"We know that, at some point, the presumption of constitutionality accorded legislative acts gives way to a realistic assessment of those acts. This point comes when there is sufficient evidence available so that judges can determine not whether the legislature acted wisely, but whether it had any rational basis whatsoever for acting. We have this evidence before us now. There is no rational basis for concluding that capital punishment is not excessive. It therefore violates the Eighth Amendment"
- Justice Thurgood Marshall, concurring in Furman v. Georgia (1972)
There are few topics in the United States that garner as heated a debate as the death penalty does. It is currently legal in 33 states (with Georgia being one of them), and since 1976 there have been 1295 people executed (as of May 31st, 2012). As of January 1st, 2012, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reported that there were 3,189 people on death row in the United States of America.
CC Image Courtesy of Tim Pearce, Los Gatos on Flickr
The most shocking statistic though may be that since 1973, there have been 140 individuals who have been exonerated while on death row according to the DPIC. These convictions were outright failures of the justice system and suggest that it is likely that the United States has wrongfully executed other citizens.
Overall, the ACLU stands firmly against the death penalty. The death penalty is a violation of the 8th Amendment as a cruel and unusual punishment, and has been shown to be excessively arbitrary and discriminatory. The United States needs to follow the example of every other industrialized nation and abolish capital punishment.