David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University, recently addressed some common myths regarding the death penalty in America. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Garland provided information challenging the common wisdom about capital punishment:
The United States is a death penalty nation. Garland contends that, in fact, the death penalty is rarely imposed today. It has been abolished in 15 states and in the District of Columbia. Of the 35 states that have the death penalty, one-third rarely impose death sentences, and another one-third impose death sentences but hardly ever carry them out. Eighty percent of executions are carried out in the South, largely in Texas and in Virginia.
The United States is out of step with Europe and the rest of the Western world. Since 1981, when France stopped executing people by the guillotine, Europe has been an abolitionist continent. However, for most of the past 200 years, American states have been actively working towards death penalty reform. Michigan abolished the death penalty for all ordinary crimes in 1846, a century before most European nations did so.
This country has the death penalty because the public supports it. Even though polls show that a majority of respondents say they support the death penalty, it is less clear whether people are well-informed about the issue, have given the matter much thought, or have considered alternatives to capital punishment.