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Fewer Americans Supporting the Death Penalty

Brian Stull,
Senior Staff Attorney ,
ACLU Capital Punishment Project
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October 13, 2011

Is it that the State of Georgia executed an innocent man last month? Is it the dawning realization that the risk of executing an innocent person exists in many cases beyond Troy Davis? Is it that race cannot help but to seep into the consideration of who gets executed and who gets to live? Is it that the quality of the lawyering and not the seriousness of the crime determines who gets executed? Is it that many family members of murder victims have said not to execute in their names? Or is it the simple realization that the state killing people does not teach its citizens not to kill?

Whatever the reasons, Americans are coming around to the thinking of most other nations that the death penalty is an anachronism that can be left to the dustbin of history. In the wake of New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and Illinois’ recent repeals of the death penalty — and with possible repeal in California in sight — two new polls show significant declines in national support for the death penalty.

In a recent CNN poll, only 48 percent of respondents preferred a death sentence over a sentence of life without parole, down from 56 percent seven years ago. Meanwhile, fully 50 percent of respondents now believe life without parole is the preferable punishment. A recent Gallup poll reflected this same downward trend (though with more support for the death penalty). It found that now only 61 percent of Americans approve of using the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, down from 64 percent last year — the lowest level of support since 1972.

With these polls as further evidence that our message is taking the hold, the ACLU will continue to work to show that the death penalty is unjust, unwise and unnecessary.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misworded the findings of the CNN poll. This has been corrected.

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