By The Vanguard Staff
WASHINGTON, DC – Fifty-six elected prosecutors from 26 states, territories and the District of Columbia issued a statement urging the end to the death penalty nationwide, pledging to not seek capital punishment for people with intellectual disabilities and other cognitive challenges.
Among the bi-partisan signors were California prosecutors Chesa Boudin, District Attorney, City and County of San Francisco, CA; Jeff Rosen, District Attorney, Santa Clara County, CA and George Gascón, District Attorney, Los Angeles County, CA.
“The death penalty is an archaic and failed institution that fails to provide any benefit to public safety, is rooted in racism and too often punishes the innocent. That we continue to put people with intellectual disabilities to death 20 years after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional is further proof of this deeply broken system,” said Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution, the organizer of the joint statement, and a former federal prosecutor.
“Elected prosecutors have an obligation to pursue justice, yet the injustices of capital punishment are clear.
It’s long past time to end the death penalty, once and for all,” Krinsky added, noting that the prosecutors included those in 11 states where the death penalty is still authorized by law.
Krinsky said the joint statement is consistent with new polling from Justice Research Group and Data for Progress showing wide bipartisan opposition to death sentences for people with cognitive challenges.
The death penalty does not target the “worst of the worst, but rather the unluckiest of the unluckiest,” according to the statement.
The prosecutors noted that the “unluckiest” include “those with serious mental illnesses and traumatic brain injuries, people who experienced unthinkable traumas as children, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and individuals whose lawyers failed to adequately represent them and uncover histories of illness and trauma.”
The prosecutors maintain they also favor overturning “existing unjust death sentences, including those with colorable claims of innocence, racial bias, egregiously inadequate or negligent defense counsel, discovery violations or other misconduct.”
The prosecutors noted that the new polling indicates major “public support for ending many of the injustices of capital punishment. Sixty-three percent of likely voters polled – including 59 percent of Republicans – oppose seeking death sentences for people with a traumatic brain injury, and 60 percent – including 55 percent of Republicans – oppose death sentences for people with a diagnosed mental illness.”
Voters also, according to the group’s statement, suggested they support local prosecutors who seek commutations for vulnerable and intellectually disabled people already sentenced to die.
“The United States remains an international outlier on capital punishment, as it was one of only 18 countries and the only Western democracy to use the death penalty in 2020,” argued the statement, adding, “Not only do we continue to separate ourselves from our peer nations by imposing the death penalty, but we do so in a way that is — on a national scale — arbitrary and capricious.”
The statement also stressed the “racial disparities inherent in capital punishment and the significant danger of executing an innocent person. People of color have accounted for a disproportionate 43 percent of executions in the United States since 1976, and 58 percent of defendants currently awaiting execution are people of color.”
“As an elected prosecutor, I have an obligation to pursue justice and there is no justice found in capital punishment,” said Nueces County, Texas District Attorney Mark Gonzalez.
Gonzalez added, “The evidence is overwhelming that the death penalty is arbitrarily applied, rife with racial disparities and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Accountability is possible without putting people to death. We must come together as a country to find a way to end capital punishment once and for all.”
At least 186 people have been exonerated from death row over the past 50 years and over four percent of death row inmates are estimated to be innocent, the statement noted.
Among signatories to the statement are five Attorneys General, and elected prosecutors from states where the death penalty has been carried out over the past three years – including Dallas County, Texas District Attorney John Creuzot, Travis County (Austin); Texas District Attorney José Garza, Western Judicial Circuit, GA; District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, Nueces County;
Texas District Attorney Mark Gonzalez; Hinds County, Miss. District Attorney Jody Owens and Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren.