It Ain't Where You're From, It's Where You're At

One of the greatest rappers of all-time, Rakim said: "it ain't where you're from/it's where you're at." This statement is magnified when discussing capital punishment. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that "[e] veryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration…no distinction shall be made on the basis of the …jurisdictional …territory to which a person belongs…"

Unfortunately, the United States violates this article of the human rights document with its irreparably broken capital punishment system. While no distinction should be made on the basis of jurisdiction, we see that the arbitrary nature of the death penalty depends on, among other things, location, location, location.

If a person commits a murder in Texas that person is more likely to be tried for capital murder and executed than if a similar murder is committed in New Hampshire. But there is not only a difference with interstate comparisons. The difference is demonstrated intrastate as well. A series of articles by the Atlanta Journal Constitution called "A Matter of Life and Death" highlighted the issue of geographic disparities in the death penalty based on what county in Georgia a person resides. Since District Attorneys choose whether to seek the death penalty, a person who committed a robbery-murder in one county in Georgia may not be charged with a capital crime while a similar robbery-murder can take place in another county and the person will be charged capitally.

Death penalty jurisdictions in this country claim that the penalty is given to the "worst of the worst." It is not. It is given to people who are poor and/or minorities with unqualified lawyers and white victims who commit the crime in a place with a prosecutor who is likely to seek death and a jury that is likely to return a death sentence. In the case of Alabama, even if the jury returns a life verdict, the judge can override the jury's decision and sentence a person to death. Geographic disparities in the United States capital punishment system do not only violate the UDHR, they provide another reason why the death penalty should be abolished.

Celebrate the UDHR at 60 with the ACLU. Visit and sign the ACLU's petition calling on the government and newly elected president to recommit to the UDHR. On December 10, the ACLU's efforts will culminate in the online launch of an exclusive publication about the importance of the UDHR.

Add a comment (9)
Read the Terms of Use

Dudley Sharp

Some reality.

The Death Penalty in the US: A Review
NOTE: Detailed review of any of the below topics, or others, is available upon request
In this brief format, the reality of the death penalty in the United States, is presented, with the hope that the media, public policy makers and others will make an effort to present a balanced view on this sanction.

Innocence Issues
Death Penalty opponents have proclaimed that 129 inmates have been "released from death row with evidence of their innocence", in the US, since the modern death penalty era began, post Furman v Georgia (1972).
The number is a fraud.
Those opponents have intentionally included both the factually innocent (the "I truly had nothing to do with the murder" cases) and the legally innocent (the "I got off because of legal errors" cases), thereby fraudulently raising the "innocent" numbers. This is easily confirmed by fact checking.
Death penalty opponents claim that 24 such innocence cases are in Florida. The Florida Commission on Capital Cases found that 4 of those 24 MIGHT be innocent -- an 83% error rate in for the claims of death penalty opponents. Other studies show their error rate to be about 70%. The totality of reviews points to an 80% error/fraud rate in these claims, or about 26 cases - a 0.3% actual guilt error rate for the nearly 8000 sentenced to death since 1973. 

The actual innocents were all freed.
It is often claimed that 23 innocents have been executed in the US since 1900.  Nonsense.  Even the authors of that "23 innocents executed" study proclaimed "We agree with our critics, we never proved those (23) executed to be innocent; we never claimed that we had."  While no one would claim that an innocent has never been executed, there is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.
No one disputes that innocents are found guilty, within all countries.  However, when scrutinizing death penalty opponents claims, we find that when reviewing the accuracy of verdicts and the post conviction thoroughness of discovering those actually innocent incarcerated, that the US death penalty process may be one of the most accurate criminal justice sanctions in the world. 
Under real world scenarios, not executing murderers will always put many more innocents at risk, than will ever be put at risk of execution.

Deterrence Issues
16 recent US studies, inclusive of their defenses,  find a deterrent effect of the death penalty.
All the studies which have not found a deterrent effect of the death penalty have refused to say that it does not deter some.  The studies finding for deterrence state such.  Confusion arises when people think that a simple comparison of murder rates and executions, or the lack thereof, can tell the tale of deterrence.  It cannot. 
Both high and low murder rates are found within death penalty and non death penalty jurisdictions, be it Singapore, South Africa, Sweden or Japan, or the US states of Michigan and Delaware.  Many factors are involved in such evaluations.  Reason and common sense tell us that it would be remarkable to find that the most severe criminal sanction -- execution -- deterred none.  No one is foolish enough to suggest that the potential for negative consequences does not deter the behavior of some.  Therefore, regardless of jurisdiction, having the death penalty will always be an added deterrent to murders, over and above any lesser punishments.

