I have had many discussions in my life on State Sponsored Murder (some of you may refer to it as the Death Penalty). Usually this does not lead to a consensus, in fact it usually leads to a heated discussion with continually escalating volume, until my wife tells me to stop.
But recently I had a discussion (via IM) with somebody, and this discussion went slightly different than previous ones.
In the end, he changed his mind.
So, given that it seems my arguments against State Sponsored Murder worked at least once to change some body’s mind, I figured I would put them out here in the hope that perhaps these points can change the minds of two people, or three, or millions (who knows).
Basically my argument against State Sponsored Murder boils down to four primary points; the possibility of executing an innocent person, the higher costs associated with executions as compared to life in prison, the ineffectiveness of it as a deterrent, and the arbitrary nature of who is sentenced to death. There are MANY other arguments against State Sponsored Murder, but these are the four that I tend to feel the strongest about.
The Possibility Of Executing An Innocent Person
Despite our best controls, despite our best intentions, despite our best efforts, it is a fact that innocent people are going to be wrongly accused of crimes, and in some cases convicted of those crimes. Obviously we do what we can to keep this to a minimum, but as long as people are fallible, and people are making the choice of guilt or innocence, mistakes will be made.
And for those innocent people, as much as spending time in prison for a crime they did not commit may suck, there is always the chance that the truth will come out, their conviction will be overturned, and they will be released.
According to The Innocence Project, since 1992, more than 215 people in the United States have been exonerated post-conviction, including 16 who were at one time sentenced to death.
I feel that the risk of putting even one innocent person to death outweighs any possible positive aspect or putting a guilty person to death.
The Higher Costs Associated With Executions As Compared To Life In Prison
The Death Penalty Information Center statistics show millions of dollars more in states that have the death penalty being spent on prisoners who are sentenced to death than those prisoners sentenced to life in prison. Each state varies widely, but the overwhelming evidence shows that removing State Sponsored Murder would save those states millions, or tens of millions, or hundreds of millions of dollars, EVERY YEAR.
While it may be crass to equate a dollar value when talking about the taking of a human life, this is one that I feel is important, especially when the country is in the economic crisis we are currently experiencing.
The Ineffectiveness Of It As A Deterrent
On the DPIC’s page, Facts about Deterrence and the Death Penalty, they point out the facts of the idea that State Sponsored Murder being a deterrent.
When looked at on a state by state basis (in the US), those states that commit the most State Sponsored Murders, have significantly higher murder rates by their citizens, than those states who do not execute their prisoners.
When looked at on a global level, the US does not compare favorably to Western Europe in terms of crime, violent crime, etc.
When looked at by Law Enforcement Personnel, it does not act as a deterrent.
When looked at by criminologists, it does not act as a deterrent.
It does not matter how you break down the data, the concept of State Sponsored Murder does not keep the public safer, and in fact may actually make them less safe.
The Arbitrary Nature Of Who Is Sentenced To Death
Imagine that speeders who drive yellow cars are ticketed but speeders who drive other colored cars are not. Whether or not the traffic law explicitly singles out speeders in yellow cars, a system that reaches that result in practice would be unfair. In a death penalty system in which approximately 2% of known murderers are sentenced to death1, fairness mandates that those few who are sentenced to death should be comparable to others who are sentenced to death – and worse than those who are not. A system in which the sentence of death depends more on the color of the victim or the county that the crime is committed in than on the severity of the offense is also arbitrary.src
In the United States, poor, uneducated black males are significantly more likely to receive the Death Penalty as their sentence than other groups, not because of the nature of their crimes, but because of the preconceptions of the juries, the prosecutors, the defense, and the judges.
Also when looking at the victims of those crimes which become Death Penalty cases, compared to the victims of all crimes, you see an obvious gap, that can not be explained by anything other than bias (whether intentional or not).
And finally on this subject, a few other examples of the Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty:
In Washington state, one-fifth of the 84 people who have faced execution in the past 20 years were represented by lawyers who had been, or were later, disbarred, suspended or arrested. (Overall, the state’s disbarment rate for attorneys is less than 1%.) (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Aug. 6-8, 2001).
In North Carolina, at least 16 death row inmates, including 3 who were executed, were represented by lawyers who have been disbarred or disciplined for unethical or criminal conduct. (Charlotte Observer, Sept. 9, 2000).
In Texas, about one in four death row inmates has been defended by lawyers who have been reprimanded, placed on probation, suspended or banned from practicing law by the State Bar. (Dallas Morning News, Sept. 10, 2000).
In Alabama, about 40 of the approximately 185 death row inmates – some within five months of filing deadlines for state appeals – do not have counsel. (N.Y. Times, July 5, 2001). See also Representation.
There Are No Positive Aspects To State Sponsored Murder
I’ve heard many people argue in support of State Sponsored Murder, but I have yet to hear an argument that is not refuted by the facts, so this is my way or asking my readers, if you have a positive aspect to the government murdering citizens, please feel free to respond in the comments.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.