Imagine you are accused of murder. You are poor so you know that you had a slim chance of winning without a good lawyer. There is very little evidence to support that you are innocent but still get put to death by lethal injection. Later on, after further research and investigation, people found out that you were actually innocent but it’s too late.
You were killed for someone else’s murder. Some people don’t have to imagine, they experience, such as Cameron Todd Willingham. Cameron was accused of killing 2 people and was put to death. Later on, through further investigation, Willingham was found innocent.
Procon.org stated that the lives of 1,436 people, from 1977 to 2016 were faced with the death penalty, 1/7 of those people being innocent. The death penalty is an inhumane and cruel act that has been proven to be inefficient. It has also occurred before that the death penalty has made false accusations killing innocent people. Although some say that the death penalty brings justice to society and helps save the world from the people who damage it, using the same or worse methods does not make us better than them. The death penalty must be abolished.
The death penalty is an inhumane and cruel act that brings injustice to the states that still use this method of punishment. Some of the methods involved during execution include lethal injection, electric shock, gas chamber, firing squad, and hanging. Procon.org stated that a man had been sentenced to the death penalty but had been given an incorrect amount of dosage. Sadly the victim was left there in horrific pain for 20 minutes until he died.
Our former president, Barack Obama has said that the death penalty is “very disturbing” and questions why it even exists. Martial Thurgood, a high ranked supreme court judge would always show signs that he is against the death penalty. This shows how powerful people with strong understandings of how the death penalty works are against it too. From 1977 to 2016, 1,436 people were put through the death penalty, some of this being innocent.
The second reason why the death penalty should be abolished is that the system is flawed. 1 out of 7 people who are sentenced to the death penalty is innocent. The defendant’s chance of winning the case might be decreased due to the chance of not having a good lawyer because he/she is poor. According to B.A. Robinson, this is the case of 90% of death penalty victims. Adding on to why the death penalty is flawed is because the system is biased. Opposing viewpoints states that “black people are 4.3 times more likely to be executed by the death penalty than white people.”
This means black people have a higher chance of dying. Hunter Derek, a journalist from the Greenhaven press said, “from 1984 to 2006, the average number of months spent on death row has increased from 74 to 145.” Even though the court spends so much time you would think that their mistakes would be flawless, but they still make mistakes. Out of the 1,436 people killed through the death penalty, approximately 200 of those people were innocent. 200 innocent people who were falsely accused of whatever crime they did, could have avoided death.
On the other hand, some people believe that the death penalty will bring peace and justice to crimes that the people have convicted. Even though people might think that the only way to punish the convict is by killing them they are wrong. Killing the convict will only send a message saying that if you kill someone that has done something wrong then it’s okay to kill.
The death penalty is still legal in 31 out of 50 states in America. More than half of the states still agree that the death penalty is ok. This is insane because there are alternatives to death, such as a lifelong prison sentence in a high-security prison. A prisoner will not be able to escape this prison and instead of dying a cruel and horrific death, they will die a less painful one.
As a result, many lives have been destroyed due to the death penalty. Friends, family, kids have known someone or worse, gone through the death sentence knowing that death was coming there way but had no way of stopping it.
Instead, they are faced with the harsh reality that they are going to die and have no chance of surviving. Abolishing the death penalty is the right choice because it will send a deeper meaning of telling people that death is not a way to resolve the issue. There is always another way to save someone’s life. Terminating the death penalty is one of them.
The most severe of all sentences: that of death. Also known as the death penalty, capital punishment is the most severe form of corporal punishment as it is required law enforcement officers to kill the offender. It has been banned in many countries, in the United States, an earlier move to eliminate capital punishment has now been reversed and more and more states are resorting to capital punishment for serious offenses such as murder.
An Eye for an eye, a life for a life, who has never heard of the famous lex talionis? The Bible mentions it, and people have been using it regularly for centuries. We use it in reference to burglary, adultery, love, and many other situations.
However, some people use it on a different level, some people use it in reference to death. One steals from those who have stolen from him, one wrongs those who have wronged him but do we really have the right to kill those who have killed. Today, there is a big controversy over capital punishment whether or not it works, or if it is morally right. We have a certain privilege in our own lives, but do the lives of others belong to us as well?
