WVTF/NPR: the Use of the Death Penalty Declines

Sandy Hausman – Monday, January 30, 2012 07:18 AM

Back in the early to mid-1990s, courts were imposing well over 300 death sentences every year. But for the past 15 years, that number has been going down; last year, there were only 78 cases that ended with a call for capital punishment.  David Bruck directs the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington and Lee University.  He says capital cases are far more complex, take much longer and cost at least ten times as much to prosecute.

“To pick a jury that is capable of hearing a death penalty case, there has to be a very elaborate winnowing process where people’s attitudes about the death penalty get explored.  All of that is time consuming, and as a result a capital trial can be 3, 4, 5, 6 times longer than the very same case if it was tried without the death penalty.”

Add to that the fact that DNA evidence has shown people are often wrongly convicted.

“The small number of cases in which there is DNA has revealed a much greater error rate than we ever thought possible.”

In the last four years, he adds, four more states have decided not to impose the death penalty, and the U.S. Supreme Court has chipped away at the number of cases where capital punishment can be imposed.

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