Saturday, 16 October 2010

Maps Show Arbitrariness in Death Sentences in United States

A series of maps illustrates the regional distribution of death sentences within the United States in recent years. These are not actual executions, but rather pronouncements of the death penalty following a trial. They indicate enormous disparity and, I think, arbitrariness. We have long understood that the practice of capital punishment in the United States was largely confined to the south, and in particular to slave states and those with a traditional of lynching in the early part of the twentieth century. It seems that there is a further dimension to this: certain countries are enthusiasts for capital punishment, others are not. I'd like deterrence theorists to explain that.

According to Robert Smith

The maps show that roughly 90% of counties in the United States did not sentence anyone to death between 2004-2009 (the number is closer to 95% between 2007-2009). Even within states that heavily rely upon the death penalty, places like Texas, Alabama, Florida, California, and Oklahoma, the majority of counties in these states do not use the death penalty. Instead, a narrow band of counties (e.g., Los Angeles, Maricopa) account for a disproportionate number of death sentences year after year. Nothing distinguishes the murders (or murderers) in the counties that impose death sentences from those in the heavy majority of American counties that do not.
Smith recalls the words of Justice Potter Stewart of the United States Supreme Court in Furman v. Gerorgia in 1972:
These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. For, of all the people convicted of rapes and murders in 1967 and 1968, many just as reprehensible as these, the petitioners are among a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death has in fact been imposed.

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