The capital punishment system is discriminatory and arbitrary and inherently violates the Constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. The ACLU opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, and looks forward to the day when the United States joins the majority of nations in abolishing it.
The ACLU Capital Punishment Project (CPP) works to abolish the death penalty nationally through direct representation as well as through strategic litigation, advocacy, public education, and mentoring and training programs for capital defense teams.
Read more about the Capital Punishment Project »
There are many factors that make it impossible that the death penalty will ever be fair or just. These include:
Many capital defenders lack the resources and training to provide adequate counsel to their clients. Unfortunately, quality of counsel is a good predictor of who will live and who will face execution.
There are significant problems with the five methods currently used to execute people (lethal injection, electrocution, firing squad, hanging and the gas chamber), all of which violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Hundreds of people have been released from death row after being found innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. For others, serious doubts about their guilt didn’t come to light until it was too late. We cannot risk executing even one innocent person.
Too often, unreliable testimony based on faulty methods and beliefs is introduced in death penalty cases. This ranges from disproven fire science theories used to back arson charges to wrongful characterizations based on the race of the defendant.
Standards for protecting the mentally ill and intellectually disabled from execution are far too low, and there are far too many people with severe mental illness on death row. Executing people suffering from mental illness constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Racial bias pervades the death penalty, from jury selection through decisions about who faces execution.
It is increasingly impossible to ignore the truth that the death penalty is deeply flawed. More and more people are calling for its end, and 17 states have abolished the death penalty since it was reinstated. The ACLU will continue to work with its affiliates and parter organizations around the country to abolish it once and for all.
The state of Georgia has executed Troy Davis, despite serious concerns that he was wrongly convicted in 1989 of killing a police officer. This case makes clear that the death penalty system in the United States is broken beyond repair. It is arbitrary, discriminatory and comes at an enormous cost to taxpayers, and it must be ended.
The American Civil Liberties Union believes the death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law. Furthermore, we hold that the state should not arrogate unto itself the right to kill human beings – especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony, in the name of the law or in the name of its people, or when it does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.
Some facts and numbers on the death penalty.