Death penalty, why the United States could abolish it

Un giudice della Corte Suprema si è schierato apertamente contro la pena di morte. Altri quattro potrebbero seguirlo. Intanto calano le esecuzioni.

In the United States of America “only” 28 executions have been carried out across 2015. It’s the lowest number in the past 16 years and it raises hope for those who fight for the abolition of the death penalty. The decline is evident, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.


Moreover, all executions have been carried out in only 6 American states, out of a total of 31 states that still have death penalty in their judicial systems. In only 3 of them (Texas, Missouri, and Georgia) 85% of the total executions are concentrated, i.e. 24 executions.


Una manifestazione di attivisti per l'abolizione della pena di morte, organizzata nel settembre 2015 davanti alla sede della Corte Suprema degli Usa. In questo caso, si chiedeva di salvare Richard Glossip, condannato a morte nello stato dell'Oklahoma ©Larry French/Getty Images
Demonstration against the death penalty in front of the US Supreme Court in September 2015. People asked to save Richard Glossip, sentenced to death in the state of Oklahoma ©Larry French/Getty Images


Death sentences at a historical low since the 70’s

Another encouraging figure is the number of death sentences issued by US courts: 49, registering a decrease by 33% compared to 2014 and reaching the lowest level since the early 70’s. “These figures not only have a statistical value, but show a shift in the attitude across the country,” said Robert Dunham, Director of the DPIC, to AFP.


Una protesta contro la pena di morte a Boston, negli Usa ©Scott Eisen/Getty Images
A protest against the death penalty in Boston, USA ©Scott Eisen/Getty Images


Even in Texas, where death penalty is most rooted, “death sentences dropped to lowest level on record,” said Kristin Houlé of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. In fact, from 2011 to date, out of a total of 254 death sentences, 70% have been carried out in only 8 counties.


It should be said that one of the “incentives” of such shift could be linked to practical factors, rather than ethical. In particular, it’s ever more difficult to find the products needed to carry out lethal injections: an increasing number of pharmaceutical companies, mostly Europeans, refuse to provide the US with lethal substances.


The end of the death penalty could be up to the Supreme Court

Supreme Court judge Stephen Breyer took a stance oriented to a moral and political choice, in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. He raised hopes of the abolitionists, openly aligning with them last June. Indeed, the major pressures are carried out on the Supreme Court, where there are 9 members and, currently, 4 of them are progressives (alongside Breyer, also Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor).




The Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972, but it restored it in 1976. The “plan” could be making Anthony Kennedy – moderate conservative who was crucial in many big social issues – align with abolitionists.

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