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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid