Saturday, July 11, 2009

Death Penalty Sentencing: No Systemic Bias

Dudley Sharp

7 studies are reviewed, herein

For emphasis, population count is totally irrelevant, regarding any consideration of class or race/ethnicity bias in the application of the death penalty. The only relevant factors in such a review are class, race/ethnic distribution of murderers and their victims in capital murders, as well as criminal history, the specific circumstances of the crime(s) and a review of individual prosecutorial jurisdictions.

Study 1: Drs. Stephen Klein and John Rolph: "After accounting for some of the many factors that may influence penalty decisions, neither race of the defendant nor race of the victim appreciably improved prediction of who was sentenced to death . . . ". "Relationship of Offender and Victim Race to Death Penalty Sentences in California", Jurimetrics Journal, 32, Fall 1991, aka The Rand Corporation Study)

Study 2: Smith College Professors Stanley Rothman and Stephen Powers found that legal variables, such as prior criminal history and the aggravated nature of the murder, are the proven basis for imposition of the death penalty. The black/white variation in sentencing has generally been reduced to zero when such legal variables are introduced as controls. "Execution by Quota?", The Public Interest, Summer 1994

Study 3: NO BIAS IN DEATH SENTENCING: U of Maryland's Death Penalty Study (1)

The following are direct quotes from the Executive Summary of the U of Maryland study. NOTE: In earlier stages of the process, allegations of bias or some improper racial disproportionality are unfounded (2).

Race of the victim

"The race of the victim effect does not hold up, however, at the decision of the state's attorney to advance a case to penalty trial and at the decision of the judge or jury to impose a death sentence given that a penalty trial has occurred." p 27

"The race of the victim does not appear to matter when the decision is to advance a case to the penalty phase or to sentence a defendant to death after a penalty phase
hearing." page 29

The victim's race has no impact on seeking or giving death sentences

"Among the subset of cases where the case actually does reach a penalty trial, the victim's race does not have a significant impact on the imposition of a death sentence." page 35

The study shows no race of the victim effect in death sentencing in Maryland.

"When the prosecuting jurisdiction is added to the model the effect for the victims race diminishes substantially, and is no longer statistically significant." page 32

When you look at the capital murder cases, from each, separate jurisdiction, individually, any alleged race of the victim effect cannot be found.

" . . . any attempt to deal with any racial disparity in the imposition of the death penalty in Maryland cannot ignore the substantial variability that exists in different state's attorney's offices in the processing of death cases." p 34

It is important to look at how each jurisdiction handles their capital cases, because each jurisdiction is different. When that is done, no bias in death sentencing is found.

Race of victim and defendant

"There is no race of the offender / victim effect at either the decision to advance a case to penalty hearing or the decision to sentence a defendant to death
given a penalty hearing." page 30

Neither the race of the defendant nor the race of the victim have an impact on seeking or giving death sentences.

Race of the defendant

" . . . there is no evidence that the race of the defendant matters at any stage once case characteristics are controlled for." page 26

" . . . we found no evidence that the race of the defendant matters in processing of capital cases in the state." p 26

Maryland is not looking at race, but is concentrating on the nature of the murders.

Study 4: No Racial Bias in the New Jersey Death Penalty System

New Jersey For release: February 11, 2003
For further information: Winnie Comfort, AOC (609) 292-9580
Report on Proportionality
Trenton, N.J.

