Is the Death Penalty Just? by Carla Mooney

By Carla Mooney

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The arbitrariness of sentences that decide who lives and who dies concerns a majority of Americans. A 2010 national poll conducted by Lake Research Partners found that two-thirds of respondents would prefer an alternative to the death penalty in capital murder cases. Many cited the unfairness in sentencing as a top concern. In addition, 69 percent of respondents said they disagreed with the death penalty because it was applied unevenly. Some states have recently tried to address these concerns.

In some counties prosecutors may choose not to seek the death penalty, in part because the county cannot pay for it. Like it or not, says Wharton County, Texas, district attorney Josh McCown, this is the reality district attorneys face when deciding whether to pursue the death penalty. “This is one of those things a district attorney doesn’t like to talk about. You don’t want to think that you’re letting money come into play. You ought to consider the facts of a case and make your decisions in a vacuum.

In addition, more than twenty states record witness interrogations, and an additional 850 agencies voluntarily record interrogations to ensure that officers conduct the interviews according to protocol and thereby reduce the chance of mistakes. “We all support these reforms because they protect the innocent and enhance the ability of law enforcement to catch the guilty,”42 says Barry Scheck, cofounder of the Innocence Project. 47 A forensic technician examines evidence at a crime scene. Over the last thirty years, advances in forensic science have significantly raised the level of criminal investigations by developing such reliable identification techniques as DNA testing.

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