Is it time to kill the death penalty? American activists have opposed capital punishment since executions were reinstituted in 1976, but their case has possibly grown stronger than ever in light of recent events. Here are five major issues that may give even proponents of the death penalty pause:
1. It’s Debatably Unconstitutional
The Eighth Amendment protects against cruel and unusual punishment, which many believe would include executions. This past month, Judge Cormac Carney in California concurred, declaring that capital punishment is “unconstitutional” in a verdict.
For the judge, the cruel and unusual punishment wasn’t just killing inmates, it was the entire mismanaged system that only actually kills a small fraction of the prisoners sentenced to death, seemingly at random. Although the ruling is specific to California, considering that the flaws the judge found in capital punishment are fairly standard throughout the country, it’s not difficult to imagine similar verdicts popping up in other states, as well.
2. Botched Executions
In April, an Oklahoma inmate ultimately died of a heart attack rather than a chemical cocktail after a botched lethal injection. Clayton Lockett suffered for about 43 minutes before he was ultimately declared dead.
It happened again just weeks ago in Arizona. Joseph Wood was left struggling to breathe for over an hour and a half when a lethal injection did not kill him nearly as quickly as it was intended. If executions are as humane as proponents like to claim, why have so many gone wrong as of late?
3. States Are Resorting to Shady Behavior to Ensure Executions Continue
The Louisiana Department of Corrections intentionally misled a local hospital to obtain drugs to use in a lethal injection execution. Hospital staff was under the impression that it was supplying hydromorphone to the state to treat inmates, not kill them. “Had we known of the real use, we never would have done it,” said Ulysses Thibodeaux, a board member for the hospital. Louisiana apparently has found this sort of deception necessary to execute inmates since medical companies have stopped selling certain lethal chemicals to prisons on ethical grounds.
4. Innocent Convicts Are Killed
Many people worry about the death penalty being applied to innocent people, and with good reason: DNA evidence has posthumously exonerated more than a dozen people who were put to death by the state. It’s a scenario that continues to this day. Recently, new information has surfaced about Cameron Willingham, a man executed in Texas in 2004, suggesting he was innocent after all.
Willingham was convicted of setting a house on fire, a blaze that killed three sleeping children. Independent forensic experts have since suggested that the fire was not the result of arson, but an accident. Additionally, Johnny Webb, a convict who testified against Willingham (and subsequently received a reduced sentence from the prosecution), has since recanted his story that Willingham confessed the crime to him, despite his testimony being the key piece of evidence used to convict Willingham in the first place.
5. It’s Racist
Capital punishment cannot be considered part of the “justice system” when it’s assigned to Americans unevenly. African Americans comprise an outstanding 42% of death row inmates, even though African Americans account for just over 12% of the population overall.
The Atlantic did an in depth examination at the demographics of death row inmates, revealing a clear bias in the types of people who get sentenced with the stiffest of penalties. When juries are four times more likely to give the death penalty to a black man than a white man charged with the same crime as has historically been the case in Philadelphia, the system is flawed and unfair.