Monday, November 28, 2005

How's this for a milestone?

1,000th deathrow inmate to be executed.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is scheduled this week to witness its 1,000th execution since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but even as it reaches this milestone opponents said capital punishment may be falling out of favor.

Some 997 people have been put to death since the Supreme Court ended a 10-year moratorium on capital punishment that ran from 1967-1977. With five people scheduled for execution in five different states this week, it seems almost certain that the landmark of 1,000 will be passed.

"This is a time for somber and sober reflection but the United States is slowly turning away from the death penalty," said David Elliot of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

"Death sentences are down 50 percent since the late 1990s to around 150 a year. Executions are down 40 percent from the high of 98 in 1999," he said.

The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that crimes committed by juveniles could not be punished by death. That resulted in 71 people being taken off death row and followed another Supreme Court decision in 2002 declaring that it was unconstitutional to execute criminals who are mentally retarded.

A Gallup poll last month showed 64 percent of Americans favored the death penalty -- the lowest level in 27 years, down from a high of 80 percent in 1994.

"There's now considerable public skepticism about whether all those being executed are really guilty and that has cast doubt on the whole system," said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center.

This is the subject I alluded to in my post-Thanksgiving post; a lot of people have very strong feelings on this issue. But "only" 64% of the country are in favor of the death penalty? Wow. Stop the presses. They must be on that "new math" where 64 is less than a majority of 50%.

I am very much in favor of the death penalty, but think it's perhaps lost it's steam, as the article suggests, because of people's distaste for the legal process involved. There's 20 plus years inbetween conviction and execution. Dozens of appeals and other legal mumbo jumbo get in the way of the passionate determination felt by the citizenry after the conviction and sentencing. What will people feel in 20 years when Scott Peterson is ready to be executed? At the moment I would have to say he is fairly universally reviled, but what about 20 years from now? If we could even cut that lag time in half I we'd find people much more in favor of the death penalty, and I'm sure it would be a much more effective deterrent to crime if we could shorten the convict's time sitting on death row. Tax payer's are paying for them to get 3 squares a day, exercise, get an education, write books, and all sorts of other crap that turns the stomachs of most people in favor of the death penalty. This person was sentenced to death as a penalty for his crimes; he wasn't sentenced to watch TV or write books for 20 years.

California has an execution coming up in December. I'm looking forward to seeing how ugly the public debate on this one gets.

UPDATE: How's this for just punishment:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed a California man to be sentenced to spend a day outside a San Francisco post office wearing a signboard stating, "I stole mail. This is my punishment."

The justices rejected an appeal by Shawn Gementera, who argued that this was designed to publicly shame and humiliate him. He said it violated the Sentencing Reform Act and the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Gementera pleaded guilty to mail theft after the police arrested him and an accomplice in 2001 for stealing letters from several mailboxes in San Francisco.