News / USA

    Americans' Support for Death Penalty Wanes

    Amnesty International, death penalty map
    Amnesty International, death penalty map
    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

    US Watching as North Korea Opens Biggest Political Meeting in Decades

    As Workers' Party Congress opens, Washington anticipating possibility of another missile launch or nuclear test as top officials gather

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora