Capital Punishment, Capital Crime?
“In fact the most glaring weakness is that no matter how efficient and fair the death penalty may seem in theory, in actual practice it is primarily inflicted upon the weak, the poor, the ignorant and against racial minorities.” This statement was made nearly 50 years ago by former California Governor Pat Brown. George Ryan recently came to the same conclusion after commissioning the most intensive review of capital punishment ever undertaken in the United States. Ryan’s last act as Governor of Illinois was to commute all death penalty sentences to life in prison. This unprecedented action represents a growing public skepticism about the equity and efficacy of capital punishment. Over 100 people on death row have been exonerated in the US since 1973. Twelve states have abolished the death penalty. In none of these states has the homicide rate increased. Even George W. Bush, who presided over 152 executions as Governor of Texas, admitted that there is no proof that the death penalty is a deterrent.
Stephen Bright is director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and teaches courses on the death penalty and criminal law at the Yale and Emory law schools. He has represented defendants in capital cases at trial, on appeals, and in post-conviction proceedings since 1979. He argued Amadeo v. Zant before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1988, in which the death penalty was set aside because of racial discrimination.