Death Penalty Debates

November 19, 2010 • Volume 20, Issue 41
Is the capital punishment system working?
By Kenneth Jost


Dr. William Petit (MCT via Getty Images/Hartford Courant/Bettina Hansen)
Dr. William Petit, who survived a horrific, night-long rampage that killed his wife and two daughters, embraces his sister on Nov. 8, after jurors gave the death penalty to Steven Hayes. “This is justice,” said Petit, who had wanted capital punishment for Hayes and his co-defendant. (MCT via Getty Images/Hartford Courant/Bettina Hansen)

Public support for capital punishment in the United States remains strong on paper, but opponents say it is weakening in practice. The number of new death sentences fell in 2009 to its lowest point in four decades and seems likely to end even lower in 2010. The number of executions has also fallen, to at least half the number in the 1990s. Opponents of the death penalty say prosecutors may be seeking the death penalty less often because of the costs of a capital trial, sentencing and post-conviction proceedings. Jurors may also be worried about the costs of the system, the delay between sentence and execution and the risk of executing an innocent person. Supporters of capital punishment counter that the costs and delays result primarily from obstructionism by death penalty lawyers and that the risk of a wrongful execution is all but nonexistent.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Death Penalty
Nov. 19, 2010  Death Penalty Debates
Sep. 23, 2005  Death Penalty Controversies
Nov. 16, 2001  Rethinking the Death Penalty
Jan. 08, 1999  Death Penalty Update
Mar. 10, 1995  Death Penalty Debate
Jul. 13, 1990  Death Penalty Debate Centers on Retribution
Jan. 18, 1985  Emptying Death Row: More U.S. Executions
Jan. 10, 1973  Death Penalty Revival
Jul. 17, 1963  Punishment by Death
Aug. 14, 1953  Death Penalty
Feb. 16, 1943  Treason
Jun. 21, 1927  The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti
Death Penalty
Domestic Issues