Is the death penalty effective? Death penalty, also known as capital punishment, refers to a legal stipulation or sanction in a state that recommends that an individual be put to death as a means of punishment for a certain crime. In recent times, there is heated debate whether such punishment is fair and desirable, or if it should be done away with all together. Both pro-death and anti-death penalty positions demonstrate sound arguments based on a variety of considerations. These include ethics and morals, deterrence, justice, credibility, and economic gains, among others. The question of effectiveness of death penalty should be studied more aggressively and thoroughly since there is not yet enough proof of its substantial fruitfulness in the society. Some people argue that it is effective as it reduces criminal activities, while others argue that it is against common human rights. Human beings were created by their Creator, and those who oppose the action argue that the same Creator is the only one to take away the life; no human being is allowed to take another person’s life irrespective of the circumstances prevailing. The essay aims at evaluating the effectiveness of the matter using various proofs that researchers have developed.
The moral and ethical question of death penalty in a nation like America has far-reaching arguments. The concern here is not if victims deserve to die, but if the government has the mandate to murder its prisoners. What determines the authority vested on people and governments to murder people even if they have committed crimes? A closer look at some historical facts on death penalty punishment in America shows that there has been a legacy of ethnic discrimination, class bias, and racial apartheid. This is unethical and an immoral scenario, which justifies the rejection of the death penalty on morality and equality grounds (Pojman & Reiman, 1998). Any practice that involves taking away someone’s life raises many ethical and moral questions about the society and the justice system of the nation. In support of the death penalty, every government has a duty to secure its people. Treason and murder are gross. It is therefore expected that the culprits receive the most severe punishment in order to protect human lives and correct the morals of the society (Pojman & Reiman, 1998). In this case, death penalty is considered to honor human dignity since it treats the defendant in a fair manner.
Deterrence and death penalty
While considering the most severe punishment, it was definitely considered that every individual fears death. This could be compared to price and power to buy. This means that if the price to pay is too high, potential customers will shy away from buying the commodity. With this in mind, the policy makers considered that life in prison is less feared than execution. Therefore, a death sentence must be the best punishment option not only to deter crimes but also to protect citizens from further murder by the same person. Some social science research and statistics have questioned the manner of these claims obtaining support and how statistical data is analyzed. Amnesty International has graphically demonstrated that there is no correlation between the practice of death penalty and reductions in murder. The data collected from FBI crime records show that the states that do not practice death sentence have actually less murder crimes, which were consistent from 1990 to 2010. Many states have opted for long life imprisonment rather than death penalties. Surprisingly, they seem to be doing significantly better as far as murder related crimes are concerned (Amnesty International USA, 2013). Therefore, this refutes the claims that death penalty has a deterrent effect on crime and murder.
Justice and death penalty
One of the reasons for imposing death penalty in the justice system is to create a just system whereby every individual receives their due. Criminals who deny people their peace and liberties as well as take away their lives interfere with the just order. Davis contends that it seems just to have the murderers eliminated from the society through deserved punishment. Justice is exercised because wrongdoers have to pay for the crime they have committed. Thus, a murderer should not face a different punishment but face murder as well. Having this in mind, most of the people who contemplate taking the law into their hands and end someone’s life will think twice about it. In contrast, this kind of justice resembles revenge. Since somebody has committed a murder crime, it does not mean that they should be killed as well. Statistics have shown that there is a close relationship between poverty and levels of murder crimes in the society. This can be said to be true if the numbers of the death toll list in American jails is considered, many being Hispanics an African-Americans.
Considering that the overall population of these communities in relation to total population is very small, it is interesting to find that they are the vast majority amongst capital criminals (Walker & Spohn, 2012). It would be wise to think of ways of solving the social-economic and political problems accordingly as way of curbing crime and murder. A good researcher would like to dig deeper in order to find other facts that lie behind these statistical imbalances. It is most likely that there are some social-economic-political biased justices. First is literal purchase of justice; without money, it is hard to get good defense. Most of these victims end up hiring some incompetent defense advocates, most of who are paid by the state or even some volunteers. It is a matter of availability and affordability and competence. Popularity is the other issue; some prominent person would hardly get the same treatment and punishment as a common person (Walker & Spohn, 2012). This is why the rich people are most likely to get a fair trial while poor people have higher chances of facing rather more harsh punishments.