The 2002 report essentially mirrors the findings contained in the 2001 report, and may be summarized as follows:

--There is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that the race of the defendant affects which cases advance to penalty trial. Although bivariate analysis reveals that a greater proportion of death-eligible white defendants than African-American defendants advance to the penalty phase, that finding is not supported by regression studies and application of case-sorting techniques. There is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that the race of the defendant affects which cases result in imposition of the death penalty. Again, although bivariate analysis reveals that a greater proportion of death-eligible white defendants are sentenced to death than African-American defendants, that finding is not supported by regression studies and application of case-sorting techniques.
--There is statistically significant evidence that white victim cases are more likely than African-American victim cases to advance to penalty trial, but that finding is eradicated when county variability is taken into account. A disproportionate number of minority victim cases are tried in counties with the lowest overall rates of progression to penalty trial, while less urban counties with a high concentration of white victim cases have higher rates of capital prosecutions. Although Judge Baime notes that county variability may itself be a problem, he offers no opinion on the subject because that issue is well beyond the contours of his report.
--There is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that white victim cases are more likely than minority victim cases to result in imposition of the death penalty

The New Jersey Supreme Court has accepted the 2002 annual report prepared by Judge David S. Baime, a retired Appellate Division judge, on the monitoring of proportionality review in capital punishment cases in New Jersey. The Supreme Court adopted a monitoring system in 2000 to determine whether racial discrimination played a role in the administration of New Jersey's capital cases.

In his capacity as a "special master," a role that requires extrajudicial expertise and work with court-appointed experts, Judge Baime prepared the "Report to the New Jersey Supreme Court: Systemic Proportionality Review Project 2001-2002 Term." .

Judge Baime was assisted by statistical analysts David Weisburd, a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The University of Maryland, College Park, and Joseph Naus, a professor at Rutgers University. In an effort to provide the most accurate analysis possible, the monitoring system approved by the Court consists of three different statistical strategies: bivariate analyses, regression studies and case-sorting techniques. In order to establish systemic disproportionality, a defendant must relentlessly document the risk of racial disparity. This requires that the outcomes produced by the three modes of analysis substantially converge, or lead to the conclusion that racial discrimination plays a part in capital sentencing.

The three modes of analysis were applied to three separate decision points: death outcomes at penalty trials, death outcomes among all death-eligible cases, as determined by Judge Baime and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and advancement of death-eligible cases to penalty trials. Three identifiable groups--African-Americans, whites and Hispanics--were examined, and possible disparities in terms of the race or ethnicity of the defendant and the race or ethnicity of the victim were considered.

Study 5: Pro & Con: The Death Penalty in Black and White, by Dudley Sharp, 6/24/99.
stored at

I don't know about you, but when I get into a discussion about the death penalty, my first thoughts go to the victim and to the brutality of the murder. That is the foundation of the just nature of the death penalty.

Too often these days, however the death penalty is discussed in different terms. Inevitably, with the racial history of this country, the effect of race in the application of the death penalty has become a central part of the death-penalty discourse. This is particularly true as some politicians are making the case for a death-penalty moratorium, in part to consider whether the death penalty is inherently racist.

All too often, however, those arguments are spurious. In the death penalty debate, it should be the facts, and not the hype, that are in be black and white.

A closer look at the statistics

Often such discussion begins with the obvious: the race of the defendant. The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports that black murderers represent 35% of those executed, white murderers 56%. As the argument goes, this must be evidence of systemic racism, as blacks represent 12% of the population, whites 74%.

Fortunately, the United States does not execute people based on their population counts but on the murders they commit. As blacks represent 47% of murderers and whites 37%, we see that whites are twice as likely to be executed for committing murder as are their black counterparts.

Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that whites sentenced to death are executed 17 months more quickly than blacks. With 98% of all head prosecutors in the United States being white, according to DPIC, how is such a result possible? Maybe prosecutors, judges and juries are focusing on the crimes and not the race of the defendant.

That is not the case, say anti-death penalty groups, such as Amnesty International, and now the United Nations. If you adjust for the specific aggravating factors present within capital crimes, you find clear evidence of racism.

Death-penalty opponents note, for example, that the Supreme Court, in the famous race-based challenge to the death penalty (McCleskey v. Kemp), found in 1987 that those who murderer whites were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murder blacks, under similar circumstances.

David Baldus (3), who did the statistical study on McCleskey's behalf, also completed a recent study in Philadelphia where it is was reported to show that black murderers were four times more likely to receive a death sentence than white murderers. With such results, how can anyone dispute the racist application of the death penalty?

