Capital PunishmentPutting to death people who have been judge to have committed certain
extremely heinous crimes is a practice of ancient standing. But in the United
States, in the latter half of the twentieth century, it has become a very
controversial issue. Changing views on this difficult issue led the Supreme
Court to abolish capital punishment in 1972 but later turned to uphold it again
in 1977, with certain conditions. Indeed, restoring capital punishment is the
will of the people, yet many voices have been raised against it. Heated public
debate have centered on questions of deterrence, public safety, sentencing
equality, and the execution of innocents, among others.
One argument states that the death penalty does not deter murder.
Dismissing capital punishment on that basis would require us to eliminate all
prisons as well because they do not seem to be any more effective in the
deterrence of crime. Others say that states which have the death penalty
have higher crime rates than those that do not. And that a more sever
punishment only inspires more sever crimes. But every state in the union is
different. These differences include population, the number of cities, and the
crime rate. Urbanized states are more likely to have higher crime rates than
states that are more rural. The state that have capital punishment have it
because of their high crime rate, not the other way around.
In 1985, a study was published by economist Stephen K. Layson, at the
University of North Carolina, that showed that every execution of a murderer
deters, on average of 18 murders. The study also showed that raising the
number of death sentences by only one percent would prevent 105 murders.
However, only 38 percent of all murder cases result in a death sentence, and
of those, only 0.1 percent are actually executed.
During the temporary suspension on capital punishment from
1972 – 1976, researchers gathered murder statistics across the country.
Researcher Karl Spence of Texas A&M University came up with these
statistics, in 1960, there were 56 executions in the United States and 9,140
murders. By 1964, when there were only 15 executions, the number of
murders had risen to 9,250. In 1969, there were no executions and 14,590
murders, and 1975, after six years without executions, 20,510 murders
occurred. So the number of murders grew as the number of executions
shrank. Spence said:
“While some [death penalty] abolitionists try to face down the results
of their disastrous experiment and still argue to the contrary,
the…[data] concludes that a substantial deterrent effect has been
observed…In six months, more Americans are murdered than have
been killed by execution in this entire century…Until we begin to fight
crime in earnest [by using the death penalty], every person who dies at
a criminal’s hands is a victim of our inaction.”
And in Texas, the highest murder rate in Houston (Harris County)
occurred in 1981 with 701 murders. Since Texas reinstated the death penalty
in 1982, Harris County has executed more murderers than any other city or
state in the union and has seen the greatest reduction in murder from 701 in
1981 down to 261 in 1996 – a 63% reduction, representing a 270%
Also, in the 1920s and 30s, death penalty advocates were known to
refer to England as a means of proving capital punishment’s deterrent effect.
Back then, at least 120 murderers were executed every year in the United
States and sometimes the number reached 200. Even then, England used the
death penalty far more consistently than we did and their overall murder rate
was smaller than any one of our major cities at the time. Now, since England
abolished capital punishment about thirty years ago, the murder rate has
subsequently doubled there and 75 English citizens have been murdered by
Abolitionists will claim that most studies show that the death penalty
has no effect on the murder rate at all. But that’s only because those studies
have been focused on inconsistent executions. Capital punishment, like all
other applications, must be used consistently in the United States for decades,
so abolitionists have been able to establish the delusion that it does not deter
at all to rationalize their fallacious arguments. But the evidence shows that
whenever capital punishment is applied consistently or against a small murder
rate it has always been followed by a decrease in murder. There is not an
example on how the death penalty has failed to reduce the murder rate under
So capital punishment is very capable of deterring murder if we allow it
to, but our legal system is so slow and inefficient, criminals are able to stay
several steps ahead of us and gain leeway through our lenience. Several
reforms must be made in our justice system so the death penalty can cause a
Abolitionists claim that there are alternatives to the death penalty.
They say that life in prison without parole serves just as well. Certainly, if
you ignore all the murders criminals commit within prison when they kill
prison guards and other inmates, and also when they kill decent citizens upon
escape. According to the United States Department of Justice, the average
prison sentence served for murder is five years and eleven months. But just
putting a murderer away for life is not good enough. Laws change, so do
parole boards, and people forget the past. Those are things that cause life
imprisonment to weather away. As long as the murderer lives, there is
always a chance, no matter how small, that he will strike again.
