The death penalty sentencing system is full of flaws in both Delaware and the United States in general.
Here are the top six reasons why the death penalty system is broken:
- It costs tax-payers millions of dollars and diverts money away from programs that could reduce violent crime, help victims and their families, and solve cold cases.
- Innocent men and women are executed for crimes they did not commit while the real killer walks free.
- Murder rates are higher in states that have the death penalty; it does not keep us safer.
- Racial bias pervades the system at all levels and people of color are treated unfairly as a result.
- Often, the “worst of the worst” don’t receive a death sentence. Application of the punishment seems almost random and depends on politics, where the crime was committed, and quality of defense representation.
- Murder victim family members must suffer through the appeals process for 10-20 years or more before an execution is carried out. Many of these families would be satisfied with a sentence of life without parole.
The Innocent Are Executed
The failed campaign to stop the execution of Troy Davis demonstrates how a man, who was most likely innocent, can be put to death. There is good documentation of at least nine other cases of probable innocence and at least three cases of people pardoned years after being executed.
Since 1973, 151 men were released from death row around the country due to wrongful convictions. Factors that contribute to wrongful convictions include:
- Eyewitness error
- Misconduct by both the police and the prosecution
- Mishandled evidence or use of unqualified “experts”
- Snitch testimony often given in exchange for a reduction in sentence
- False confessions due to mental illness, mental disability or police torture
Is the Death Penalty Random?
Only 2% of known murderers are sentenced to death and they are primarily people of color, the poor, mentally ill and undereducated. Location, local politics, and the quality of representation for the defendant play more of a role in sentencing than the actual crime.”
The random nature of the death penalty led Justice Potter Stewart to remark, in his concurring opinion on Furman v. Georgia in 1972: “These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.”
Related to the random nature of the death penalty:
- Co-defendants charged with committing the same crime often receive different sentences: one life and the other death. There have also been incidents where those who did not directly kill were executed and their counterparts who pulled the trigger were not.
- The majority of executions in the U.S. take place in the South and in many states only a few counties account for all of that state’s death sentences.
- Almost all defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys. In many cases the appointed lawyers lack the resources, time, money and experience needed for death penalty cases.
There are more problems with the death penalty system than can be discussed here in depth. More information on all the issues can be found at the award-winning Death Penalty Information Center website.