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Americans Still Favor the Death Penalty

Maryland Gov. Paris Glendening’s recent decision to impose a moratorium on executions in his state shows that the debate over the death penalty remains strong.

The state of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Illinois has had a moratorium in place since 2000 and is looking at ways to “overhaul” its death penalty system. Nine death penalty states currently have legislation pending that would impose moratoria on executions, according to Human Rights Watch. And the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule on the constitutionality of executing mentally retarded defendants.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Have these recent decisions affected Americans’ view of the death penalty? According to a May Gallup poll they have.
Not only is support for the death penalty higher than in recent years, but just over half of Americans (53 percent) believe the death penalty is applied fairly, Gallup reported. Forty percent said the death penalty is not applied fairly.
Last year, 68 percent of Americans favored the death penalty for people convicted of murder.
The May 2002 numbers show that 72 percent of Americans supported the death penalty, while only 25 percent opposed it.
When those polled were given the choice between execution or life imprisonment, 52 percent would still choose the death penalty, while 43 percent favored life in prison.
Americans are willing to exempt certain groups from executions, according to the poll. Eighty-two percent opposed the use of the death penalty for the mentally retarded and 75 percent opposed the death penalty for the mentally ill. Also, the majority of Americans (69 percent) opposed the death penalty for juveniles.
Support for executing women at 68 percent is only slightly lower than it is for the death penalty overall (72 percent).