Should the Death Penalty be banned in the United States?

Expert Answers
James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the akannan's observation that evidence is everything. I find that when I hear someone talking about whether or not we should abolish the death penalty, I tend either to shake my head or nod it, based on what they're saying and how it matches up with my beliefs. People tend not to use evidence in their arguments about moral issues. If they did, at least some of our practices would change quite a bit and a lot of our biases might possibly even disappear.

With all due respect to bullgatortail, for example, who wrote a solid post outlining his views, I find myself shaking my head several times over. If we want to argue about whether or not executions save taxpayer money (and, for the purposes of argument, don't touch the thorny issue about equating lives with money), we would really need to be able to compare what it costs to execute a person legally (including the costs of the many court decisions, appeals, etc.) versus what it costs to keep that person alive. If we're talking about overcrowding, we might need to see numbers on how many years convicts tend to wait on death row and what percentage of the overall prison population they make up.

My views about a number of social issues (health care, illegal drug control, etc.) were strongly shaped by the year that I lived with German families as a high school exchange student and the years I later spent living and working there. I would be interested in hearing discussions of how many countries at our level of economic and educational development have the death penalty on the books and how many of those countries frequently use it.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although I don't believe there are any definitive studies that show that the death penalty actually reduces the urge to commit capital crimes, I am still in favor of it. Certain crimes deserve a just penalty, and I don't believe using taxpayer dollars to keep some criminals alive is just. The recent D.C. sniper execution is a case in point. The fact that some form of the death penalty has been in existence for thousands of years is another reason to keep it. I actually favor using the death penalty more often and for other non-capital crimes for repeat criminals who refuse to live within society's rules. Criminals who have been convicted of (and/or admit to) literally dozens and dozens of serious crimes and continue to commit others--while free or in prison--should forfeit the right to live in a modern society. A life sentence at hard labor with bread and water for sustenance is too good for some of today's ruthless repeat offenders.

I do sympathize with the long-standing defense that if even one innocent man is put to death, then the death sentence should be banned. However, considering the incredible over-crowding of our prisons--which in themselves have become so dangerous in which to exist because of the more violent inhabitants--I believe the death penalty should remain an active alternative.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous posts are quite strong.   It is very difficult to find any definitive answer to the question.  This might be due to the fact that each side presents some compelling pieces of evidence, or that the debate has become so spiritually and politically charged.  In my opinion, I think the answer resides with personal beliefs and, outside of that, the credibility of the evidence presented.  This might be where you will have to do the lion's share of research.  The more evidence you can point to, the better off you will be.  This will include both online sources, as well as traditional sources such as scholarly articles and reference literature in the field.  The opinions of others might be important, but if your desire is to present your findings in a paper or some type of research project, I think that you will have to generate and present your findings that meet an evidential burden.  The websites below might be a good starting point.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A bit from both sides:

  • No -- we need to have the death penalty because some crimes are so evil that the people who commit them need to die.  Society can't survive if people are allowed to do certain things and not get killed for it.  Also, the death penalty might deter people from committing more crimes.
  • Yes -- none of us is capable of knowing which of the crimes deserve death and which don't.  So we end up executing people out of prejudice against them.  Also, the system is biased against poor people who can't pay for lawyers.  Finally, executing someone is final -- if we screw up and execute an innocent person we can't fix the mistake at all.
krishna-agrawala | Student

There are many different argument in favour as well as against death penalty. The main argument against death penalty is that there are no conclusive proofs that death penalty actually leads to reduction of crime. As a matter of fact once a person has committed a crime punishable by death, all punishment stop to act as a deterrent for further crime.

Another major limitation is the irreversibility of the death sentence. In spite of all the care taken by judicial system of many different countries, there is no system which can ensure that there are no mistakes. A death sentence once executed offers no possibility of correcting a mistake.

Therefore, according to my opinion, death penalty is justified in rarest to the rare cases.