Top 10 Reasons The Death Penalty Should Be Abolished

Supporters of the death penalty often posit arguments that cite retribution for violent crimes as being instrumental in justice. However, several studies and research have show that taking the life of another human being through capital punishment only perpetuates a cycle of violence. Furthermore, other research has shown that flaws in our justice system has led to innocent being prosecuted, guilty being set free, and a plethora of other biases being present during capital punishment cases.
Outlined below are the top 10 reasons that the death penalty should be abolished.

10. Moral Hypocrisy

The Death Penalty is Immoral and Hypocritical
The Death Penalty is Immoral and Hypocritical

The late and great Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, once said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” There is no arguing that crimes associated with the death penalty–such as premeditated murder–are reprehensible. However, if we are to agree that taking the life of another human being can be categorized as the upmost heinous of acts, how can we justify treating such a crime with a punishment that mirrors the very thing we so adamantly condemn? It is because of this that support of the death penalty can be deemed as moral hypocrisy.

Moreover, current prison conditions have continually reflected racial and socioeconomic biases which make prisoners of lesser privilege more likely to be sentenced with the death penalty than those of wealthy upbringings and substantial careers. Bryan A. Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and professor at the New York University School of Law, visited The Daily Show with John Stewart in October 2014 to discuss the discord between morality and America’s criminal justice system. Stevenson noted that the current criminal justice system operates in a way that is kinder to people who are wealthy and guilty than those who are poor and innocent.

For this reason, it is especially crucial that the death penalty be outlawed in order to acquire true justice. In a country where the death penalty is shown to be inflicted more often on those that are underprivileged and innocent as opposed to those that are rich and guilty, we can not choose to support the death penalty in good conscience.

9. Cruel and Unusual Punishment

The Death Penalty Should be abolished because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment
The Death Penalty Should be abolished because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment

Americans were aghast after learning the details of interrogation methods used used by the CIA on terrorism suspects following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. These techniques included:

  • Rectal Infusion: An archaic and risky medical procedure developed before IV infusions. It involves the insertion of an enema in order to deliver fluids rectally
  • Gun and Drill: This technique involves placing a pistol near a suspect’s head and operating a drill as a way of threatening execution
  • Waterboarding: An interrogation technique which simulates the experience of drowning by detaining a suspect and pouring large quantities of water over their face
  • Chaining: Many detainees were chained while being imprisoned in a detention facility called “Cobalt”. NPR notes that one suspect died from hypothermia during this imprisonment
  • Nudity: Suspects were subjected to humiliation by being forced to strip themselves of all clothing while also being held by chains or shackles

If we can be horrified by these acts which were used on suspected terrorists (most of which did not lead to death), how can we condone punishment of death for suspected criminals in America?

Moreover, the death penalty is proven to be unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that the use of “cruel and unusual punishment” should be prohibited. If we can consider the aforementioned methods of torture “cruel and unusual”, the punishment of death must also be considered unconscionable.

8. Crime Rates

The Death Penalty Should be abolished because there is no evidence it will reduce crime rates
The Death Penalty Should be abolished because there is no evidence it will reduce crime rates

There is no evidence that posits the use of the death penalty as being causal to a reduction in crime. According to the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the murder rate for the state of North Carolina actually declined following a halt in utilizing execution as a form of punishment. The coalition also points out that, “…most people on death row committed their crimes in the heat of passion, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or while suffering from mental illness. They represent a group that is highly unlikely to make rational decisions based on a fear of future consequences for their actions.”

Furthermore, a 2014 Pew Research Center analysis found that the population as a whole has been less favorable toward executions than ever, and state institutions have also declined overall in their use of the death penalty. This decline has been congruent with an overall drop in violent crime rates throughout the U.S.

Countless other research studies have shown that use of the death penalty does not deter criminals from committing violent acts, and that states which do not enforce the death penalty tend to have a lower occurrence of crime.

7. Exoneration

The Death Penalty Prevents Exoneration
The Death Penalty Prevents Exoneration

In singer Alanis Morissette’s 1995 hit “Ironic”, she sings the verse “…it’s a death row pardon two minutes too late.” Morissette clearly didn’t know the definition of irony, as she spent close to four minutes describing things that were unfortunate or just plain old terrible. Still, the lyric reminds us of the irreversible consequences that can occur from continued enforcement of the death penalty.

