Death Penalty

Most Democratic presidential candidates oppose death penalty; where does Biden stand?

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Democratic presidential candidates are mostly against the death penalty, including former prosecutors who are seeking the nomination.

At one time, opposition to capital punishment could have harmed candidates for presidential office, according to the conventional wisdom. But the tide has turned, report the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times, which published video snippets from candidates addressing the issue.

Support for the death penalty in America has dropped from 80% in a 1994 Gallup survey to 56% in October 2018, the San Francisco Chronicle points out. Democrats are more than three times as likely as Republicans to oppose capital punishment.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told the San Francisco Chronicle that very few candidates would oppose the death penalty if they thought that it would hurt them at the ballot box. She thinks the consensus among the candidates is “this is where public opinion is or is about to be.”

Among the Democratic candidates who oppose the death penalty are two former prosecutors: U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a former prosecutor in Minnesota’s Hennepin County, and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, the former district attorney of San Francisco and the former attorney general of California.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has a different view, however. He told the New York Times that he wouldn’t take the death penalty off the table for extreme circumstances such as terrorism.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also may be a death-penalty supporter. He declined to give an interview to the New York Times, but he has long supported capital punishment.

In 1994, Biden sponsored a bill that expanded the federal death penalty and included a three-strikes provision. The bill required life in prison for people with at least two convictions for serious violent felonies, including one in federal court, and a third felony conviction that is a violent felony or a serious drug offense.

Biden has said in recent campaign appearances that the bill was a compromise, and he had opposed mandatory sentences for a third strike, CNN reports.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont also voted for the Biden bill. He said at the time the bill was a compromise that included funding to prosecute violent crimes against women and also included a 10-year ban on semi-automatic firearms, according to the San Francisco Chronicle story.

In his New York Times video, Sanders said he has always opposed the death penalty. “The state should not be involved in murdering,” Sanders said.

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