Death Penalty - Other Countries

Pope Francis has officially changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church this month to condemn capital punishment as “inadmissible” and that the Church will work for “its abolition worldwide.”

The Pope has announced a major change in the position of the Catholic Church to the death penalty.  The Catholic Catechism has been formally amended.  From the August 2, 2018 Vatican Press Release, here is the translation provided from Rome:

Traduzione in lingua inglese

The death penalty

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

What is the Catechism?

From USCatholic.org, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is explained as a reference for all Catholic doctrine published by Pope John Paul II in 1992 as part of the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  Historically, the compilation goes back to 1566 when the first Roman Catechism was published as a result of the Council of Trent.  For details, visit the site as it discusses the history of the Catechism, including various national catechisms (for example, the 2006 United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (USCCA)).

Read the complete text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, translated into English, at the Vatican’s site. 

This Corresponds to Pope Francis’ Previous Statements Regarding the Death Penalty

The amendment is not a huge surprise.  Pope Francis has been vocal about his position on the death penalty before.  As an example, Sister Helen Prejean shares Pope Francis’ statements before the International Association of Criminal Law, here is the [translated] excerpt dealing with the death penalty:

I. In regard to the primacy of life and the dignity of the human person. Primatus principii pro homine

a) In regard to the Death Penalty

It is impossible to think that today States do not have at their disposal means other than capital punishment to defend the life of other persons from unjust aggression.

Saint John Paul II condemned the death penalty (cf. Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, 56), as does also the Catechism of the Catholic Church (N. 2267).

However, it can be verified that States take life not only with the death penalty and with wars, but also when public officials take refuge in the shadow of State powers to justify their crimes. The so-called extra-judicial or extra-legal executions are deliberate homicides committed by some States and their agents, often making it appear as clashes with delinquents or presented as the undesired consequence of a reasonable, necessary and proportional use of force to have the law applied. In this way, even if among the 60 countries that keep the death penalty, 35 have not applied it in the last [ten] years, the death penalty is applied, illegally and in different degrees, across the whole planet.

The same extra-judicial executions are perpetrated in a systematic way not only by States of the International Community, but also by entities not recognized as such, and they represent genuine crimes.

The arguments opposed to the death penalty are many and well known. The Church stressed some of them opportunely, such as the possibility of the existence of judicial error and the use that totalitarian and dictatorial regimes make of it, which use it as an instrument of suppression of political dissidence or of persecution of religious and cultural minorities, all victims that, for their respective legislations, are “delinquents.”

Therefore, all Christians and men of good will are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also in order to improve the prison conditions, in respect of the human dignity of the persons deprived of freedom. And I link this with a life sentence. In the Vatican, since a short time ago, there is no longer a life sentence in the Penal Code. A life sentence is a hidden death sentence.

Catholic Theologians Discuss What This Means to Capital Punishment

From the Catholic News Agency comes an excellent piece written by Ed Condon and entitled “Pope Francis and the death penalty: a change in doctrine or circumstances?”  In the article, Condon delves into the confusion some may have regarding whether or not this announcement is “the development of doctrine”or if it is an outright change in position on the issue of the death penalty.  Several respected theologians debate the issue.

Meanwhile, in the Catholic World Report comes an article by entitled “Why the Church Cannot Reverse Past Teaching on Capital Punishment.”  It delves into the power of Pope Francis “… to change the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that it will “absolutely” forbid capital punishment [because] … Does Catholic doctrine permit a pope to make such a change? It very clearly does not,” pointing to teachings of both the First Vatican Council and the Second Vatican Council.

Finally, there is an op-ed by Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, columnist for Religion News Service and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, published on August 7, 2018 by the National Catholic Reporter and entitled “Pope Francis pushes Catholics to actively oppose the death penalty.

