Public Support for the Death Penalty

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Support for the death penalty has fluctuated throughout the century. According to Gallup surveys, in 1936, 61% of Americans favored the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. Support reached an all-time low of 42% in 1966. Throughout the 70s and, 80s the percentage of Americans in favor of the death penalty increased steadily culminating in an 80% approval rating in 1994. Since 1994, support for the death penalty has declined. Today, 71% of Americans support the death penalty in theory. However, research shows that public support for the death penalty drops to below 50 % when voters are offered the alternative of life without parole plus restitution to the victim's family. The Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of executing someone who claimed actual innocence in Herrera v. Collins (506 U.S. 390 (1993)). Although the Court left open the possibility that the Constitution bars the execution of someone who conclusively demonstrates that he was actually innocent, the Court noted that such cases would be very rare. The Court held that, in the absence of other constitutional grounds, new evidence of innocence is no reason for federal courts to order a new trial. The Court pointed to the clemency process as a way of avoiding the execution of innocent defendants. Herrera was denied clemency and was executed in 1993. Since Herrera, concern regarding the possibility of executing the innocent has grown. Currently, more than 80 death row inmates have been released because of innocence *Innocentlist.html* since 1973. In the 1970s the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), representing more then 10 million conservative Christians and 47 different denominations, and the Moral Majority were among the Christian groups supporting the death penalty. NAE's successor, the Christian Coalition also supports the death penalty. Today, Fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches as well as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) typically support the death penalty on biblical grounds, specifically citing the Old Testament. (Bedau, 1997). ((( The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies," H. Bedau, editor, Oxford University Press, 1997.))) Although traditionally also a supporter of capital punishment, the Roman Catholic Church now oppose the death penalty. In addition, most Protestant denominations, including Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ, also oppose the death penalty.

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