Saturday, January 03, 2015

Death Penalty in US for 2014 – a 20 year low

One of the anomalies of capital punishment is its persistence in the US, in contradiction to claims to respect human rights and a culture of democracy.  The reasons for the persistence are complex and certainly related to a historical culture of violence which reigns in that country.  Unfortunately, US adherence to the death penalty gives credence to claims by many remaining retentionist countries that their practice is acceptable by human rights standards. Be that as it may, statistics for the death penalty reveal that in 2014 death sentences in the US have reached a 40 year low (72) while executions, in steady decline since 1999, were the lowest in 20 years (35). 80% of these executions were in the states of Missouri (10), Texas (10), and Florida (8); 3 were in Oklahoma, 2 in Georgia, 1 each in Arizona and Ohio. One can say that the death penalty is now applied, not in the US in general, but in certain aberrant states.
Two factors may be identified as contributing to the decline of executions on the US. The first is that the drugs used in inflicting the punishment are no longer available, especially sodium thiopental, a fast acting general anesthetic, used to make execution painless. Export of this component of the drug cocktail used in executions has been banned for export by European Union decree. US executioners have been forced to replace the sodium thiopental  by locally made equivalents. The result has been several protracted executions that led to terrible agony of the person being executed. The sensibility of citizens was outraged and such cruel and unusual punishment met with increasing disapproval.
Another factor in the decrease has been the execution of the mentally defective. A Supreme Court ruling in 2002 held that execution of those having an IQ level of approximately 70 was unconstitutional due to diminished responsibility. Nevertheless, states strongly favouring capital punishment continued to execute borderline cases. However, an increased distaste for execution of the young and mentally defective is helping to lower rates of killing by the state.
It is our hope that Thailand takes note of this trend, cease using US practice as a model, and hasten the day of renouncing capital punishment totally and forever.

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