Reese looks at the practicalities facing Bishops in the United States now that the Catechism has been officially amended, given that statistics show that the majority of Americans are in favor of the death penalty (emphasis added):

The U.S. bishops will now add opposition to the death penalty to their other lobbying issues. This list already includes controversial positions such as their support for comprehensive immigration reform, universal health care and programs to help the poor and their opposition to the Muslim ban, abortion and gay marriage.

Just as some Catholic politicians have parted from the bishops on these issues, there will certainly be some who oppose the bishops’ call for eliminating the death penalty. One of the things I like about the bishops is that they make both political parties uncomfortable.

As long as the discussion of the death penalty is conducted in the abstract, it can remain rather academic. But once it becomes focused on an individual criminal, passions will flare up. If the criminal is a serial killer, a rapist-murderer or someone who has shot schoolchildren, the bishops’ call for clemency will meet fierce opposition.

In the past, some bishops have opposed the execution of specific criminals in their states and called on governors to commute their sentences to life imprisonment. Now we can expect all the bishops to join in these efforts, and we can also expect vocal opposition. This is a fight the bishops will not win unless their people join them.

 

Will This End Prosecutors Seeking the Death Penalty?  No.

This news from Rome will not stop prosecutors across the United States, as well as the rest of the world, from seeking the death penalty.  For the position of the prosecutor on Pope Francis’ amendment to the Catholic Catechism, read “Prosecutor disagrees with Pope Francis’s death penalty ruling,” where Ohio’s Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters explains the prosecutorial stance.

As for what it will mean for individual jurors, and jury selection, that is a different and difficult issue.  Will prosecutors try and find ways to keep Catholics off their juries?  What do you think?

 

Amnesty International has released its annual report on the status of capital punishment around the world.  Entitled "Amnesty International Global Report: Death Sentences and Executions 2017," you can read it online in its pdf format.  

2017 Report: Numbers Have to Be Higher than Reported

The 48-page report covers "the judicial use of the death penalty" as best it can.  As we’ve discussed earlier, some countries — like China — consider state executions to be "state secrets" and there is no way to confirm the number of death penalty sentences carried out by these governments.

For more on how scary this can be, read about the China Death Vans in a series of posts published here several years ago, written by Lenamon Law legal intern Sin-Ting Mary Liu

Other countries may not keep track.  Some may have a tally but may not want to share their numbers with outside organizations (e.g., North Korea).

 Amnesty International acknowledges these limitations as part of its report.  With the information and data it was able to obtain and verify, there is much to learn and consider.

Death Penalty in the United States: 2017

Among those statistics are the following that pertain to executions and death sentences in the United States during the past year:

1.  The United States is the only country in North, Central, or South America that carried out executions in 2017. This has been true for the past nine years. 

2.  There were 23 executions in the United States in 2017,  

3.  Forty-one (41) defendants were sentenced to death in the United States last year.

4. More states are carrying out executions.  In 2017, eight (8) states executed people:  

5.  Fifteen states had defendants sentenced to death during the past year. 

.For more, watch:

 

 

 Amnesty International has released its annual report on capital punishment around the world.  How does the United States fare in comparison to countries like China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia?  

Death Penalty in the USA Compared to Other Nations

From their report:

For the first time since 2006, and only the second time since 1991, the USA is not among the world’s five biggest executioners.

The number of executions (20) in 2016 reached the lowest level recorded in any year since 1991, half what it was in 1996, and almost five times lower than in 1999. The number of executions has fallen every year since 2009, except 2012 when it stayed the same).

For more detailed information, read the full report as a downloadable pdf here.

 

 

Amnesty International has released its latest study of the death penalty worldwide. A particular concern: China and its continued secret executions.

China’s Death Penalty

We discussed the China Death Penalty (with the Death Penalty Vans) in a series of earlier posts written by Sin-Ting Mary Liu. 

See, e.g., "In Depth Look at the Law: China Death Vans and Harvesting Prisoner Organs for Profit.

Here, a video synopsis of their latest findings from Amnesty International:

 

More executions are taking place in the world today than they have in the past 25 years. 

