The Death Penalty: No Place in the Twenty-First Century

The USA is in an increasingly isolated position in tolerating the death penalty: 117 countries last month voted for a global death penalty moratorium, with only 38, including the USA, voting against this. In its opposition America keeps strange company; the only three countries that regularly execute more prisoners than the USA have questionable human rights records (China, Iran and Saudi Arabia). The vast majority of countries now view capital punishment as backward and illogical – a penalty that ‘has no place in the 21st century’.

18 USA states have abolished the death penalty, but Ohio retains it. Indeed, the state appears to be digging itself into an ever more entrenched position to allow executions to proceed. Ohio has had a temporary death penalty moratorium following a botched execution early last year, but is keen to recommence executing. Regulated drugs are unavailable, as drug companies in the USA and Europe no longer supply drugs for executions. So, a week before the UN resolution last month, Ohio’s Senate hastily approved a law allowing it to conceal the source of unregulated drugs for executions, and the identity of people providing them. There has been widespread concern at this unprecedented step (for instance, see here and here and here and here).

Many compelling arguments weigh against the death penalty. For instance, it creates new victims. Innocent people often experience lifelong trauma after an execution: family members and friends of the person executed, jurors, prison staff and defense attorneys are all likely to be affected. And it is quite possible that some of those executed are innocent: the USA constitution does not guarantee otherwise.

One person on Ohio’s scheduled execution list who claims innocence is Jeffrey Wogenstahl. Despite huge questions as to the safety of his conviction, he is scheduled to die on January 21 next year. There are likely to be others on the list whose defense at trial was underfunded, resulting in an unfair outcome.

Instead of attempting to legislate itself into an ever tighter global corner, Ohio should show leadership in embracing the inevitable future. The death penalty in Ohio should be consigned to the past.

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