Will the Death Penalty Remain Alive in the Twenty-First Century?: International Norms, Discrimination, Arbitrariness, and the Risk of Executing the Innocent

28 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2016 Last revised: 26 Apr 2016

See all articles by Stephen B. Bright

Stephen B. Bright

Southern Center for Human Rights; Yale University - Law School

Date Written: October 27, 2000

Abstract

Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg once said that the deliberate institutionalized taking of human life by the state is the greatest degradation of the human personality imaginable. Although most developed nations in the world have abandoned the death penalty, the United States, which purports to be a leader in the protection of human rights, retains capital punishment. Thirty-eight states, the federal government and the military provide for death as a punishment for certain crimes. Over 3,600 people are on death rows across the country. Executions have become "routine" in Texas and the pace of executions is increasing throughout the country.

However, an increasing number of voices are expressing concern about the use of the death penalty in this country. Many people -- including many supporters of capital punishment -- have become alarmed about the danger of executing the innocent, and appalled by the way in which people are processed in assembly-line fashion to the death chambers in states like Texas and Virginia. Upon closer examination of the criminal justice system, many have been shocked by the poor quality of legal representation provided for poor people facing the death penalty, the extent to which race influences who is sentenced to death, and improper police and prosecution practices, such as obtaining favorable testimony from criminals against those facing death by giving them lenient treatment. Some are troubled by the execution of people who are mentally retarded, mentally ill or children at the times of their crimes. In short, people are concerned about how capital punishment works in practice.

I would like to discuss these concerns and practices in addressing whether the United States will continue to use this extreme, enormous, and irrevocable form of punishment throughout the twenty-first century or join the trend in the rest of the world in abandoning it.

Suggested Citation

Bright, Stephen B., Will the Death Penalty Remain Alive in the Twenty-First Century?: International Norms, Discrimination, Arbitrariness, and the Risk of Executing the Innocent (October 27, 2000). Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2001, No. 1, 2001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2767920

Stephen B. Bright (Contact Author)

Southern Center for Human Rights ( email )

83 Poplar St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30303-2122
United States

Yale University - Law School ( email )

127 Wall St.
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.yale.edu/faculty/SBright.htm

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