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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs