The death penalty is the ultimate punishment. There is no harsher punishment than death itself. Currently fifty-eight nations practice the death penalty. Our nation, the United States of America, is one of the fifty-eight nations that practice the death penalty. Currently the United States will only use the death penalty, if one commits first-degree murder. Individuals that believe in the death penalty believe that capital punishment will deter murderers. In this paper, I will be arguing that the death penalty does not deter criminals and that the United States should outlaw the practice.
Before I make my argument, I would like to provide some background information regarding the death penalty to the readers. The idea of capital punishment was brought over from Britain, when the founding fathers declared independence. Our ancestors loved the idea of the death penalty, since it was a common part of life. Europeans gave the death penalty for various crimes. The first recorded execution in America occurred in Jamestown, 1608. A man named George Kendall was executed for treason. In the earlier colonial days, laws regarding capital punishment varied area to area.
During the nineteen century, the death penalty changed dramatically. Around this time the death penalty started to lose popularity. States no longer committed public executions. All executions were done in private. Pennsylvania was the first state to adopt this trend. Eventually some states abolished the death penalty all together. In current times, fourteen out of fifty states no longer carry out the death penalty. These states are Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhone Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In addition, a series of cases regarding the death penalty went to the Supreme Court. Many tried to argue that the death penalty violated the eighth amendments and that capital punishment is cruel and unusual. In 1972, Furman v. Georgia successfully brought an temporary end to the death penalty for ten years. Eventually the death penalty was reinstated with the execution of Gary Gillmore on January 17, 1977.
As of today, the United States still practices capital punishment. However there are limitations. For example, the government cannot execute the mentally handicap and is not supposed to execute juveniles. The United States currently has six ways to execute, lethal injection, electrocution, lethal gas, a firing squad and hanging. Methods will vary state by state. Although the United States still practices the death penalty, executions are declining, compare to the past, according to statistics.
Those that are for the death penalty claims that the death penalty will serve as a deterrence and is the only way for retribution against murderers. Both issues are highly debatable and have been a subject of criticism.
Punishment as a deterrence has been a goal for ages. This concept does work, but it should not be applied to all criminals, in my opinion. Pro capital punishment individuals claims that it is an efficient deterrence against criminals. In the article “Death penalty is a deterrence”, the authors claims that by practicing the death penalty, violent crimes will decrease. “violent crime has declined 11 percent, with murder showing the largest decline at even more than 22 percent. We believe that this has occurred in part because of the strong signal that the death penalty sent to violent criminals and murderer.  These statistics taken from this article may be inaccurate and should be closely examined. There is a huge amount of conflicting evidence from similar studies done currently and in the past.
Retribution has also been a goal for punishment. Logically if a killer is put to death then there would be no more killings. American society seems to favor retribution. An eye for an eye has been a law for ages. In a pro death penalty article, the author believes that, “When someone takes a life, the balance of justice is disturbed. Unless that balance is restored, society succumbs to a rule of violence. Only the taking of the murderer’s life restores the balance and allows society to show convincingly that murder is an intolerable crime which will be punished in kind.”  This ideology has many flaws, mainly with morality issues. For example, if the country is punishing one for killing, what gives the country the right to kill?
Both articles’ fail to present any solid evidence that supports their thesis. “Death penalty is a deterrence” had statistical information, but fail to present how the information was obtained. Depending on the researcher’s information gathering methods, the statistical information could have been different. For example “In an article in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Dr. Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University describes numerous serious errors in recent deterrence studies, including improper statistical analyses and missing data and variables that are necessary to give a full picture of the criminal justice system. Fagan writes, “There is no reliable, scientifically sound evidence that [shows that executions] can exert a deterrent effectâ€¦. These flaws and omissions in a body of scientific evidence render it unreliable as a basis for law or policy that generate life-and-death decisions.”  There needs to be solid evidence in order to prove a theory. Those who claim that the death penalty is an efficient deterrence fail to submit conclusive evidence, therefore as a critic, we should dismiss the claim that the death penalty works as deterrence.
In addition, many studies seem to disprove the theory that the death penalty is a good deterrence against violent crimes and murders. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, states without the death penalty have had lower murder rates. In their seventeen-year old study, states without the death penalty showed a 40% decrease in murder rates. In regards to the article “Death penalty is a deterrence”, New York has now abolished the death penalty and their murder rate has gone down significantly compared to when the state was still practicing capital punishment. In fact, in the first year that New York abolished the death penalty they saw a four percent decrease in their murder rates.
