Deterrence

NEW VOICES: Former New Hampshire Justices Support Death Penalty Repeal

Two former justices of the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently voiced their support for repealing the death penalty. In an op-ed, Joseph Nadeau (l.) and John Broderick (r.) emphasized the death penalty's lack of deterrent effect, saying, "New Hampshire has not executed anyone for three quarters of a century. Yet, it registered the second lowest murder rate in the nation every year of this century." Murder rates were higher in heavy-use death penalty states, they noted. The former justices said the decision to seek the death penalty is often "random" and "easily influenced by public opinion, political pressure and media attention." They justices said the sentence of life without parole is an appropriate alternative, protecting society and punishing the offender. They concluded: "Abolishing the death penalty will not compromise public safety, but it may replace rage with reason, retribution with self-respect, and enrich the character of our people as a whole." Read the op-ed below.

BOOKS: Robert Blecker's "The Death of Punishment"

Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School, has written a new book supporting capital punishment, The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice among the Worst of the Worst. Blecker urges readers to consider his retributivist argument for the death penalty: "We retributivists view punishment differently," he wrote. "We don't punish to prevent crime or remake criminals. We inflict pain--suffering, discomfort--to the degree they deserve to feel it." He would impose the death penalty not only on some murderers, but also on corporate leaders responsible for the death of innocent people. On the other hand, he would spare many among those now on death row because they are not the "worst of the worst." Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School called the book "an eloquent, unsparing, often counterintuitive, and sometimes painful meditation on why, whom, and how a decent society should decide to punish, and what those questions can teach us about universal truths of morality and justice."

STUDIES: FBI Releases Report Including State Murder Rates for 2012

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released its annual FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2012. The national murder rate remained approximately the same in 2012 as in 2011. The Northeast, the region with the fewest executions, had the lowest murder rate of any region, and its murder rate decreased 3.4% from the previous year. The South, which carries out the most executions of any region, again had the highest murder rate in 2012. The murder rate in the West remained about the same, while the rate in the Midwest increased slightly. Six of the nine states with the lowest murder rates are states without the death penalty. The average murder rate of death penalty states was 4.7, while the average murder rate of states without the death penalty was 3.7 (not weighted by population).

NEW VOICES: Staunch North Carolina Conservative Would Replace Death Penalty

Steve Monks is a "staunch conservative" and former Chair of the Durham County, North Carolina, Republican Party. In an op-ed in the News & Observer, he recently argued that the state would save money and make society safer by replacing the death penalty with life without parole. He noted that the homicide rate in the state dropped 3.8% from 2011 to 2012, a time when no one was executed and no one even sentenced to death. In addition, there has been a 25% decline in the homicide rate from 2005, when executions occurred more regularly, to 5.1 per 100,000 last year, with no executions in 7 years. Monks concluded, “I am all in favor of taking a tough approach to crime. I believe people who commit murder should die in prison. I also believe we should use crime-fighting tools that are efficient and have proven results. The death penalty does not meet either of those standards… [I]n tough economic times, law enforcement budgets are on the chopping block while our state continues to spend millions every year on the death penalty, the very epitome of a wasteful government program.” Read full op-ed below.

STUDIES: FBI Preliminary Crime Report for 2012

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently released the preliminary findings of its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2012. The final report will likely be published in October, but the initial statistics indicate the number of murders in the U.S. increased slightly by 1.5% from 2011. Three regions of the country showed an increase in murders, while one region declined. Murders in the Northeast decreased by 4.4%. The number of murders increased by 3.3% in the Midwest, 2.5% in the South, and 2.5% in the West. The entire Northeast has not carried out an execution since 2005 and accounts for less than 1% of the executions in the country since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. It consistently has the lowest murder rate for the 4 regions. The South, which regularly has the highest murder rate, has been responsible for 82% of the executions; the Midwest 12%; and the West 6%.

NEW VOICES: Former Prosecutor Calls for Clemency in Upcoming Colorado Execution

The former Chief Deputy District Attorney from the county that prosecuted Nathan Dunlap has called on Colorado's governor to commute his death sentence to life without parole. Richard Bloch (pictured), who prosecuted dozens of homicide cases during his 20 years with the Arapahoe County DA’s office, said he believes the state’s capital punishment system is too broken to implement: “Having worked on many homicides, visited dozens of murder scenes, and, most importantly, spoken to many people who have committed violent actions against others, I understand from personal experience what so many studies show: that there is no evidence whatsoever that the death penalty deters crime and enhances public safety.” Bloch also noted the geographical and racial disparities in the state’s death penalty: all those on death row came from Arapahoe County and all are African American, even though blacks account for only 4.3% of the state’s population. Bloch wrote, “[W]e cannot ignore that the system that sentenced Mr. Dunlap to die is a system in crisis. Colorado can do better; Colorado is better than that.” Read full article below.

STUDIES: FBI Releases 2011 Crime Report Showing Drop in Murder Rates

On October 29, the U.S. Justice Department released the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2011, indicating that the national murder rate dropped 1.5% from 2010. This decline occurred at a time when the use of the death penalty is also decreasing nationally.  The Northeast region, which uses the death penalty the least, had the lowest murder rate of the 4 geographic regions, and saw a 6.4% further decrease in its murder rate in 2011, the largest decrease of any region.  By contrast, the South, which carries out more executions than any other region, had the highest murder rate. It saw a small decline from last year. The murder rate in the West remained about the same, while the rate in the Midwest increased slightly.  Four of the five states with the highest murder rates are death-penalty states, while four of the five states with the lowest murder rates are states without the death penalty. See table below.

EDITORIALS: Evidence Does Not Support Death Penalty As Deterrent

Comparing State Homicide Rates
Click to enlarge

In a recent editorial, the Sacramento Bee of California sharply challenged the theory that the death penalty deters murders. The paper illustrated that homicide rates in California, New York and Texas have tracked virtually identically between 1974 and 2009, and yet each state has differed widely in its use of capital punishment (see chart). The editorial stated, “[D]uring that time Texas had 447 executions and New York had none; California had 13. Clearly, something other than executions has had an effect on declining murder rates. And that clearly is what we should focus on." The editorial also quoted a recent study conducted by the National Research Council finding that three decades of research on deterrence was “not informative” and “should not be used to inform deliberations requiring judgments about the effect of the death penalty on homicide." On September 9, the Sacramento Bee announced it was reversing its historic 150-year support of the death penalty and endorsing the repeal of California's capital punishment law.  Read the recent editorial below.

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