What if an inmate sentenced to death is later found to be innocent of their convictions? What if the uncovering of this innocence comes after a lethal injection has already been administered?

This is much more than a hypothetical. A study titled “Rate of false convictions of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that over four percent of prisoners sentenced to death in the United States are innocent. The team of researchers analyzed 7,482 death sentences from 1973 to 2004. Out of all these cases, it was found that 1.6 percent were later exonerated, and 4.1 percent should have been exonerated.

If a conviction is ever overturned, it can take decades at the very least. However, there are several documented cases of prisoners being released years after imprisonment. Life sentences serve as a better alternative to the death penalty in order to protect the potentially innocent.

6. Cost

Failing to Abolish the Death Penalty is a waste of money.
Failing to Abolish the Death Penalty is a waste of money.

The cost of the death penalty as opposed to a life sentence without parole is exponential. Due to the extra measures taken in judicial proceedings, lawyer fees, extended trials, and expert witnesses, costs end up being higher. A Cost Study by the Sacramento Bee noted that California would save $90 million per year if it were to completely eliminate the death penalty.

An October 2013 report noted some alarming statistics which outline the ways in which costs for death penalty cases are shared by all U.S. taxpayers:

  • Boulder County, Colorado’s D.A. Stan Garnett noted that, “Prosecuting a death penalty case through a verdict in a trial court can cost the prosecution well over $1 million dollars…my budget is $4.6 million and with that budget we prosecute 1,900 felonies, per year”
  • The costs of these trials are shared by U.S. taxpayers regardless of whether or not their state has enforced the death penalty within that year. According to the report, due to the fact that “…most capital cases emanate from a tiny minority of jurisdictions, this cost is shifted to the majority of Americans who live in areas that almost never use the death penalty…”
  • One statistic shows that the average cost of a death sentence during a case is $3 million
  • A cost estimate from 1973 to 2011 shows that the cost to U.S. taxpayers for 8,300 death sentences has been $25 billion

Even though the majority of U.S. states do not enforce the death penalty, all U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for a minority of jurisdictions. In contrast, a sentence of life in prison costs significantly less.

5. Racial Discrimination

The Death Penalty has a disparate impact on minorities
The Death Penalty has a disparate impact on minorities

Capital punishment cases are rife with racial disparities and injustice. A staggering proportion of guilty verdicts leading to the death penalty have been influenced by the race of the offender. African Americans are particularly susceptible to this discrimination. According to the NAACP, 50 percent of those scheduled for execution between the years of 2001 to 2006 were African American, in spite of African Americans only comprising 13 percent of the nation’s population. In Jan. 2012, The Guardian’s David A. Love also called into question racial bias and the death penalty. He noted that the majority of states which perform executions are those which were once part of The Confederacy. Although times have improved, racism is still an issue in the south more so than its northern counterparts. This is cause for speculation which cannot be ignored.

Furthermore, other evidence has shown that along with African Americans and other minority criminals making up the majority of those executed or put on death row, the death penalty is sought more often for murder victims who could be classified as Caucasian than African American and Hispanic victims. Multiple studies have proven this and been cited by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

This evidence reflects flaws within our justice system which must be remedied, and even more reason to outlaw the death penalty.

4. Socio-economic Discrimination

The Death Penalty Causes Socio-Economic Discrimination
The Death Penalty Causes Socio-Economic Discrimination

Alongside racial discrimination found within capital punishment is that of socio-economic discrimination. Remember the O.J. Simpson trial? What about that of Robert Blake? Both of these celebrities were arrested under murder charges and taken to trial; both were found “not guilty”. What do these two people have in common? They are both exceptionally wealthy.

