With the U.S. Senate about to begin confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, now’s a good time to review the thoughts on the death penalty of the justice she’s slated to replace, John Paul Stevens. In USA Today’s “Stevens: Risk of wrongful sentences higher,” the third-longest serving justice in the court’s history explains why he opposes the death penalty:
Modern pressures on the judicial system have raised the chance a defendant could be wrongly sentenced to death, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said Wednesday, explaining his changed view on the constitutionality of capital punishment.
“The risk of an incorrect decision has increased,” he told an audience of hundreds of lawyers and judges at a judicial conference here, responding to a question about his 2008 assertion that the death penalty should be abolished. He said that because of advances in DNA testing, which have led to the freeing of some innocent convicts, “we’re more aware of the risk than we might have been before.”
In a lethal-injection dispute from Kentucky two years ago, Stevens concluded for the first time that “the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions” to society.
Photo: Courtesy U.S. Supreme Court