Do we have the right to decide the kind of lives others can or cannot live? We find someone guilty of murder and sentence him to death, does that not make murderers out of ourselves? Can justice justify our acts? Those who assist in the death penalty are they not partners in crime? Is the death penalty a “Cruel and Unusual” punishment or is it now a necessary tool in the war on crime? With the increase in crime and violence in our society, how does the death penalty affect a North American family?
History of the Death Penalty
The use of the death penalty has declined throughout the industrial Western World since the 19th century. In 1972, movement in America to have the death penalty declared unconstitutional during the landmark case of Furman v. Georgia, which declared the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment.
However, after a supreme court decision in 1975, Gregg v. Georgia, which stated capital punishment did not violate the eighth Amendment, executions commenced again under state supervision. (Van der Haag, 1975, 3-4)
There are four major issues in the capital punishment debate, the first being deterrence. A major purpose of criminal punishment is to deter future criminal conduct. The deterrence theory suggests that a rational person will avoid criminal behavior if the severity of the punishment outweighs the benefits of the illegal conduct. It is believed that fear of death deters people from committing crimes. Most criminals would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives were at stake.
That is attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts a positive moral influence by placing a stigma on certain crimes like manslaughter, resulting in attitudes of disgust and horror to such acts. (McCuen, 1985, 11)
Studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been conducted for several years, with varying results. Most of these studies have failed to produce evidence that the death penalty deterred murders more effectively than the threat of imprisonment.
The reason for this is that few people are executed and so the death penalty is not a satisfactory deterrent. If capital punishment were carried out more it would prove to be the crime deterrent it was partly intended to be. During highly publicized death penalty cases the homicide rate is found to go down but it goes back up when the case is over. (Bailey, 1994, 42)
When comparisons are made between states with the death penalty and states without, the majority of death penalty states show murder rates higher than non-death penalty states. The average murder rate per 100,000 population in 1996 among death penalty states was 7.1, the average murder rate among non-death penalty states was only 3.6.
A look at the neighboring death penalty and non-death penalty states show similar trends. Death penalty states usually have a higher murder rate than their neighboring non-death penalty states. (See appendix b) (Death Penalty Information Center)
The second issue in the capital punishment debate is retribution. The need for society to express sufficient condemnation for heinous murders. Supporters of the death penalty contend that the only proper response to the vilest murders is the most severe punishment possible. Therefore, society should literally interpret the “eye for an eye” principle when an individual takes a life, society’s moral balance will remain upset until the killer’s life is also taken. (Block, 1983, 112)
Although death penalty opponents disagree society should be able to express its outrage with a vile crime by inflicting capital punishment. They suggest that they are showing outrage for taking life by taking the life of another. (Bedau, 1982, 88)
The use of the death penalty as intended by law could actually reduce the number of violent murders by eliminating some of the repeat offenders thus being used as a system of justice, not just a method of deterrence. Modern supporters of capital punishment no longer view the death penalty as a deterrent, but just as a punishment for the crime, one source said, “… in recent years the appeal of deterrence has been supplanted by a frank desire for what large majorities see as just vengeance.” (Bailey, 1994, 55)
The third major issue is arbitrariness determined by or arising from whim or impulse rather than judgment or reason.
“From the days of slavery in which black people were considered property, through the years of lynching and Jim Crow laws, capital punishment has always been deeply affected by race. Unfortunately, the days of racial bias in the death penalty are not a remnant of the past.” (NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund)
Fairness requires that people who break the same law under similar circumstances should meet with the same punishment, however, the justice system is not consistent. Statistics show that a black man who kills a white person is 11 times more likely to receive the death penalty than a white man who kills a black person. And blacks who kill blacks have even less to worry about. It’s almost like we kind of say, “Oh, well, he needed killing anyhow.” (NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund)
In Texas in 1991, blacks made up 12 percent of the population, but 48 percent of the prison population and 55.5 percent of those on death row were black. (NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund).
The fourth debate is the danger of mistake. In the past, there were many people wrongfully executed for crimes that they did not commit all in the name of justice. It has happened that after the execution of the alleged guilty party, the real murderer confessed to elevate his guilty conscience.
“No matter how careful courts are, the possibility of perjured testimony, mistaken honest testimony, and human error remain all too real. We have no way of judging how many innocent persons have been executed, but we can be certain there were some.” – J. Marshall (see appendix d)(Bailey, 1994, 38)
The unique thing about the death penalty is that it is final and irreversible. Since 1970, 77 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. Researchers Radelet & Bedau found 23 cases since 1900 where innocent people were executed, and the numbers are growing.
