Abolish the Death Penalty
The time is long past due for the United States to abolish the death penalty. Currently, 32 states, the Federal Government and US Military make provision for sentencing those guilty of certain crimes to death. This number has been slowly falling in recent years. Despite increased calls for ending the practice and the increased difficulty in carrying out the executions in an acceptable “humane” manner, the number of people on death row and the number of executions being carried out maintain the US among the countries with the highest rates of execution in the world.
Arguments in favor of maintaining the death penalty include deterrence for others to commit the same sorts of crime as those subject to the death penalty. While the perpetrator of such a crime as murder, which is often a capital offense, obviously cannot murder anyone else if they are put to death, there is no evidence that murder rates drop in states where the death penalty is an option or increase where it is not. Keeping the public safe from murderers is not enhanced significantly by putting murderers to death rather than incarcerating them and preventing them from carrying out those acts on others.
Some claim that justice demands that we take a life for a life – that the murderer’s life must be forfeited in payment for the life or lives taken by their actions. Several problems arise in such discussion, not the least of which is the imperfect nature of our justice system as a whole in determining guilt or innocence of the alleged perpetrator. Cases of people being improperly convicted of crimes which they did not commit are discovered on a regular basis – many years or even decades after the fact. Prisoners have had convictions overturned after spending many years behind bars due to witnesses recanting testimony, DNA evidence which comes to light due to improved technological capabilities, etc. Releasing a living prisoner does little to restore the time they have wasted in prison, but it is a far cry better than admitting that an innocent person has been put to death for a crime he or she did not commit. Several states (in particular, Illinois) abandoned the death penalty after doing research and finding an unacceptably high percentage of those on death row were in fact innocent of the crimes for which they were to be executed. How many innocent deaths are worth the negligible life savings to be had for an illusory deterrent effect of maintaining a system of capital punishment?
The notion that executing people guilty of the heinous crimes designated for use of capital punishment is cheaper than segregating the perpetrators from the rest of society through life imprisonment also doesn’t hold water. Prosecuting and defending capital cases through the entire legal procedure,including appeals, is far more expensive for executions than it is for even lengthy life sentences. It’s cheaper to incarcerate someone for a lengthy life without parole than it is to execute them. At least a mistaken life sentence is not as final as a mistaken execution.
In addition to the fact that having the state kill people as a form of justice is, to many, an unjust act in and of itself, the fact that our criminal justice system is fundamentally flawed in its attempt to fairly and equally apply to all people must also be considered. The racial and ethnic biases present in our criminal justice system, exist with regard to capital crimes just as much as they do for less serious offenses. Do a higher percentage of non-whites actually commit these crimes, or are they just less able to adequately defend themselves in court? Why do they often receive harsher sentences than their white counterparts? The preponderance of evidence that all are not treated equally under the law, for whatever reason (race, gender, class, etc.) does not seem fair and just.
Arguments about the punishment being cruel and unusual abound, and tend to lead to discussions which become extremely bizarre. For instance, of late, the preferred method of execution has become lethal injection. Unfortunately, nobody seems to want to produce the drugs which are used to kill people, so there have been lively discussions as to who should use what method to execute them. Extreme instances recently have occurred in which the executions have either been botched so badly as to not result in death, or have caused such agony for a prolonged period as to make a reasonable person conclude they were far from humane.
There are enough people in power who favor the death penalty in many states to leave it in place for a long time to come. They will use the courts to fight over what exactly constitutes an execution that is not cruel and unusual. They will not, however, make the death penalty any better a deterrent of violent crime than other forms of punishment. Nor will they be able to make police, prosecutors, jurors and judges any more capable than they are now of ensuring that mistakes are not made in convicting innocent people and making them pay the ultimate price for their errors.
Most of the rest of our peers internationally have concluded that the death penalty is barbaric and have ended the practice in their countries. Many countries will not extradite persons wanted here for crimes if they will be subject to the death penalty upon their return. We should not continue this imperfect practice to gain perceived vengeance in the guise of justice. The time to end this practice is now. Limited resources can be better spent correcting the shortcomings of our current judicial system, sparing innocent lives without needlessly further endangering the lives of others.
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