Does the death penalty constitute "cruel and unusual" punishment?
2014 has been an extraordinary year for America’s death penalty. From the near miss abolition in New Hampshire to a California judge declaring the state’s death penalty unconstitutional; from a series of high profile botched executions to the April publication of a study estimating that 340 people may have been put to death unjustly since 1973 (a study, tellingly followed by the exoneration of two death row inmates)—capital punishment has been very much in the headlines. President Obama has even acknowledged that “In the application of the death penalty in this country, we have seen significant problems—racial bias, uneven application of the death penalty, you know, situations in which there were individuals on death row who later on were discovered to have been innocent because of exculpatory evidence. And all these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied.”
Comments like those of the president, headlines like the ones we’ve seen this year, indicate the turmoil that has come to surround the death penalty. Of late it seems the conversation about capital punishment has taken a sharply different direction. More and more Americans seem to be asking not what the death penalty does for us but rather what the death penalty is doing to us and to some of our most cherished values.