People with substantial income can afford the best criminal defense team when going to trial, whereas those of low socio-economic status cannot. Verdicts are largely dependent on the quality of one’s defense team, and the price of a good lawyer can equate to that of an entire mortgage. This fact once again spotlights the flaws within America’s justice system that lead to innocent being prosecuted and guilty being set free. Bob Egelko of The Associated Press expounded upon this point in 1994 by noting that death row “is not a place for the rich” and that a slew of practitioners and veteran scholars could not think of any “affluent people” who were subjected to death row or execution.

How detrimental can a lack of financial resources truly be to a person facing prosecution? An article cited that many lawyers who were assigned by the state to poor defendants were often inadequately trained, later suspended and/or disbarred, and that there were even cases where “…appointed attorneys…slept through parts of the trial, or arrived at the court under the influence of alcohol.”

3. Revenge and Forgiveness

The Death Penalty is State Sanctioned Revenge
The Death Penalty is State Sanctioned Revenge

Many arguments for the death penalty are based on retribution for the victim of a murder as well as the victim’s family and friends. The desire for revenge is understandable, but it is also based on emotions–particularly those which are heated and are catalyzed not long after a severe incident has occurred. The criminal justice system is not a place where decisions are meant to be based on passion. The decisions made in trials are meant to be based on factual evidence and justice. Furthermore–with sympathy toward those who have experienced the loss of a loved one due to crime–revenge and an “eye for an eye” mentality has not been shown to lead to healing. The death of a convicted criminal will not negate the loss of a loved one. Forgiveness has been shown to be instrumental in healing and health, as well as in moving forward. Have you ever been heated by emotions that you wished ill will on someone? What happened when the anger subsided? The ill will most likely dissipated and then the healing truly began.

Death Penalty Curriculum posed an argument against the death penalty which noted the forgiveness exhibited by Bud Welch, the father of Julie Welch, who was killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. “[Killing] is simply vengeance; and it was vengeance that killed Julie,” he said. “Vengeance is a strong and natural emotion. But it has no place in our justice system.”

There are other families and friends of victims who believe the death penalty is unjust. In those cases, how can the death penalty offer solace? It simply can’t.

2. Medical Ethics

The Death Penalty Violates Medical Ethics and the Hippocratic Oath.
The Death Penalty Violates Medical Ethics and the Hippocratic Oath.

Physicians are required at the site of an execution in order for a lethal injection to be administered. Based on a physician’s lawful and ethical responsibility to work toward the preservation of human life, executions’ requirement of medical personnel to be present at the site of an execution and also to administer lethal injections is at odds with the beliefs and stipulations outlined by the American Medical Association. The AMA posits that the following would be considered unethical participation by a physician in a legally authorized execution:

  • Any action on the part of a physician which would “cause the death of the condemned”
  • Any “…action which would assist, supervise, or contribute to the ability of another individual to directly cause the death of the condemned”
  • “an action which could automatically cause an execution to be carried out on a condemned prisoner”

Medical ethics suffers a gross infraction when a licensed physician chooses to forego oaths taken as a medical professional in order to participate in the execution of another human being. However, this does not deter medical professionals from taking part in executions. According to New York Times contributor and clinical professor of law at U.C.Berkeley School of Law, Ty Alper, a litany of doctors have participated in executions for the past three decades with little to no reproach. Alper states that the most severe disciplinary action taken against physicians participating in execution was “…the revocation of AMA membership, which is not much of an enforcement mechanism given that only about 20 percent of doctors are members of the association.”

1. Rehabilitation

The Death Penalty Eliminates Possibility of Rehabilitation.
The Death Penalty Eliminates Possibility of Rehabilitation.

Enforcement of the death penalty denies the opportunity for rehabilitation. As mentioned previously, many individuals who are charged with crimes that can entail capital punishment are mentally and/or emotionally unstable. Murders occur often in a moment of passion, in conjunction with a psychological disability, or due to substance abuse. These characteristics call for a movement toward rehabilitation rather than execution. Rehabilitation efforts not only help convicted criminals, they help society in understanding the motivations behind criminal actions and can prevent similar crimes from occurring in the future.

Conversely, enforcement of the death penalty will not encourage criminals to become rehabilitated. If an individual knows that their life has a set expiration date, what is the use in seeking rehabilitation? Moreover, there are no facets within the death penalty that aid in reform. Rather, capital punishment perpetuates a cycle of violence and death.

