YOUR VIEW: Alabama should join states saying no to death penalty
Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 5:32 AM
By Letters from our readers The Birmingham News
Forty years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia struck down the death penalty across the country, saying the inconsistent manner in which it was applied constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution. When it was reinstated four years later in Gregg v. Georgia, new capital sentencing procedures were expected to make the nation's most severe punishment less arbitrary and more fair. The court also commended the new statutes as "a responsible effort to define those crimes and those criminals for which capital punishment is most probably an effective deterrent."
Decades later, random factors such as the race of the victim, the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed, the quality of defense counsel, jury override and racially stacked juries continue to exert significant influence on determining whether a defendant will receive the death penalty in Alabama.
Despite evidence that the death penalty continues to be applied in an arbitrary manner, some who support the death penalty maintain it is needed to deter murders. However, a recent report released by the National Academy of Sciences found no evidence of deterrence.
Even if the reforms instituted after Furman had been effective in making the imposition of death sentences less arbitrary, voters in Alabama should still be concerned by the ongoing risk of executing an innocent person. Last month, Columbia University law professor James Liebman published results of a comprehensive investigation into the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed in Texas in 1989. The conclusion was that DeLuna was almost certainly innocent and had been wrongly convicted "on the thinnest of evidence: a single, nighttime, cross-ethnic eyewitness identification and no corroborating forensics."
Nationwide, there have been 140 inmates released from death rows because of evidence of their innocence, including eight in Alabama.
Across the country, states are moving away from the death penalty. New death sentences and execution rates have declined dramatically since the 1990s, although not in Alabama. Five states in the past five years, including Connecticut in 2012, have replaced capital punishment with life without the possibility of parole.
It is time for Alabama to be the next state to consider ending this unfair, expensive and risky practice.
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty
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