Obama Orders Death Penalty Study; 'We Have Seen Significant Problems' In How Capital Punishment Is Applied

In the wake of the horrific botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, President Obama has ordered an executive review of how U.S. states carry out the death penalty. The review will only examine the application of the death penalty, not the merits of the policy as a whole, and Obama reaffirmed his support for capital punishment when announcing the study. Nevertheless, the announcement has some hoping — or fearing — that the president is preparing to “evolve” and eventually reverse his position on the death penalty.

“In the application of the death penalty in this country, we have seen significant problems — racial bias, uneven application of the death penalty, you know, situations in which there were individuals on death row who later on were discovered to have been innocent because of exculpatory evidence,” Obama said on Friday at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “And all these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied.”

There’s been a moratorium on federal executions since 2010, when the Justice Department launched a review of capital punishment at the federal level; this new review will focus on the states, and how they apply the death penalty. It’s unclear if it will result in any policy recommendations, and even less clear if any such recommendations will be pursued.

The number of executions in the U.S. has fallen by nearly half since 2000, and six states have banned the death penalty over the last seven years. Public support for capital punishment has also declined: While 78 percent of people supported the death penalty in the mid-90s, that number now stands at 58 percent.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has ordered a similar review of executions in her state, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Called upon the U.S. to impose an immediate moratorium on all executions, both state and federal.