Possible Death Penalty Survey Q's
Bill Long 7/6/08
Ever since the NJ legislature abolished that state's death penalty ("penalty") about seven months ago, other states that still have the penalty have been scurrying around to see what prospects there are for abolition in their states. Some states will, of course, not see serious efforts towards abolition. But of the 36 state that still have the penalty, probably 15 will seriously consider repealing their penalty in the next five years.
In order, however, to get things started, you need a survey or poll just to see where people "stand" on the death penalty in your state. Most of the polls are conducted in the following fashion: the first question is an "up or down" question on the death penalty ("Do you favor or oppose capital punishment?") while subsequent questions give factual or hypothetical pieces of information to measure how these pieces of data may affect the responder's opinion. I though it useful to try to develop a list of questions that poll preparers might use or refine in order to gather "good data" about the death penalty. By taking the "pulse" of the people through these questions, a campaign can then consider what is most realistic about abolition in the future. Here, then, are a number of questions, all framed in the "If you knew XXX, would you still support the death penalty?"-form. Some of these are worded rather "crudely"--after all, it is a "first-draft" exercise. See what you think.
A List--With Some Oregon-Specific Information
1. If you knew that Oregon (your state) had an alternative penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and no person so sentenced has ever been released from prison, would you support the death penalty or life without parole?
2. If you knew that it sometimes costs 3-4 times as much to put a person to death (cost of legal appeals) than to house him for the rest of his life in prison, would you still support the death penalty?
3. If you knew that Oregon (your state) has had the death penalty in its current form for 24 years and not one person has been executed in that time who has pursued all his legal appeals, would you still support the death penalty?
4. If you knew that it will take the State of Oregon 45 years from the time of his crime, and millions of dollars, to execute the worst serial killer in Oregon's history, and that he will be around 80 years old at that time, would you still support going ahead with the death penalty?
5. If you knew that some more heinous crimes (a man who killed his pregnant wife and two children; a man who buried two teen-age girls under his back porch, conducting interviews with police over the very spot where the girls were buried) didn't get the death penalty, but some less heinous crimes (a death from a drug deal gone bad) got the death penalty, would you support it?
6. If you knew that a handful of murder convictions in the last decade in Oregon have been overturned and the people originally convicted were released because innocent of what they were accused of doing, would you still support the death penalty?
7. If you knew that the costs of prosecuting and defending the death penalty in Oregon (your state) since 1984 would have been 2/3 the costs to build the Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, and we have only two deaths "to show for it" (from men who voluntarily gave up their appeals) would you still support the death penalty?
8. If you knew that the cost of the most expensive death penalty case in Oregon now would be enough to provide nearly 1,000 free tuition scholarships to the University of Oregon, would you continue to support the death penalty?
9. If you knew that most psychologists believe that forcing victims' families repeatedly to testify about the horrendous facts of the murders of their loved ones in death penalty cases doesn't serve to bring "closure" but only exacerbates the suffering of victims' families, would you support the death penalty?
10. If you knew that minority populations on death row in Oregon far exceed their proportions in the population of Oregon, would you still support the death penalty?
11. If you knew that few psychologists today feel comfortable predicting future dangerousness of people sentenced to death, though the statute requires a jury to find this beyond a reasonable doubt, would you support the death penalty?
12. If you knew that when executions happen in Oregon (your state), the leading newspapers of the state give front-page coverage to the killer for several days before his execution, would that affect your support for the death penalty?
Then, here are two questions framed especially to try to "increase" support for the death penalty.
13. If you knew that the threat of making a murderer "eligible" for the death penalty is often a helpful tool for prosecutors to get such a defendant to cop to a lesser plea (such as life imprisonment without the possibility of parole), would you support the death penalty?
14. If you believe that the death penalty might deter someone from committing a heinous murder, would you continue to maintain the death penalty?
Another List--Submitted to Me by a Friend
There is some overlap in the list below, but by putting these questions together with my questions, you get a fuller sense of the realities we think are worth probing.
1. If you knew that there is no fool-proof way to ensure innocent people are not convicted, sentenced to death and executed would you still support the death penalty?
2. If you knew that life with the possibility of parole in Oregon meant that no one will be released for at least 30 years, and most cases it will be much longer than that if ever, would you still support the death penalty?
3. If you knew that a further option for those sentenced for aggravated murder in OR is life with no possibility of parole would you still support the death penalty?
4. If you knew that only 1/18 of the possible sentences for aggravated murder in OR have resulted in death sentences, not due to heinousness but largely thanks to plea bargains offered in part to save money, would you still support the death penalty?
5. If you knew that the people are on death row in Oregon have in common that they have pled not guilty, not that they are the worst of the worst as determined by careful review of comparable cases which have resulted in life sentences, would you still support the death penalty?
6. If you knew that many victims' family members do not feel closure or relief after executions would you still support the death penalty?
7. If you knew that even in states where the capital punishment machine is most efficient, each execution costs about twice as much as a life sentence would you still support the death penalty?
8. If you knew that the vast majority of people convicted of crimes for which they could get the death penalty serve out life sentences in prison with no further violence would you still support the death penalty?
9. If you knew that some family members of murder victims oppose the death penalty would you still support it?
10. If you knew that the money counties spend on pursuing the death penalty precludes their spending on other programs which are proven to prevent crime such as Headstart, domestic violence refuges and interventions for juvenile offenders would you still support the death penalty?
11. If you knew that killing a white victim is much more likely to provoke a death sentence than killing a person of color would you still support the death penalty?
12. If you knew that no-one who can afford their own counsel gets the death penalty, no matter what he or she has done, would you still support it?
13. If you knew that, in spite of numerous research projects, no definitive evidence that the death penalty deters murder has been discovered, would you still support the death penalty?
14. If you knew that prison officers and administrators who serve on execution teams are often traumatised and psychologically damaged by their participation, would you still support the death penalty?
Pro- death penalty
15. If you knew that some murder victims' families support the death penalty would this make you support it?
16. If you knew that a very small group of people are a danger to others even in prison, would this cause you to support the death penalty?
17. If you knew that the perpetrators of sex crimes against children could be sentenced to death would this make you support the death penalty?
18. If you were sure that we had captured the masterminds behind the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, would you support the death penalty?