World Day sheds light on death penalty

Written by Yurielle Menard/Staff Writer

World Day Against the Death Penalty was hosted by FIU College of Law and School of International and Public Affairs Thursday, Oct. 8.

The College of Law and the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs held a debate on capital punishment called, “The Death Penalty: European Union and International Perspectives.” It was moderated by College of Law professor, Noah Weisbord.

“The death penalty has been in the news a lot,” said Weisbord.

“There’s a new Supreme Court term that just started this week and at least six cases on the docket of the Supreme Court are death penalty related.”

The court is set to hear arguments over the constitutionality of capital sentences in Florida, Georgia, Kansas and Pennsylvania, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“It looks like the justices are starting to kind of calibrate and potentially narrow the death penalty down and there’s a general sentiment between growing and not just in other parts of the world, but in the U.S. as well,” Weisbord said.

Florida is one of 31 states that provide capital punishment for those who commit crimes, which include first-degree murder, felony murder, capital drug trafficking and capital sexual battery, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The World Day Against the Death Penalty is a worldwide awareness where countries discuss the death penalty and how other countries have dealt with it.

The panel discussion featured FIU law faculty like professors Michele Anglade and Ediberto Roman. Anglade spoke on the relationship between race and the death penalty, while Roman talked about immigration.

Also, on the panel were European Consul Generals from Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Netherlands and Britain.

Erin DeCespedes, a third year law student, said that she wants to understand why there is still a death penalty in the United States, while other countries are opposed to it.

“I want to see the legal ramifications of keeping the death penalty being discussed, especially since so many countries are opposed to it,” said DeCespedes.

FIU departments have been holding lectures on the death penalty including the Office of Global Learning that hosted a brief lecture recently Sept. 29.

The lecture was, “Debating the Death Penalty,” which was moderated by Stephen Harper, Death Penalty Clinic director.

The lecture highlighted the recent Supreme Court’s decision in June that allows the use of the execution drug, midazolam, which prisoners claim could risk excruciating pain during execution; therefore, making capital punishment unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The challenge to the drug was brought by four condemned inmates in Oklahoma, who said it did not reliably render the person unconscious and so violated the Eighth Amendment, according to The New York Times.

Eric Feldman, Academic Support Services coordinator, said he hopes students leave the debate with new knowledge and that they understand economic and discrimination angles.

Feldman said eliminating the death penalty abruptly would not be likely, however.

“I think it [the death penalty] will probably take some time because some people are very in favor of it, and some states are in favor of it,” said Feldman.

He also said the death penalty pertains to its unequal application to minority groups. “So you have two people that commit similar crimes and one is either black or poor and one’s either white or has a lot of money. The first group of people will be more likely to get the death penalty.”

Florida delivers the executional injections in a three-drug combination: midazolam, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

“Before a drug can be put on the market, it must first be found to be safe. When it comes to the death penalty, it is the opposite: a person subject to execution must prove that the drug is unsafe,” said Harper.

The European Union has deprived the United States of drugs that would numb a person sufficiently that they would not feel pain, according to The Atlantic. The U.S. has turned to midazolam, which is not an anesthetic, causing anesthesia.

Though Florida uses a three-drug combination in the death penalty process, it doesn’t ensure that they will be completely numb therefore “causing unnecessary pain,” Harper said.

“The Supreme Court’s recent ruling put a burden on the defendant to find an alternative drug. But, the dissent is raising the issue for the first time in 40 years of whether the death penalty has become unconstitutional. Stay tuned,” he said.

Weisbord said the Supreme Court had a case about the use of the lethal injection because there was a number of failures for the lethal injection.

“It took 40 minutes to kill somebody, and there’s a question of whether this is inhumane and barbaric in violation of the constitution and it is,” said Weisbord.

Dennis McGuire suffered for nearly 11 minutes, when he died fighting for his breath by a lethal injection. It was administered by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

With many individuals clearly suffering during the administration of the lethal injection, there is no question that the Supreme Court could order new standards on how the death penalty will be carried out, said Weisbord.

“So maybe there’s going to be new standards on how the death penalty can actually be carried out. With the six cases that are coming out, each of them may do little incremental things rather than saying the death penalty is unconstitutional under any circumstance.”

TruLe’sia Newberry, FIU Dream Defenders president, said “exercising capital punishment in our society isn’t fair.”

Newberry doesn’t believe in its legality because of its funding. “Each case is almost $3 million and that’s absolutely absurd because we as taxpayers pay for that.”

Newberry also said that life without parole is an alternative to the death penalty. As a student activist, she believes awareness should be geared toward freeing people who have been wrongly convicted.

Weisbord said: “I think that death sentence and long prison sentences are not as much a deterrent as people imagine them to be. I think that better policing would help, more community policing. At the prevention level, that’s where it’s more important to put our resources rather than at the incarceration and attribution level.”

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

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