With stories of people like Rolando Cruz, released after 10 years on Illinois’s death row, despite the fact that another man had confessed to the crime shortly after his conviction; and Ricardo Aldape Guerra, who returned to Mexico after 15 years on Texas’s death row because of a prosecution that a federal judge called outrageously and designed to simply achieve another notch on the prosecutor’s guns. (Death Penalty Information Center)
Now, there are safeguards guaranteeing the protection of those facing the death penalty. These safeguards are: The defendant can not be insane, and the man’s real or criminal intent must be present. Also, minors very rarely receive the death penalty because they are not fully mature and might not know the consequences of their actions. Finally the mentally retarded are very seldom executed.
The reason for not executing the retarded is that they often have difficulty defending themselves in court, have problems remembering details, locating witnesses, and testifying credibly on their own behalf. These safeguards are to try to ensure that justice will be served without having it suffer. (Bailey, 1994, 147)
Methods of Execution
There are seven main types of execution: Hanging, where the prisoner is blindfolded and stands on a trap door, with a rope around his neck. The trap door is opened suddenly. The weight of the prisoner’s body below the neck causes traction separating the spinal cord from the brain. The second most widely used technique is shooting, where a firing squad shoots the prisoner from some meters away.
Another method is Guillotine, a device consisting of a heavy blade held aloft between upright guides and dropped to behead the victim below. Then there was garroting, in which a tightened iron collar is used to strangle or break the neck of a condemned person. One of the more recent is Electrocution where the prisoner is fastened to a chair by his chest, groin, arms, and legs.
Electrodes are placed around a band around the head, then jolts of 4-8 amperes at a voltage between 500 and 2000 volts are applied at half a minute at a time. The newest forms of execution are Lethal Injection where a lethal poison is injected into the prisoner’s arm or the Gas Chamber where the prisoner is placed in a room with Sodium Cyanide crystals and left to die. (Meltser, 1973, 21-26)
Cost of the Death Penalty
It costs up to three times the amount to keep a prisoner on death row than it would be to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives. The expense comes from the long drawn out appeals process that we are giving our criminals and the court-appointed attorneys that the poor are receiving. (Death Penalty Information Center)
The death penalty costs the state of North Carolina 2.6 million per execution while it costs the whole nation [United States] 700 million since 1976. And it’s the same everywhere, Florida spent an estimated $57 million on the death penalty from 1973 to 1988 to achieve 18 executions – that is an average of $3.2 million per execution. (Miami Herald, July 10, 1988).
In Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. However, it is also a form of insurance that the criminal will never commit another crime again. (Death Penalty Information Center)
What does the Bible say?
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the death penalty was required for a wide range of offenses, both civil and religious. In the following passages from the King James Version of the Bible, Jehovah required the state to execute a person for murder: Genesis 9:6 states: Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man, shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
If sufficient proof were provided that a person had committed a crime, the state-imposed the death penalty on the guilty person(s). They were either stoned to death, impaled, or burned alive. Witnesses who testified at the trial would often participate in the killing. To their credit, the courts of ancient Israel required very high levels of proof of criminality before they would order the death penalty (Horwitz, 1973, 36)
Of course, a person may think it is immoral to kill someone no matter what they have done. When I say it is retributive justice to take the life in turn for the taking of another life, it could be argued that a criminal is not able to learn a lesson since he dies as an immediate result of the punishment.
How can this be called punishment if no lesson is taught? In my opinion, the only way for justice to be served is to have the criminal pay with their life, ” an eye for an eye.” Many people believe that capital punishment does not belong in a civilized society.
I believe it is needed because we do not live in a civilized society, if we did there would be no crime. We live in a day and age where killing happens every day, and many get away with it. Those who do get caught, don’t stay in a jail cell for the rest of their life.
If we could rig our streets of murderers, it could mean a safer place for everyone. Men and women could feel safer jogging or doing errands at night. Single women could feel safer in their homes. Children could feel safe playing in their yards. No executed murderer has ever killed again.
There are numerous debates about the death penalty, as the opinions on this topic differ in different countries of the world. Most countries have abolished the death penalty, but there are still countries where it is used. The effectiveness of the death penalty can be measured by the rates of crimes that demonstrate that this method of punishment does not reduce the number of criminal acts.