For details, check out this week’s TIME magazine story, reporting on findings released in a recent Amnesty International report.

China Is Number One in Death Penalty Executions

The country that is killing the most people via the death penalty is China.  The executions in China number in the thousands – and the government isn’t releasing exact numbers. 

For more on the China Death Van horrors, read our earlier posts.  It’s shocking.

 Go HERE to download the full report from Amnesty International.   Here’s their video:

 

http://www.amnestymedia.org/embed.asp?ID=KOEBQ&language=ENG&videoID=8i63611.393720939×8391917.79

Clive Stafford Smith, the Director of Reprive in Great Britain, has been corresponding with Terry about Pakistan’s death penalty and the case of Shafqat Hussain.
 
Reprive has been working hard to help the man who was only 14 years old when he was sentenced to death.  Reprive has been fighting to save him from execution by the Pakistani government, and recently Mr. Stafford Smith was able to report to Terry that they had got Shafqat his 4th stay of execution (in 2015 alone) within 24 hours of the scheduled execution.  At that time, the state officials said that they would have a real inquiry into Shafqat’s age at the time of sentencing.

For more on the case of Shafqat Hussain, check out Reprive’s web page with his story.

Reprive works diligently in fighting for justice in capital punishment cases around the world. 

In another story coming out of Pakistan, for example, Reprive has been championing a man who has lived the past 22 years on the Pakistani Death Row after being sentenced to death at the age of 15 years. 

Even though Aftab Bahadur’s co-defendant has given sworn testimony that Aftab was not involved in the crime for which he has been sentenced to death, and the prosecution’s eyewitness has recanted, admitting now that Aftab was not seen at the scene of the crime, Aftab’s execution remained on schedule.

Sadly, Aftab Bahadur was executed on June 10, 2015.  For more on Aftab’s story, check out his case study on the Reprive web site.

Do You Know about Reprive?

Reprive is an important organization for justice — but maybe not as well known here in the United States as it should be.  Do you know about Reprive and the work of people like its director, Clive Stafford Smith?

If not, check out Clive Stafford Smith giving a TED Talk here, explaining how he came to found Reprive — and how in all his years in representing clients facing the death penalty, Clive has never been paid one penny in legal fees for his work.  
 

Pakistan has over 8200 people awaiting execution on the Pakistan Death Row and not all of them are adults.  Terence Lenamon agreed to sign on as a "friend of the court" in an amicus brief that was being presented from U.S. scholars and advocates to the Pakistan government in an attempt to stop the scheduled execution of 14 year old Shafqat Hussein.
 
Shafqat Hussein was tried in their terrorism court for a crime that did not have anything to do with terrorism, and found guilty after a forced confession.  
 
He was scheduled to die on January 9, 2014, but international news reports are that his execution date has been stayed by the Pakistani Interior Minister.  
 
It’s safe to assume that efforts like those of Terry Lenamon and others signing that amicus brief and doing other things to spotlight what is happening in Shafqat Hussein’s case (among others in Pakistan) has helped to stop Friday’s scheduled execution.  
 
Meanwhile, many more on the Pakistan Death Row are facing execution as the government lifted its 6 year six-year moratorium and began an execution schedule late last month.
 
The Pakistan Government has a goal to empty its Death Row — and reports are that it plans on executing 500 people in the first three months of 2015.
 
Execution method:  hanging
 
 

 

Mental Health Problems and The Death Penalty

October 10, 2014, will be the sixth time that the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty has recognized the international problem of people suffering from mental illness being sentenced to death.

Go here to check out the schedule of events.

From the WCADP site:

On 10 October 2014, the 12th World Day Against the Death Penalty is drawing attention to people with mental health problems who are at risk of a death sentence or execution.

While opposing the death penalty absolutely, abolitionists are also committed to see existing international human rights standards implemented.

Among these is the requirement that persons with mental illness or intellectual disabilities should not face the death penalty.