The reason why the death penalty does not serve as deterrence is that offenders do not believe they will be caught. Logically, no one would commit a murder, if one knew he/she was to be executed. Deterrence is a psychological process. Therefore, if an offender does not believe that a real risk is present, there will be no deterrence.
The death penalty as retribution no longer makes sense in our current society. By executing an offender, our government, is sending subliminal messages regarding murder. The point of capital punishment is because the United States government wants to express that killing is an intolerable crime. By killing, an offender the government is contradicting itself. In addition, the death penalty can be seen as revenge. We are simply taking an eye for an eye. Two wrongs will not make a right. Killing a murderer will not bring back the murdered. In the 21th century our criminals laws should now reflect a higher standard that an eye for an eye.
In current times, the death penalty can no longer be claimed as an efficient form of retribution. There are huge delays in carrying out the executions of an inmate. Statistics show that there is over an eight-year wait before an execution can take place. In fact, most death row inmates die of old age, before their execution sentence. California’s death row is a great example. Since 1976, only thirteen inmates have been executed. Currently there are around seven hundred inmates in California’s death row. If the trend continues, that would mean most of the inmates would die of natural causes before their execution sentence can be carried out.
Those that claim the death penalty as retribution fail to take notice of the execution process in our criminal justice system. Legally an inmate is allowed to appeal his/her case. Appealing is needed in the American criminal justice system because the process is designed to protect against human errors. An average appeal can take over ten years. There are simply not enough judges to response to all case reviews. For example, the United States Supreme court receives thousands of case reviews annually, but because there are only nine judges in the Supreme Court, only a handful of cases are reviewed. For these reasons, the death penalty cannot be claim as an efficient form of retribution.
Since the death penalty is no longer an affected punishment, I purposed that we abolish the practice in the United States. Throughout America’s history, many have tried to abolish the death penalty. Many were successful in temporary abolishing the death penalty, but most states reinstated the death penalty after judicial review. The most current issue regarding the abolishment of the death penalty was Baze v. Rees. Baze V. Rees, was an attack on the process of execution, specifically lethal injections. Baze argues that lethal injections is a form of cruel and unusual punishment and went against the constitution. That debate ultimately failed, since the judges ruled in favor of the death penalty. “The trial court held extensive hearings and entered detailed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. It recognized that “[t]here are no methods of legal execution that are satisfactory to those who oppose the death penalty on moral, religious, or societal grounds, but concluded that the procedure “complies with the constitutional requirements against cruel and unusual punishment”.  Baze V. Rees was a good attempt in trying to abolish the death penalty, but ultimately was unsuccessful because they were attacking the process not the problem. In addition, Baze fail to show any solid evidence that lethal injections may cause pain.
In order to abolish the death penalty in the United States successfully, one would need to make a case to the United States Supreme Court. One would need to submit a writ of either certiorari, mandamus, or prohibition. In addition, one can appeal against the death penalty. If the case were selected, then one would need to argue that the death penalty is no longer a form of justice. The key to winning this case, in my opinion, is to present solid and conclusive evidence. Show the nine justices, that the death penalty is a waste of resources and unconstitutional.
Some may criticize that by abolishing the death penalty, crime rates will increase. Studies have already shown that the death penalty will not deter criminals. Currently there is no solid evidence that proves that the death penalty will deter criminals; however, there is evidence showing that states with no death penalty has a lower murder rate than states with the death penalty. In a recent examination, “researchers concluded that the estimates claiming that the death penalty saves numerous lives are simply not credible. In fact, researchers stated that using the same data and proper methodology could lead to the exact opposite conclusion: that is, that the death penalty actually increases the number of murders”  . Conclusive evidence such as the fact should dispel any criticism regarding the death penalty and murder rates.
The death penalty should be abolish. Those that believe in the death penalty, failed to make their case. There is no conclusive evidence that supports their claims. There is evidence however that the death penalty is failing. Executing a death row inmate is no longer an easy task. There can be long delays in the execution process. Inmates are dying before their execution sentence can be carried out. For all the reasons stated above, the United States of America should abolish the death penalty.
- Death Penalty Curriculum “A just society requires the death penalty for the taking of a life: Agree”, Michigan
- State University
- Death Penalty Information Center, “Discussion of Recent Deterrence Studies”, Berkeley Electronic Press
- Death Penalty Information Center, “Discussion of Recent Deterrence Studies”, Ohio State Journal
- George E. Pataki, “Death penalty is a deterrent”, USA Today
- Unknown Author, “RALPH BAZE AND THOMAS C. BOWLING, Petitionersv.JOHN D. REES, COMMISSIONER, KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL”. United States Supreme Court. 2008, 1