New survey shows a majority of Americans favor life without parole instead of the death penalty

This new survey marks an important and historic shift for all of us concerned about justice and wrongful convictions.  The death penalty alone can serve as a powerful incentive to plead guilty when confronted by strong circumstantial evidence, in the hope that one can at least live and hope that the truth will emerge, rather than being put to death.  And replacing the death penalty can help us avoid putting innocent persons to death, of course.

The growing public awareness of wrongful convictions, the highly publicized cases involving exonerations of those serving long terms in prison, the publicity surrounding the use of DNA, and the continuing efforts of innocence projects around the nation, as well as the Wrongful Convictions Blog, have all helped contribute to the changing public perceptions and opinions.

Here is a summary of the survey, along with a link to the full story:

A slight majority of Americans favor life imprisonment without parole over the death penalty for convicted murderers, a first in ABC News/Washington Post polls. Given a choice between the two options, 52 percent pick life in prison as the preferred punishment, while 42 percent favor the death penalty, the fewest in polls during the last 15 years. The result comes after a botched execution by lethal injection in Oklahoma in April.

Without an alternative offered, 61 percent continue to support the death penalty, matching 2007 as the lowest in polls back to the early 1980s. That’s down sharply from 80 percent in 1994, during the period of the highest crime totals reported nationally. Support for the death penalty is higher in the 32 states that have it, 64 percent, vs. 54 percent elsewhere. This survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, measures views on the death penalty in general. Previous polling has shown that attitudes on capital punishment can vary widely depending on the nature and circumstances of the crime.


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