Quite easily.

The Supreme Court, as well as many others, confused odds with multiples. The data reflect odds of 4-to-1, not four times more likely.

What difference does it make?

In Baldus' Philadelphia (3) study, we find that if only 2% more white murderers had been sentenced to death and only 2.5% fewer black murderers had been sentenced to death, then each group would have been sentenced to death by juries at the same rate -- a far cry from the 300% difference stated within the incorrect interpretation of "four times"!

A punishment that fits the crimes

The next issue raised is the victim's race. While blacks and whites comprise about an equal number of murder victims, the ratio of white-to-black victims in death-penalty cases is about 7-to-1. This has given rise to the allegation that the "system" only cares about white murder victims. A horrible accusation, if true.

However, the ratio of white-to-black victims in the aggravated circumstances necessary for a capital murder conviction (rape, robbery, car-jacking, burglary, police murders, serial/multiple murders, etc.) is from 4-to-1 to 8-to-1 -- numbers consistent with the victim ratios on death row.

The final resting place for the racism charge lies within those cases where blacks have been executed for murdering whites and whites have been executed for murdering blacks. There have been 144 blacks and 10 whites executed under such circumstances, or a ratio of 14-to-1. As blacks are about 2.5 times more likely to murder whites than the other way around, there appears to be a huge disparity in such executions. Is racism the reason?

If we look at robbery, the aggravated crime found most often in capital cases, we find that when there is a robbery with injury, the ratio of black robber/white victims versus white robbers/black victims is 21-to-1.

Again, when looking at the circumstances consistent with capital crimes, we find no evidence of racial bias.

The determining factor for sentencing in death-penalty cases is what it should be -- the aggravating nature of the crimes. Both the Rand Corp. study of 1991 and the research presented by Smith College professors Stanley Rothman and Stephen Powers in 1994 confirm that finding. In other words, it appears that any racial variations present within the data are reflective of the crimes themselves and not racial bias within the system. A review of those studies, as well as of criminal-justice statistics, within the context of the aggravating circumstances present within capital murders and the related statutes, produces the same conclusion.

Don't assume the worst motives

There will always be some variables of race, ethnicity and class within any study of criminal-justice practices, and based on historic, as well as current prejudices, we can never lower our guard. Because all studies are subject to poor protocols, bias and misinterpretation, we must make reasoned judgments based on as many respected considerations as we may have at our disposal.

And even if criminal-justice statistics did not show the obvious correlation between crimes and the application of the death penalty, we should note what the Supreme Court stated in McCleskey: "Where the discretion that is fundamental to our criminal justice process is involved, we decline to assume that what is unexplained [by measured factors] is invidious." Sound ideas should not be eliminated based on misguided statistics.

In the case of the death penalty, the facts lead to only one conclusion. No moratorium is necessary.

Study 6: Death Penalty Opponents Distortions are the Real Story

"To properly protect the people in Baltimore City and other jurisdictions like it, we must restore public confidence in and support of capital punishment, so that prosecutors can seek it in appropriate cases, and jurors will impose it. The first step toward that end is to debunk the myth that capital punishment is imposed discriminatorily. The numbers are there, in the opponents's own studies, once we cut through the spin and look at the facts."

Smoke and Mirrors on Race and the Death Penalty, Kent Scheidegger, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, Engage Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 2, 10/2003

