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Kamala Harris, the newly-elected San Francisco District Attorney, recently spoke about her approach to keeping the community safe:
The dialogue about public safety in San Francisco and across the country is usually dominated by one simplistic question -- are you "tough" on crime, or are you "soft" on crime? As we start a new era in the district attorney's office today, it's time to put an end to that false choice. Let's start today by being smart on crime.
. . .
A recent Harris Poll found that only 41% of Americans believe that the death penalty deters crime, marking the smallest number of such respondents in 27 years of this poll. Only 37% of those polled would continue to support capital punishment if they believed "that quite a substantial number of innocent people are convicted of murder." Overall, 69% percent of those polled said that they support capital punishment. The poll was conducted in December 2003. (PR Newswire, January 7, 2004) See Public Opinion.
While the number of death sentences in the United States has fallen in recent years, the drop in the rate of death sentencing has been even more dramatic. The death sentencing rate is the number of death sentences divided by the population, and is one measure of a country's support for the death penalty. The projected rate of sentencing for 2003, 0.048 per 100,000 people, is the lowest rate since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. For more information, read the 2003 DPIC Year End Report (PDF).
In the year since former Illinois Governor George Ryan's decision to grant clemency to all those awaiting execution in the state, no one has been sentenced to death in Cook County, which includes Chicago. This marks the first time since Illinois reinstated capital punishment in 1977 that the county has not had a death sentence. Cook County has historically sent the highest annual number of defendants to death row. Although Illinois currently has a moratorium on executions in place, prosecutors are still able to seek the death penalty for defendants accused
More than a year after the American Bar Association overwhelmingly passed guidelines to raise the quality of defense counsel in death penalty cases, no state has adopted the standards and the ABA continues to voice concern that trials are proceeding under "a system that is desperately broken." Although the ABA does not take a position on capital punishment other than their opposition to executing juveniles and those with mental retardation, the organization's 2002 guidelines delineate the responsibilities of counsel and of states and the federal government to individuals from
The Death Penalty Information Center's 2003 Year End Report features a series of significant death penalty developments from the past year, including:
- The number of executions dropped by 8% from 71 in 2002 to 65 in 2003.
- After steady increases from 1976 to 2000, the size of death row has decreased. In 2003, the number of death row inmates declined by 5%, the third decrease in as many years.
- The number of people sentenced to death also continued to decline in 2003, down from 159 in 2002 to a projected 139 in 2003. This is about a 50% drop from
Judge John Gleeson, a prominent federal judge in New York, recently criticized U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for regularly overruling local prosecutors by directing them to seek the death penalty though they have recommended against it. In an article appearing in the November 2003 issue of the Virginia Law Review, Gleeson noted that the policy "undermines the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes." He stated, "For the sake of the death penalty in a few more federal cases, significant numbers of murderers and other criminals can elude investigation and prosecution,
A decade after Georgia legislators established the sentencing option of life in prison without parole, the number of Georgia defendants sentenced to death has dropped from an annual average of 10 to 4 or fewer each year. The decline is the result of jurors opting to sentence defendants to life without parole and plea bargains in capital cases. District Attorney J. Tom Morgan noted that life without parole is in effect a death sentence: "It takes a little bit longer, but it is more certain [because of appeals of death sentences]." Prosecutors also indicated that it
Jurors in Virginia sentenced juvenile offender Lee Boyd Malvo to life in prison without parole after finding him guilty of murdering Linda Franklin, who was one of 10 victims killed during a series of shootings in October 2002. Malvo was 17 at the time of the crime. Attorney General John Ashcroft had cited Virginia's ability to impose "the ultimate sanction" in sending Malvo and his mentor, John Muhammad, to Virginia for prosecution. Virginia is one of only 21 states that allow the execution of those who were 16 or 17 at the time of their crime.
A recent Baltimore Sun editorial criticized state leaders for failing to respond to a series of studies showing that race plays a disturbing role in capital punishment in Maryland. The paper noted that a study conducted by University of Maryland Professor Raymond Paternoster agreed with four other reviews that all revealed similar findings regarding race and the death penalty in Maryland. The paper stated:
Of the 1,311 death penalty-eligible cases that the University of Maryland researcher reviewed, he found the same troubling news: Defendants