Some Facts About the Death Penalty
The drop in executions is an indication that the world is moving in the direction urged by the UN.
The approval by the UN General Assembly in December 2007 of the Resolution for a Universal Moratorium against Capital Punishment was a fundamental step forward not only for the anti-death penalty campaign but also for the affirmation of the rule of law and of those natural rights historically won and often written into national law but not always respected.
After the vote, the usual practitioners of realpolitik tried to diminish its import, saying if would serve no purpose. It is true that the UN cannot force any member country to abolish the death penalty, but the moral force and political message sent by the resolution are undeniable. For the first time ever, the United Nations established that capital punishment is a matter of individual rights and not simply an internal question for national judicial systems. It also sent the message that the elimination of capital punishment would constitute a significant advance for the system of human rights.
- 34 states have the death penalty; 16 do not.
- Recent Supreme Court decisions have limited the use of the death penalty by declaring it unconstitutional to execute persons with mental retardation and juveniles under the age of 18, or to impose the death penalty when no murder occurred or was intended. The court has also ruled that defendants are entitled to have a jury decide whether to impose the death penalty.
- Approximately 3,261 inmates are on death row in 37 state, military, and federal prisons.
- Since 1973, there have been 138 exonerations of death row inmates.
- Since 1976, there have been a total of 1,246 executions in the United States, including 12 in the first few months of 2011.
- The California death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life (L.A. Times, March 6, 2005).
*Source: Death Penalty Information Center
Most Catholics and almost all fundamentalists have a misconceived notion of what Scripture says about the death penalty.
In A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death, the bishops explain the scriptural roots of Catholic teaching on the death penalty. This begins with the story of creation which teaches “that every life is a precious gift from God (see Gn 2:7, 21-23). This gift must be respected and protected. We are created in God‟s image and redeemed by Jesus Christ, who himself was crucified.”
The bishops also explain “some argue that biblical statements about „life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth‟ (see Ex 21:23-25, Lv 24:17 , Dt 19:21) require that the death penalty be used for certain crimes. A correct interpretation of these passages indicates, however, that the principal intent of such laws was to limit the retribution that could be exacted for an offense, not to require a minimum punishment. Furthermore, it is important to read individual passages in the context of Sacred Scripture as a whole. While the Old Testament includes some passages about taking the life of one who kills, the Old Testament and the teaching of Christ in the New Testament call us to protect life, practice mercy, and reject vengeance.”
Read or download Vatican report on Death Penalty on Decline in United States.