PUBLIC OPINION: California Poll Shows Increase in Support for Life Without Parole

A recent poll conducted in California showed that support for life without parole for first-degree murder has increased among registered voters since 2000. When asked which sentence they preferred for a first-degree murderer, 42% of registered voters said they preferred life without parole and 41% said they preferred the death penalty. In 2000, when voters were asked the same question, 37% chose life without parole while 44% chose the death penalty. Some commentators say that the increased support for life without parole and decreased support for the death penalty is very telling. Stefanie Faucher, associate director of Death Penalty Focus, said "I think they reflect a growing preference for life without parole as an alternative. It is more cost-effective, is carried out more quickly and doesn't drag victims through years of appeals." The Field Poll revealed that 70% of California’s registered voters support the death penalty, but Faucher says that figure represents support for the death penalty “in the abstract” and is less revealing than people’s views on what punishment they prefer.

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Five Myths About the Death Penalty

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.

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PUBLIC OPINION: Majority of Illinois Voters Supports Alternatives to the Death Penalty

A recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners found that a majority of Illinois registered voters prefer an alternative sentence to the death penalty for those who commit murder. The pollsters surveyed voters in April, and found that 43% believed that the penalty for murder should be life with no possibility of parole and a requirement to make restitution to the victim’s family. Another 18% felt that the penalty for murder should be life in prison with no possibility of parole. Only 32% responded that the penalty for murder should be death. The poll also found only 39% of registered voters even know that Illinois has the death penalty. Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, attributed this to a declining murder rate and a declining use of the death penalty in the state. There has not been an execution in Illinois since 2000, when then Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions in the state. Between 1977, when capital punishment was reinstated in Illinois, and the moratorium in 2000, Illinois freed 13 men from death row and put 12 to death.

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PUBLIC OPINION: Maryland Voters Prefer Life Without Parole Over the Death Penalty

A recent poll by the Washington Post revealed more Marylanders prefer a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole over the death penalty for someone convicted of murder– by 49% to 40%. Maryland has had a de facto moratorium on executions since 2006, after the state's highest court ruled that procedures for lethal injections had not been properly adopted. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley sponsored legislation to abolish the death penalty, and a state commission in 2008 recommended that the legislature repeal capital punishment, but the eventual measure was amended to sharply restrict the death penalty instead.  The last execution in Maryland was carried out in 2005.

In general, Marylanders support the death penalty when not presented with an alternative sentence by a margin of 60% to 32%.  The poll revealed racial and gender divisions on the issue. Whites are far more likely than blacks to favor capital punishment (70% to 43%), and more men than women support the death penalty (66% to 54%).

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NEW RESOURCES: Slide Presentation of Police Chiefs' Views on the Death Penalty

The results of a poll of police chiefs recently featured in DPIC's report "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis" is now available in the form of a slide presentation on the Web, suitable for use in workshops or discussion groups. The poll, commissioned by DPIC and conducted by R.T. Strategies of Washington, DC, surveyed a national sample of 500 randomly selected U.S. police chiefs on questions regarding the death penalty and reducing violent crime. Although the police chiefs did not oppose the death penalty philosophically, they found it to be an ineffective crime fighting tool.  Among those surveyed, only 1% of the chiefs listed greater use of the death penalty as the best way to reduce violence. The poll also showed police chiefs ranking the death penalty as the least efficient use of taxpayers' money among programs to fight crime.  Most of the police chiefs did not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.

Access the slide presentation here; read DPIC's "Smart on Crime" report.

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