Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced dates for five executions.
These are the first executions to be scheduled at the federal level in over a decade.
In recent years, work on this policy matter has centered around the states, where the majority of people (and especially conservatives like myself) believe these decisions should be housed. And states are sending a distinct message.
Since 2007, the death penalty has been repealed or executions have been halted in 13 states. That raises the number of states to 25 that have no functioning death penalty.
Of the other 25, over a third have not carried out an execution in a decade or more.
In addition to the states that have taken formal action to remove the death penalty, 11 more are considering similar actions, all with Republican lawmakers leading the charge.
While the death penalty used to be an issue that fell on party lines, the country has seen a groundswell of Republican support for repeal in recent years.
Americans have learned two things: the system frequently convicts innocent people, and that the costs associated with administering the death penalty are enormous.
That second fact has become very well-known. But most erroneously assume this is because it takes a long time to carry out executions. That’s actually false.
The death penalty costs about a million dollars more, per case, than the next most expensive punishment, which is life without parole (LWOP). Consider that the leading cause of death on death row is natural causes, so that means those on death row typically serve LWOP sentences anyway. So why is the death penalty so much more expensive?
Seventy percent of the death penalty’s costs come from the trial alone.
That’s because death penalty trials are lengthier and involve more hours worked by all participants.
It doesn’t even matter if the jury ultimately delivers a death sentence. The pursuit alone makes a case drastically more expensive. Since new death sentences are down 60% since 2000, that’s a lot of wasted money.
The death penalty is about more than fiscal wastefulness. It’s also about opportunity costs. The nation only solves about half of our homicides, meaning the other half of families and victims get no justice and no closure whatsoever.
Money wasted on the death penalty should be spent on solving more cases, or on programs that actually work to deter crime – which we know the death penalty does not.
Not only is the death penalty wasteful, it also risks killing innocent people.
At the state level, 1 person has been exonerated for every 10 executions in this country. There could be many more innocent people on death row, but it’s hard to prove innocence at the state level, with the majority of these exonerations coming from outside groups working pro bono. At the federal level there are even fewer checks and balances.
Defendants receive just a single post-conviction proceeding in the federal system and are often denied a right to appeal.
Furthermore, the system is arbitrary. And this certainly holds true across both state and federal systems. The location where a crime is committed is the largest determinate in sentencing, with only 2% of counties bringing the majority of capital cases at the state level. In the federal system, all sentences have stemmed from only 31 of the country’s 94 federal judicial districts.
Upon examination, the cases currently facing execution dates at the federal level look quite similarly to those you would find at the state level. There’s only one — I repeat one person on the entire death row that is there for a crime related to terrorism.
There are none there for crimes related to espionage or treason.
Instead, federal cases that produced a death sentence tend to be those that failed to solicit a death verdict at the state level, or that contained some other arbitrary marker like being committed in a federal park.
The country has been debating this issue for several years now. We are moving away from this antiquated system, as has the majority of the westernized world.
We have more than enough means for ensuring society is protected from those who might be a threat, without resorting to the death penalty, and we have better ideas and more resources at our disposal to combat crime.
The Republican administration should follow the lead of conservatives across the country and let go of this dying practice.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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