News / USA

Americans' Support for Death Penalty Wanes

Amnesty International, death penalty map
Amnesty International, death penalty map
Greg Flakus
A botched lethal injection in an Oklahoma prison recently has led to a suspension of executions in that state pending an investigation and the U.S. Supreme Court has tightened rules for screening out death row inmates for mental impairment.  Support for capital punishment remains high in the United States, but opposition to the death penalty is growing.
 
Recent public opinion polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center indicate support for the death penalty in the United States has fallen by around 20 percent during the past two decades.  The Pew poll showed a drop of 10 percent in just the past two years in respondents who "strongly favor" capital punishment.
 
But the same polls show overall support for the death penalty remains strong, around 60 percent.  Other polls, taken after terrorist attacks or mass shootings, show even more support for the punishment.  The Angus Reid polling organization found 78 percent support for the death penalty among Americans in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 Boston bombings.
 
Death penalty opponents portray this as an anger-driven desire for revenge, but Dudley Sharp, an independent death penalty advocate based here in Houston, says what supporters seek is just retribution.

"Just retribution means a lawful and proportional sanction to the crime that was committed, as opposed to revenge, which neither needs lawful, or proportional or even guilt or innocence to be involved with it," said Sharp.
 
Opponents cite studies that show murder rates are not affected by the death penalty because most murders are not premeditated.  But Dudley Sharp says the prospect of death is a deterrent.
 
"It is impossible to prove that the death penalty is not a deterrent for the simple reason that all prospects of a negative consequence deter some of the people.  No study has ever said, nor can it, that none are deterred by the death penalty, and in fact we have 28 studies since 1999 stating that the death penalty does deter," he said.
 
One of the main reasons people cite for opposing the death penalty is the exoneration in recent years of around 140 people who were on death row.  A statistical study by the National Academy of Sciences released last month showed that one out of every 25 people sentenced to death in the United States may be innocent.  

Activist Kathy Spillman of the Witness to Innocence organization, which opposes capital punishment, says the more people learn about justice system flaws, the less comfortable they are with a state executing people.
 
"Even if you support the death penalty, you cannot possibly support an innocent person being sent to death as collateral damage to support a broken institution," said Spillman.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled states must improve testing of inmates on death row to prevent execution of anyone with a severe mental disability.   Spillman says that could save a lot of condemned people.
 
"I think a pretty significant percentage of our prison population in general, but on death row in particular, you would find severe mental health, mental and intellectual disabilities.  That is one of the reasons they end up on death row," she said.
 
Several states that once had the death penalty have now either suspended its use or dropped it altogether.  In the 32 states that continue to apply capital punishment, some juries have shown reluctance to convict accused murderers if they know the death penalty could be imposed.
 
The public has also been disturbed by a botched execution in Oklahoma in which the intravenous needle popped out of the inmate's arm as the poison was being administered.  Some companies that manufacture chemicals that can be used for lethal injection are now refusing to sell them to states that carry out such executions.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid