Death penalty can make celebrities out of mass shooters and shift focus away from victims, say criminal justice experts

President Donald Trump enthusiastically called for a death penalty legislation for mass shooters after the horrific shootings in Texas and Ohio


                            Death penalty can make celebrities out of mass shooters and shift focus away from victims, say criminal justice experts

In just the last two weeks, the death penalty has been brought up twice.

In July, General Attorney William Barr announced that he will be reinstating federal death penalty and would resume executions.

Days later, President Donald Trump enthusiastically called for a death penalty legislation for mass shooters after the horrific shootings in Texas and Ohio.

Both times, the pro-death penalty approach was met with disapproval from criminal justice and human rights organizations.

In fact, experts say that the move would risk turning a perpetrator into a martyr, especially in the case of a mass shooter. 

"Studies consistently show that the death penalty does not deter crime. And at least 11 of the last 14 mass shootings have occurred in states that have the death penalty—including the recent ones in Ohio and Texas," attorney Madeline S. Cohen, a capital defense lawyer who represents people on federal death row, told MEA World Wide. 

If anything, it turns them into a sort of aspirational figure, she says, because of the fact that they receive a lot of media attention and capture the attention of a large audience.

"Death penalty proceedings can 'celebritize' defendants and lead to years of high-profile litigation that would be avoided by life without parole sentencing. This shifts the focus away from the victims of homicides just as it diverts resources away from needed public services," Cohen said. 

As far as data is concerned, researchers have not really had the opportunity to study mass shooters because, more often than not, they die or are killed following the mass shooting incidents.

The high probability of the perpetrator's death during or after the shooting is another reason why death penalty is not an effective deterrent. 

"It is misplaced", says Kristina Roth, Senior Program Officer for Criminal Justice Programs at Amnesty.

She also adds that the correlations drawn between mental health and gun violence are just as misplaced too. "Such assertions are unsupported by facts. Persons with mental health conditions are not automatically prone to violence," she said. 

Cohen says that the death penalty is generally ranked at the bottom of law enforcement priorities, in her experience.

Moreover, the death penalty is expensive, says Cohen, and public resources scarce. Instead of the death penalty, the government should be focusing on strengthening communities, training law enforcement, and providing needed mental health services, she says. "It uses vast government resources that could be devoted to programs and services that do benefit society," she said. 

The last execution under the federal death penalty took place on March 18, 2003, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. 

Currently, there are 62 inmates on federal death row.

Since1973, 166 people who were wrongfully convicted have been exonerated from death row.

"The Trump administration’s decision to restart federal executions after a 16-year hiatus is outrageous. It is the latest indication of this administration’s disdain for human rights," said Roth.

She also reiterated that the death penalty is not an answer to gun violence. 

There are five executions set to take place starting between December 9, 2019 and January 15, 2020.

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