Fifty-seven elected prosecutors from around the country, holding “varied opinions surrounding the death penalty,” issued a joint statement last month, declaring that they have arrived at the same inevitable conclusion:
“Our country’s system of capital punishment is broken. It is time to work together toward systemic changes that will bring about the elimination of the death penalty nationwide.”
The statement, released by Fair and Just Prosecution, a network of elected local prosecutors “committed to promoting a justice system grounded in fairness, equity, compassion, and fiscal responsibility,” was signed by prosecutors from urban and rural areas in every region of the U.S. and, according to the statement, includes those who have been directly involved in efforts to seek the death penalty.
When the U.S. Supreme Court brought back the death penalty in 1976, it stipulated that it would affect only the “worst of the worst,” the prosecutors said. Instead, it still targets the “unluckiest of the unluckiest” — those who suffered traumatic abuse as children, those with mental illness, those with intellectual disabilities, and those with inadequate legal representation.
They point out the rampant racism of capital punishment, noting that 44 percent of those executed in the U.S. since 1976 were people of color, and 58 percent of those awaiting execution since that time are people of color.
Citing the National Academy of Sciences study that estimated that four percent of people on death row are innocent, the group notes the undeniable fact that innocent people are sent to death row, and innocent men and women have been killed by the state, as yet more evidence of how broken the system is.
“For those of us in states where the death penalty is still permitted, we will uphold Supreme Court precedent and the interests of justice by refusing to seek the death penalty against people with intellectual disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, histories of traumatic brain injury, or other intellectual or cognitive challenges that diminish their ability to fully understand and regulate their own actions,” the statement declares.
“As elected prosecutors, we serve as ministers of justice and are obligated to seek outcomes that advance equity, fairness, community safety, and the rule of law. And we are also obligated to reject arbitrariness, racism, and cruelty.”