GEORGIANS FOR ALTERNATIVES TO THE DEATH PENALTY
There are Alternatives to Death Sentences
Although support for capital punishment remains strong in the United States, that support drops considerably when alternatives are offered. In a 2009 Gallup Poll, 65% of Americans reported supporting capital punishment, but when offered a choice between a death sentence and life in prison, less than half chose the death penalty. In a 2001 poll by Peter Hart Research Associates, support for capital punishment fell to 38% when a life sentence plus restitution for the victim's families was offered.
When prosecutors seek life sentences instead of death, vast amounts of time and resources are saved, and more importantly lives are saved by avoiding the brutalizing and dehumanizing act of execution. Based on comparing the murder rates in states with the death penalty versus states without the death penalty, alternative sentencing does not raise the murder rate:
Comparing murder rates in death penalty and non-death penalty states.
Because death sentences cost significantly more than life sentences (see Cost), abolishing the death penalty would provide additional resources that could be used for other ways of dealing with crime, like services for victims' family members, additional police officers, and indigent defense funding.
Four of the many reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty:
162 People have been exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973; SIX were convicted and sentenced to death in Georgia.
Causes of Wrongful ConvictionS
There have been 2,231 documented exonerations in the United States since 1989. Many of those exonerations are thanks to DNA testing; most of the wrongful convictions were due to mistaken eyewitness identification.
Of the 2,231 documented exonerations in the United States since 1989, at least 652 of them have involved a mistaken identification.
Of the 32 documented exonerations in Georgia, 13 have involved a mistaken identification.
According to data maintained by the Innocence Project, mistaken identification is the leading cause of convictions in the United States that were later demonstrated to be wrongful thanks to DNA testing. It has played a role in over 70% of convictions that have been overturned thanks to DNA testing.
"The number of DNA exonerations has demonstrated that innocent people are convicted and sentenced to death. While eyewitness testimony commonly is believed to be one of the most reliable and incriminating types of evidence, in fact mistaken eyewitness identification testimony is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States."
- Mark Loudon-Brown, Senior Attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights
”Every dollar we spend on a capital case is a dollar we can't spend anywhere else... We have to let the public know what it costs [to pursue a capital case.]”
--John M. Bailey, Chief State's Attorney, Connecticut
The death penalty costs significantly more than permanent imprisonment.
The most comprehensive study yet conducted on the cost of capital punishment found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million more per execution than the a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of life imprisonment.
Georgia Facts on Cost
There has never been a complete study of the cost of Georgia's death penalty. However, the recent case of Brian Nichols illustrates the huge drain capital punishment places on the state's resources. According to this report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the trial phase alone cost over $3 million.
But why does pursuing the death penalty cost more than life imprisonment?
Trials cost more when the stakes are higher because of more careful jury selection and more experts and investigators. The trial is followed by a lengthy penalty phase, state appeals, and federal appeals, all of which incur more costs. Finally, the costs of maintaining a death row and execution chamber makes housing death row inmates more expensive than those sentenced to life without parole.
"Getting the death penalty in Georgia is as consistent as a lightning strike."
--"A Matter of Life and Death," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 2007
The death penalty is intended to punish only the most brutal crimes...
...but in reality its application is biased, arbitrary, and unfair. Several other factors contribute to who receives a death sentence more than the brutality of the crime, including race, class, and geography, among others. Here are some facts from Georgia:
- Those convicted of killing white victims are 4.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those convicted of killing black victims [Source: Georgia Death Penalty Assessment, American Bar Association].
- Prosecutors are twice as likely to seek a death sentence if the victim is white [Source: "A Matter of Life and Death," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 2007].
- 80% of those accused of crimes cannot afford their own attorney, yet funding for public defenders has been repeatedly slashed in Georgia in recent years.
- The Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council is charged with ensuring quality public defenders in the state, but the General Assembly has repeatedly diminished the Council's funding and weakened its authority.
- Georgia fails to meet its Constitutional obligation to provide legal counsel to all those accused of crimes.
The district attorney in each county has sole discretion over when to pursue a death sentence. This means that where a crime is committed can be as significant as what type of crime is committed in determining who lives and who dies.
- In the metro-Atlanta area, a person is more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder occurs in a suburban county, such as Cobb or Douglas, rather than in the urban counties of DeKalb and Fulton.
- Someone who commits a murder on Paces Ferry Road in Cobb County is much more likely to get the death penalty than if they were on the same road just across the Chattahoochee River in Fulton County.
"The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery. It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics."
--Bryan Stevenson, death row lawyer
"We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings."
--United Methodist Church
"If a person foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my boundless love. The more evil that comes from him, the more good will go from me."
-- The Buddha
What does your faith community have to say about the Death Penalty?
For many people, opposition to the death penalty stems from their faith tradition. Many religious communities affirm the sacredness of human life and reject the state's right end it. In recent years, faith communities have taken a lead role in organizing against the death penalty. In Georgia, individual congregations and larger denominational bodies have been a crucial part of GFADP's statewide coalition working to abolish capital punishment. Here you'll find resources to learn about the perspectives many faith traditions have on the death penalty, as well as begin organizing in your local congregation.
Statements from Faith Communities and Other Resources
- Catechism of the Catholic Church
- The Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty [PDF]
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- From "Understanding Islam- An Affiliate of Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences"
- Pew Forum: Islam and the Death Penalty
- Assemblies of God
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism)
- The Episcopal Church
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- The Lutheran Church: Missouri Synod
- The Orthodox Church in America
- Presbyterian Church USA
- Southern Baptist Convention
- United Church of Christ
- The United Methodist Church
Interested in discussing the death penalty with your congregation or faith community?
If you would like to hold a discussion, Bible study, panel, or other event related to the death penalty with your local faith community, contact us! GFADP can provide a knowledgeable speaker to facilitate an honest, open, and friendly discussion. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.