The death penalty is broken in the U.S., according to a federal judge.
Judge William A. Fletcher of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals told a student audience at Cornell Law School it has been almost 40 years since the court struck down mandatory executions for certain types of murder.
Despite the fact that the death penalty is no longer mandatory, the U.S. is the “only industrialized western country” using capital punishment for these types of murders, Fletcher said.
“Even in the face of poll numbers…that favored the death penalty,” the U.S, Japan, and China are the only industrialized nations using this method of punishment, Fletcher said. Many European nations abolished capital punishment years ago.
Cost is the issue that most affects Fletcher’s attitude about the death penalty. According to Justin Pascoe, an intern writer for the Cornell Chronicle, “The death penalty is extremely expensive. It costs more to execute a person than to keep him in prison for life.”
California spent more than $4 billion prosecuting death penalty cases between 1978 and 2011, a study revealed.
California would not spend that kind of money on those cases fit had “merely imposed life in prison without the possibility of parole,” Fletcher said. Fletcher took issue with the extremely slow application of the death penalty.
“Many more death row prisoners die from natural causes or from suicide than from execution,” Fletcher said. In Fletcher’s opinion, a death sentence amounts to life in prison without parole.
“Many more death row prisoners die from
natural causes or from suicide than from execution”
The judge also asserts, “we do not know whether the death penalty actually deters homicide.”
Fletcher claims certain methods of execution are unconstitutional. He said the electric chair, “once thought more humane than hanging, has now been held unconstitutional,” and “there is currently a moratorium in California because of concerns about lethal injection.”
Fletcher recalls a number of capital punishment cases involving police mistreatment and planting of evidence, malpractice on the part of attorneys, and corporate influence over judges’ behavior, which cause clemency pleas to become useless exercises.
Up and down the judicial system, “From the police to the prosecutors to the courts to the governors, at every rung we have seen the problems that I have described. Such problems don’t occur in every case, but they occur in enough cases that we have a serious problem,” Fletcher told Pascoe.
One example occurred Dec. 11 when an Arizona appeals court dismissed murder charges against Debra Jean Milke. She had spent 22 years on Death Row in connection with the death of her son.
In South Carolina, a judge threw out the conviction of a 14-year-old Black boy who died in the electric chair in 1944 for the murder of two White girls.
Since California reinstated the death penalty in 1977, more than 1,000 people have been sentenced to die. Just 13 were actually executed, reports the Sacramento Bee in a Dec. 20 article by Gerald Uelmen, a law professor at Santa Clara University.