CPRC at National Review: “The Shaky Case against the Death Penalty”

8 May , 2014  

How far will death penalty opponents go to advance their cause? Our newest piece at National Review Online starts this way:

After the recent mishandled execution in Oklahoma, in which the murderer ended up dying from a heart attack, death-penalty opponents pounced.

Not surprisingly, the Sunday-morning talk shows focused on whether we should keep the death penalty. ABC News’s This Week was hardly a balanced panel, with four members wanting to abolish the death penalty and the fifth wanting “maybe a halfway point between eliminating it” and what we currently have.

Let’s analyze the three main arguments made on ABC against the death penalty.

1. “Support for the death penalty has fallen from 80 percent in 1993 [actually 1994] to 60 percent in 2013.”

Has support for the death penalty fallen since 1994? Sure, but what ABC News didn’t explain was that the years chosen were carefully cherry-picked. Support for the death penalty in 1994 was the highest ever recorded, according to Gallup. But consider instead all the 43 surveys from 1936 to 2012. Those surveys showed that an average of 63.8 percent of Americans supported the death penalty. Sixty percent in 2013 is down slightly from the average over the preceding 76 years, but it was hardly an earth-shattering change.

And why has support dropped? Probably because crime has fallen. In 1994, the murder rate was 9.0 per 100,000 people. By 2012, it had fallen to almost half that, 4.7.

2. “Some states . . . for the same crime [are] three times more likely to sentence an African-American defendant to death. I think that’s very, very troubling. . . . Race is an issue.”

This is simply false. In murder cases, whites are executed much more frequently. Nationally, from 1977, when the death penalty was reinstituted, to 2011, the last year for which the FBI has compiled data, 64.7 percent of those executed were whites, but whites committed only 47 percent of the murders.

Nor do individual states stand out in the way this statement claimed. I went through the totals for each individual state over the seven years from 2005 to 2011, and none have the imbalance the ABC News panel complained about. Missouri was close, with five blacks and two whites executed. Only three other states, including heavily Democratic Maryland, executed more blacks than whites, and in each case only one more black was executed. (To see state-by-state data for a given year in this range, search for “capital punishment [insert year] statistical tables.”) . . .

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