New York Times contributor, clinical professor of psychiatry, and adjunct professor of law at New York University, James Gilligan, stated that, “The only rational purpose for a prison is to restrain those who are violent, while we help them to change their behavior and return to the community.” He expounded upon this point by evidencing research he and a colleague conducted with violent male offenders at San Francisco jails. They found that educational rehabilitation programs significantly reduced violent behavior to the point that violent tendencies became completely null.


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  • Hadaitullah Baqri

    There are many reasons the death penalty should be abolished. It is a complex issue and it is difficult to point to any single fact or argument as the most important.

    1) Executions are carried out at staggering cost to taxpayers.

    It costs far more to execute a person than to keep him or her in prison for life. A 2011 study found that California has spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment since it was reinstated in 1978 and that death penalty trials are 20 times more expensive than trials seeking a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. California currently spends $184 million on the death penalty each year and is on track to spend $1 billion in the next five years.

    2) There is no credible evidence that capital punishment deters crime.
    Scientific studies have consistently failed to demonstrate that executions deter people from committing crime anymore than long prison sentences. Moreover, states without the death penalty have much lower murder rates. The South accounts for 80% of US executions and has the highest regional murder rate.

    3) Innocent people have been convicted and executed.
    The wrongful execution of an innocent person is an injustice that can never be rectified. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 142 men and women have been released from Death Row nationally….some only minutes away from execution. Moreover, in the past two years evidence has come to light which indicates that four men may have been wrongfully EXECUTED in recent years for crimes they did not commit. This error rate is simply appalling, and completely unacceptable, when we are talking about life and death.

    4) Race plays a role in determining who lives and who dies.
    The race of the victim and the race of the defendant in capital cases are major factors in determining who is sentenced to die in this country. In 1990 a report from the General Accounting Office concluded that “in 82 percent of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e. those who murdered whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.”

    5) The death penalty is applied at random.
    Politics, quality of legal counsel and the jurisdiction where a crime is committed are more often the determining factors in a death penalty case than the facts of the crime itself. The death penalty is a lethal lottery: of the 22,000 homicides committed every year approximately 100 people or less are sentenced to death.

    6) Capital punishment goes against almost every religion.
    Although isolated passages of religious scripture have been quoted in support of the death penalty, almost all religious groups in the United States regard executions as immoral.

    7) The USA is keeping company with notorious human rights abusers.
    The vast majority of countries in Western Europe, North America and South America — more than 140 nations worldwide — have abandoned capital punishment in law or in practice. The United States remains in the same company as Iraq, Iran and China as one of the major advocates and users of capital punishment.

    8) Millions currently spent on the death penalty could be used to assist the families of murder victims.
    Many family members who have lost love ones to murder feel that the death penalty will not heal their wounds nor will it end their pain; the extended process prior to executions can prolong the agony experienced by the family. Funds now being used for the costly process of executions could be used to help families put their lives back together through counseling, restitution, crime victim hotlines, and other services addressing their needs.

    9) Bad Lawyers are a Persistent Problem in Capital Cases
    Perhaps the most important factor in determining whether a defendant will receive the death penalty is the quality of the representation he or she is provided. Almost all defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys. In many cases, the appointed attorneys are overworked, underpaid, or lacking the trial experience required for death penalty cases. There have even been instances in which lawyers appointed to a death case were so inexperienced that they were completely unprepared for the sentencing phase of the trial. Other appointed attorneys have slept through parts of the trial, or arrived at the court under the influence of alcohol.

    10) Life Without Parole is a Sensible Alternative to the Death Penalty
    In every state that retains the death penalty, jurors have the option of sentencing convicted capital murderers to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The sentence is cheaper to tax-payers and keeps violent offenders off the streets for good.Unlike the death penalty, a sentence of Life Without Parole also allows mistakes to be corrected. There are currently over 3,300 people in California who have received this alternative sentence, which also has a more limited appeals process last approximately 3 years. According to the California Governor’s Office, only seven people sentenced to life without parole have been released since the state provided for this option in 1977, and this occurred because they were able to prove their innocence.

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