29 September, 2011

The Death Penalty in the USA

Following on from the executions of Troy Davis (pictured) in Georgia, USA, an article in The New Republic suggests that abolitionists may be closer to their goal than they think.  This is a well considered article by Carol S. Steiker (Professor of Law at Harvard) and Jordan M. Steiker (of the University of Texas Law school).

The State of Florida executed Manuel Valle after a wait of 33 years - see the article in The Guardian by Clive Stafford Smith - "Manuel Valle's 33 year execution."   This execution was carried out by pentobarbital injection - said to cause excruciating pain.  See "Manuel Valle's execution carried out amid fight over 'cruel' injection."

In the Valle case, one Justice Breyer in the Supreme Court of the USA dissented from the others.  In his view, a delay of this length was cruel.   See his dissenting judgment.

It is now almost 40 years since the Supreme Court of the USA decided Furman v Georgia 408 US 238 (1972).  In this case, Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall said:

"No nation in the recorded history of man has a greater tradition of revering justice and fair treatment for all its citizens in times of turmoil, confusion, and tension than ours. This is a country which stands tallest in troubled times, a country that clings to fundamental principles, cherishes its constitutional heritage, and rejects simple solutions that compromise the values that lie at the roots of our democratic system.

In striking down capital punishment, this Court does not malign our system of government. On the contrary, it pays homage to it. Only in a free society could right triumph in difficult times, and could civilization record its magnificent advancement. In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. We achieve “a major milestone in the long road up from barbarism” and join the approximately 70 other jurisdictions in the world which celebrate their regard for civilization and humanity by shunning capital punishment."

That great judge could have no better legacy than the ultimate abandonment of capital punishment in the USA.

Thurgood Marshall's opinion in Furman v Georgia.

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