Study 7: Full Review Finds no Bias

"From 1976-1995, 5 white murderers have been put to death for the murder of black persons and 101 black murderers have been put to death for the murder of white persons (NAACP LDF, 1996). Opponents falsely contend that this is evidence of racism in the "system". That 101:5 ratio, or 20:1, is consistent with statistics that show aggravated crimes (those crimes committed with the murder which may make a crime eligible for the death penalty) are committed by blacks against whites in far greater numbers than by whites against blacks. For all violent crimes, there are ten times as many black offenders (2,016,939) involved in white victim violent crimes as there are white offenders (210,869) involved in black victim violent crimes, or a 10:1 ratio. (The State of Violent Crime in America, pg. 12,1/96, data derived from Criminal Victimization in the U.S., 1993, BJS forthcoming, tables 42 and 48. Multiple offenders were assumed to be two offenders for calculation purposes.) In addition, blacks are nearly three times as likely to murder whites (849), as whites are to murder blacks (304), or 3:1 (Sourcebook 1994, BJS 1995, table 3.123). IF murder rates are statistically consistent within the violent crime category, as McCleskey et al indicate, then blacks are, statistically, by a 30:1 (10:1 X 3:1) ratio, more likely to murder whites, than whites are to murder blacks, in those circumstances where an additional aggravating factor is present (see C2). These are those crimes most eligible for the death penalty. That statistically projected ratio of 30:1 is hardly inconsistent with the 20:1 ratio for black offender(s)/white victim vs white offender(s)/black victim executions. The most relevant aggravated crime is robbery with injury, wherein blacks are 21 times more likely to be involved in such crimes as are whites. This 21:1 ratio represents 1.4 million black offender(s)/white victim vs. 68,000 white offender(s)/black victim for robbery with injury crimes (JFA, using BJS, 1977-84 data). IF overall murder statistics are consistent, within this crime category, as McCleskey et al suggests, then there is a 30-60:1 ratio of black on white vs white on black murders within this robbery/murder category. (From 1977-1984)."

Excerpt from "C. RACE, SENTENCING AND THE DEATH PENALTY", paragraph No. 5., DEATH PENALTY AND SENTENCING INFORMATION In the United States, 10/1/97, by Dudley Sharp,


You cannot remove all bias from human endeavors.

The weight of the evidence is that there is no systemic racial/ethnic bias within the modern US death penalty. Police, prosecutors, judges and jurors, overwhelmingly, are honorable folks, working to do the right thing in any given case.

The death penalty has the most extensive due process protections, meaning they have the most thorough reviews, inclusive of bias, in the pre trial, trial and appellate reviews.

With so few death sentences, over such a long period of time, statistical variances are, often, the result of very small numerical or percentage comparisons, which cannot and do not establish racial or ethnic bias or are the result of very poor studies, as Baldus' in McCleskey.



1) Executive Summary: An Empirical Analysis of Maryland's Death Sentencing System with Respect to the Influence of Race and Legal Jurisdiction,

2) Minority Report, well hidden, between pages 128 and 129 (see p 8-12), part of Final Report to the General Assembly, Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, 12/12/08

3) I am, particularly, wary of David Baldus' works or anyone who refers, approvingly, of his work. See Joseph Katz' deconstruction of Baldus' work for McCleskey, as well as:

"The Math Behind Race, Crime and Sentencing Statistics"
John Allen Paulos, Los Angeles Times, 7/12/98


"The Odds of Execution" within "How numbers are tricking you
Arnold Barnett, MIT Technology Review October, 1994


Anti death penalty arguments are either false or the pro death penalty arguments are stronger.

The Innocents Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy

A review of the debate
99.7% of murderers tell us "Give me life, not execution"

Saving Costs with The Death Penalty


"The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge"
Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims

copyright 1998-2013 Dudley Sharp Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Death Penalty Polls - Support Remains Very High - 80%

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
April, 2009

When polls correctly ask about true capital, death penalty eligible murders, support is around 80%.

Most familiar polls wrongly ask a variation of "Do you support the death penalty for murder?", usually getting replies in the 60-75% range.

However, in the US, the death penalty is only allowed for those who commit capital murders. Therefore, all polls, which only refer to murders are irrelevant when asking about death penalty support.

Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe.