This is why for people who truly value public safety, there is no
substitute for the best in its defense which is capital punishment. It not only
forever bars the murderer from killing again, it also prevents parole boards
and criminal rights activists from giving him the chance to repeat his crime.
There are those that state that capital punishment is unfair to people of
other races, classes, or mental abilities. I say that these aspects are not a
issue. Murder has no color, class, or IQ. A murderer is a murderer. When a
loved one is killed, I doubt anyone could take comfort in the fact that the
perpetrator had a low IQ, was black instead of white, or poor instead of rich.
A 1991 Rand Corporation study by Stephen Klein found that white
murderers received the death penalty slightly more often (32%) than
non-white murderers (27%). And while the study found murderers of white
victims received the death penalty more often (32%) than murderers of
non-white victims (23%), when controlled for variables such as severity and
number of crimes committed, there is no disparity between those sentenced to
death for killing white or black victims.
Also, doesn’t the fact that the death penalty is optional make it seem
more prone to racial discrimination? It has been called racist since a
prosecutor can seek a death sentence against an African-American for capital
crime but not a white person for the same offense. You never hear of prison
terms being called “racist” because there are mandatory sentences for many
crimes. If the death penalty were the same way, race would not be an issue
and the courts would be forced to concentrate only on the crime committed.
For capital punishment to be applied equally to every criminal, rich or poor,
black or white, it must be mandatory for all capital cases.
There are claims that it is more expensive for the state to execute a
criminal than to incarcerate him for life. Many opponents presented, as facts,
claim that the cost of the death penalty is so expensive (at least $2 million per
case?), that we must choose life without parole at a cost of $1 million for 50
years. But JFA (Justice for All) also estimated that life without parole cases
will cost $1.2 million – $3.6 million more than equivalent death penalty cases.
Life without parole prisoners face, on average, 30 or 40 years in prison
while the annual cost of incarceration is $40,000 to $50,000 a year for each
prisoner or more. There is no question that the up front cost of the death
penalty is significantly higher than that of the life without parole cases.
There also appears to be no question that, over time, the equivalent life
without parole cases are much more expensive – from $1.2 to $3.6 million –
than death penalty cases. Opponents claim that the death penalty costs 3 – 10
times more than life without parole.
TIME Magazine (2/7/94) found that nationwide the average cell costs
is $24,000 a year and the maximum security cell cost is $75,000 a year.
Therefore, any cost calculations should be based specifically of cell cost for
criminals who have committed the exact same category of offense – in other
words, cost comparisons are valid only if you compare the cost of death
penalty cases to the equivalent life without parole cases.
But the cost for justice does not have to be so high for the execution of
murderers. If we only allowed appeals that are relevant in proving one’s
innocence and eliminated the many more that are used merely as delaying
tactics, it would save millions in taxpayers dollars.
Abolitionists claim that the death penalty is unconstitutional by quoting
the eighth amendment which forbids “cruel and unusual punishment”. But
“cruel and unusual” was never defined by our founding fathers. So where
does the Supreme Court stand on the “cruel and unusual” claim of the
abolitionists? In several cases the Justices of the Supreme Court have held
that the death penalty is not cruel and/or unusual, and is in fact, a
Constitutionally acceptable remedy for a criminal act. The Supreme Court
has constantly held that the death penalty in itself, as a sentence for a crime,
is neither cruel or unusual. The court said:
“The punishment of death is not cruel, within the meaning of that word
as used in the Constitution. It implies there is something more inhuman
and barbarous, than the mere extinguishment of life.”
There are those who insist that the Constitution does not support the death
penalty. This is simply not true. The fifth amendment states:
No person shall be held for a answer for a capital, or otherwise
infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury,
except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia,
when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any
person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of
life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a
witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property,
without due process of law; nor shall property be taken for public use,
without just compensation.
“…a capital, or otherwise infamous crime…
…be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…
…nor be deprived of life…without due process of law…”
So the constitution does allow capital punishment through indirect reference.
