10 Reasons The Death Penalty Should Be Legal
Should the death penalty be legal? To listen to some people in favor of the abolition of the death penalty or organizations such as Amnesty International the United States, by executing criminals, stands alongside such countries as China and Saudi Arabia in its barbarity.
Many countries in the world, including most of Europe have rescinded their death penalties. The decision to do so is often lauded as the choice of a rational, modern, mature and humane society There was a time, in living memory, when there was a moratorium on executions in the United States (see below) but the death penalty was reinstated in 36 states.
Recent problems with botched executions including a 2014 execution by lethal injection that took 1 hour and 40 minutes to take effect, the prisoner in pain all the while, have reopened the debate as to whether the United States should continue to execute prisoners for certain crimes.
We believe that the death penalty should continue to be legal, and that it plays an important role in our fight against crime and punishment of the perpetrators of those crimes. Here are our top 10 reasons why the death penalty should remain legal.
10. The Constitution Allows For The Application Of The Death Penalty
The Constitution of the United States, more specifically through the application of the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments permit the use of the death penalty in appropriate cases.
There were, most notably in the 1960s, several attempts made to declare the use of the death penalty unconstitutional based on the fact that it was ‘cruel and unusual’ and therefore contrary to the Eighth Amendment. The 1958 Supreme Court case of Trop V Dulles while not a death penalty case interpreted the Eighth Amendment as containing an ‘evolving standard of decency that marked the progress of a maturing society’. This statement was used as a basis for the abolitionist campaign. 10 years later in 1968 in US v Jackson the Supreme Court started to consider the practical application of the death penalty ruling that the death penalty could be imposed even when not recommended by a Jury. The same year the Court ruled that a juror’s reservations to the death penalty were not enough to bar them from serving in and of themselves unless they were so strong as to prevent the juror from making an impartial decision.
By 1972 Eighth Amendment challenges resulted in State Death Penalty Statutes being suspended for unconstitutionality as they could, as drafted, result in arbitrary sentencing. The states immediately started to fight back, redrafting their statutes to address the problems highlighted by the Supreme Court. The death penalty was effectively reinstated by 1977 when the first execution in years took place in Utah.
The death penalty has therefore been challenged, found wanting, redrafted and found to be legal and constitutional. There is no reason, therefore, for the death penalty to be suspended.
9. The Death Penalty Acts As A Deterrent
The death penalty is no longer fashionable. Ruled illegal in much of Europe and most of the developed world America is unusual amongst equivalent nations in its adherence to the practice. Liberal abolitionists have argued that the flaws in the legal system including the potential for the execution of innocents and the societal disparities in sentencing (see below) are of sufficient concern as to make the practice unethical.
The once deeply held public and professional opinion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to crime is widely dismissed but there is more truth in it than the liberals and abolitionists want to acknowledge. Studies undertaken over a number of years show, unequivocally that between 3 and 18 lives could be saved by each execution of a guilty killer. Results from the University of Colorado in Denver show that an execution saves 5 lives while the commuting of a death sentence results in about five more. The reasoning is simple, if the costs of doing something become too high, people will change their behavior to avoid those costs. If the cost reduces people will indulge in that behavior once more.
Yet more research has shown that when the state of Illinois suspended executions in 2000 there were an extra 150 homicides over the following 4 years. More research needs to be undertaken to ensure the quality and accuracy of the methodology and data but the results seem incontrovertible – the death penalty acts as a deterrent and as a result saves lives.
8. The Death Penalty Allows The State To Exact Appropriate Retribution, Criminals Must Face The Consequences Of Their Actions
We are taught (or at least we should be) from our earliest years that actions have consequences. Touching a hot stove burns your hand, annoying your parent causes them to punish you etc. Every parent knows that failing to link actions to consequences leads to children who do what they want when they want. The same holds true for adults. We pay our taxes because we don’t want to face the consequences of not doing so. Consequences bring order to our society.
The same holds true for violent and dangerous crimes, where someone acts in such a way as to take the life of another they have to be punished, they have to expect retribution, they have to pay the price of their actions and it should be in equal measure.
Abolitionists often confuse retribution (the payment of debt to society) with revenge which is a hot blooded reaction to the loss by those who have suffered it. We have a police and subsequently legal process precisely to prevent hot blooded revenge from taking over and to ensure a rational, logical and fair response to a crime. This is why the death penalty is a reasonable and proportionate response to a killing but not to a rape, no matter how violent, where the victim does not lose their life.
If there is no retribution (or no reasonable level of retribution) exacted then there is no reasonable deterrent (see above) to prevent homicide.
7. Life Sentences For Criminals Who Should Expect The Death Penalty Are An Unfair Financial Burden On The State
Those who are opposed to the death penalty often like to claim that it is extremely expensive citing figures of up to $2 million per individual in death row. The equivalent costs of detaining a prisoner for life without parole come in, they claim, at $1 million per individual.
A quick analysis of the cost of detention for life without parole show that detention will cost approximately $34,000 per year for an average of 50 years. The cost of trial and appeals will come in at about $75,000. Assuming a cost increase of a conservative 2% per annum the costs come in at over $3 million for 50 years detention, rising to $5.5 million if a 4% cost increase is assumed.
While the costs of death row are higher coming in at almost double the cost of life incarceration or about $60,000 these costs are not typically borne for anywhere near as long, an average of just 6 years. Trials and appeals will also be more costly coming in at approximately $1.5 million giving a total of $1.88 million assuming 2% per annum cost increases and $1.91 million with a 4% costs increase. This analysis shows that the overall costs of the death penalty where called for are much lower than a lengthy incarceration without parole and that is even before adjustment to life costs has been made to cover the costs of treating the diseases and suffering of old age which typically are complex and expensive to treat.
6. The Death Penalty Can Promote Happiness and Wellbeing Amongst Non-Offenders
This may seem like a rather illogical argument but it is one that is often deployed by pro death penalty campaigners in Japan.
Crime is not rampant in Japan which experiences on average 1,200 or fewer murders a year, approximately equivalent to the number of homicides in France which has half the Japanese population. Japanese executions are carried out by hanging and 76 out of 102 inmates on death row were executed between 1993 and 2008.
Because the death penalty is used relatively sparingly in Japan (although with increasing frequency since the turn of the century) there was thought at one point that the penalty would be abolished and under one Minister of Justice there was a de facto moratorium on the death penalty as he refused to authorize executions.
Nevertheless the death penalty remains for the reason that it has an important psychological impact on Japanese society. Like Americans the Japanese work hard, they get relatively few days off and are expected to put their employer’s needs before their own. The death penalty shows the hard working ordinary Japanese that bad things happen to bad people. The necessary concomitant of this is the belief that good things happen to good people. Therefore, psychologists in Japan believe, when people see the bad punished they think they will receive rewards for being good.
Of course Japanese people are psychologically very different from Americans but the argument is interesting and could be of application in the US. After all who does not believe that people should get what is coming to them!