US Back in the Execution Business

In a 7 to 2 vote the US Supreme court ruled April 15th that the most common method of lethal injection to execute condemned prisoners is constitutional.

The justices said the three-drug combination used by Kentucky, the Federal Government and 34 other states, sodium thiopental, which induces unconsciousness; pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the muscles; and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest, does not carry the risk of substantial pain so great as to violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment

"Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' that qualifies as cruel and unusual," wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

This begs the question - Just what would qualify as cruel and unusual?

The immediate result of the decision was to dissolve the de facto moratorium on executions imposed since the court announced in September that it would decide the case, Baze v. Rees. Indeed, only hours later the Governor of Virginia lifted the hold he had placed on capital punishment.

The day before the Supreme Court decision, Amnesty International released its annual report on capital punishment, Death Sentences and Executions in 2007, which said that at least 1,252 people were executed in 24 countries and at least 3,347 people were sentenced to death in 51 countries. Up to 27,500 people are estimated to be on death row across the world

However, the most interesting element of the report (to my mind, at least) was the list of top executing countries. Eighty-eight per cent of all known executions took place in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the USA. The actual ranking was:

China – at least 470 executions, Iran – at least 317 executions, Saudi Arabia – at least 143 executions, Pakistan – at least 135 executions, USA – 42 executions followed by Iraq and Viet Nam with at least 33 and 25 executions respectively.

Yes, the land of the free, home of the brave, world leader (?) is right up there with the worst of them – a shameful record.

Since World War II there has been a consistent trend towards abolishing the death penalty. In 1977, 16 countries were abolitionist. As of January 1 2008, 92 countries had abolished capital punishment altogether, 10 had done so for all offences except under special circumstances, and 33 others had not used it for at least 10 years - while 62 countries actively retained the death penalty.

At least 3,000 people (and probably considerably more) were sentenced to death during 2007, and at the end of the year around 25,000 were on death row around the world, with Pakistan and the USA accounting for about half this figure between them.

Because I know you’re going to ask, my country, Canada, eliminated the death penalty for murder on July 14, 1976 because of fears about wrongful convictions, concerns about the state taking the lives of individuals, and uncertainty about the death penalty's role as a deterrent for crime. The last execution in Canada took place on Dec. 10, 1962 at Toronto’s Don Jail.

According to Amnesty International Canada, contrary to predictions by death penalty supporters, the homicide rate in Canada did not increase after abolition in 1976. In fact, the Canadian murder rate declined slightly the following year (from 2.8 per 100,000 to 2.7). Over the next 20 years the homicide rate fluctuated (between 2.2 and 2.8 per 100,000), but the general trend was clearly downwards. It reached a 30-year low in 1995 (1.98) -- the fourth consecutive year-to-year decrease and a full one-third lower than in the year before abolition. In 1998, the homicide rate dipped below 1.9 per 100,000, the lowest rate since the 1960s.

I expect I will get some comments from irate Americans on this one.


Anonymous said...

It doesn't surprise me at all, they think torture is ok too. At this moment there are many authocratic, weak leaders that are only able to rule with harsh tools. Last generation rulers were much more enlightened and practical, not all of them of course. We live in a very corrupt to the bone era and it will probably take a while untill some more civilized and enlightened people get another shot. These are the new dark ages.

Nicest Girl said...

I'm an American and I will be the first to admit that this country is chock full of hypocrites. Americans try people for war crimes but the President can issue torture orders. Americans cry and bitch about murder rates but try to take their guns away and they'll shoot you. Americans whine about the price of gas but don't demand a better public transportation system and value sports cars above all else.

I am torn on the death penalty, personally. I think it should not be in place because our justice system is not fool proof and I don't believe that even one innocent person should be put to death by the state. But at the same time I can completely understand wanting to eliminate someone (such as the BTK Killer) who gained sexual pleasure from torturing and strangling loved ones to death. It's a tough one for me. In the end I would vote "no" on the death penalty but it for the innocent... not the guilty.

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