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SCOTUS Justice Breyer Renews Death Penalty Opposition

​In a dissent against the Supreme Court's dismissal of a Florida inmate's death row case, Justice Stephen G. Breyer issued a scathing argument against the death penalty and called the capital punishment process inconsistent and racist.

"As I and other justices have previously pointed out, individuals who are executed are not the 'worst of the worst,' but, rather, are individuals chosen at random, on the basis, perhaps of geography, perhaps of the views of individual prosecutors, or still worse on the basis of race," Breyer wrote in the dissent on Dec. 12, according to The New York Times.

The court was asked to hear the case of Henry P. Sireci, an inmate who has been on death row for 40 years after he was convicted in 1976 of stabbing a man 55 times and slitting his throat during a robbery, notes the Orlando Sentinel. The legal system drew out Sireci's case over the years due to reported inconsistent evidence, as well as psychiatrists failing to diagnose the inmate with brain damage during his first trial.

The outspoken capital punishment critic wrote in the unusual dissent that Sireci's drawn-out death sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, as forbidden under the Eighth Amendment.

"[Sireci] has lived in prison under threat of execution for 40 years," the liberal-leaning judge wrote, as noted by the Times. "When he was first sentenced to death, the Berlin Wall stood firmly in place. Saigon had just fallen. Few Americans knew of the personal computer or the internet. And over half of all Americans now alive had not yet been born.

"Forty years is more time than an average person could expect to live his entire life when America constitutionally forbade the infliction of cruel and unusual punishments," he continued.

In a 1999 dissent, Breyer wrote that having an inmate wait for years to be executed inherently constitutes "suffering."

"Our Constitution was written at a time when delay between sentencing and execution could be measured in days or weeks, not decades," he wrote at the time.

Sources: The New York Times, Orlando Sentinel / Photo Credit: Steve Petteway/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States via Wikimedia Commons

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