Gallup Poll: 35 percent oppose death penalty

October 14, 2011

c. 2011 USA Today


(RNS) More than one-third of Americans now oppose the death penalty --
the highest level in nearly 40 years -- according to a new Gallup Poll.


Moreover, those who believe the death penalty is being applied
fairly, and those who say it isn't used often enough, are at the lowest
levels in a decade, underscoring significant changes in attitudes.


The Gallup Poll released Thursday (Oct. 13) found that 35 percent
oppose the death penalty -- the highest opposition since March 1972.
That year, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that the death penalty
was constitutional unless it was applied unfairly. By 1976, several
states had reinstituted capital punishment.


Just 40 percent of those polled last week believe the death penalty
isn't imposed often enough, the lowest level since May 2001.


The poll was conducted shortly after two controversial cases drew
attention: the September execution of Troy Davis and last week's Supreme
Court hearing involving Alabama death row inmate Cory Maples.


Davis was executed despite evidence that he may have been wrongly
convicted in the 1989 murder of a Georgia police officer.


Maples was convicted of murdering two companions, but his death
sentence is being appealed because his court-appointed lawyers failed to
present key evidence about his background during the penalty phase of
his trial.


Increasingly, death penalty cases are also viewed as being costly
and providing little deterrent against serious crimes, says Barry
Scheck, a law professor and co-director of the Innocence Project, which,
like the American Bar Association, is seeking a moratorium on
executions.


"The general public doesn't believe that the death penalty is a
deterrent or is making anyone safer," Scheck said.


He added that the Gallup Poll may underestimate opposition to
capital punishment because it doesn't ask a key question: whether those
polled view life imprisonment as a better alternative.