Candidates On the Death Penalty

James Ridgeway of the Village Voice analyzes the Democratic candidates positions on the death penalty. Three are opposed in all instances: Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, and Carol Moseley Braun. Here are the positions of the remaining six, from least worst to worst (in our view):

Clark and Kerry support the death penalty in some instances but voice the strongest doubts.

Wesley Clark:

He would support mandatory review of all death penalty sentences. "I'll tell you, I'm uneasy about the death penalty," Clark said answering a question recently in Arkansas. "A government like the United States has the right to, in extraordinary cases, take the life of a criminal, but I don't like the way the death penalty has been applied in America," Clark said. "I think it's been applied in an unfair and discriminatory fashion and I think we need to go back and use modern technology and unpack all those cases on death row."

John Kerry:

John Kerry says he favors life imprisonment over the death penalty, though he advocates the execution of terrorists. Interviewed on Meet the Press last February, Kerry told host Tim Russert that he advocates a moratorium on the death penalty, but that in the end it's up to the states to decide: "It’s fought state for state by state prosecutors. That’s where it’s done. And I would honor, obviously, the laws of those states, and that’s the way we should proceed."

John Edwards:

Discussing Eric Rudolph in a June interview, Edwards said, "But I do generally support the death penalty. I think there are some crimes that deserve the ultimate punishment. I do think we have work to do in making sure—I've worked on this in the Senate—in making sure that defendants in death penalty cases have strong and adequate representation of counsel, that they have access to testing, including DNA testing, and that we ensure the judicial process be fair. In fact, I've co-sponsored legislation in the Senate that would deal with all those issues...."

Howard Dean:

Dean's position has been evolving over time. We don't think it's a big concern for him, and each time questions about his position arise, he adds a little more to it. Here's how Ridgeway describes his current position:

[favors the death penalty for] terrorism or the killing of police officers or young children." But it must be carried out with scrupulous fairness. "As President I would promptly instruct my Attorney General to evaluate the federal death penalty system, push for passage of the federal Innocence Protection Act to strengthen protections against unjust imposition of the death penalty, establish a Presidential Commission on the Administration of Capital Punishment to analyze the causes of wrongful convictions around the country, and recommend additional reforms at the federal and state level."

Dick Gephardt:

In 1996 Gephardt voted against making it easier for death row prisoners to appeal, and he came down against giving criminals life imprisonment instead of killing them.

Joe Lieberman:

In 1996 he voted in favor of making it harder to appeal the death penalty in terrorism cases. In the early '90s he voted against letting prisoners argue racial discrimination in death-penalty appeals, and he supported legislation that allows the death penalty for crimes committed when an individual is under 18.

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