Death penalty support for relevant capital, death penalty eligible murders

81% of the American people supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh, with only 16% opposed. "(T)his view appears to be the consensus of all major groups in society, including men, women, whites, nonwhites, "liberals" and "conservatives." (Gallup 5/2/01).

85% of Connecticut respondents voiced support for serial/rapist murderer Michael Ross' "voluntary" execution. (Quinnipiac University Poll, January 12, 2005). This is the best example of a death penalty poll I have seen, regarding how polling results change, based upon the way a question is asked.

79% support the death penalty for terrorists (Survey USA News Poll #12074, Sponsor: WABC-TV New York, 4/26/2007 New York State poll)

"78% of (Nebraska's) 3,232 respondents said they supported the death penalty for “heinous crimes.” 16% opposed. ". . . a nearly identical number (76%) said they opposed legislation that would abolish the death penalty. ("Survey Shows Statewide Support for Death Penalty", MPB Public Affairs Poll, 2/14/08)

73% of Connecticut voters support the death penalty for the two parolees accused of the Cheshire (Ct) home invasion rape/murders of a mother and her two daughters. While 63% of Connecticut voters support the death penalty for murderers, in general, AT THE SAME TIME. ("Connecticut Voters Support Death Penalty 2-1", Quinnipiac University Poll, 11/7/07). NOTE: Support is actually greater than 3 to 1. The poll showed 73% for execution, 23% opposed, for those parolees. It was 63-27% for the general question.

82% of those in the US favored of executing Saddam Hussein (French daily Le Monde, 12/2006{1}), also in
Great Britain: 69%
France: 58%
Germany: 53%
Spain: 51%
Italy: 46%

We are led to believe there isn't death penalty support in England or Europe. European governments won't allow executions when their populations support it: they're anti democratic. (2)

Why is the "error rate" so large between the general murder question and specific, death penalty eligible murders?

Likely, it is due to several factors:
(1) the reluctance of some respondents to voice stronger support for the death penalty, unless specific examples of murderers and their crimes are provided. All of the above polls reflect that.;
(2) the widespread media coverage of anti death penalty claims, without the balance of contradicting those false claims, producing lower general support (The 130 death row "innocents" scam is a perfect example); and
(3) the absence of that influence from (2) when looking at individual cases, when the public knows the crimes, the guilt of the murderer and absent the anti death penalty bias factor, thus producing much higher specific case support, also reflected in the polls, above.

Death Penalty Opposition? Look Again.

Significant percentages of those who say the oppose the death penalty, in general, do, in fact, support that sanction for truly death eligible crimes. This provides firm evidence that death penalty support is much wider and deeper than expressed with the answers to the general and improper death penalty polling questions.

57% of those who say they oppose the death penalty, generally, actually do support it for McVeigh's execution (81% supported the execution of McVeigh, 16% opposed (Gallup 5/02/01), while 65% offer general support for executions for "murder", with 28% opposed (Gallup, 6/10/01). The polls were conducted at nearly the same time.

40% who say they oppose the death penalty, generally, actually do support it for terrorists. (79% support and 18% oppose the death penalty for terrorists. 67% support and 29% oppose the death penalty for "murder".) (SAME POLL - Survey USA News Poll #12074, Sponsor: WABC-TV New York, 4/26/2007 New York State poll)

84% of those who, generally, say they oppose the death penalty, in general, actual did support it for Michael Ross. (SAME POLL - 85% say Connecticut serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross should be allowed to waive appeals and be executed. When asked whether they favor or oppose the death penalty, 59% favor - 31% oppose (Quinnipiac University Poll, January 12, 2005).

NOTE: The percentages will likely have a range of change, instead of a specific percentage, because there would be a transfer of points, not just from those opposing, under the general question, but from the undecided" or "did not answer" group, as well, into the supportive group for specific murders.

Distortion: Death Penalty vs Life Without Parole Polls

When responding to this question: “If you could choose between the following two approaches, which do you think is the better penalty for murder: the death penalty (or) life imprisonment, with absolutely no possibility of parole?”, Gallup found:

47% for the death penalty, 48% for life without parole, (Gallup, May 2006).

