The death penalty should be abolished as a form of punishment. This paper intends to shine some light on the death penalty in order to help the reader understand what issues face the system today and what problems can be corrected. This paper achieves this by: (1) pointing out the wrongful sentencing of innocent people and the use of DNA testing in attaining their freedom; (2) emphasizing the unjustness of the Capital Punishment system due to the arbitrary, racial and geographically biased nature of the process; And also (3) It shows that the evidence backing up deterrence as a major benefit of the death penalty is exaggerated and unsubstantiated. With a specific look at how “future dangerousness” plays a part in keeping the death penalty around and how to change that. Last it will look at the rising costs associated with Capital Punishment. The death penalty risks too many innocent lives.
DNA testing is currently the single greatest savior of unjustly sentenced death row inmates. It aided in the exoneration of 133 prisoners between 1973 and 2009. (Schmalleger, 2011) But up until the 1960s DNA exoneration by science wasn’t even thought up. This leads us to wonder how many death row inmates are actually innocent today. In most cases, there is no DNA evidence left behind leaving only the account of eyewitnesses to validate the crime. The only issue with that is witnesses have been wrong before.
One notable death row case involving an eyewitness’s misconception was DeLuna v. Texas 1983. Carlos DeLuna was wrongfully executed for killing a single mother at his local gas station even after the real killer, who bear a striking resemblance to DeLuna, was captured and placed in a cell underneath his own. The person who helped unwind this web of DeLuna is the notable Columbia law professor James Liebman. In 2001 one of Liebman’s study revealed an error rate of 68% in Capital cases.(William W Berry, 2010) the extinguishing of an innocent human beings life is an irrevocable mistake that could be avoided with a sentence of Life without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP).
Imbalanced justice system
Part of the definition of Justice is “fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made” when you relate this to the death penalty you are presented with many divergence’s to that same logic. The following are a few examples of how the death penalty is unfair to certain groups: first the system is arbitrary in nature. The rich are able the attain some of the best defense attorneys in order to greatly increase their chance of avoiding the death penalty, while the poor must receive state appointed counsel. What makes matters worse is the lack of skilled counsel willing to work on Capital Punishment leads to a continued rise in the backlog of unrepresented sentenced prisoners. (Gray, 2011) The second example of unfairness results from geographic location. In some states, a felony murder is a Capital crime, Maryland is one. While other states, like New Jersey, need aggravating circumstances before the death penalty is given.
Also, between the years of 1976 and 2004 more than 700 executions took place. 82% were a product of these ten states: (AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MO, OK, SC, TX and VA) With Texas and Virginia accounting for half of these nationwide executions. (American Civil Liberties Union, 2002) There are no significant data showing a higher rate of violent crime in those states. So I must infer that, on a nationwide level, the Capital Punishment is unjust or at the very least unbalanced. The third unjustness of the Capital Punishment system stems from its racial disparities. Bias manifests itself in two ways. One, the even though “Latinos are the largest ethnic minority group in the United States” they still only comprise between 8% and 13% of defendants on death row in the 1990s. (Baik, 2012) now compare that to African Americans who, in the same time period, represented nearly 40% of all death row inmates in the US.(Greenfield, 1991) one case that highlights all three examples of unfairness in the Criminal justice system can be found in the 1972 trial of Furman v. Georgia.
This was a case of a poor, black, man from a southern state that was prone to issuing the death penalty. The outcome of this trial was a de facto moratorium between 1967 and 1977 where no executions were conducted in the United’s states during this time (Schmalleger, 2011). Deterrence is exaggerated and also obtainable through other ways. There are two possible ways to examine deterrence. First, it can be viewed the same way that most people understand it by; the Punishment of one criminal will deter multiple others from committing similar gruesome acts. This view has been brought up in a couple of study’s: the 2001 study by Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Paul Rubin at Emory University who concluded that on average one single execution results in 18 fewer murders; an earlier study was conducted by Viscusi in 1993 which pegged the average deterrence at 14.
Most of the fundamental testing and deterrence hypotheses used leading up to the present were produced by Isaac Erlich between 1975 and 1977. (Erlich 1975) although a valiant attempt to survey something as complex as this topic, most of these types of data analysis are proven false due to factors such as, failure to include states that do not carry a death penalty; and that some studies have just been methodologically flawed. I would have to agree with the late US Supreme court justice Thurgood Marshall, LLB who said it best at the 1972 trial of Furman v. Georgia, “Despite the fact that abolitionists have not proved non-deterrence beyond a reasonable doubt, they have succeeded in showing by clear and convincing evidence that Capital Punishment is not necessary as a deterrent to crime in our society.” inconclusive studies and overall popular dismissal, have resulted in arguments in favor of these types of studies to start decreasing over time.
