Make moratorium on capital punishment permanent
The U.N. has called for a moratorium on the death penalty, and New Jersey has joined Hawaii and other states in banning it.
Despite flawed claims this year that the death penalty has been a deterrent to murder, capital punishment increasingly is looked upon with deserved contempt. More states should join Hawaii along with most of the civilized world and abolish state executions.
New Jersey became this month the 14th state to end the death penalty, replacing it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. That is similar to the law in Hawaii, which struck down its death penalty 50 years ago. The New Mexico House and the Montana Senate passed bills this year to abolish it, and Nebraska's unicameral legislature came within a single vote of doing so.
Last week the United Nations passed, 104-54 with 29 abstentions, a nonbinding resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. The United States joined Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe in casting votes against the European-led measure. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the vote "evidence of a trend toward ultimately abolishing the death penalty."
In the past year, 42 people were executed in the United States, 26 of them in Texas. The others were in nine other states, none of which executed more than three people.
David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston, predicted that Texas will soon monopolize executions "because every other state will eliminate it de jure, as New Jersey did, or de facto, as other states have." New Jersey, which had eight prisoners on death row, had not executed anyone since 1963.
The rate of sentences to death in Texas is not particularly higher than the other states with capital punishment, but its aggressive process of moving convicts from death row to the death chamber has resulted in a higher rate of actual executions.
One factor in ambivalence toward the death penalty in other states is the cost of the lengthy appeals process. City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said when he first ran for the office 11 years ago that states with the death penalty spend $2.3 million on each capital case. "If that money were spent on community policing, murder rates and crime rates would decline," he asserted.
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to assess the constitutionality of lethal-injection protocols has resulted in a moratorium on executions, which are likely to resume after the court rules on the case, expected in June.
The international inequity is reason enough for a nation that professes to champion human rights to take a fresh look at making the moratorium permanent. U.N. criminal tribunals and the International Criminal Court have excluded the death penalty, which means that people who have committed crimes against humanity cannot be put to death while those found guilty of terrible but lesser crimes of murder face execution.