While seeking to sugarcoat their positions, six of the nine candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are for the death penalty. Only Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, and Carol Moseley Braun are in outright opposition. Here’s the way each one comes down on the issue:
Wesley Clark has serious doubts about how it is being used. He would support mandatory review of all death penalty sentences. “I’ll tell you, I’m uneasy about the death penalty,” Clark said answering a question recently in Arkansas. “A government like the United States has the right to, in extraordinary cases, take the life of a criminal, but I don’t like the way the death penalty has been applied in America,” Clark said. “I think it’s been applied in an unfair and discriminatory fashion and I think we need to go back and use modern technology and unpack all those cases on death row.”
Howard Dean is in favor of capital punishment only for extreme and heinous crimes, “such as terrorism or the killing of police officers or young children.” But it must be carried out with scrupulous fairness. “As President I would promptly instruct my Attorney General to evaluate the federal death penalty system, push for passage of the federal Innocence Protection Act to strengthen protections against unjust imposition of the death penalty, establish a Presidential Commission on the Administration of Capital Punishment to analyze the causes of wrongful convictions around the country, and recommend additional reforms at the federal and state level.”
John Edwards: Discussing Eric Rudolph in a June interview, Edwards said, “But I do generally support the death penalty. I think there are some crimes that deserve the ultimate punishment. I do think we have work to do in making sure—I’ve worked on this in the Senate—in making sure that defendants in death penalty cases have strong and adequate representation of counsel, that they have access to testing, including DNA testing, and that we ensure the judicial process be fair. In fact, I’ve co-sponsored legislation in the Senate that would deal with all those issues….”
Dennis Kucinich is against the death penalty. “The imposition of the death penalty is both racially and economically biased. African American defendants are more likely to receive death sentences than others who committed similar crimes. Ninety-eight percent of all defendants sentenced to death could not afford their own attorney.”
Dick Gephardt: In 1996 Gephardt voted against making it easier for death row prisoners to appeal, and he came down against giving criminals life imprisonment instead of killing them.
Al Sharpton: “I’m the only candidate who is historically against the death penalty.” After viewing one Texas execution, Sharpton said of then governor George W. Bush: “[He] stood before the cameras and said, ‘This was a great day for justice.’ Justice? How do we celebrate killing people?”
John Kerry says he favors life imprisonment over the death penalty, though he advocates the execution of terrorists. Interviewed on Meet the Press last February, Kerry told host Tim Russert that he advocates a moratorium on the death penalty, but that in the end it’s up to the states to decide: “It’s fought state for state by state prosecutors. That’s where it’s done. And I would honor, obviously, the laws of those states, and that’s the way we should proceed.”
Joe Lieberman: In 2000, the Connecticut senator said, “The liberal, criminal rights-oriented theories I took with me from law school ran smack into the reality of violent crime and street crime in my Hew Haven neighborhood. I knew people who were victims of violent crime and muggings; my house was broken into twice. Fear of crime was constricting freedom and stifling growth. So I began to propose tougher criminal laws, including the death penalty, and to focus more on victims’ rights and expedited criminal procedures.” In 1996 he voted in favor of making it harder to appeal the death penalty in terrorism cases. In the early ’90s he voted against letting prisoners argue racial discrimination in death-penalty appeals, and he supported legislation that allows the death penalty for crimes committed when an individual is under 18.
Carol Moseley Braun is against the death penalty. “It is an oxymoron to say criminal justice with the system we have today…. It is not an appropriate exercise of governmental power.”
Research: Alicia Ng