September 30, 2007

Death Penalty Roulette

Worth a read: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a long four-part investigative series on the state of the death penalty in Georgia. What's striking is how horribly random the whole process is. The newspaper found 1,315 murder cases between 1995 and 2004 that could've been prosecuted for death. But prosecutors sought the death penalty in only a quarter of those cases, and only one in 23 landed on death row.

The thing is, there's absolutely no rhyme or reason as to why some criminals get the death penalty and not others. It's certainly not the "worst of the worst" who end up on death row—lesser crimes often get punished more severely than ghastly murders. Geography is a big factor: Some counties are simply far more likely to pursue the death penalty. And race matters, too: "Prosecutors were more than twice as likely to seek the death penalty when the victim was white." Basically, it's all a big roulette wheel—as one attorney notes, they could execute every 100th murderer at random and it would have the same effect.

Needless to say, the state's judicial review doesn't inspire confidence, either: "The newspaper's analysis shows the [Georgia Supreme Court's] reviews have been perfunctory and often inaccurate. Since 1982, 19 percent of cases cited by the court to justify death sentences had already been thrown out on appeal."
-- Brad Plumer 11:37 PM || ||