The main goal of the death penalty is to decrease the number of abhorrent crimes in the world. However, the statistics show that it does not have as many positive effects as expected. For instance, among the 25 states of the US with the highest crime rates, the death penalty is legal in 20 of them (Tures). If the death penalty was an effective method for the prevention and decrease of crime, the statistics would demonstrate that states with the death penalty would have lower crime rates.
Conversely, the statistics show the opposite result, which means that it does not have high effectiveness. Today, capital punishment most likely has other goals, such as revenge. It violates human rights, which is why a growing number of people are against this type of punishment.
There is no evidence that the death penalty is effective for the prevention of criminal acts. However, it is proven that there are numerous disadvantages when it comes to this type of punishment. For instance, there is always a possibility that the person who is punished by the death penalty is innocent.
The statistics demonstrate that in 2017 there were 137 prison inmates released because of their innocence (Sampathkumar). There is no statistical data about the number of people killed as a result of their criminal acts, but there is the possibility that an innocent person can become the victim of the death penalty.
There is information that 4% of people executed by the death penalty are innocent, and therefore, it is essential to abolish this type of punishment in all countries of the world in order to prevent the cases of killing innocent people (Goodman). Also, the death penalty is a problem that costs money for the country.
For example, the average cost of this case is almost $2.5 million (Goodman). The money spent on the death penalty could have been used for more important goals, such as saving the lives of other people and helping homeless and disabled children.
Also, the death penalty has a negative effect on African American culture. For instance, African Americans make up around 13% of the population in the US, but the percentage of death row prisoners who are black is around 50 (Goodman). It demonstrates that there is a higher possibility for a black person to be executed than for a white person. These disadvantages should be the motivation for governments of all countries to make the death penalty illegal.
The death penalty is one of the cruelest types of criminal punishment, which is performed with the help of different methods such as hanging, electrocution, and lethal injections. It would be possible to say that the death penalty is an effective method of prevention of abhorrent crimes if the statistics showed that it decreased the number of criminal acts. However, there is no evidence of the effectiveness of this type of punishment, and yet there are numerous disadvantages to this process.
Example #4 – Interesting Ideas
The best reason is economic. The death penalty has never been shown to be a deterrent to crime, but it costs WAY more than the alternative, life without parole. Govt. policy towards crime & punishment should focus on protecting society from crime in the most effective and cost-effective way possible.
The death penalty doesn’t make us any safer, so why should we do it? (And strangely, the people who most passionately defend this waste of money are the same ones who are always whining that their taxes are too high!)
But there are other good reasons.
99% of people on death row are people who were ‘indigent’ at the time of their trial, not able to hire their own lawyer and so had to rely on overworked/underpaid public defenders. Prosecutors rarely call for the death penalty for defendants who can actually defend themselves. So the penalty is selectively enforced, more as a matter of class than race.
If a prosecutor plans to ask for the death penalty, in jury selection he’s allowed to ask each prospective juror if he ‘believes’ in the death penalty, and anyone who says he doesn’t can be immediately excused. This results in what’s called a ‘death-qualified jury’. And studies have shown (over and over) that a ‘death-qualified jury’ is much more likely to vote -guilty- than a randomly selected jury.
People who believe in the death penalty want to convict someone, they want to punish someone, and they react to the severity of the crime rather than whether or not the person is actually guilty. (And if you think about it, this makes sense. If you believed, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, that the death penalty really was a deterrent, then it wouldn’t really matter if the defendant was guilty or not! Killing him would be a deterrent either way!)
Finally, in the last few decades, since DNA analysis has become available, literally hundreds of convicts have been given a new trial or simply released after DNA analysis of the physical evidence from their trial. Some of these people were wrongly imprisoned for decades! But this only proves what we knew all along, that human-administered justice is imperfect.
When a criminal is jailed, all the physical evidence from his trial must be kept in a warehouse until he’s released. But when a convict is executed, all the evidence is immediately destroyed, making it hard to tell if we’ve ever executed anyone wrongly (or how many times).
There are a few cases, though, were star witnesses have recanted or their testimony impeached but the execution went on anyway because governors were afraid to grant a reprieve, they feared a backlash, being bashed as ‘soft on crime’. A good example was Rick Perry refusing to reprieve Cameron Todd Willingham. Read about it here if you care to: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/09/07/trial-by-fire
After Willingham was executed, a commission convened to see if an injustice had been done. Perry fired two of the three investigators to spare himself embarrassment. When you hear the audience at the first Republican debate this year cheering Perry’s record of executions, you can see why.
