Monday, July 6, 2009

The Beginning of the End of Capital Punishment?

The New Orleans Times-Picayune is reporting today that in Jefferson Parish, which has sent 28 prisoners to Louisiana's death row, prosecutors and juries are slowing down the pace of capital prosecutions and sentences.

The story points out that:

"It has been five years since a Jefferson Parish jury recommended a death sentence and four years since prosecutors tried a capital case. While suspects have been indicted on capital murder charges in some high-profile homicides, prosecutors later reduced the charges to second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Now, one person is charged with capital murder in Jefferson Parish.

* * * *
But observers say Jefferson Parish is in line with a national trend away from capital prosecutions, which have declined 65 percent since 1999, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization in Washington.

'This is certainly not a unique response by [Jefferson Parish District Attorney] Paul Connick,' said capital punishment opponent Nick Trenticosta of the Center for Equal Justice in New Orleans, which steers death sentence appeals. 'It's a response all across America. Offices all over the country are cutting back on the death penalty.'

'Executions are down, death sentences are down, capital prosecutions are down,' said lawyer Denny Leboeuf of New Orleans, a death penalty opponent who directs the ACLU's John Adams Project in New York."

This is true in Mississippi, also. According to the website of the Mississippi State Office of Capital Defense Counsel, the last death sentence imposed in Mississippi was in November of 2007 -- twenty months ago.

Could it be that the juries of America -- even in the Deep South -- have decided that the death penalty just doesn't work, and that life imprisonment without parole is sufficient to protect the community and punish the offender, without involving the community in the death of another human being? Time will tell.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

I would be interested in statistics regarding the national trend regarding prosecutorial bargains and concessions. If the data indicates an increase in going for lesser included offenses in order to secure a conviction, it would only be natural to see fewer capital convictions.

My point is merely that there are plenty of possible explanations beyond a national paradigm shift in juries. I am reminded of the recent case (which I may even have read about on this blog) of the mistrial that was ordered after the jury told the judge that it wished to impose the death sentence before it had even been given jury instructions.