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Capital Punishment aka Death Penalty

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the toughest form of punishment enforced today in the United States. It is a controversial issue that continues to be debated by the American public. One of the biggest issues being debated is whether or not the death penalty is immoral, excessively cruel, or inhumane. I support capital punishment and do not believe that it is cruel or inhumane but that it delivers a small sense of closure to the public. The death penalty is an issue that divides our country. Currently, 65% of Americans support the death penalty for those convicted of murder. This number drops to 50% when a mandatory life-in prison sentence is also offered. With an infinite number of variables in cases and in sentencing options, it is easy to see why there are so many different opinions.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) is the only fully staffed, national organization committed to removing capital punishment from the nation. Some of the main points that the NCADP brings up are that the death penalty is racially biased, the death penalty costs more to implement than life without parole, the death penalty does not deter capital crime, and that innocent person may be executed. There are also a number of groups that support the death penalty. These groups use the same statistics as the anti-death penalty groups to shine a different light on the same key issues surrounding the death penalty. Racial Bias. The NCADP states that “In North Carolina, the odds of receiving a death sentence are 3.5 times higher among defendants whose victims were white,” and “The odds of receiving a death sentence in Philadelphia are 38% higher in cases in which the defendant is black.”

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However, pro-death penalty groups share these facts, “…found that white murderers received the death penalty slightly more often (32%) than non-white murderers (27%). And while the study found murderers of white victims received the death penalty more often (32%) than murderers of non-white victims (23%), when controlled for variables such as severity and number of crimes committed, there is no disparity between those sentenced to death for killing white or black victims.” The deciding factor on this issue is the official inmate population numbers from the United States Department of Justice. Since 1976, whites have outnumbered African Americans on death row. Given the available facts, I do not feel that there is sufficient evidence of a racial bias when considering the death penalty.

Cost. The NCADP states that the average cost of a trial ending in life without parole is about $500,000 while death penalty cases average between $1 million and $3 million. While pro-death penalty groups do not dispute the cost of a death penalty case, they do disagree with the method used to compare cases across the different punishments. The site goes into specific detail on comparing costs of cells and trial durations. They estimate that life without parole cases cost about the same as death penalty cases. One interesting fact that I discovered is that a maximum-security cell, with an inmate, costs about $75,000/year. When you multiply this cost by 50 years (average incarceration of an inmate sentenced to life without parole) the cost comes out to almost $400,000 leaving only $100,000 for trial costs according to the NCADP estimates. This number seems unrealistically low and unsupported by evidence. Given that the pro-death penalty estimates are more based on reliable sources, I believe that the cost difference between death penalty cases and life without parole cases is negligible.

Deterrent. While it is difficult to accurately gauge the deterrent effect of the death penalty, both sides present statistics backing their sides of the argument. Pro-death penalty groups use national trends, compiled by the Bureau of Criminal Justice, to show an increase in murders while the death penalty was banned by the federal government from 1972-1976. Then in 1976 when executions were once again allowed, murder rates began to go down. The best evidence that the NCADP can come up with is a 40% drop in murders since the death penalty was abolished in Canada. Again, I feel that the evidence presented by the pro-death penalty group is more reliable than that of the NCADP.

Innocence. According to the NCADP, 118 people have been exonerated from death row. Many of these people were sentenced before DNA testing was used in criminal investigations. To this date, only 12 of the 118 (10%) have been exonerated through DNA evidence. The other 106 were wrongly sentenced by a jury of their peers. It is for these reasons of human error that pro-death penalty groups feel that innocence is not a valid excuse. Furthermore, with the introduction of DNA testing, the same evidence that exonerated 12 people of murder, a murderer can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of innocence, the jury is a source of human error that plays an equal role in both death penalty cases as well as life without parole cases.

In addition to the main points made above, pro-death penalty groups note that laws often change, and sometimes murderers sentenced to life without parole find themselves back out on the streets. A key example from the pro-death penalty site, “In 1962, James Moore raped and strangled 14-year-old Pamela Moss. Her parents decided to spare Moore the death penalty on the condition that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Later on, thanks to a change in sentencing laws in 1982, James Moore is eligible for parole every two years!” While there are multitudes of different information and statistics regarding the death penalty and life without parole, I feel that there is more evidence supporting the benefits of the death penalty.

While the press and media do not show a definite stance on capital punishment, I believe that they do lean towards supporting the death penalty. All the stories I found from sources such as ABC and CBS left out opinions and focused on the facts that could be easily backed up. One story I found contained only a few sentences about the changes being made to Illinois’ death penalty procedure. After the information about the reform taking place, CBS cites facts about states that have capital punishment laws on the books and then more specific details about executions in Illinois. With the public almost evenly spilled in opinion regarding the death penalty, it is an important issue for the popular media to remain neutral on.

Through all this research, there are many important points to keep in mind. Capital punishment is a highly debated topic that essentially splits the American public. There are a number of groups that both support and wish to abolish the death penalty. There is also an almost infinite number of statistics and facts available to both sides of this debate. The important thing to remember is that it is up to the viewer how each of these different statistics is interpreted. My opinion remains the same even after writing this paper. I feel that even though the abolitionists made some very specific points, I believe that the points brought up by the pro-death penalty groups contained more merit as they were more general and looked at capital punishment across the nation. Everyone has their own, deeply rooted opinion of the death penalty, and it is for this reason that this great debate will not end anytime soon.

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Capital Punishment aka Death Penalty. (2021, Mar 23). Retrieved April 23, 2021, from