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US

U.S. bucks international trend against capital punishment

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January 31, 2000
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EST (0330 GMT)


In this story:

Polls show popularity of capital punishment

'Streamlining' the appeals process

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



ATLANTA (CNN) -- More than 600 prisoners have been executed in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to resume using the death penalty in 1976.

Public support for capital punishment remains strong, according to polls, and states have taken action to increase the number of executions within the last decade.

U.S. policy toward capital punishment offers a stark contrast to other developed nations.

 Capital Punishment:
In the United States

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 struck down state death penalty laws, a ruling that also brought federal executions to a halt. In 1976, the court reinstated the death penalty after the adoption of new procedures.

But it was not until 1988 that Congress adopted a new federal death penalty law, and in 1994 expanded the number of federal crimes covered by the death penalty.


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"Our neighbors -- Canada, Mexico -- (and) most of the industrialized nations have done away with the death penalty," said Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights. "Even Russia has now done away with the death penalty. South Africa has.

"So the trend is clear, but we don't see that trend in the U.S."

Polls show popularity of capital punishment

The death penalty is popular with U.S. voters. A Gallup Poll released in 1999 showed that nearly 75 percent of Americans supported the death penalty, and 64 percent felt the death penalty was not carried out often enough.

In his successful bid for Texas governor in 1994, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush made streamlining the death penalty appeals process a campaign priority.

"The message is clear," said Bush, "Don't come to Texas and kill somebody."

'Streamlining' the appeals process

On June 7, 1995, Bush signed a bill into law aimed at reducing the time spent on death penalty appeals, which can last up to 15 years. The Texas governor's office says the law cuts appeals by up to 2 1/2 years. The law also aims to save taxpayers an estimated $50,000 per inmate in overall costs.

The result of the Texas legislation and laws like it across the United States was a dramatic increase in the number of executions, from 31 in 1994 to 98 in 1999. More than a third of those executions took place in Texas, which far outpaces other states in carrying out the death penalty.

The increase has raised the voices of opponents, who charge that capital punishment is applied disproportionately to minorities and those who cannot afford adequate legal representation.

Indeed, many members of the legal community have become staunch death penalty critics, including the bar associations in Louisiana, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. They have called for moratoriums on executions in their states.

Correspondent Eric Horng contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
3 sentenced while juveniles face execution this month
January 8, 2000
Death row exonerations inspire debate over death penalty
August 15, 1999
Judge: Florida's electric chair not unconstitutional
August 2, 1999
Court upholds federal death penalty law
June 21, 1999
German executed in Arizona, legal challenge fails
March 4, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Death Penalty Information Center
Death Penalty Links
The Case Against The Death Penalty
Pro-Death Penalty.com
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