Do a majority of Americans support capital punishment, or are they repelled by it? For that matter, could the majority simply be indifferent to an issue that is unlikely to ever touch their own lives?
Where the death penalty is headed was the subject of “Weighing the Scales of Justice: A Dialogue about the Future of the Death Penalty in the United States,” a program conceived and organized by Catholic University’s Black Law Students Association and held on Feb. 9 at the Columbus School of Law.
Six expert speakers participated, representing various points of view.
Perhaps not surprisingly on a subject so deeply divisive, panelists disagreed about the continued willingness of the American people to support the ultimate punishment.
“Right now there’s no consensus supporting the death penalty, there’s a lot of concern about it,” said Sarah Turberville, director of the ABA’s Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project.
Charles “Cully” D. Stimson, a leading expert in criminal law, military law, military commissions and detention policy at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, countered by asserting that public support for capital punishment remains at about 64 percent.
Other panelists reviewed the history of the death penalty in the U.S., and why death row inmates need pro bono counsel.
Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said that public opinion is slowly eroding for capital punishment in light of racial disparities in sentencing, convictions later overturned by DNA evidence, and other problems.
“At the end of the day, the American people are about fairness and justice,” she said. “When confronted with a system that doesn’t provide that, they want to get involved.”