The reduction in the use of capital punishment, as reported by the New York Times, is testament to the increased care being taken to ensure the proper level of legal determination has been exercised concerning guilt and that is a good thing.
However, it would be a bad thing if it ever gets to the point that the criminal justice system refuses to use the capital sanction, as it is the most effective means of protecting the innocent in those cases where its use is clearly warranted.
“More death row convicts were executed in the United States this year than last, but juries continue to grow more wary of capital punishment, according to a new report.
“Death sentences handed down by judges and juries in 2009 continued a trend of decline for seven years in a row, with 106 projected for the year. That level is down two-thirds from a peak of 328 in 1994, according to the report being released Friday by the Death Penalty Information Center, a research organization that opposes capital punishment.
“This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty,” said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the group.
“The sentencing drop was most striking in Texas, which averaged 34 death sentences a year in the 1990s and had 9 this year. Vic Wisner, a former assistant district attorney in Houston, said a “constant media drumbeat” about suspect convictions and exonerations “has really changed the attitude of jurors.”
“Mr. Wisner said that while polls showed continued general support for capital punishment, “there is a real worry by jurors of, ‘I believe in it, but what if we later find out it was someone else and it’s too late to do anything about it?’ ”
“In 2005, Texas juries were given the option of sentencing defendants to life without parole.
“While death sentences are in decline, executions rose in the past year, according to the new report. Fifty-two prisoners have been put to death in 2009, compared with 42 in 2007 and 37 in 2008.”