I would imagine that the Founding Fathers could not have conceived of
a world or nation without capital punishment. Indeed, in those days, there
was absolutely no question of the value of public safety and personal
responsibility. Had they foreseen the rise in violent crime we have had in the
70s, 80s, and into the 90s, they might have declared the death penalty in the
As for the penal system accidentally executing an innocent person, I
must point out that in this imperfect world, citizens are required to take
certain risks in exchange for relative safety. After all, far more innocent lives
have been taken by convicted murderers than the supposedly 23 innocent
lives mistakenly executed in this century. For instance, over 600 repeat
offenses occur within prison walls each year in this country. Not only that,
but over 13,000 Americans citizens are murdered each year by released and
paroled criminals. These are the serious flaws in life sentences that
abolitionists prefer to trivialize to nonexistence. One United States Senate
report stated this position this way:
All that can be expected of…[human authorities] is that they take every
reasonable precaution against the danger of error…If errors are…made,
this is the necessary price that must be paid within a society which is
made up of human beings.
Also, the death penalty isn’t the only institution that require that we
accept risks in exchange for social benefits. We, in fact, mindlessly use far
more dangerous institutions that take the lives of innocents by the hundreds
every day, cars for example. After all, how can we accept the average 45,000
person a year death toll in this nation due to car wrecks for our personal
conveniences when we can’t accept the few risks of wrongful executions for
the sake of defending public safety?
To enjoy the privilege of using cars, airplanes, or any other device that
improve the quality of our lives, we accept the risks and deaths that are
caused by them in order to reap their full benefits. The same concept applies
for the death penalty only on a far lesser scale. As long as we are entitled to
recklessly endanger hundreds of innocent lives daily for our personal
conveniences, then surely we should be allowed to take on a lesser risk for
public safety. Every institution that is of great benefit to our society always
contains risks so that we may enjoy a better world. The death penalty
happens to be the least dangerous of them, yet it is focused on with the most
Abolitionist like to establish the illusion that the death penalty is the
only risk that exists. That’s why they rarely, if ever, pay attention to the
hundreds of innocent human beings that are brutally slaughtered daily by cars,
airplanes, fire, and electricity, let alone violent crime. The only time they
assign the most worth and reverence to human lives is when they help
rationalize their own standards like the possible victims of wrongful
executions. Also, whenever we have to go to war, it happens that all the
gunshots we fire that are meant for the enemy may hit and kill many of our
own soldiers and allies. It had been known to occur, but that unpleasant
factor doesn’t prevent us from going to war.
On a final note, how can murder be taken seriously if the penalty isn’t
equally as serious? A crime, after all is only as sever as the punishment that
follows it. As Edward Konch once said:
“It is by exacting the highest penalty for the taking of human life that
we affirm the highest value of human life.”
As the flagship of democracy, it is the United States responsibility to
demonstrate that public safety is not some trivial privilege, but an unalienable
human right for every citizen. Therefore, the United States should set the
example that every civilized nation has a moral responsibility to defend the
safety of their citizens at least as diligently as they defend national security
with an army.
Every country in the world is ready and willing to kill thousands, even
millions of human beings in brutal, merciless ways to defend their nation from
the aggression of other countries. I don’t see why public safety doesn’t
deserve as much respect and protection as a nation’s national security does.
In fact, it can be reasonably argued that supporting armies and waging war is
far more barbarous than the death penalty. So I find it hypocritical that the
same countries who have abolished capital punishment because it is
“barbaric” are at the same time prepared to enforce political power and
defend their territorial claims through infinitely more violence and bloodshed
than the death penalty would ever require.
The whole reason why nations and governments exist is to defend their
citizens from vicious criminals. When it fails to do that, it becomes of little
use to its citizens. When a society ignores their moral duty to defend the
safety and security of their citizens and leaves them at the mercy of violent
criminals, they are negligent. I am certain that there will come a time when
all the nations in the world will be forced to agree after decades of experience
on this issue, that capital punishment, like the military and the police force
and taxes, is an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of every civilized
society and it will no longer be a question of whether or not a nation should
have the death penalty, but rather how it should be used. While I believe that
prompt and consistent executions would have a deterrent effect, there remains
one great virtue, even as infrequent as executions. The recidivism rate for
capital punishment is zero. No executed murderer has ever killed again. You
can’t say that about those sentenced to prison, even if you are an abolitionist.