Why the death penalty is at historic low in the US
By and large, Americans still support the death penalty. But concerns about the fairness of its application, and even its costs, are playing a role in the steep drop in executions and convictions.
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“I think that the numbers show that the majority of the public still believe that in those rare and outrageous cases that the death penalty is an appropriate sanction,” Scott Burns, the executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, tells MSNBC. “One of the reasons for that, I believe, is because … the criminal justice system has done a good job at targeting those violent offenders nationwide” and handing out “long and stiff sentences.”Skip to next paragraph
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While a number of states – including Illinois, New Mexico, New York, and New Jersey – have abolished the death penalty in recent years, its application and efficacy continue to be hotly debated even in New England, where only one person has been executed since 1960.
The brutal slaying of a Connecticut family led to the death penalty conviction of one of two convicted killers in a case that has led legislators to reconsider a proposed death penalty ban in that state, with many lawmakers now favoring leaving the sanction in place for only the most heinous crimes.
Meanwhile, an attempt in North Carolina to repeal the two-year-old Racial Justice Act, which allows death penalty convicts to argue that their convictions were racially based, failed when Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the repeal attempt on Wednesday. Prosecutors had argued the law is too broad, allowing nearly all 158 prisoners on the North Carolina death row – both black and white – to file for relief under the law.
A 2010 study by the University of Michigan found that North Carolina murder convicts were 2.6 times more likely to receive a death sentence if one of the victims was white. In defending her veto, Governor Perdue said Wednesday that "it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina."