NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Tactics Of Death Penalty Opponents

February 7, 2000

Death penalty opponents are shifting the focus of their challenges from the courts, where they have generally met with defeat, to the nation's governors -- a group they hope will be more malleable. They convinced Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) to suspend executions while investigating how 13 men were wrongly sentenced to death -- although none were executed before being exonerated.

They have seized on Ryan's action to call for a nationwide moratorium on all executions.

But by asking pro-death penalty governors to change positions on the issue after being elected, death penalty opponents are helping destroy Americans' trust in their elected officials, critics warn.

  • Over the past 30 years, Americans have expressed steadily growing support for the death penalty -- increasing from just 38 percent in 1965 to 71 percent in favor today.
  • The system provides plenty of time and adequate machinery for appeals to assure that mistakes are not made.
  • The 68 prisoners executed in 1998 spent an average of 10 years and 10 months on death row.

Critics say Americans' confidence in the nation's court system suffered over the years as it seemed to waffle on the death penalty issue. They warn that pro-penalty governors may face a similar backlash if they allow themselves to flip-flop on the same issue.

Source: David Frum (Manhattan Institute), "The Justice Americans Demand," New York Times, February 4, 2000.


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