Death Penalty Talking Points
1. It is morally reprehensible to take a life, and it is especially reprehensible for the state to do so.
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." --Mahatma Gandhi
2. Executing innocent people outweighs any logic behind the death penalty.
Between 1973 and 2001, 89 death-row inmates were found to be innocent and subsequently were exonerated, escaping death by hours in some cases (The Nation, January 8-15, 2001).
3. Race is often a defining factor in death-penalty cases.
The United States favors prosecuting when the victim is white. More than 80 percent of completed capital cases involve a white victim, even though nationally 50 percent of murder victims are white (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org).
Jurors are far more likely to recommend the death penalty for people of color. Between 1995 and 2000, 75 percent of the federal cases in which juries recommended the death penalty involved black or Latino defendants (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org).
4. Whether or not the death penalty is applied depends largely on the quality of legal representation for the accused, and most death-row inmates cannot afford decent representation.
The Texas Defender Service concluded that defendants in that state have more than a one in three chance of being executed without benefit of competent appellate attorneys (Washington Post, January 4, 2002).
5. The death penalty does not deter crime.
The United States has a murder rate three times higher than that of European countries, all of whom have abolished capital punishment (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org).
There is no solid evidence that the death penalty decreases crime. Former Attorney General Janet Reno says, "I have inquired for most of my adult life about studies that might show that the death penalty is a deterrent. And I have not seen any research that would substantiate that point" (Reuters, January 21, 2000).
6. It is impossible for the death penalty to ever be administered fairly, given our legal system, and it is therefore unquestionably unconstitutional, because defendants often do not receive a fair trial.
Between 1973 and 1995, seven out of ten death-penalty cases were thrown out on appeal due to flaws in the trial (The Nation, January 8-15, 2001).
7. Administering the death penalty is far more expensive than imprisoning the offender for life.
Sending a killer to death row costs an average of $2.3 million (Dallas Morning News), three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for forty years (Jackson, Jackson Jr., Shapiro, Legal Lynching, The New Press).
Florida has spent more than $51 million a year more on state executions than it would have spent on punishing all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole, according to the Palm Beach Post (Jackson, Jackson Jr., Shapiro, Legal Lynching, The New Press).
8. Capital punishment is administered cruelly, arbitrarily and unfairly.
Between 1982 and 2001, at least thirty-two executions went brutally awry. On April 22, 1983, it took fourteen minutes for the State of Alabama to electrocute John Evans. The executioner re-attached a burning electrode to Evans's leg twice, ignoring pleas from the defense lawyer, while the room filled with smoke and the smell of burning flesh. Evans's body was left charred and smoldering (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org).
Jeb and George W. Bush, among many others, have also expedited the appeals process, to execute as many prisoners in as short a period of time as possible, which increases the likelihood of error. As Governor of Texas, George W. Bush was the most active executioner in the nation, killing on average one prisoner every other week (The Nation, January 8-15, 2001).
9. The United States is one of the only First World country that still executes its citizens.
With its use of the death penalty, the United States is in league with Iraq, Yemen, Iran, China and Congo. Our continued use of the death penalty causes constant friction with US allies (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org).
10. The United States executes mentally retarded people and children.
Currently the state of Virginia is seeking to execute 17 year-old Lee Malvo. Iran and Nigeria are the only other countries who execute children, according to a 2001 Human Rights Watch Report on Children's Rights. Although a recent Supreme Court decision declared the execution of mentally retarded inmates unconstitutional (Atkins vs. Virginia), death row inmates who would be considered mentally retarded by the American Association on Mental Retardation may be executed, since states have the authority to define what constitutes mental retardation; while the AAMR defines mental retardation as having an IQ of 70 or below, states currently have the right to define mentally retardation differently. Thus, mentally retarded inmates are still at risk.
Compiled by Lisa Weinert