Most Americans continue to support the death penalty, but those numbers have declined in recent years. One of the reasons for the reduction in advocacy is because of the numbers of people exonerated from convictions due to the efforts of organizations like The Innocence Project as well as improved methods of testing, such as DNA identification. Additionally, many people argue that minorities are given a death sentence far more often than their white counterparts. Should the death penalty continue to be enacted? What can be done to ensure it is properly applied?
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I used to be a staunch opponent of the death penalty. For whatever reason, I am now sitting squarely on the fence--I can go either way. I think it should be a matter of state's rights. Let each state decide for itself.
The death penalty should be abolished. The reason for this is that we human beings are not capable of administering the death penalty in a fair manner. I agree that there are people who fully deserve to die for the evil things that they have done. However, it is beyond my ability to determine which people deserve this. We do not kill all murderers because we believe that some murders are heinous enough to deserve death and others are not. I do not think we can make these decisions in a way that is fair and unbiased. Therefore, we should not execute people.
Capital punishment is one of the most controversial topics in the United
States. Both sides of the issue list many reasons that their side is the more valid. In evaluating the death penalty, there are three issues which should be discussed: the cost of the death penalty versus life imprisonment; the death penalty's values as a deterrent; and the morality of the state putting someone to death.
Financially, the cost of capital punishment versus life in prison has been studied for many years. In 2006, California, one of the largest and most populous states, appointed a committee for studying the issue: the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. In 2008, the committee published a report which encouraged states like New Jersey to place a moratorium on executions. The study showed these results:
Death row inmate= $63.3 million annually
Death penalty system- $137 million annually
Death penalty system with reforms for fair process=$232.7 million annually
Maximum penalty of life without parole=$11.5 million annually
Obviously, the costs to taxpayers of capital punishment is several times that of keeping someone in prison for life without parole. Why is this? The endless appeals and legal investments for the fifteen to twenty years after the death penalty verdict and before the execution use resources best used elsewhere.
Is capital punishment a deterrent? The "deterrent" theory assumes that facing the death penalty the criminal will not commit his crime. According to the District Attorney from New York City, "Serial killers, rapists, molesters rarely consider their potential demise from the death penalty prior to committing their crimes." Most criminals usually operate with the belief that they will not be caught. Studies in Oklahoma and California failed to find that capital punishment had a deterrent effect on violent crime. In one of these reports, these results were delivered:
87% of expert criminologists in the United States believe that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates.
In addition, debates about this problem prevent courts and legislatures from finding new solutions for crime problems. Most states have found that violent crime occurrences in states with a moratorium on the death penalty have not fluctuated either way.
Is the death penalty moral? An execution will not take away the harm that the criminal has done. The family or victim will still suffer emotional loss regardless of the criminal being alive or dead. Late Justice of the Supreme Court,Thurgood Marshall believed that capital punishment violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which prohibits the federal government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment. Furthermore, those who oppose the death penalty accept that the state should not give itself the right to kill human beings in the name of the law or in the name of its people. Since humans are imperfect, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated. Since 1976, 140 people have been released from death row after having been proven innocent. If just one of those men had been executed, that would have been one too many.
Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that,
Returning violence for violence only multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
To the above should be added that the fallibility of our judicial system, including police work and evidence gathering, makes the death penalty a grossly unjust measure. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 82 prisoners have been found innocent and released from death row, showing us that out of every 7 sentenced to be executed, 1 is wrongfully convicted. Most are convicted while being defended by court-appointed lawyers. Most states are unable to pay lawyers well enough to keep effective lawyers working for the state, proving again that many convictions have a great deal to do with the inadequacies of the judicial system. Lawyer-turned-novelist John Grisham dealt with this same controversial theme in his novel, The Confession, released in 2010. In this novel, Grisham answers the question: What happens when we execute one who is later found to be undeniably innocent? The answers are that not only do we question the death penalty and the ethical behavior of the police force, but when the convicted is an African American, the whole country breaks out into riots. I would certainly hate to be the one to either convict or support the conviction of one who is actually innocent and believe that being naive or uninformed about all the facts is not an excuse for wrongdoing.
I am a strong proponent of the death sentence. Although I don't believe it strongly acts as a deterrent to murderers committing murder, I believe it is a just penalty for people who take the lives of others. The alternative is to imprison killers, which then merely sets them free to continue their murderous ways within prison walls on both prisoners and innocents guards. I also believe in extending the death penalty to other crimes, such as the rape and molestation of young children; and I also believe that the death penalty should further be extended to criminals with multiple felony convictions. While prison is supposed to serve as a rehabilitative source for its inmates, I don't envision repeat criminals with as many as, say, 10 serious felony convictions as ever being able to be rehabilitated. The death sentence would be appropriate for such repeat offenders who would only continue their beatings and killings inside prison--or, God forbid, in the outside world once they had served their sentences. Some people DO NOT DESERVE to share the outside world with people who adhere to the laws and rules of civilized society, nor should the taxpayers be forced to foot the bill for such people. People who claim capital punishment is unfair (in the extremely rare cases of an "inncocent" person being executed) or inhumane seem to focus only on the accused and not the most important people involved: the innocent victims whose lost lives often go without reparation.
My opinion on this issue is that the death penalty should be abolished. Many arguments have been made here already, but the two which I find most persuasive are these: If we are defining a moral code that construes murder as a serious offense, we cannot punish murder by death. Though this argument may seem simplistic to some, I feel that consistency is called for when we are talking about an action as extreme as the death penalty.
Also, as pointed out by pohnpei and tamarahk, the justice system is fallible. Studies have shown that the death penalty is applied more often to certain demographics than to others. As long as this remains the case, the death penalty should never be applied. Only when justice can be truly blind and when the moral code can be said to be consistent can we say that the justice system is actually just.
I am against the death penalty because it is irreversible. The justice system is not flawless. We make all kinds of mistakes. We need to be able to trust in our justice system. Until we can bring people back to life, we should not kill them.
Right now, I'm against the death penalty. Here's why. Legally, it's inconsistent with our legal system. That is, we consider murder a crime, but we decide that murder is justified as punishment in some cases. Not only is that legally inconsistent, it's ultimately arbitrary. Who decides if one criminal gets the death penalty and another doesn't, and why?
The death penalty has no practical defense, either. By that I mean that endless ENDLESS studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter violent crime.
Having said all of that, I agree that I have read so many cases that have made by stomach churn and my skin crawl because of the depraved crimes that some so-called human beings have practiced against others. One man abducted a young girl, raped her in the woods, dismembered both of her arms with an axe, then left her to die. Instead she lived and had the remarkable courage to identify and testify against her assailant in court--whom (I believe) WAS given the death penalty.
Legally and morally, I don't see how anyone could defend the death penalty. But as sensitive and intelligent human beings, our highest natures are put to the test by the sordid depravity of criminal behavior.
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