American attitudes toward the death penalty are changing, due in part to the growing number of wrongly convicted individuals who have been freed after serving years, even decades, on death row.
The 35 percent of Americans who oppose capital punishment in a Gallup Poll is the highest since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to resume use of the death penalty in 1972. There is still strong support with six of 10 persons polled favoring the death penalty for murder, but confidence is eroding. The number of those who believe it is applied fairly as well as those who say it is not applied often enough have fallen to their lowest levels in a decade.
The timing of the poll may have affected peoples opinions. It was taken just after the execution of Troy Davis and another Supreme Court case challenging a death penalty. Davis was put to death for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer even though several key witnesses recanted their testimony against him.
Last week, the high court heard the case of Cory Maples who was denied an appeal after he missed a deadline to file one because the two lawyers representing him had left their law firm and failed to notify him or the courts, a technicality that could cost Maples his life.
Diann Rust-Tierney, head of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told USA Today, Theres been a steady erosion in confidence in the system as more and more people sentenced to death have had their cases overturned. Nearly 140 inmates awaiting execution have been exonerated or had their convictions overturned on appeal, many of them due to the work of the Innocence Project.
Its co-director, Barry Scheck, attributed growing public doubt about capital punishment to the high cost and time involved in prosecuting and then defending capital punishment cases in the courts. With 700 inmates on Californias death row, the amount of time and expense to handle those cases is mind-boggling, he said, adding that the public does not view the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.
Mr. Scheck noted that the Gallup Poll did not ask Americans if they believe life imprisonment was a better alternative to capital punishment, which could show even wider dislike for it.
Other civilized nations have abandoned use of the death penalty. As dozens of cases have shown, mistakes can be made despite protections built into the legal system. Innocent people could have lost their lives. The death penalty should be abandoned.