As Federal prosecutor Donald Heller put it, “When someone kills, they’re thinking of satisfying whatever [made them] decide to kill. They never think about the ultimate Punishment.” (Heller, 2011) Second, deterrence, also called incapacitation, can be viewed as a permanent solution to the issue of “Future dangerousness”, which is, “the threat an offender will be likely to pose in the future.”(William W Berry, 2010). In William berry’s report, he goes on to say that future dangerousness is the strongest determinant of whether an individual receives the death penalty. This is harmful because studies show that juries tend to over-predict the presence of future dangerousness. In addition, “between 21% and 32% of jurors stated that their deliberations focused on the issue of future dangerousness extensively even when the prosecution failed to raise the issue.”(William W Berry, 2010)
In fact, even practicing physicians have a very low probability of predicting future dangerous so it’s hard to see how a jury can do it accurately. This view of deterrence as in regards to Future dangerousness, compared with the first, has a more tangible way of proving right or wrong. For instance, in the ring v. Arizona trial, Justice Breyer shared the following reasons why incapacitation could not justify the use of Capital Punishment: “Few offenders sentenced to life without parole (as an alternative to death) commit further crimes”. She also goes on to cite two studies proving her point; (1) “studies find average repeat murder rate of .002% among murderers whose death sentences were commuted; ” and (2) “of the Furman-Commuted Inmates: 98% did not kill again either in prison or in free society.” (William W Berry, 2010) The fact that very little criminals that have been released from death row actually kill again, coupled with the possible replacement with the less controversial Life without the possibility of parole(LWOP), can make for a great rational for the abolishment of Capital Punishment.
The rising cost of Capital Punishment.
The cost of placing one person through the Capital Punishment system in some states like California can be as high as 100 Million Dollars. That same person could have been placed in a regular cell for 40 years and the state would still come out ahead. (schmalleger, 2011) Also in some states where the death penalty is not in use the state are still paying millions of dollars In taxes towards the death penalty. With the rising cost of prisons due to overcrowding and lack of funding, it may be only a matter of time before the death penalty becomes too expensive to implement. It would pay dividends to the local law enforcement, community based reform programs, and the economy as a whole if we abolish the death penalty and adopt the sentence of LWOP in its place.
To progress as a civilized nation and fully comply with international human rights laws. We need to stop murdering our civilians. Even if there was a way to eliminate all risk of erroneous executions of innocent people, we would still be committing murder by executing the criminal. The government takes the responsibility of these deaths away from the executioner and the physicians, but the government is just the culmination of the will of the people, so in turn, we the people are murdering our neighbors if we let this continue. Also, the system is terribly imbalanced. A majority of the nation’s death sentences come from a handful of counties. In turn, someone could commit the exact same type of murder on opposite sides of a state’s borders, and one will receive the death penalty while the other will be free in about 40 years.
There is also a high level of racial disparity amongst the death penalty. A person is more likely to receive the death penalty if they murder a white man, as opposed to a black man. Also, we covered deterrence and future dangerousness. The outcome found no weight in studies showing some decrease in crime resulting from the implementation of Capital Punishment.
Furthermore, future dangerousness should be completely taken out of the equation because of the implementation of LWOP mixed with solitary confinement addresses that concern. Finally, the issue of cost is addressed. Cost should never be a deciding factor in whether someone lives or dies, but in our current troubled economy, the death penalty may enter the chopping block in due to the high costs associated with it. I would much rather see it being abolished all together than to see someone’s trial get improper handling due to cutting previously slim corners.
Baik, E. (2012). Gender, Religion and National Origin: Latinos’ Attitude toward Capital Punishment. Journal of Social Sciences (15493652), 8(1), 79-84. Science Publications. Retrieved from http://vlib.excelsior.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=74485107&site=eds-live Ehrlich, I. (1975), “The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death,” American Economic Review 65: 468-474.
Gavrilš, A. N. (2011). SHOULD THE DEATH PENALTY BE ABOLISHED? ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST THE CENTURIES-OLD PUNISHMENT. Journal for Communication & Culture, 2(2), 82-98. Institute for Communication & Culture. Retrieved from http://vlib.excelsior.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=68630937&site=eds-live Gray, J. P. (2011). ESSAY: FACING FACTS ON THE DEATH PENALTY. Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, 44(3), S255-S264. Loyola of Los Angeles School of Law. Retrieved from http://vlib.excelsior.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=67352324&site=eds-live Greenfield, L. A.
(1991). Capital Punishment 1990, 15. Retrieved from http://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=131648 Hayes-Harb, R., & Masuda, K. (2008). Development of the Ability to Lexically Encode Novel Second Language Phonemic Contrasts. Second Language Research, 24(5), 5-33. DOI: 10.1177/0267658307082980.
Heller, D. (2011, July 06). NEW VOICES: Author of California’s Expanded Death Penalty Law Now Supports Repeal. Retrieved from Death Penalty Information Center: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/new-voices-author-californias-expanded-death-penalty-law-now-supports-repeal
Roko, E. (2010). FINALITY, HABEAS, INNOCENCE, AND THE DEATH PENALTY: CAN JUSTICE BE DONE? Washington Law Review, 85(1), 107-129. Washington Law Review. Retrieved from http://vlib.excelsior.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=48871624&site=eds-live Schmalleger, F. (2011). Criminal Justice Today. Upper saddle river: prenice hall. William W Berry, I. (2010). Ending Death by Dangerousness A Path to the De Facto Abolition of the Death Penalty. Arizona Law Review, 52, 889. Copyright (c) 2010 Arizona Board of Regents. Retrieved from http://vlib.excelsior.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edslex&AN=edslexF5E3C687&site=eds-live Viscusi, W.K. (1993), “The Value of Risks to Life and Health,” Journal of
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Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238 (1972).