If you hear someone described as a "card-carrying death-penalty opponent," it could be meant more than rhetorically.
"Don't kill in my name" is the gist of a two-page declaration being signed by a growing number of death-penalty foes in the US. The so-called Declaration of Life, which is reprinted on a wallet-size card, urges prosecutors not to seek the death penalty if the declarant should become a homicide victim, "no matter how heinous their crime or how much I have suffered. The death penalty would only increase my suffering," the statement reads.
About 10,000 people have taken the pledge, including former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, actor Martin Sheen, Louisiana nun Sister Helen Prejean, and Susan Sarandon - who portrayed Sister Prejean in the movie "Dead Man Walking."
Spearheading the crusade is Sister Camille D'Arienzo, a Roman Catholic nun from the New York borough of Brooklyn, who penned the declaration after the 1994 defeat of Governor Cuomo by death-penalty advocate George Pataki.
To legal experts, the movement suggests a backlash against the rising pro-death-penalty tide in the United States.
"The political climate now favors those who are tough on crime and support the death penalty. But I think people who are not caught up in that are trying to say, 'Not in my name, not for me,' " says Stephen Bright, who teaches death-penalty law at Harvard and Yale Universities and directs the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.
Because there is no legal precedent, it is uncertain how much weight the signed and notarized statement would carry in court. While it could be admissible at trial, judges and juries would not be bound by the victim's wishes. Still, in states that permit capital punishment, prosecutors typically consider the wishes of the victim's family when deciding whether to seek the death penalty. And they similarly would be inclined to consider the wishes of the victim.