Yes, it should be abolished – for many reasons:
- Mistakes happen. Since 1973 in the U.S., 138 people have been released from death row because they were exonerated by DNA and other new evidence (DNA is not available in most homicide cases). These are ALL people who were found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A life sentence is reversible. Execution is not.
- Cost – because of the legal apparatus designed to minimize wrongful executions (and the enormous expense of death row incarceration), it costs taxpayers MUCH more to execute someone than to imprison them for life.
- It is not a deterrent – violent crime rates are consistently HIGHER in death penalty jurisdictions.
- It is inconsistently and arbitrarily applied.
- Because the U.S. is one of the last remaining nations with capital punishment, many other countries refuse to extradite known criminals who should be standing trial here.
- It fosters a culture of violence by asserting that killing is an acceptable solution to a problem.
- Jesus was against it (see Matthew 5:7 & 5:38-39, James 4:12, Romans 12:17-21, John 8:7, and James 1:20).
- Life without parole (LWOP) is on the books in most states now (all except Alaska), and it means what it says. People who get this sentence are taken off the streets. For good.
- As Voltaire once wrote, “let the punishments of criminals be useful. A hanged man is good for nothing; a man condemned to public works still serves the country, and is a living lesson.”
- Whether you’re a hardened criminal or a government representing the people, killing another human being is wrong. Period. “He did it first” is not a valid excuse.
Ineffective (does nothing to reduce crime or murder rates, in fact, some studies have shown it increases murder since someone facing a death penalty is apt to kill again to avoid capture)
Unfair (the overwhelming majority of death penalty prisoners are poor and black)
Inaccurate (more than 140 people have been let off death row, sometimes very close to their execution after friends/supporters found clear evidence of innocence. It is ludicrous to think that some have not gone to the execution chamber BEFORE such proof could be found)
Expensive: (It costs far more for the entire trial to execution process than does life without parole. Pretrial and trial costs roughly double )
Oh, and it’s barbaric, a throwback to medieval or earlier times.
I supported capital punishment for a long time, but the more I learned about it, the more I came to oppose it. In the end, several factors changed my mind:
- By far the most compelling is this: Sometimes the legal system gets it wrong. In the last 35 years in the U.S., 130 people have been released from death row because they were exonerated by DNA evidence. These are ALL people who were found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Unfortunately, DNA evidence is not available in most cases. So, as long as the death penalty is in place, you are pretty much GUARANTEED to occasionally execute an innocent person.
That should be reason enough for most people to oppose it. If you need more, read on:
- Because of higher pre-trial expenses, longer trials, jury sequestration, expert witnesses, and other extra expenses associated with prosecuting & defending a DP case, plus the appeals process (which is necessary – see reason #1), it costs taxpayers MUCH more to execute prisoners than to imprison them for life.
- The deterrent effect is questionable at best. Violent crime rates are actually HIGHER in death penalty jurisdictions. This may seem counterintuitive, and there are many theories about why this is (Ted Bundy saw it as a challenge, so he chose Florida – the most active execution state at the time – to carry out his final murder spree). It is probably due, at least in part, to the high cost (see #2), which drains resources from police departments, drug treatment programs, education, and other government services that help prevent crime. Personally, I think it also has to do with the hypocrisy of taking a stand against murder…by killing people. The government fosters a culture of violence by saying, ‘do as I say, not as I do.’
- There’s also an argument to be made that death is too good for the worst criminals. Let them wake up and go to bed every day of their lives in a prison cell, and think about the freedom they DON’T have, until they rot of old age. When Ted Bundy was finally arrested in 1978, he told the police officer, “I wish you had killed me.” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (the architect of the 9/11 attacks) would love nothing better than to be put to death. In his words, “I have been looking to be a martyr [for a] long time.”
- Most governments are supposed to be secular, but for those who invoke Christian law in this debate, you can find arguments both for AND against the death penalty in the Bible. The New Testament (starring Jesus) is primarily the ANTI-death penalty.
- For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus praises mercy (Matthew 5:7) and rejects “an eye for an eye” (Matthew 5:38-39). James 4:12 says that GOD is the only one who can take a life in the name of justice. In John 8:7, Jesus himself says, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
- Killing people is always wrong. Period. “He did it first” is no excuse.