Though the death penalty's popularity has been in decline since the 1980s, a recent Gallup poll found that Americans are still largely supportive, with 1 in 6 in favor as punishment for murder. Legal in 32 states, it has come under renewed scrutiny in light of several botched executions in 2014. At the heart of the debate are many complicated questions. Within a flawed criminal justice system, is it possible to know every person's guilt with a sufficient degree of certainty? Does the fear of death reduce crime? Are there race and class biases in sentencing? Are some crimes so heinous in nature that punishment by death is the only appropriate measure, or is capital punishment always immoral? Should we abolish the death penalty?
Robert Blecker is a professor at New York Law School, a nationally known expert on the death penalty, and the subject of the documentary Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead. After a brief stint as a New York Special Assistant Attorney General prosecuting corruption, he joined New York Law School, where he teaches constitutional history, criminal law, and co-teaches death penalty jurisprudence with leading opponents. The sole keynote speaker supporting the death penalty at major conferences and at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, he was also the lone American advocate at an international conference in Geneva on the death penalty sponsored by Duke University Law School. Frequently appearing in The New York Times, on PBS, CourtTV, CNN, BBC World News, and other major media outlets, and with privileged access to death rows across the country, Blecker is making a documentary chronicling life on death rows and contrasting them with maximum security general population.
Diann Rust-Tierney became the executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in 2004. With thirty years of experience in public policy and litigation advocacy, she manages the operations of NCADP and directs programs for the organization and its 100 affiliate organizations seeking to change public policy on the death penalty. Previously, Rust-Tierney served as the director of the Capital Punishment Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she had also served as chief legislative counsel and associate director of the Washington office. During her tenure at the ACLU, she was the lead advocate on capital punishment on Capitol Hill, coordinating a coalition of national organizations on the issue, and the lead lobbyist on a broad portfolio of issues ranging from criminal justice policy to women’s rights. Prior to joining the staff at the ACLU, she engaged in litigation and public policy advocacy at the National Women’s Law Center.
Barry Scheck is a founding director of the Innocence Project, whose mission is to use DNA testing to exonerate people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes. To date, more than two hundred and seventy people have been exonerated, including seventeen on death row. He is the co-author of Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right.
Kent Scheidegger has been the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation since 1986. A nonprofit, public interest law organization, CJLF’s purpose is to assure that people who are guilty of committing crimes receive swift and certain punishment in an orderly and constitutional manner. Scheidegger has written over 150 briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases. His articles on criminal and constitutional law have been published in law reviews, national legal publications, and congressional reports, and his legal arguments have been cited in the Congressional Record and incorporated in several precedent-setting Supreme Court decisions. He is the past chairman of the Criminal Law and Procedure Practice Group of the Federalist Society and continues to serve on the group’s executive committee. After serving six years in the U.S. Air Force as a nuclear research officer, he took his law degree with distinction from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.