In Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer stood up against the death penalty calling it a "death lottery," stating to the House Criminal Justice Committee that the death penalty
"makes no sense when you can have life with out the possibility of parole. I don’t see what society gains."This public statement adds much needed support to Ohio's House Bill 160 that would abolish the death penalty in the state if passed.
In North Carolina, governor Beverly Perdue vetoed Senate Bill 9 that would repeal the state's Racial Justice Act, which was put in place for prisoners sentenced to death. If a judge determines that race was a significant factor in a death penalty trial, the sentence must be reduced to life without parole. Governor Perdue said in a statement,
"it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina."While the governor is a supporter of the death penalty, her veto of the bill represents a profound move towards greater social justice and equality in the country.
Here in PA, great strides towards abolition are being made as Senate Resolution 6 passed this past Wednesday, December 14. The resolution, which can be read in full here, establishes a bipartisan task force and advisory committee that will conduct a study of the death penalty in Pennsylvania in collaboration with the Justice Center for Research at Penn State, the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness, and the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission.
We have gone without the death penalty in Pennsylvania before. From 1972 to 1978, Pennsylvania was without capital punishment after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Furman v. Georgia. Capital punishment was reinstated in 1978 and since that time Pennsylvanian has sentenced more than 350 people to death yet has executed only three.
This year, numerous studies have come out examining the issues surrounding Pennsylvania's capital punishment and criminal justice system, including one by the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions which can be found here or read PADP's analysis of it here, and examined the issues surrounding eye-witness identification, among other things. Another study released by the Philadelphia Inquirer found issues with Pennsylvania's defense lawyers and unfair trials.
Even more exciting for death penalty abolitionists everywhere is the Death Penalty Information Center's Year End Report, which was released this Thursday, December 15th. The report cited that death sentences have dropped significantly in recent years and noted a 75% drop since 1996. Richard Dieter, DPIC's Executive Director and author of the report said,
"Executions, death sentences, public support, the number of states with the death penalty all dropped from previous years. Whether it’s concerns about unfairness, executing the innocent, the high costs of the death penalty, or the general feeling that the government just can’t get it right, Americans moved further away from capital punishment in 2011.”Each of these new developments represent a growing trend across the country in support of the abolition of capital punishment and a move towards greater justice, equality, and human rights for the nation. They symbolize the forward progression that the United States can accomplish if ordinary citizens are not silent and do not allow themselves to be complicit in the crimes of the government. Great figures like Martina Davis Correia, who passed away December 2, motivate and inspire us to act and to voice our dissent in the state sanctioned murder that is capital punishment. We must work in Martina's memory, and in honor of other great abolitionists like her, to end capital punishment in this country and not let these new opportunities and new cries of support for abolition go unnoticed.