Capital punishment is an intolerable denial of civil liberties and is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system. The ACLU believes the death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law. Furthermore, we believe that the state should not give itself the right to kill human beings – especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony, in the name of the law or in the name of its people, and when it does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.
The ACLU’s opposition to capital punishment incorporates the following fundamental concerns:
- The death penalty system in the U.S. is applied in an unfair and unjust manner against people, largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, race of the victim and where the crime took place. People of color are far more likely to be executed than white people, especially if the victim is white
- The death penalty is a waste of taxpayer funds and has no public safety benefit. The vast majority of law enforcement professionals surveyed agree that capital punishment does not deter violent crime; a survey of police chiefs nationwide found they rank the death penalty lowest among ways to reduce violent crime. They ranked increasing the number of police officers, reducing drug abuse, and creating a better economy with more jobs higher than the death penalty as the best ways to reduce violence. The FBI has found the states with the death penalty have the highest murder rates.
- Innocent people are too often sentenced to death. Since 1973, more than 156 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed.
- Even the administration of executions is utterly flawed: Every method of execution comes with an intolerably high risk of extreme pain and torture. Too often, states have been allowed to conduct executions cloaked in secrecy and free of public and judicial scrutiny, to rely on drugs from unknown and untested sources, and to employ personnel of unknown and unverifiable qualifications—with disastrous results. This pattern should be unacceptable in a civilized society dedicated to transparency and the rule of law.
The death penalty is uncivilized in theory and unfair and inequitable in practice. The time has come for America to end this failed experiment.