The Chinese government is planning to implement judicial reforms that could sharply reduce its use of the death penalty. China will restrict the use of capital punishment by requiring its highest court, the Supreme People's Court, to review all death penalty cases before executions are carried out. Currently, the high court reviews only a minority of such cases, allowing the provincial courts that hand down death sentences to review their own judgments. "Criticism of the legal system in society is rising. The Chinese Communist Party, as a ruling party that attaches importance
After spending more than half of his life on Pennsylvania's death row for a crime he did not commit, Nicholas Yarris was released from prison on Friday, January 16. Yarris had been sentenced to death row in 1983 for the murder of Linda Craig and was cleared of all charges in December 2003 (see DPIC's press release) after DNA evidence excluded him from the crime. He remained jailed for weeks after he was exonerated while authorities recalculated sentences he received in
The Pacific island of Samoa has begun formal measures to abolish the death penalty. Samoa has not conducted an execution in more than 50 years, and death sentences that are still delivered by judges are always commuted to life imprisonment. As he introduced the statute to abolish the death penalty, Prime Minister Sailele Malielegaoi told parliament that the death penalty should not be on the law books if it is not going to be carried out. (ONE News and AAP, January 16, 2004) See International Death Penalty.
DPIC has prepared a new chart showing the number of death sentences in each state by year since 1977. As we have indicated elsewhere, the overall number of death sentences in the U.S. has declined markedly in recent years. For example, the 159 death sentences in 2002 were only HALF of the 320 sentences in 1996. Regionally, sentences in the West have dropped the most, from 66 in 1996 to 21 in 2002.
The Associated Press provided a description of the struggle to execute Ohio death row inmate Lewis Williams on January 14, 2004:
A convicted killer, struggling with guards and pleading for his life until the last moment, was executed Wednesday morning for the 1983 fatal robbery of a Cleveland woman.
Lewis Williams continued to profess his innocence even as he was carried into the death chamber by four guards.
"I'm not guilty. I'm not guilty. God, please help me," Williams said as he was strapped to the execution table.
A month after New Jersey's legislature passed by a wide margin a bipartisan bill calling for the creation of a study commission to examine the cost, fairness and effects of capital prosecutions in the state, Governor James McGreevey has vetoed the measure. The bill passed the legislature in December 2003 with the support of key state lawmakers, including death penalty proponents. In recent years, public support for capital punishment in general has sharply declined in New Jersey, and the majority of those polled have favored a
Attorneys from the New York Capital Defender Office have followed the lead of various death penalty experts and petitioned the New York Court of Appeals to require a higher standard of proof of guilt before a death sentence may be sought. The current standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" of guilt applies in both capital and non-capital cases. Because of the evidence of mistakes in death penalty cases, the attorneys called for proof "beyond any doubt" in such cases. Frank Keating, a senior Justice Department official in the Reagan administration who tried to raise
Kamala Harris, the newly-elected San Francisco District Attorney, recently spoke about her approach to keeping the community safe:
The dialogue about public safety in San Francisco and across the country is usually dominated by one simplistic question -- are you "tough" on crime, or are you "soft" on crime? As we start a new era in the district attorney's office today, it's time to put an end to that false choice. Let's start today by being smart on crime.
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A recent Harris Poll found that only 41% of Americans believe that the death penalty deters crime, marking the smallest number of such respondents in 27 years of this poll. Only 37% of those polled would continue to support capital punishment if they believed "that quite a substantial number of innocent people are convicted of murder." Overall, 69% percent of those polled said that they support capital punishment. The poll was conducted in December 2003.
While the number of death sentences in the United States has fallen in recent years, the drop in the rate of death sentencing has been even more dramatic. The death sentencing rate is the number of death sentences divided by the population, and is one measure of a country's support for the death penalty. The projected rate of sentencing for 2003, 0.048 per 100,000 people, is the lowest rate since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. For more information, read the 2003 DPIC Year End Report (PDF).