News Release

South Africa Surpasses United States as Respecter of Human Rights

Decision Further Isolates U.S. in Executing Citizens

Washington, DC (June 6, 1995) -- "This is a historic day, not just for South Africa, but for the entire world community," said an ecstatic National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Gerald H. Goldstein, of San Antonio, Texas, in praising what he called the "wonderful, beautiful decision" of South Africa's Constitutional Court to outlaw capital punishment in that country. Goldstein noted that the decision further isolates the United States as the only Western country that still executes its citizens.  

"The Constitutional Court has accepted what we know to be the case -- that whether a particular defendant receives the death penalty is too often determined by variables that have nothing to do with the defendant's criminal behavior," Goldstein added.

In its February 1990 report, "Death Penalty Sentencing: Research Indicates Pattern of Racial Disparities," the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded that available research "shows a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty . . . ." in state courts. At the federal level, a March 1994 staff report by the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights concluded that "Racial minorities are being prosecuted under the federal death penalty law far beyond their proportion in the general population or in the population of criminal offenders."

"We're still looking the other way in this country, even after retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun publicly confessed last year that despite 20 years of legal tinkering, 'the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice and mistake,'" said James E. Boren, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who co-chairs NACDL's Death Penalty Committee. "The injustices will only multiply as the federal government begins to apply the 50 new death penalties enacted by last year's crime bill and as states rush to execute more convicts in response to the perceived public hysteria about crime," Boren added.

"It's dispiriting that as other Western countries are outlawing the death penalty, the U.S. is expanding its use," Goldstein commented. "The South African Court, in its decision, accepted the simple wisdom expressed by Clarence Darrow almost three-quarters of a century ago: 'If the State wishes that its citizens respect human life,' Darrow said, 'then the State should stop killing.'"

"Legislators who justify the death penalty on grounds of 'sending a message' are blind to the real message of callousness and inequality that it sends to America's least-advantaged citizens -- from among whom virtually all of those actually executed come."

Even highly-respected Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morganthau announced earlier this year that "more than a century's experience has not produced credible evidence that executions deter crime. The only honest justification for the death penalty is vengeance," Morganthau wrote in a New York Times essay, "but the Lord says 'vengeance is mine.'"

"NACDL and its members will persevere in opposing the death penalty in Congress, in state legislatures, and in federal and state courts throughout the land as long as this inhumane practice remains a part of the American justice system," both Goldstein and Boren promised.

Continue reading below

Featured Products


NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.