The death penalty should be abolished in all fifty states. There are a growing number of concerns around capital punishment: if it violates the Eight Amendment, if race plays a factor in who gets the death penalty, and if the cost of capital punishment is really giving society a deterrent.
“I would have more confidence in the fair-mindedness of this jury and the jury’s pronouncement of the death sentence, had the state not used its peremptory challenges to exclude every African American juror, resulting in an all white jury for this black defendant”. Quote by a judge in the Supreme Court of Louisiana (Amnesty International).
In almost every death penalty state there are cases of discriminatory jury practices. Such practices include the elimination of African American jurors from death penalty cases, called the “Texas shuffle”. Most district attorneys believe that “black jurors have doubts about the defendant’s responsibility for the killing and believe he is remorseful despite his impassive demeanor. White jurors see him as dangerous… Black jurors feel that the white jurors do not understand black defendants’ and the environment in which they live...” (Amnesty International).
According to The American Civil Liberties Union; among the 38 states that allow the death penalty, 98% of the prosecutors are white and have complete control in deciding which cases become capital cases. In Georgia, District Attorney Joseph Briley tried 33 capital cases between 1976 and 1994. In almost all of these cases the defendants were black and the victims were white, out of 103 jury challenges Briley used 96 of them on African American jury candidates (ACLU).
Yet another account of how bad the problem of jury rigging is in our judicial system is Harold Williams, a man who spent more than sixteen years in prison on death row after a Pennsylvania jury gave him three death sentences. During his 1989 trial, Wilson was prosecuted by Jack McMahon, an Assistant District Attorney who was in a training video “demonstrating to new prosecutors on how to use race in selecting death penalty jurors” (DPIC). Along with new DNA evidence and the use of racially discriminatory practices in jury selection, Wilson was acquitted of all charges.
In most cases the color of the victim’s skin plays an important role in deciding who gets the death penalty. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), reports that white victims account for 80% of all capital cases. As of October 2002, twelve people have been executed where the victim is black and the defendant white, compared to 178 black defendants put to death with white victims. “People of color represent a disproportionate 43% of all executions since 1976 and 55% of those currently waiting.” (pg.1). Considering the population of African Americans in the United States is about 14%, the racial injustice of the judicial system is obvious.
In 1977, The Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors could not use race in eliminating jurors from the jury pool. As a result, District Attorneys in many states wrote explicit instructions on how to strike African American from juries, without violating the Supreme Court ruling (DPIC). Two decades after the ruling in 1998, Kentucky became the first state to pass the Racial Justice Act, a law that prohibits the death penalty from being used on the basis of race. The Racial Justice Act was introduced but not passed in Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, Georgia, North and South Carolina.
In May of this year, three African-American men appeared at North Carolina’s Legislative building to take part in convincing the Senate to pass the Racial Justice Act. The three men were freed from North Carolina’s death row after spending a combined 36 years awaiting their executions for crimes they did not commit. They appeared with Darryl Hunt, who spent 19 year behind bars before he was declared innocent and released from his sentence. At this...