors have said they would have sentenced him to life without parole if given the option, and the victim's family has said he should not be executed. See the full editorial below.

OP-ED: "Time to Kill the Death Penalty?"

John J. Donohue (pictured), a research associate for the National Bureau of Economic Research and a professor at Stanford Law School, recently highlighted continuing problems with the death penalty system, forty years after it was struck down for being applied in an arbitrary manner. Professor Donohue wrote that despite “new and improved” statutes accepted by the Court when it reinstated the death penalty in 1976, “four decades later, there is plenty of evidence that the death penalty continues to be applied in an unfair manner and not a shred of evidence that the death penalty deters.” Professor Donohue cited a recent finding by the National Research Council, which examined all deterrence studies over the past 35 years and concluded that the studies are “not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates” and “should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment.”  Professor Donohue also encouraged voters in California to replace the death penalty in November’s ballot. He said, “[D]espite the supposed improvements endorsed in 1976, the death penalty remains hopelessly broken… We have the chance to prevent innocent people from being executed, end the unfairness that pervades the current system, and save millions in tax revenues, all while improving public safety.”

EDITORIALS: Intellectual Disabilities and Death Sentences

The editors of the Birmingham News in Alabama recenlty called upon a trial court to overrule a jury's 10-2 recommendation for death in the case of Esaw Jackson because of his mental disabilities.  While noting that in many states Jackson would not even be eligible for the death penalty following a non-unanimous vote, the News added that an IQ test, conducted by a state expert on Jackson, showed an IQ of 56, well below the level that generally indicates an intellectual disability.  In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court held that those with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation), cannot be sentenced to death.  The editors pointed out, “There are a number of reasons why intellectual disabilities are a reason for leniency: It stands to reason that someone without adequate intellectual capacity should not bear full legal responsibility for their actions. A strong case also can be made that people with diminished mental capabilities are at a disadvantage when it comes to defending themselves. Some intellectually disabled defendants, for instance, have confessed to crimes they didn't commit.” The editorial concluded, “If Jackson is intellectually incapable of bearing full responsibility for his actions, he not only should not be put to death - he cannot be under the law. Staging not just one but two capital trials was a colossal waste of time and money. [The judge] can avoid throwing more money down the drain by simply sentencing Jackson to life in prison with no chance for parole.”

EDITORIALS: Death Penalty's 'Failure to Account for Severe Mental Illness'

A recent editorial in the New York Times called for greater attention to be paid by courts to inmates on death row with severe mental illness: "The death penalty system fails to take adequate account of severe mental illness, whether at trial, at sentencing or in postconviction proceedings," the paper wrote.  The editorial praised Governor John Kasich of Ohio for granting a two-week reprieve to Abdul Awkal on June 5 just prior to his scheduled execution.   However, the Times said the the Ohio courts should have assumed the responsibility to review Awkal's mental competency before his execution.  An Ohio trial judge recently found there was enough evidence to justify a review of Awkal's sanity, but said he could not hold a hearing immediately because witnesses were not available and he did not have the power to stay the execution.  The Times concluded, "This is yet another reason the penalty should be abolished and further evidence of the grave injustices committed in this system.”