In this era of social media and the internet, the government and the justice system are very cautious in their deeds due to scrutiny by the wider society. Due to some publicity for instance, in cases of innocent persons being persecuted or incompetent defense lawyers, much caution is taken. The professionals and authorities involved try to avoid the demeaning scenarios where every slight accusation is given wide media coverage. Therefore, in the case of defense, attorneys try to file all kinds of motions and objections (Pojman & Reiman, 1998). They undertake these precautions for the sake of protecting their clients from being convicted. In other words, attorneys ensure that they will pass every form of scrutiny on appeal and thereby try to avoid errors. This enhances levels of the defendant’s protection. Maintaining 100% error free results in a justice system is hard. In any system where human testimony is relied upon for proof, there has to be a certain level of mistakes.
The system of justice, especially in a developed nation, is expected to be vigilant in order to avoid, uncover, and rectify such mistakes. However, despite the claims that the new technology has brought about more credibility in forensic research, there are still many errors in the system. It shocks how many convictions are overturned when parties appeal. This is partly due to serious errors by professionals with inadequate experience in trials related to capital cases. Some of these are court-appointed defense attorneys who are actually incompetent for this kind of job (Bedau, 2004). It is sad that while some of the cases demonstrate flaws in the death penalties where the innocent have lost their lives, the government is not taking action. A civilized society should ensure that the innocent people do not suffer while the lawbreakers go scot-free. This means that there were flaws in the manner of investigations and they were to die if nobody intervened. The pillar of the justice system is to have even one single innocent person saved from suffering due to false allegations.
There are arguments that the death penalty is costly. This makes policy makers consider whether to opt for life imprisonment instead or not. Otherwise, these predictions may be entirely wrong because this quotation seems to be too high. The pronouncements are set for up to two million dollars for a single execution (Davis, 1996). This calls for a question of how countries like China, which have a record high prevalence of executions, manages to meet these costs. If this can help in solving the ever-increasing problem of murder and related crimes, then it is worth researching on how other states perform it cost effectively. Some crime analysts and researchers have carried out a vigorous review and there is a common element in all of their findings. Davis (1996) argues that, the death penalty has demonstrated to be highly expensive in comparison to a different system capable of handling similar cases but with lesser punishment. A death penalty needs more experts, more pre-trial time, and a couple of trials: one for confirming being guilty and the other one for punishment. In addition, there has to be a series of appeals, and during this time, the inmate is usually held in very high security, as it is the case of death row.
Considering that death penalties are irrevocable, a judicial system should not be vulnerable to making mistakes that would cost so many innocent people their lives. The reasons behind the persistence of such a cruel punishment are not sufficient. Worse still, the claims, which are supported by insufficient statistical data, fail to prove the efficiency of the system in comparison with other forms of punishments like life imprisonment. Some researchers have demonstrated that the justice system uses the death penalty in some undesirable manner. Thus, if no caution is taken, the system could be used disproportionately and discriminatory against the marginalized, the poor, and the powerless in the society.
Amnesty International USA. (2013, January 1). The Death Penalty and Deterrence.
Bedau, H. (2004). Debating the death penalty: Should America have capital punishment? : The experts on both sides make their best case. New York: Oxford University Press.
Davis, M. (1996). Justice in the shadow of death: Rethinking capital and lesser punishments. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.
Pojman, L., & Reiman, J. (1998). The death penalty for and against. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Stearman, K. (2008). The debate about the death penalty. New York: Rosen Pub. Group’s Rosen Central.
Walker, S., & Spohn, C. (2012). The Color of justice: Race, ethnicity, and crime in America ([5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.