Some, including Gallup and Quinnipiac, speculate that this represents lower support for the death penalty. Such improper and inaccurate speculation cannot be justified and is an unethical use of pollsters' opinion.

First error: Neither respondent group is saying do away with the other sanction or that they oppose the other sanction. What it does mean is that 95% of US citizens support the death penalty and/or life without parole for murderers. It could also mean that 90% of all respondents support both sanctions, particularly when properly using capital murders.

For example, "Which do you think is better - vanilla ice cream or chocolate ice cream?" 50% prefer chocolate, 45% vanilla. However, 92% actually like both vanilla and chocolate ice cream - with a slightly lower percentage liking vanilla, marginally less. 99% of respondents don't want either ice cream banned. 1% were undecided.

Second error: This polling question is highly prejudicial, which wrongly influences the answers. This has become commonplace.

"Absolutely" no possibility of parole (release) doesn't exist.

What is absolute is that the executive branch can reduce sentences and the legislature can change the laws and make them retroactive, if it benefits the criminal, thereby offering two avenues for parole in "absolutely" no-parole cases.

Therefore, the polling question offers a false premise which, obviously, distorts the answers. Gallup has been made aware of this for some time.

Third error: By law and in the context of the death penalty, it cannot be a choice of either only a death sentence or only a life sentence, as Gallup wrongly poses. Constitutionally, the death penalty cannot be mandatory. Therefore, at least two sentencing options must always be provided to jurors in a death penalty eligible case.

Therefore, the polling question begins with 3 false premises, all of which wrongly effect the poll.

Gallup did not ask this misleading question in 2007, 2008 or 2009. I hope they did so because of theses error issues and will not resume it.

Fourth error: Inexcusably, Gallup wrongly continues to mention the previous results of this highly misleading poll.

If you are searching for a true life vs death penalty choice, the poll question should be in the context of true death penalty eligible murders, such as:

For the rape and murder of children do you prefer the punishment options of
1) Life without parole, excluding, in all cases, the death penalty? or
2) Giving the jury the option of selecting either the death penalty or life without parole?

This has the benefit of reflecting reality, as opposed to the distorted fiction of Gallup's (and others') current life sentence vs death penalty polling. The death penalty cannot be a punishment option, without also having life or other options and the death penalty is case specific to capital murders.


Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe, with significant percentages of those who say they, generally, oppose the death penalty, actually supporting it when it is a true death eligible crime.

There is 82% death penalty support in the US, as recently as December 2006. Even one of the most liberal US states, Connecticut, has shown very strong support for specific, death eligible case executions - 85% (2005), 73% (2007).

95% of US citizens support the death penalty and/or life without parole for murderers. Therefore, we already have the most democratic approach - we give jurors and judges the choice between those two sentences in capital eligible cases.

Copyright 2005-2009, Dudley Sharp, Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or part, is approved, with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites

essays (Sweden)

(1) The recent results of a poll conducted by Novatris/Harris for the French daily Le Monde on the death penalty shocked the editors and writers at Germany's left-leaning SPIEGEL ONLINE (Dec. 22, 2006). When asked whether they favored the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, a majority of respondents in Germany, France and Spain responded in the affirmative.

(2)An excellent article, “Death in Venice: Europe’s Death-penalty Elitism", details this anti democratic position (The New Republic, by Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/31/2000). Another situation reflects this same mentality. "(Pres. Mandela says 'no' to reinstating the death penalty in South Africa - Nelson Mandela against death penalty though 93% of public favors it, according to poll. "(JET, 10/14/96). Pres. Mandela explained that ". . . it was necessary to inform the people about other strategies the government was using to combat crime." As if the people didn't understand. South Africa has had some of the highest crime rates in the world in the ten years, since Mandela's comments. "The number of murders committed each year in the country is as high as 47,000, according to Interpol statistics." As of 2006, 72% of South Africans want the death penalty back. ("South Africans Support Death Penalty", 5/14/2006, Angus Reid Global Monitor : Polls & Research

NOTE: Some recent polls - with no mention of specific crimes.

