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America's Shame: A Death Penalty that Includes Teens

In America, how does our judicial system work? You've probably learned that the law promises a fair trial where the defendant is declared innocent until proven guilty. In cases of really violent crimes, including rape and murder, where the punishment is "capital," this means the convicted person is put on Death Row. Their punishment is to be executed for their crime.

If you live in these places: Alaska, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, or Wisconsin, there is not a capital punishment law in your state (yet).

If you do not live in the above states, please check your state for a list of the individuals on Death Row USA.

Ask anyone about how they feel about the death penalty, and you'll get a range of responses, mostly emotional and very strong. What have you heard about capital punishment? How do you feel about it?

Now, think about these points:

  • The USA is the only democracy to still use capital punishment against juvenile offenders (convicted criminals under 18 years old). Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen also use capital punishment against juvenile offenders.
  • In 1976, the US Supreme Court allowed the reintroduction of the death penalty. Since then, 677 people have been executed in the US.
  • High error rates put people at risk of wrongful execution. 82% of the people whose capital judgments were overturned by state post-conviction courts due to serious error were found to deserve a sentence less than death when the errors were cured on retrial. 7% were found to be innocent of the capital crime.
  • If you're African-American, Hispanic, or Asian you have a higher rate of being put on death row, according to findings that there are racial differences in the number of people slated to be executed.
  • There is also a racial disparity: the murderers of black victims are less likely to be sentenced to death than the murderers of white victims.
  • It is more costly to taxpayers to execute a criminal than to keep him or her in prison for life (can cast up to $2 million to try a capital case).
  • About 90 percent of people facing capital charges cannot afford their own attorney.
Considering these points, along with increased technology in terms of DNA testing, what do you think now?

RIGHT NOW a lot of people are thinking about this same issue. Why? Because on December 12, 2000, Juan Raul Garza, a convicted South Texas murderer, is slated to be executed by the federal government. Unless President Clinton "stays," or stops it, Juan Raul Garza will be the first person executed by the federal government since 1963. A group called the Citizens for a Federal Moratorium on Executions is urging President Clinton to put a moratorium on the death penalty, which means stopping ALL executions until all the individual cases can be reviewed in more detail. This is supported by people like the American Bar Association, Jimmy Carter, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In addition, The United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States, and the World Council of Churches have all declared themselves in favor of the abolition of the death penalty: they want an end, period.

At the federal level, both President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno have concerns about the death penalty. They asked for independent studies which you can find at the Survey of the Federal Death Penalty System.

We in the United States are particularly watching the election results, because of George W. Bush's record.

  • Texas has executed many more offenders than other states, 235 people since 1976, followed by Virginia (80) and Florida (49). Last month, George W. Bush of Texas executed the 150th person since he became governor in 1995.

According to one ACLU article, "reports show that the Texas death penalty system has many problems like prosecutorial misconduct, racial bias, phony experts, and inadequate lawyers for poor defendants. As a result, in Texas and elsewhere, even those who support the death penalty are questioning the fairness and accuracy of this irreversibly severe form of punishment."

With all of this going on, now is the time for you to make up your mind and take action. You can send an email or fax to your representative to enforce the Moratorium here:

American Civil Liberties Union: Action Alert

Visit these sites to learn more about both sides of the issue:

Death Penalty Information Center
Pro-Death Penalty.com

Also, keep an eye on the news for the December 12 execution date and what will happen. You can make a difference.

The Team


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