Racial issues
White murderers are twice as likely to be executed in the US as are black murderers and are executed, on average, 12 months more quickly than are black death row inmates.
It is often stated that it is the race of the victim which decides who is prosecuted in death penalty cases.  Although blacks and whites make up about an equal number of murder victims, capital cases are 6 times more likely to involve white victim murders than black victim murders.  This, so the logic goes, is proof that the US only cares about white victims.
Hardly.  Only capital murders, not all murders, are subject to a capital indictment.  Generally, a capital murder is limited to murders plus secondary aggravating factors, such as murders involving burglary, carjacking, rape, and additional murders, such as police murders, serial and multiple murders.  White victims are, overwhelmingly, the victims under those circumstances, in ratios nearly identical to the cases found on death row.
Any other racial combinations of defendants and/or their victims in death penalty cases, is a reflection of the crimes committed and not any racial bias within the system, as confirmed by studies from the Rand Corporation (1991), Smith College (1994), U of Maryland (2002), New Jersey Supreme Court (2003) and by a view of criminal justice statistics, within a framework of the secondary aggravating factors necessary for capital indictments.

Class issues
No one disputes that wealthier defendants can hire better lawyers and, therefore, should have a legal advantage over their poorer counterparts.  The US has executed about 0.15% of all murderers since new death penalty statutes were enacted in 1973.  Is there evidence that wealthier capital murderers are less likely to be executed than their poorer ilk, based upon the proportion of capital murders committed by different those different economic groups? Not to my knowledge.

Arbitrary and capricious
About 10% of all murders within the US might qualify for a death penalty eligible trial.  That would be about 64,000 murders since 1973.  We have sentenced 8000 murderers to death since then, or 13% of those eligible.  I doubt that there is any other crime which receives a higher percentage of maximum sentences, when mandatory sentences are not available.  Based upon that, as well as pre trial, trial, appellate and clemency/commutation realities, the US death penalty is likely the least arbitrary and capricious criminal sanctions in the  US.

Christianity and the death penalty
The two most authoritative New Testament scholars, Saints Augustine and Aquinas, provide substantial biblical and theological support for the death penalty. Even the most well known anti death penalty personality in the US, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, states that "It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical 'proof text' in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this.  Even Jesus' admonition 'Let him without sin cast the first stone,' when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) -- the Mosaic Law prescribed death -- should be read in its proper context.  This passage is an 'entrapment' story, which sought to show Jesus' wisdom in besting His adversaries.  It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment."  A thorough review of Pope John Paul II's position, reflects a reasoning that should be recommending more executions.

Cost Issues
All studies finding the death penalty to be more expensive than life without parole exclude important factors, such as (1) geriatric care costs, recently found to be $69,0000/yr/inmate, (2) the death penalty cost benefit of providing for plea bargains to a maximum life sentence, a huge cost savings to the state, (3) the death penalty cost benefit of both enhanced deterrence and enhanced incapacitation, at $5 million per innocent life spared, and, furthermore, (4) many of the alleged cost comparison studies are highly deceptive.

Polling data
76% of Americans find that we should impose the death penalty more or that we impose it about right (Gallup, May 2006 - 51% that we should impose it more, 25% that we impose it about right)
71%  find capital punishment morally acceptable - that was the highest percentage answer for all questions (Gallup, April 2006, moral values poll). In May, 2007, the percentage dropped to 66%, still the highest percentage answer, with 27% opposed. (Gallup, 5/29/07)
81% of the American people supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh, with only 16% opposed. "(T)his view appears to be the consensus of all major groups in society, including men, women, whites, nonwhites, "liberals" and "conservatives."  (Gallup 5/2/01).
81% of Connecticut citizens supported the execution of serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross (Jan 2005).
While 81% gave specific case support for Timothy McVeigh's execution, Gallup also showed a 65% support AT THE SAME TIME when asked a general "do you support capital punishment for murderers?" question. (Gallup, 6/10/01).
22% of those supporting McVeigh's execution are, generally, against the death penalty (Gallup 5/02/01). That means that about half of those who say they oppose the death penalty, with the general question,  actually support the death penalty under specific circumstances, just as it is imposed, judicially.
Further supporting the higher rates for specific cases, is this, from the French daily Le Monde December 2006 (1): Percentage of respondents in favor of executing Saddam Hussein:USA: 82%; Great Britain: 69%; France: 58%; Germany: 53%; Spain: 51%; Italy: 46%
Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe, with 50% of those who say they, generally, oppose the death penalty actually supporting it under specific circumstances, resulting in 80% death penalty support in the US, as recently as December 2006.
Whatever your feelings are toward the death penalty, a fair accounting of how it is applied should be demanded.
copyright 1998-2008 Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
Dudley Sharp

Dudley Sharp

The Death Penalty: Not a Human Rights Violation

Some wrongly state that executions are a human rights violation. The human rights violation argument often comes from European leadership and human rights organizations.

The argument is as follows: Life is a fundamental human right.  Therefore, taking it away is a fundamental violation of human rights.

Those who say that the death penalty is a human rights violation have no solid moral or philosophical foundation for making such a statement.  What opponents of capital punishment really are saying is that they just don't approve of executions.

Certainly, both freedom and life are fundamental human rights.  On this, there is virtually no disagreement.  However, again, virtually all agree, that freedom may be taken away when there is a violation of the social contract. Freedom, a fundamental human right, may be taken away from those who violate society's laws.  So to is the fundamental human right of life forfeit when the violation of the social contract is most grave.

