By Forrest Lee Jones
The Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton are holding slightly different positions on abolishing the death penalty as this country heads into the presidential election.
Shortly after the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia abolishing the death penalty, the Democratic Party incorporated into its platform a decision to do away with the death penalty on the grounds that it was “an ineffective deterrent to crime” and “unequally applied, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment,” reports Adam Wisnieski of The Crime Report.
Several platforms following that decision did not mention or support death sentences until this year.
In June of this year, the Democratic Party created a new policy with similar language from 1972 abolishing the death penalty, which was part of its party platform in their July 2016 Democratic Convention, Wisnieski said.
However, presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has taken a sightly different position on the issue. In one of her primary debates this year, she stated that the death penalty should be reserved for people who commit heinous crimes associated with terrorism, says the Report.
“There has been a sea change in the public view of the death penalty,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit advocacy group that opposes the death penalty.
But not all her views are contrary to her party’s and the public’s evolving opinion on this issue. In a town hall meeting in Columbus, Ohio, last March she said, “I would breathe a sigh of relief if either the Supreme Court or the states themselves began to eliminate the death penalty.”
The people of the state of California will have a chance to do just that this November. Proposition 62 is an initiative that would repeal the death penalty as a maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
This change on the death penalty is becoming a national trend, and Clinton’s position has dramatically shifted from the “tough on crime” of the 1980s and 1990s, a time when being opposed to the death penalty was “political suicide,” Dunham said.
“You could not hold that position and win a national election,” Dunham says. “That is unquestionably no longer the case.” In fact, (during the Democratic primaries) support for the death penalty was a political liability.”
Even law-and-order conservative state politicians in Utah and Nebraska are considering abolishing their death penalties. Nebraska’s state legislature voted to scrap their death penalty in 2015 and even overrode their governor’s veto. The legislation will be presented to voters in November.
Moreover, studies reveal that public executions have fallen since Bill Clinton’s presidency, from 98 prisoners in 1999 down to 28 in 2015. A state-by-state study shows 15 executions this year compared to 28 in 2015 (13 in Texas, six in Missouri, five in Georgia, two in Florida, one in Oklahoma and one in Virginia). Some of the reasons behind these changes are exoneration of innocent people, high cost of executions, shortage of lethal injection drugs and its ineffectiveness in deterring crime, says the report.
Legal Analyst says this shift in the Democratic platform was influenced by Hillary Clinton’s former rival, Bernie Sanders.
“I would rather have our country stand side-by-side with European democracies rather than with countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others who maintain the death penalty,” Sanders said.
Prof. Laurie Levensen of Loyola Law School agrees with Sanders.
“I think (the platform’s call to abolish the death penalty) probably is Bernie’s influence, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Levenson said. “I think the death penalty is a discussion that has to be had and is being discussed in states.”
Clinton’s stand on the death penalty diverges from that of her rival Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
Levensen says Clinton has been able to create a distinction between herself and Trump, who is “much more of a hardliner,” Levensen said.
However, Levensen points out, “While capital punishment appears unlikely to be a wedge issue in the election, a new domestic terrorist attack could push it back on the national agenda.”