Death Penalty - United States Policy Toward the Death Penalty: a Dossier
What is a Dossier?Via the dossiers, we try to highlight the priorities of the US Government with regard to specific foreign policy policy issues. We provide statements by U.S. public officials, but also reports, hearings, and journal articles.
As we have said on numerous occasions, the use of the death penalty in the United States is a decision of democratically elected governments at the federal and individual state levels and is not prohibited by international law, nor does capital punishment violate any OSCE commitments. The people of the United States, acting through their freely elected representatives, have chosen, in most states, to continue the use of the death penalty.
The U.S. judicial system provides exhaustive protections to ensure that the death penalty is not applied in an extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary manner. Indeed, in the matter raised today by the European Union, aspects of the case were reviewed by state appellate courts, the federal District Court on two occasions and by the United States Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that capital punishment itself does not violate the U.S. Constitution. However, capital punishment may only be carried out subject to the extensive due process and equal protection requirements and after exhaustive appeals.
While it is important to ensure that the rights of the accused are properly safeguarded, we cannot forget about the victims and the nature of the crimes committed. In this case, Jones was convicted of the 1995 brutal robbery, rape and murder of Ms. Mary Bradford where he also beat and tortured Ms. Bradford’s eleven year old daughter under circumstances so graphic and so terrible that I cannot describe them here.
Major US Government Statements
A select list of major statements with policy value.
Latest US Government Statements
The most recent statements in reverse chronological order.
Sangillo, Gregg. DEATH AND INNOCENCE. National Journal, April. pp. 36-40. At first glance, the decline of the death penalty in the United States is somewhat surprising. In the 1990s, death sentences and executions reached peak levels in the wake of the Supreme Court's 1976 reinstatement of capital punishment, after a four-year gap. Most Republican candidates and officeholders are strong supporters of the death penalty, and even Democratic candidates have generally embraced capital punishment ever since Michael Dukakis lost his presidential bid in 1988 partly because his opposition to the death penalty opened him to the "soft on crime" label. "In the early days, it was assumed that we just didn't make mistakes with any regularity in serious felony convictions, and the emergence of all these DNA exonerations has, I think, slowed down enthusiasm for the death penalty," says Daniel Givelber, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston. READ MORE
Lithwick, Dahlia. THE DYING DEATH PENALTY? The Washington Post, February 2007 pp. B.2 In a curious application of Newtonian physics, public and state support for capital punishment is steadily declining in America just as the resolve to maintain the death penalty seems to be hardening in the one arena where death-penalty policy once had seemed poised to change: the Supreme Court. READ MORE
Gawande, Atul. WHEN LAW AND ETHICS COLLIDE - WHY PHYSICIANS PARTICIPATE IN EXECUTIONS. The New England Journal of Medicine, March 2006. pp. 1221-1228. This article discusses the ethical question of physicians assisting in capital punishment. Dr. Gawande is a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and at the Harvard School of Public Health. READ MORE
Walker, R Neal. HOW THE MALFUNCTIONING DEATH PENALTY CHALLENGES THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. Judicature. March/April 2006. pp. 265-269. A hard look at the US experience with capital punishment yields the sobering conclusion that the system is deeply flawed and begs for reform. Here, Walker asks how the criminal justice system is working and what sort of effect the continued use of the death penalty has on the criminal justice system. READ MORE
Chemerinsky, Erwin. THE REHNQUIST COURT AND THE DEATH PENALTY. Georgetown Law Journal,.June 2006. pp. 1367-1387. To be sure, no Justices currently on the Court take the position espoused by Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun that the death penalty is inherently unconstitutional. But over the last few years, an increasing number of Justices have expressed grave concerns about the administration of the death penalty in the United States. The Rehnquist Court's decisions overturning death sentences and imposing new procedural requirements in capital cases occurred at the same time as other decisions mandating new protections for criminal defendants, such as in Crawford and Blakely. Erwin Chemerinsky is a Alston & Bird Professor of Law and Political Science at Duke University. READ MORE
Koh, Harold Hongju and Thomas R. Pickering. AMERICAN DIPLOMACY AND THE DEATH PENALTY. Foreign Service Journal, October 2003, pp. 19-25. "As patriotic Americans, most U.S. diplomats assume that the United States is the world’s leader in human rights. But increasingly, one issue divides us from our allies and puts us in bad company: the death penalty. Simply put, no other democratic country with our commitment to universal human rights resorts to the death penalty as frequently as we do. The statistics alone are startling. According to an Amnesty International Report issued in April 2003, 80 percent of all known executions worldwide in 2002 were carried out by just three countries: China, Iran and the United States. [...] Yet even while American courts have allowed state executions to proliferate, the rest of the world has moved in the opposite direction. At last count, 111 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. European regional organizations have made abolition of the death penalty a prerequisite to joining the 'new Europe,' and a cornerstone of European human rights policy." Harold Hongju Koh is Gerard C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law at Yale, Thomas R. Pickering, a career ambassador. READ MORE