The Death Penalty in the United States

Provided by our partner, Equal Justice USA

We’ve learned a lot about the death penalty in the last 40 years. For four decades, we have tinkered with the death penalty in an effort to make it fair, accurate, and effective. Yet the system continues to fail.

The risk of executing an innocent person is real

The DNA era has given us irrefutable proof that our criminal justice system sentences innocent people to die. Evidence we once thought reliable like eyewitness identification is not always accurate. DNA evidence has led to hundreds of exonerations, but it isn’t available in most cases. Despite our best intentions, human beings simply can’t be right 100% of the time. And when a life is on the line, one mistake is one too many. More on innocence at EJUSA ››

Fairness in the death penalty is a moving target

We expect justice to be blind. Otherwise it’s not justice at all. Yet poor defendants sentenced to die have been represented by attorneys who were drunk, asleep, or completely inexperienced. Geography and race often determine who lives and dies, and after 30 years we have not found a way to make the system less arbitrary. Every effort to fix the system just makes it more complex – not more fair. More on fairness at EJUSA ››

The complicated process drains our resources

The death penalty is longer and more complicated because a life is on the line – shortcuts could mean an irreversible mistake. For this reason, the death penalty costs millions more dollars than alternatives – before a single appeal is even filed. The time spent pursuing one capital case could solve and prosecute scores of other non-capital cases, improving public safety and ensuring that more of the people responsible for violent acts are held accountable. More on Public safety and Cost at EJUSA ››

The death penalty fails families of murder victims

The longer process prolongs pain for homicide survivors, forcing them to relive their trauma as courts repeat trials and hearings trying to get it right. Most cases result in a life sentence in the end anyway – but only after the family has suffered years of uncertainty. To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure – but the death penalty is just the opposite. More on victims’ families at EJUSA ››

Americans are ready

The mounting evidence of waste, inaccuracy, and bias has shattered public confidence in the criminal justice system. Death sentences are at an all-time low and public support for the death penalty has plummeted. Across the country, states are reconsidering their death penalty statutes. The death penalty is dying. Americans are ready to see it go.


Download a handout version of this from EJUSA (pdf)

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