A Death Knell for the Death Penalty?

death penalty, capital punishment, SCOTUS, Illinois Criminal Defense AttorneyThe debate over the morality and constitutionality of the death penalty is one that has been ongoing for decades, if not longer. The most recent battleground, albeit indirectly, was none other than the United States Supreme Court, as a related case demonstrated the possibility that a full-scale attack on the legality of capital punishment could have rather interesting results. Although the death penalty was abolished in Illinois in 2011, the practice remains legal in 31 states and in federal prosecution of the most serious of criminal cases.

Glossip v. Gross

In late June, the nation’s High Court handed down its ruling on Glossip v. Gross, a case from Oklahoma that challenged the use of a particular sedative in the process of lethal injection. The drug in question had been linked to several controversial executions last year and three death row inmates sought to have its use barred. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court allowed the continued use of the drug, but the dissenting Justices issued some thought-provoking opinions on the death penalty in general.

The Case Against the Death Penalty

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that he believed that it is time to take a comprehensive look at the use of capital punishment. “Rather that try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full brieginf on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution,” he opined in his dissent. Specifically at issue, he went on to say, is Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, a standard with which the current use of the death penalty seems to be in conflict.

As many critics have noted in the past, Justice Breyer maintained that the death penalty should be reconsidered on the basis of several factors. First, criminal court convictions are far from 100 percent reliable, and the danger of executing an innocent person is far too great. In addition, he observed a very inconsistent approach to capital punishment: some prosecutors seek the death penalty more than others with little predictability. Justice Breyer also pointed out that the lengthy delays between the sentence of death and execution, which all but eliminates its effectiveness as a deterrent. For all death-row inmates executed in 2014, the average time between sentencing and execution was 17.7 years. These factors, he concluded, have led a many states to slow or even completely discontinue the practice, making capital punishment more unusual than just about ever before.

The Future of Capital Punishment

While there are no direct death penalty challenges pending before the High Court, the likelihood is good that the issue will be revisited soon. As with most issues of constitutionality, if and when such case is brought before the Supreme Court, it will likely garner a great deal of media scrutiny, not to mention political posturing on both sides of the aisle. In the meantime, however, the death penalty remains a legal option in much of the country, and, by state law, is completely abolished in Illinois.

If you are facing serious criminal charges and have questions to the death penalty alternatives permitted in Illinois, contact an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney. Attorney Hal M. Garfinkel is a former prosecutor who is now committed to protecting the rights of individuals dealing with all types of prosecution. Call 312-270-0999 to schedule your free consultation today.

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