Is the Death Penalty Unconstitutional?

Wrongful convictions force Texas to reconsider the death penalty

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The death penalty is on trial in Texas next week. A string of wrongful convictions has left some concerned that the state's harsh system may be unconstitutional. According to the Huffington Post, 139 people have been exonerated in the U.S. since 1976, twelve of whom were on death row in Texas. Meanwhile, 70 percent of those actually executed in Texas have been minorities.

The potentially faulty Texas system made headlines earlier this month when the state's Innocence Project used DNA tests to prove that a strand of hair used to convict Claude Jones, who was executed in 2000 for murder, did not actually belong to him. More recently, The Wire picked up on the discussion surrounding former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' assessment that the American death penalty in general is discriminatory and inconsistent. The discussion continues as bloggers and columnists analyze the implications of fatal errors:

  • The Death Penalty is 'a Dark Ages Relic'  After the Innocence Project proved Claude Jones had been convicted based on false evidence, Daily Kos's Meteor Blades expresses disgust in the death penalty's sloppiness. "The United States continues to employ the racist, classist death penalty. It is not a deterrent. It is a Dark Ages relic reflecting a unwillingness to overcome the instincts of our reptile brains with civilized behavior the way most of the other developed democracies on the planet have seen fit to do."
  • 'You Can't Reverse a Death Sentence'  Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway thinks the high incidence of wrongful executions in Texas, particularly those recently brought to light, "ought to give any death penalty supporter pause." He writes: "it's one thing, though, to discover that a man who has been sitting in prison for twenty years is innocent. It is quite another to discover that someone who was put to death six years ago is innocent, or that one you put to death a decade ago may have been innocent. You can free an innocent man, you can't reverse a death sentence."
  • There's Enough Evidence Against the Death Penalty  Nitasha Tikuat Daily Intel points out that "it's unsurprising that a challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty would come from a defense team whose client is trying to avoid it." Yet, despite "strong public support in Texas behind capital punishment," Tiku says recent evidence, including the revelations in the Claude Jones case and state government commissions acknowledging the risk of convicting innocent people, suggest to many there is a good chance the death penalty will be deemed unconstitutional.
  • We Shouldn't Accept Wrongful Executions  An editorial in Thursday's Dallas Morning News reverts back to Justice Stevens' assessment of the American death penalty and his way of mentioning the "'execution of innocents' as if a given." The editorial suggests that "perhaps that, more than anything, has caused prominent Texans, from a former governor to former prosecutors, to adjust adjust their thinking, as has Stevens, and advocate a saner justice system that guards against a flawed by irrevocable sentence."
  • Not Everyone Is Moved by the Claude Jones Case  Greg Gutfield at Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood points out that Claude Jones was, indeed, at the scene of the crime in question and had carried out violent crimes in the past. "Jones was a brutal, career criminal, who--while serving a 21-year jail sentence, set fire to his cellmate, killing him," Gutfield writes. "Even though a lot of people are making hay about this DNA finding--life's too short for me to care if the court messed up."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.