It is meaningless, really, to speak about the death penalty in America without being geographically specific. Each death penalty state, as well as the federal government, has its own system for determining who shall be subject to capital punishment. These systems share some basic features, but they are each unique, and some are more problematic than others. It is eminently reasonable to be against the death penalty as practiced in one state but to support it as practiced in another.
Massachusetts, for example, is currently considering a proposal to reinstitute the death penalty with significant procedural protections to ensure against the execution of an innocent person and against discrimination in charging and sentencing. The Massachusetts proposal provides, among other things, that guilt be proved beyond any doubt, that separate juries be charged for the guilt and sentencing phases of the trial (many argue that death-qualified juries are conviction prone), that DNA testing be made available to the defendant, that an independent commission review claims of innocence, and that death sentences be imposed only if physical evidence incriminates the defendant. The Massachusetts proposal addresses the exhaustive list of faults (other than the immorality of execution) that abolitionists have found with the death penalty as applied by the various states and the federal government. All but the most moralistic objectors to capital punishment would have to take a hard look at the Massachusetts plan, which provides, insomuch as it is humanly possible to assure this, that only the guilty and only the most culpable will be executed.
Texas is at the other end of the spectrum. The Texas sentencing statute is arguably the most troubling in the nation. At its inception, the statute was structured to narrowly restrict the lens through which the capital jury could consider mitigating evidence submitted by a defendant. Some observers have legitimately criticized the Supreme Court for allowing irrelevant mitigating