Death penalty: America considers

The US (or at least parts of it) continues to wrestle with its conscience, not to mention its pocket-book, in the matter of the continued use of the death penalty.

Maryland is just one of the States currently examining the future of the capital punishment in this corner of New England.

Lauren, a University of Maryland student, blogs at Amnesty USA on her experience of testifying her opposition to the death penalty before the State's 'Commission on Capital Punishment'.

For her it was an important experience and filled her with belief that ordinary citizens have the power to change policy in the US. The Commission has been established by the Governor, Martin O'Malley (now there's an Irish name if ever I've heard one!), and has a diverse membership: everyone from family members of murder victims to a former death row prisoner who had his conviction overturned as a result of DNA testing to legal experts, judges and religious folk.

It is tasked with examining and making recommendations around the following contentious areas:

1. Racial disparities;
2. Jurisdictional disparities;
3. Socio-economic disparities;
4. A comparison of the costs associated with death sentences and the costs associated with sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole;
5. A comparison of the effects of prolonged court cases involving capital punishment and those involving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole;
6. The risk of innocent people being executed;
7. The impact of DNA evidence in assuring the fairness and accuracy of capital cases.

You could also have a look at this YouTube video taken from California's death penalty study commission hearings. The video tells the story of Aundre Herron, a former prosecutor who lost her older brother to murder in 1994. At first Herron wanted revenge; now she speaks out against the death penalty. Powerful testimony and a testament to the power of citizen participation in democratic processes.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which posted the video, notes that the study commission reported at the end of June, finding a "myriad of problems, including the failure to adequately fund defense counsel for poor people facing death sentences, a decades-long appeals process, and the risk that innocent people will be sentenced to death".

"Ultimately, the report says the people of California must make a choice: spend hundreds of millions on reforming the current death penalty, drastically narrow the state’s death penalty, or replace the death penalty with permanent imprisonment."

Interesting times in the struggle to abolish the death penalty in the US.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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