No one disputes that taking freedom away is a different result than taking life away.  However, the issue is the incorrect claim that taking away fundamental human rights -- be that freedom or life -- is a human rights violation.  It is not.  It depends specifically on the circumstances. 

How do we know?  Because those very same governments and human rights stalwarts, rightly, tell us so.  Universally, both governments and human rights organizations approve and encourage taking away the fundamental human right of freedom, as a proper response to some criminal activity.

Why do governments and human rights organizations not condemn just incarceration of criminals as a fundamental human rights violation?  Because they think incarceration is just fine.

Why do some of those same groups condemn execution as a human rights violation? Only because they don't like it.  They have no moral or philosophical foundation for calling execution a human rights violation.

In the context of criminals violating the social contract, those criminals have voluntarily subjected themselves to the laws of the state.  And they have knowingly placed themselves in a position where their fundamental human rights of freedom and life are subject to being forfeit by their actions.

Opinion is only worth the value of its foundation.  Those who call execution a human rights violation have no credible foundation for that claim.  What they are really saying is "We just don't like it."

copyright 2005-2008 Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp


Though anti-death people keep emphasising the disportionality in sentencing, I highly doubt that this is just limited to death penalty cases. Overzealous prosecutors can land poor defendents years of jail for small amounts of marajuana. It is not a problem with the death penalty, but the whole judicial system which is skewed in favor of the rich and white.

Though people can say "But for the death penalty, the sentence is irreversible", it is simply not possible to reverse the years someone has spent behind bars for something he/she did not commit. If a 20-yr-old woman is spends twenty years for a wrongful conviction, she'll have an extremely difficult time after her release to start her life again, especially now that she lost her prime child-bearing years.

What needs to be done, which thankfully ACLU also focuses on, is fixing the flawed judicial system.


Amazing. Mr. Sharp has no scholarly or theological credentials yet he claims to know more than the Pope and most of the leaders of the post-industrialized world. Guess that might work in Texas...

Dudley Sharp

To: Dahn Shaulis, aka Vegas Quixote

I have substantial background as a death penalty expert, something you are very much aware of.

For some time you followed me around the web and attempted to refute my claims. As all of those efforts failed, you, now, feel obligated to post nonsense, which does not contribute to the debate, as opposed to what other parties do, which is to contribute, based upon fact, reason and opinion.

If you wish to contribute and be productive, you can be specific and we can evaluate it. OK?


Mr. Sharp, appearing as a talking head advocate for state-sponsored killing only makes you a self-proclaimed expert, not a scholar or even a hobbyist on the issue. Apparently the media cannot find many researchers in criminology who agree with your position so they settle for you from time to time. I have made many efforts to refute your various and facile claims about Death Penalty research but you fail to address them. When I asked you to explain how these deterrent post-hoc studies were conducted, for example,you could not explain them to me.

Dudley Sharp

No one in the media told me that they were looking for criminologists that agreed with me. It is interesting they would discuss that with you and not me. You know, I bet they didn't.

Regarding the criminologists and the death penalty, I am not sure there could be a more biased academic group against the death penalty, kinda of like an academic Helen Prejean. So, it wouldn't be surprising if we often, disagree.

As I wrote, and you should have read, if interested so much in me and deterrence,

"even when academic bias against capital punishment is overt, such as in the case of the American Society of Criminology -- the subtitle to their death penalty resources page is "Anti-Capital Punishment Resources" -- even they fail to state that the death penalty does not deter some potential murderers, only that "social science research has found no consistent evidence of crime deterrence through execution." (15) That is far from stating that executions do not deter. And the criminologists are, very likely, that academic group most hostile toward the death penalty. What social science conflicts with the notion that the potential for negative consequences restrains the behavior of some? And most would agree that execution is the most serious negative consequence that a murderer may face."

Regarding your interest in deterrenceand brutalization please go to



It is out of date, but there are a lot of research references for you.


Dudley Sharp, let me get this straight. All of these criminologists are biased but you aren't? That argument might work with the anti-intellectual crowd you appeal to, but not to critical thinkers. To say the Death Penalty deters some does not explain that it may make others more violent. Thus the total effect is nominal, or even negative in some cases. Perhaps you need to go to school to understand the limitations of the research you adhere to. Have you ever taken any grad level methods and statistics courses? As for the theological assumptions you make, how again are you more qualified than the Pope, who has spent much of his life as a biblical scholar?

Dudley Sharp

To: Dahn Shaulis, aka Vegas Quixote, vegasquixote, theamericaninjusticesystem and anonymous

The authers of the 16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, that fiind for death penalty deterrence, discuss the limitations with their studies. It is quite clear. It is the same with the one author who found for "more violence", or a brutalization effect.

There is a great disparity, as you can see.

For some of the issues, read these:

For some of the recent 16 deterrence studies, go to:

US Senate testimony

"I oppose the death penalty. " " But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?" "Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it." "The results are robust, they don't really go away" "The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.".

Prof. Naci Mocan, Economics Chairman, University of Colorado at Denver
"Studies say death penalty deters crime", ROBERT TANNER, Associated Press, Jun 10, 2007, 2:01 PM ET

Stay Informed