The use of capital punishment, frequently known as the death penalty, is highly controversial in some countries. Although laws vary between different countries as to what crimes may warrant capital punishment, the crimes for which it is most commonly used are murder and drug-related offenses. The death penalty is the execution of a person for a crime (typically murder). The death penalty is not used in many countries including all European countries, Australia, and New Zealand. In the US 35 of the 50 states allow the death penalty. Popular opinion
In the United States of America, the use of capital punishment is generally accepted, with 78 percent of the Republican Party and 52 percent the Democratic Party in support of its use for the crime of murder. The Constitution Party is in support of the death penalty, and the Green Party is opposed to its use. Worldwide, there is little consensus. Capital punishment is abolished in Europe, except for Belarus, which regularly practices it, and Latvia, which retains it for crimes committed during wartime. The Council of Europe prohibits any member state from practicing it. Both Turkey and Russia were pressed to abolish capital punishment as a condition for joining. Turkey abolished capital punishment after it was ruled unconstitutional in 2004, while Russia established a moratorium in 1996, which was renewed in 2009 by the Constitutional Court of Russia, pending abolition. There is little opposition to the death penalty in China, Japan, and most Middle Eastern and African countries, where it continues to be practiced. Execution of innocent people
Capital punishment is often opposed on the grounds that innocent people will inevitably be convicted. This fact is well supported in the US. Between 1973 and 2005, 123 people in 25 states were released from death row when new evidence of their innocence emerged. However, statistics likely understate the actual problem of wrongful convictions because once an execution has occurred there is often insufficient motivation and finance to keep a case open, and it becomes unlikely at that point that the miscarriage of justice will ever be exposed. Another issue is the quality of the defense in a case where the accused has a public defender. The competence of the defense attorney "is a better predictor of whether or not someone will be sentenced to death than the facts of the crime". Also, improper procedure may result in unfair executions. For example, Amnesty International argues that, in Singapore, "the Misuse of Drugs Act contains a series of presumptions which shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused. This conflicts with the universally guaranteed right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty". However, this refers to a situation when someone is being caught with drugs. In this situation, in almost any jurisdiction, the prosecution has a prima facie case. It may be possible to argue that the standard of proof should be raised to the higher standard of beyond the shadow of a doubt for a death sentence to be imposed in a capital case. However, many dispute the assertion that this falls under the definition of "improper procedure". Examples of disputed executions
Numerous death row inmates and executed criminals have been popularly thought to be innocent. In Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murdering his three young daughters in 1991 by setting his house on fire. In 2009, a report conducted by Dr. Craig Beyler, hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission to review the case, found that "a finding of arson could not be sustained". Beyler said that key testimony from a fire marshal at Willingham's trial was "hardly consistent with a scientific mind-set and is more characteristic of mystics or psychics." He was executed by lethal injection on February 17, 2004. Jesse Tafero was a convicted rapist and drug dealer who was later convicted of murdering two police officers in 1976 along with an...
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