97%+ of Guatemalans support the death penalty. 2.6% oppose
(telephone survey, newspaper Prensa Libre, 2/14/08)

79% support the resumption of hanging in Jamaica. 16% oppose. (Bill Johnson Polling for The Gleaner (Jamaica) Newspaper, 1/12-13/08

Two-thirds of Czechs for death penalty reintroduction - poll
Prague- Almost two-thirds of Czechs believe that death penalty should exist in the Czech Republic, while one-third believes the opposite, according to a poll the CVVM agency conducted in May and released. June 12, 2008,

Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Death Penalty Support: Modern Catholic Scholars

Death Penalty Support: Modern Catholic Scholars
Dudley Sharp, contact info below

There are thoughtful writings on both sides of this debate, but the pro death penalty side is stronger.

Even today, a Catholic in good standing can call for more executions, if their prudential judgement finds for that.

NOTE: Additional secular and additional Christian essays, are linked or referenced, below.

1) Avery Cardinal Dulles:

This recently deceased US Cardinal, in one of his final interviews (2006, published 2008), states that he thought the Church may return to a "more traditional posture" on the death penalty (and just war).

"Recent popes, Dulles conceded, beginning with John XXIIII, seem to have taken quasi-abolitionist positions on both matters. Yet used sparingly and with safeguards to protect the interests of justice, Dulles argued, both the death penalty and war have, over the centuries, been recognized by the church as legitimate, sometimes even obligatory, exercises of state power. The momentum of "internal solidification," he said, may lead to some reconsideration of these social teachings." (1)

Based upon the strength of the Catholic biblical, theological and traditional support for the death penalty as, partially, revealed, below, I think the Church will have to.

2) Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., considered one of the most prominent Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century.

"There are certain moral norms that have always and everywhere been held by the successors of the Apostles in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Although never formally defined, they are irreversibly binding on the followers of Christ until the end of the world." "Such moral truths are the grave sinfulness of contraception and direct abortion. Such, too, is the Catholic doctrine which defends the imposition of the death penalty." (2)

"Most of the Church's teaching, especially in the moral order, is infallible doctrine because it belongs to what we call her ordinary universal magisterium." (2)

"Equally important is the Pope's (Pius XII) insistence that capital punishment is morally defensible in every age and culture of Christianity." " . . . the Church's teaching on 'the coercive power of legitimate human authority' is based on 'the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine.' It is wrong, therefore 'to say that these sources only contain ideas which are conditioned by historical circumstances.' On the contrary, they have 'a general and abiding validity.' (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1955, pp 81-2)." (2)

3) Romano Amerio, a faithful Catholic Vatican insider, scholar, professor at the Academy of Lugano, consultant to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, and a peritus (expert theologian) at the Council.

"The most irreligious aspect of this argument against capital punishment is that it denies its expiatory value which, from a religious point of view, is of the highest importance because it can include a final consent to give up the greatest of all worldly goods. This fits exactly with St. Thomas’s opinion that as well as canceling out any debt that the criminal owes to civil society, capital punishment can cancel all punishment due in the life to come. His thought is . . . Summa, 'Even death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment due for those crimes in the next life, or a least part of that punishment, according to the quantities of guilt, resignation and contrition; but a natural death does not.' The moral importance of wanting to make expiation also explains the indefatigable efforts of the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist Beheaded, the members of which used to accompany men to their deaths, all the while suggesting, begging and providing help to get them to repent and accept their deaths, so ensuring that they would die in the grace of God, as the saying went." (3)

