Thursday, October 25, 2007

Catholic Church Teaching on the Death Penalty

There is no evidence that the death penalty deters violent crime.

*To the extent that there is any correlation between imposition of the death penalty and violent crime, the incidence of violent crime and murder of law enforcement officers is greater in states with the death penalty.

*The average murder rate is 5.3 in death penalty states and 2.8 in states without the death penalty (murder rate is murders per 100,000 population). As a region, the South accounts for more than 80% of the executions and has the highest murder rate. The Northeast carries out less than 1% of the executions and has the lowest murder rate. (2004 FBI Uniform Crime Report)

More information on murder rates by state is available from the Death Penalty Information Center:

Grim statistics tell the story.

*The number of executions since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973 exceeds 1,000.

*The national death row population is greater than 3,300.

*The Florida death row population is more than 370.

*The United States is alone among western democracies in retaining the death penalty for crimes less than treason. In employing the death penalty, it finds itself in company with countries such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Life without parole is an effective and less expensive alternative to the death penalty.

*All death penalty states (other than New Mexico) offer life without parole as a possible sentence in capital cases.

*Lifetime incarceration costs far less than the death penalty. The cost of imposing the death penalty has been estimated as 2- to 6-times greater, $3.2 million versus $750,000 for one person (Miami Herald, 1988).

Victim’s families deserve our special care and concern.

*Repaying cruelty with cruelty does not bring healing. Killing the guilty does not bring back or honor the dead.

*The finality of execution means that great care must be exercised in its application. As a result, there are often long delays between a finding of guilt and execution, thus prolonging the involvement of the victim’s family in a legal process in which they are pressed to maintain a hostile stance toward the criminal. This process may actually delay “closure” for the family.

Execution of innocents is a real danger.

*The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is constitutional to execute an innocent person if constitutionally required procedures were followed (Herrera v Collins).

*“More often than we want to recognize, some innocent defendants have been convicted and sentenced to death.” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 2001.

Mainline religious denominations oppose use of the death penalty.

*Although prosecutors routinely use “an eye for an eye” and similar biblical texts in urging the death penalty, scripture scholars refute this interpretation.

*Attempts to support the death penalty with the Bible rest on verses taken in isolation and ignores the broader context of both the Old Testament and the teaching of Christ in the New Testament that call us to protect life, practice mercy, and reject vengeance.

Statements of religious bodies are available on-line:

Application of the death penalty is deeply flawed.
*More than 120 death row inmates in 25 states have been exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973.

*"Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations. Since 1973, the State of Florida has exonerated twenty-two death row inmates, significantly more than any other state. Combined, these death row inmates served approximately 150 years in prison before being released…" American Bar Association, “Florida Death Penalty

*Defendants in many states get poor legal advice unless they can afford counsel with death penalty experience.

*In Florida, a unanimous decision by the jury is NOT required to recommend death, only a simple majority vote.

Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty
For resources to help individuals, parishes and dioceses participate in this national campaign, visit:

For additional information on
the death penalty in Florida contact:
Florida Catholic Conference
201 W. Park Ave., Tallahassee, FL 32301-7715
Phone: (850) 222-3803

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