When the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, it said there were two social purposes for imposing capital punishment for the most egregious crimes: deterrence and retribution. In recent months, these justifications for a cruel and uncivilized punishment have been seriously undermined by a growing group of judges, prosecutors, scholars and others involved in criminal justice, conservatives and liberals alike.
A distinguished committee of scholars convened by the National Research Council found that there is no useful evidence to determine if the death penalty deters serious crimes. Many first-rate scholars have tried to prove the theory of deterrence, but that research “is not informative about whether capital punishment increases, decreases, or has no effect on homicide rates,” the committee said.
A host of other respected experts have also concluded that life imprisonment is a far more practical form of retribution, because the death penalty process is too expensive, too time-consuming and unfairly applied.
The punishment is supposed to be reserved for the very worst criminals, but dozens of studies in state after state have shown that the process for deciding who should be sent to death row is arbitrary and discriminatory.
Thanks to the Innocence Project and the overturning of 18 wrongful convictions of death-row inmates with DNA evidence and the exonerations of 16 others charged with capital crimes, the American public is increasingly aware that the system makes terrible mistakes. Since 1973, a total of 142 people have been freed from death row after being exonerated with DNA or other kinds of evidence.
All of these factors have led the states to retreat from the death penalty in recent years — in both law and in practice. In 2012, Connecticut became the fifth state in five years to abolish the penalty. Nine states executed inmates, the fewest in two decades. Three-fourths of the 43 executions in 2012 were carried out in only four states. The number of new death sentences remained low at 77 — about one-third the number in 2000 — with just four states accounting for almost two-thirds of those sentences. While 33 states retain the death penalty on their books, 13 of them have not executed anyone for at least five years.
Those 13 states plus the 17 without the penalty means that 30 states are not carrying it out — and that includes California, which retained the death penalty in a November referendum vote. Almost one-quarter of the 3,146 death row inmates in the United States, as of October, are imprisoned in California, but that state has not executed anyone in seven years.
California’s chief justice said recently that the state’s official moratorium, which has been in place for six years, is likely to continue for at least three more because of problems with the execution method.
In January, executions are scheduled to take place in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas. As it happens, major reviews of the death penalty are under way in each of those states. The reviews are very likely to find that those states have failed to meet standards of fairness under the Constitution, just as reviews of the capital systems in other states have concluded in the last decade.
The large number of states no longer carrying out executions indicates a kind of national consensus. It points to “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” an idea that the Supreme Court has evoked in judging the constitutionality of punishments. The court used that analysis most recently when it ruled that mandatory life sentences without possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders even if they are convicted of homicide.
It should similarly recognize that under evolving standards capital punishment is cruel and unusual and should be abolished.
By Laura Zuckerman
Thu Dec 27, 2012 9:52pm EST
(Reuters) – Kasey Hansen, a special education teacher from Salt Lake City, Utah, says she would take a bullet for any of her students, but if faced with a gunman threatening her class, she would rather be able to shoot back.
On Thursday, she was one of 200 Utah teachers who flocked to an indoor sports arena for free instruction in the handling of firearms by gun activists who say armed educators might have a chance at thwarting deadly shooting rampages in their schools.
The event was organized by the Utah Shooting Sports Council in response to the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, this month that killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The council said it has typically attracted about 16 teachers each year to its concealed carry training courses. But Thursday’s event near Salt Lake City, organized especially for educators in the aftermath of Newtown, drew interest from hundreds, and the class was capped at 200 for space limitations.
“I feel like I would take a bullet for any student in the school district,” Hansen, a special education teacher in a Salt Lake City school district, told Reuters after the training session.
“If we should ever face a shooter like the one in Connecticut, I’m fully prepared to respond with my firearm,” she said, adding that she planned to buy a weapon soon and take it to work.
The Newtown massacre reignited a national debate over gun safety. President Barack Obama signaled his support for reinstating a national ban on assault-style rifles and urged Congress to act. The National Rifle Association has called for posting armed guards at schools and rejected new gun-control measures.
‘HOW DO I KEEP A GUN SAFE?’
The National Education Association and a number of school officials criticized the NRA’s stance, but it got a warmer reception in some parts of the West, where hunting and guns are prevalent.
Utah is one of a handful of states that allows people with concealed-carry licenses to take their weapons onto school property, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Arizona, Attorney General Tom Horne on Wednesday jumped into the debate over school security with a proposal to allow any school to train and arm its principal or another staff member.
The plan, which was backed by at least three sheriffs, would require approval by the legislature and the state’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer.
Clark Aposhian, head of the Utah Shooting Sports Council and a certified firearms instructor, organized the event on Thursday to provide teachers with permits to allow them to carry concealed handguns in the classroom. He waived the usual $50 fee for the course.
“I genuinely felt depressed at how helpless those teachers were and those children were in Newtown,” Aposhian said. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Utah teacher Kerrie Anderson was not about to participate. She is a choir and math instructor at a junior high school near Salt Lake City, and said her family is “pro-gun” and uses firearms for sports such as target shooting. But she balks at the notion of carrying a weapon into her classroom.
“How would I keep that gun safe?” she said. “I wouldn’t carry (it) on my person while teaching, where a disgruntled student could overpower me and take it. And if I have it secured in my office, it might not be a viable form of protection.”
Gun-control activists have decried moves to arm teachers and said efforts at curbing gun violence in schools should be tied to tightening firearms laws.
“We think it makes a lot more sense to prevent a school shooter from getting the gun in the first place,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary ranks as the second most deadly school shooting in U.S. history. Police say Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother before going to the school, where he committed the massacre and shot himself to death.
(Reporting and writing by Laura Zuckerman; Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman)
“This afternoon I signed legislation that will, effective today, replacethe death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the highest form of legal punishment in Connecticut,” Malloy said in a statement.
The new law replaces the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. It abolished the death penalty for future cases.
Malloy said he signed the bill because working as a prosecutor, he “learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect” and that it was “subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it”.
The second factor that led to his decision was the “unworkability” of Connecticut’s death penalty la