Across the country, states are abolishing the death penalty. With the exception of a few states like Texas and Tennessee, executions are extremely rare. Officially, 21 states have abolished capital punishment but numerous others have de facto moratoriums. Opposition to the death penalty has been building and a broader coalition is forming.
In North Carolina this week, six death row inmates get a chance to have their sentences changed. The Supreme Court will hear arguments that the inmates were victims of racial bias. The African Americans were sentenced to death by all-white or almost all-white juries while black jurors appear to have been routinely dismissed. The court will decide whether or not to commute their sentences to life without parole.
Opinions are shifting on capitol punishment. The increasing use of DNA has found errors in our justice system. At least 20 death row inmates have been found to have been convicted erroneously. Americans don’t like the idea of executing innocent people.
An odd coalition is growing. Next week, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty holds its first annual meeting in New Orleans. North Carolina will be represented by Donald Triplett, Treasurer of the Swain County Republican Party. In a press release, Triplett said, “Although those who kill should be held accountable, I believe capital punishment is murder. For me, being pro-life is consistent from conception to natural death, without exceptions.”
The opposition to the death penalty is part of a broader bipartisan push for criminal justice reform. Liberals and conservatives both want to see less incarceration and a more cost efficient justice system. Life in prison is far cheaper than executing prisoners, in part, because of the extended appeals process. It’s also a penalty that’s been inconsistent in its application. In recent years, accomplices have been executed while the actual murderers have received life sentences.
In North Carolina, our governor, attorney general and leaders of the legislature from both parties support the death penalty. To change their minds, opponents need a broad-based coalition that appeals to people with significantly different world views. That seems to have begun.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >