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Polls Show Dwindling Support for Death Penalty

South Dakota's last execution was performed in 2012. Credit: Ken Plorkowski/Flickr
South Dakota's last execution was performed in 2012. Credit: Ken Plorkowski/Flickr
November 9, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The death penalty is in a long, slow decline nationally, according to opinion polls and by how often it's being used.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says surveys show support for the death sentence is at a 40-year low.

Last year saw the lowest number of executions in two decades.

Dunham says people are seeing practical problems with putting people to death, including the costs and botched executions.

There also has been what he calls an innocence revolution – a wave of death row inmates later proven not guilty.

"DNA has shown people have gone to death row who clearly didn't commit the offense,” he points out. “Innocent people are being convicted. There are false confessions. There are fabricated confessions. That's causing people concern."

Death penalty supporters argue harsh justice is a deterrent to crime.

In South Dakota, three men are currently on death row.

Donald Moeller was the last man executed in October of 2012 for the murder of Becky O'Connell.

Dunham explains there used to be the misconception that if a capital convict was not executed, he or she could eventually be released on parole.

But he says court rules were changed so that juries are now informed that a life sentence would really mean life behind bars.

"Immediately, when the juries were told that their sentencing option was life without possibility of parole and death, as opposed to just life or death, the rate of death sentencing dropped dramatically," he relates.

Dunham says FBI figures, confirmed by several studies, show the death penalty doesn't deter crime in any measurable way.

"There actually is no demonstrable effect at all,” he stresses. “In fact, murder rates are higher in states that have the death penalty than in states that don't have the death penalty."

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD