October 1 — the federal government shuts down and the death penalty is repealed in the State of Maryland!
I sat in the federal courthouse in Albuquerque this morning listening to closing arguments in a death penalty case. Although New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009, it remains in our federal justice system.
Watching the advocacy in the courtroom, I was reminded of my criminal law professor who represented death row inmates before starting her teaching career. I was a student in her very first class.
Professor Kreitzberg didn’t need to convince me that the death penalty is barbaric, administered unjustly (think about the last time you heard of a wealthy white person getting the needle), and by no means does it serve as a deterrent. The FBI’s own stats show there is a correlation between the death penalty and murder rates, but not the way you might think. “The South, which regularly has the highest murder rate, has been responsible for 82% of the executions; the Midwest 12%; and the West 6%.”
The vast majority of countries in Western Europe, North America and South America — more than 139 nations worldwide — have abandoned capital punishment in law or in practice. The United States remains in the same company as Iraq, Iran and China as one of the major advocates and users of capital punishment.
Why have so many countries jettisoned the death penalty? I don’t know and I haven’t read any reports on the issue. Perhaps those countries have evolved beyond an “eye for an eye” retribution towards a more enlightened (at least I like to think it’s such) understanding that taking a life lawfully (the state) or unlawfully (the criminal) makes the government complicit in devaluing the sanctity of life.
According to Amnesty International, here’s the current list of countries that administer the death penalty. Do you see what I see? Look carefully.
- Antigua and Barbuda
- China (People’s Republic)
- Congo (Democratic Republic)
- Equatorial Guinea
- North Korea
- Palestinian Authority
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- Saudi Arabia
- South Sudan
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- United States
Yep! The United States and the Palestinian Authority agree on something! We both administer the death penalty. Also looks like we keep good company.