Some opposing capital punishment " . . . go on to assert that a life should not be ended because that would remove the possibility of making expiation, is to ignore the great truth that capital punishment is itself expiatory. In a humanistic religion expiation would of course be primarily the converting of a man to other men. On that view, time is needed to effect a reformation, and the time available should not be shortened. In God’s religion, on the other hand, expiation is primarily a recognition of the divine majesty and lordship, which can be and should be recognized at every moment, in accordance with the principle of the concentration of one’s moral life." (3)

Some death penalty opponents "deny the expiatory value of death; death which has the highest expiatory value possible among natural things, precisely because life is the highest good among the relative goods of this world; and it is by consenting to sacrifice that life, that the fullest expiation can be made. And again, the expiation that the innocent Christ made for the sins of mankind was itself effected through his being condemned to death." (3)


Related Topics

The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

Saint (& Pope) Pius V, "The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder." "The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent" (1566).
Pope Pius XII: "When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live." 9/14/52.

Jesus and the Death Penalty

The Catechism and the Death Penalty


4) "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at

5) John Stuart Mill, speech on the death penalty

6) Pope John Paul II: Prudential Judgement and the death penalty

7) "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective", by Br. Augustine (Emmanuel Valenza)

8) "The Right of Punishing", Immanuel Kant,

9) "Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says", Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Abingdon Press, 1987. The definitive biblical review of the death penalty.

see approved synopsis, paragraph numbered 30, within


All interpretations, contrary to the biblical support of capital punishment, are false.  Interpreters ought to listen to the Bible's own agenda, rather than to squeeze from it implications for their own agenda. As the ancient rabbis taught, "Do not seek to be more righteous than your Creator.'  (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33.).

Listen carefully to the Bible as the Word of God rather than seek to improve upon it by means of human values. However meritorious mercy may be, however abundantly evident it may be in God's own dealings, murder was an offense for which mercy and pity were not allowed and for which monetary compensation was strictly forbidden. The sentence is set by God's torah and a judge cannot have discretion in this matter. Murder is something utterly on its own, nothing can be compared to it.

10) "What Do Murderers Deserve?" by David Gelernter (unabomber victim & Yale U. Computer Professor), Commentary Magazine, April 1998
Reprint, Utne Reader, March/April 1999,

NOTE Gelernter ERROR: Karla Faye Tucker did not, voluntarily, end her appeals

11) "Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice", Prof. J. Budziszewski, First Things, August / September 2004 found at

12) "Defending Capital Punishment" by William Gairdner

13) "Why I Support Capital Punishment", by Andrew Tallman, sections 1-6 secular review, sections 7-11 biblical review,

14) "THE ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT: A DEFENSE", Ernest van den Haag, Harvard Law Review, 1986

15) "The Death Penalty", by Solange Strong Hertz at

16) "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).

17) "God’s Justice and Ours" by US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, First Things, 5/2002

18) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003

19) Chapter V:The Sanctity of Life, "Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics" By John Murray, 1991 (first published 1957) by Wm. B. Eerdmans



22) Forgotten Truths: "Is The Church Against Abortion and The Death Penalty" Luiz Sergio Solimeo, Crusade Magazine, p14-16, May/June 2007

23) "Just Violence: An Aristotelian Justification of Capital Punishment"

Personal Note: I support the death penalty because it is a just and deserved sanction - the same foundation as for all legal sanctions. Secondarily, the death penalty is a greater protector of innocent lives. The moral difference between those who oppose or support capital punishment is that one finds it morally wrong, the other morally correct, respectively. Do we execute because we value life? Societies imprison criminals because we value freedom so much. A sanction is only a sanction when we take away that which is valued.


The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter?


Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims


1) "An unpublished interview with Avery Dulles", All Things Catholic by John L. Allen, Jr.,, Posted on Dec 19, 2008, at  

2) "Capital Punishment: New Testament Teaching", Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., 1998

3) "Amerio on capital punishment ", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007 ,

about Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

about Romano Amerio

copyright 2006-2013, Dudley Sharp
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Dudley Sharp,