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The death penalty in America - facts & figures



Article: Charlotte Whitelock

DAVID Gale (Kevin Spacey) is a man who has tried hard to live by his principles but in a bizarre twist of fate, this devoted father, popular professor and respected death penalty opponent finds himself on Death Row for the rape and murder of fellow activist Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney).

With only three days before his scheduled execution, Gale agrees to give Pulitzer-hungry reporter Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) the exclusive interview she’s been chasing. But Bitsey soon realizes that this assignment is more than she bargained for, and that a man’s life is in her hands. Putting her own safety in jeopardy, she frantically races to piece together the shocking events surrounding Constance’s death, before it’s too late.

In light of the film's subject matter, Indielondon has uncovered some facts about the death penalty in America...

The Death Penalty Today

After the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 the number of executions increased dramatically from one in 1977, peaking at 98 executions in 1999.

There are now over 610 men and women on California's Death Row alone, and over 3,700 awaiting death across the country.

The execution rate has since fallen, with only 66 executions in 2001 and 71 in 2002. But there is mounting evidence that this system is failing.

Between 1973 and 2002, 102 Death Row inmates in 25 states were found to be innocent and released from Death Row, more than a third of them in the past seven years.

Senator Kennedy supports the view that capital punishment is a failed system. He stated in a recent speech: "People have spent years on Death Row innocent. When the errors are caught, they are not caught by the courts, but by journalists."

There are currently 38 states in the US with the death penalty, but there are a growing number of organisations that oppose the use of capital punishment.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Capital punishment is the ultimate denial of civil liberties. The ACLU opposes capital punishment under all circumstances because it violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, is administered arbitrarily and unfairly, and fails to deter crime or improve public safety.

In 1976, the ACLU launched its Capital Punishment Project, a public education and advocacy program that seeks to bring about the abolition of the death penalty (www.aclu.org).

Death Penalty Focus

Founded in 1988, Death Penalty Focus (DPF) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment through grassroots organizing, research, and the dissemination of information about the death penalty and its alternatives.

Death Penalty Focus believe that the death penalty is an ineffective and brutally simplistic response to the serious and complex problem of violent crime. By diverting attention and financial resources away from preventative measures that would actually increase personal safety, the death penalty causes more violence in society.

DPF is convinced that when the public is informed about the inherent racism, injustice, and the true human and financial cost associated with the death penalty, Californians will join the growing community of nations throughout the world who have already abolished capital punishment (www.deathpenalty.org).

The DPF believe that the death penalty is proven ineffective on many levels:

l Capital punishment does not deter crime. Scientific studies have consistently failed to demonstrate that executions deter people from committing crime.

l The USA is unable to prevent accidental execution of innocent people. Studies show that in this century, at least 400 innocent people have been convicted of capital crimes they did not commit. Of those 400, 23 were executed.

l The wrongful execution of an innocent person is an injustice that can never be rectified. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 102 men and women have been released from Death Row....some only minutes away from execution.

l The death penalty is applied at random. Politics, quality of legal counsel and the jurisdiction where a crime is committed are more often the determining factors in a death penalty case than the facts of the crime itself. The death penalty is a lethal lottery: of the 22,000 homicides committed every year 300 people are sentenced to death.

l The USA is keeping company with notorious human rights abusers. The vast majority of countries in Western Europe, North America and South America — more than 112 nations worldwide — have abandoned capital punishment. The United States remains in the same company as Iraq, Iran and China as one of the major advocates and users of capital punishment.

l Executions are carried out at staggering cost to taxpayers. It costs more to execute a person than to keep him or her in prison for life. A 1993 California study argues that each death penalty case costs at least $1.25 million more than a regular murder case and a sentence of life without possibility of parole.

l Millions could be diverted to helping the families of murder victims. Families of murder victims undergo severe trauma and loss which no one should minimize. However, executions do not help these people heal their wounds nor do they end their pain; the extended process prior to executions prolongs the agony of the family. Families of murder victims would benefit far more if the funds now being used for the costly process of executions were diverted to the provision of counseling and other assistance.

l There is a better alternative. California judges have the option of sentencing convicted capital murderers to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are currently over 1,700 people in California who have received this alternative sentence which includes no appeals process. According to the Governor's Office, only one person sentenced to life without parole has been released since the state provided for this option in 1977, and this occurred because he was able to prove his innocence.

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