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Gallup Poll: Support for Death Penalty Lowest Since 1972

Use of the death penalty is declining in North Carolina and the rest of the country, while public support of the punishment is also on the downturn. (Matthias Muller/Flickr)
Use of the death penalty is declining in North Carolina and the rest of the country, while public support of the punishment is also on the downturn. (Matthias Muller/Flickr)
October 30, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The number of Americans who favor the death penalty continues to drop, with a new Gallup poll finding the level of support is at its lowest point since 1972.

The survey, which recorded 60 percent in favor of capital punishment last year, found support had declined to 55 percent this year, with that number dropping to 39 percent among Democrats. Kristin Collins, associate director of public information at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Raleigh, said society is beginning to understand that a death sentence isn't always the worst punishment.

"Being against the death penalty doesn't mean you're against punishment for people who commit murder,” Collins said. "It means that you see that there are other equally effective - maybe more effective - ways to keep our society safe and to punish the worst crimes."

The last inmate was executed in North Carolina in 2006, and the number of death sentences has been reduced from a high of 25 a year in the 1990s to one a year on average now.

Critics of capital punishment point to examples of wrongful convictions and instances of mishandling of evidence. Supporters say it's needed in the most heinous of crimes.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, death penalty cases cost almost twice as much as those where it is not sought. Collins said people are beginning to understand the cost of the death penalty for the criminal justice system in the form of time and money.

"There really couldn't be a more inefficient way to punish crime,” she said. "Death penalty cases go through years, sometimes decades of appeals and we need those appeals because we have to make sure we don't execute an innocent person."

Collins added that with life without parole, the automatic appeals process isn't triggered by mandates in the system that go with a death sentence, and there are fewer attorneys involved in the process - reducing the demand on the system.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC