Thursday December 1, 2005

1,000 and Counting

Political science professor Jefferson Ingram says the death penalty is in the hands of society's evolving standards of decency. Ingram said if the court got the impression that society was overwhelmingly against the death penalty, he thinks it would be overturned quickly.

University of Dayton political science professor Jefferson Ingram doesn't see much sway in criminal behavior or public opinion regarding the death penalty on the eve of the nation's 1,000th execution since the penalty was reinstituted in 1976.

Kenneth Lee Boyd is scheduled to die at 2 a.m. Friday, Dec. 2, by lethal injection in North Carolina.

"I don't see No. 1,000 as any sort of tipping point for public outcry," said Ingram, who studies criminal procedure, death penalty issues, civil liberties and criminal law. "The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that society's evolving standards will be the mover on such cases. If the court got the impression that society was overwhelmingly against the death penalty, I think it would be overturned quickly. I don't think we are anywhere near that."

Ingram said the risk of erroneous executions, racial disparities or the methods of delivering capital punishment does not deter the public's general approval of the punishment just as the penalty doesn't seem to deter some criminals.

Most of the recent challenges to the death penalty have involved how the penalty can be administered and to whom, according to Ingram.

"Litigants have contended lethal injection violated the cruel and unusual portion of the Eighth Amendment because some might experience pain but are not able to communicate that it is occurring," said Ingram, who also teaches criminal justice courses at UD. "This type of argument has never found favor with the courts, and lethal injection has become the most popular method of ending a capital convict's life."

Other cases prohibited the use of capital punishment for anyone under the age of 18 or those who are mentally retarded.

"In both Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 and Roper v. Simmons in 2005, the court concluded that American society had evolved to the point that executing the young or mentally retarded was no longer appropriate under the Eighth Amendment," said Ingram, who studied the Simmons case.

Most of the cases immediately following the re-institution of the death penalty resolved its major issues, according to Ingram. Those cases concluded the penalty cannot be imposed in a totally arbitrary manner and rejected the use of a mandatory death penalty for anyone convicted of a capital murder.

"Discretion was required because all murderers were not similarly situated, and all deserved individual consideration of their circumstances," Ingram said. "Lockett v. Ohio in 1978 determined that convicted capital defendants could be permitted to bring almost any mitigating evidence before a sentencing jury and could not be restricted to narrow statutory categories of mitigating evidence."

For media interviews, contact Shawn Robinson at (937) 229-3391.