Human rights advocates have expressed concerns about the appropriateness of the death penalty as it is applied here in the USA. My home state of Kansas is one of 35 states that have the death penalty; 15 states and the District of Columbia do not. The federal government, both civilian and military, also allows for capital punishment.
On June 29, 1972, the United States Supreme Court, in Furman vs. Georgia, struck down the death penalty because it could not agree on how the punishment could be carried out fairly and humanely. That case voided death penalty laws in 40 states, including Kansas, and commuted the sentences of 629 individuals on death rows. It took Kansas 18 years to enact a new death penalty law, which was passed on April 23, 1994. There have been no executions in Kansas since the law went into effect on July 1, 1994.
In October 2009, a historic decision was made by the American Law Institute (ALI) to remove the death penalty from its Model Penal Code.
Recently I participated in advocating for the abolition of the Death Penalty in the State of Kansas in support of Kansas Senate bill SB 375. There was a heated and stirring debate bringing up issues on both sides of this contentious issue in this predominately conservative state. On Feb. 19, 2010 from the gallery, I watched as the leaders of my state congress took the floor, one of them my own elected representative, Kansas State Senator Marci Francisco.
Since 1994 there have been more than 100 potential capital cases in Kansas, 25 capital trials ending in death sentences for twelve of those cases. As the discussion came to a vote on the floor, there were persons on both sides of this issue who spoke passionately about their conviction either for or against the death penalty.
Those opposed to the death penalty pointed out the fact that mistakes do happen. Around the nation, more than 100 individuals have been released from death rows on grounds of innocence.
Statistics did not prove that the death penalty was a real deterrent to crime. Instead by 2001, the murder rate in the death penalty states was 37% higher than the rate in states without the death penalty.
Other arguments against the death penalty included jury, prosecutorial, and judicial misconduct; disparity of application; withheld evidence; and inadequate assistance of counsel.
Opponents also argued that the death penalty is used very infrequently, but it drove the adjudication costs of prosecution up so dramatically that it was a real economic issue for many conservatives. The Kansas Board of Indigents Defense, which established a Kansas Death Penalty Defense Unit, specializes in defense on capital punishment issues and has a $1.4 million a year budget.
I am a survivor, a victim of a capital crime for which there could be a death penalty. I am also a person bereaved of someone I loved through the act of homicide by another. I communicate with many others who have been victims of violent crimes and I know what it feels like to have your life shattered by the violent actions of an aggressor. When I was first asked on which side of this death penalty issue I would stand, I knew that my answer needed to be on the side of abolishing the death penalty. But I faced my close friends, many who had suffered as crime victims, and who felt that I was betraying them.
I looked deep into my heart to find a level of understanding of how I might reconcile my own feelings of anger and hurt and the desire for justice and a sense of reparation, with my deeply held conviction that the death penalty is not the answer. The problem with the death penalty is that it isn't utilized until someone is already dead. Nothing will give you back your loved one, nothing will take away the pain, or fill the sense of loss. Inflicting death on another does not bring the victim's family peace. Inner peace is something the victim and the victims' loved ones work on for the rest of their lifetime and is more related to one's own inner spiritual pathway than in the sentence placed on the aggressor by a judge and jury.
When the final vote took place in the Kansas Senate, in an amazing bi-partisan showing, 12 Republicans and 8 Democrats voted yes. So the Kansas Senate voted 20-20 on SB 375--the bill that would have abolished the death penalty in Kansas for those crimes occurring after July 2010. While the tie vote meant defeat for the bill, it was a clear victory for those who wished to abolish the death penalty in the state of Kansas.
I thought that would be the end of the death penalty debate for a while for me, but it was not. My life was wracked with another shock: that of being told that someone I knew may have just killed another. Dr. Lishan Wang, a doctor from the People's Republic of China, is accused of murdering Dr. Vajinder Toor, a doctor from India, on April 26, 2010. Again I knew people on both sides of this act and found myself again face to face with the death penalty, but now as it is applied in the state of Connecticut or in federal capital crimes.
Again faced with a capital murder case and the possibility of a death penalty, this crime involved both an accused and also a victim who are citizens from other countries. I find myself again faced with the stark reality of a possible death penalty.
From a standpoint of international human rights law there have been four areas in which the United States has failed to meet its international obligations in regards to the death penalty:
1) The imposition of the death penalty has been discriminatory and arbitrary.