Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a procedure sanctioned by various state governments in which a convict is executed or rather put to death by the state for a certain offense after being found guilty in court. In the criminal justice system, the death penalty is seen as the sole punishment. Capital punishment was used for nearly 41 offenses, including, but not limited to, the assassination of a foreign official, a member of Congress, or a law enforcement officer, first-degree assassination, genocide, espionage, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Some of the methods used to institute the punishment include hanging, gas chamber, electrocution, firing squad, and lethal injection (Devlin & Baker).
Currently, the death penalty is implemented in 31 out of the 50 US states some of which include, California, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, Washington, and Virginia (Devlin & Baker). For decades, capital punishment has been one of the most controversial issues in the criminal justice system, general public, and the political arenas. Although a substantial number of Americans support the punishment as it serves justice for heinous crimes committed against humanity, capital punishment should be abolished. Some of the reasons for its abolition include, conviction of innocent people, unethical and violates basic human rights, it is not an effective deterrence to crimes and is also too expensive.
Conviction of Innocent People
Over the years there have been increased cases of individuals found innocent after being on death row for many years or after being executed. For years, the institution of capital punishment has been racially biased, arbitrary as well as unfair (Arguments against Capital Punishment). Whether or not a perpetrator is handed the death penalty has been to a great extent dependent on not only the merits of the case but also on the skin color and financial status of the presumed perpetrator (s).
In accordance to the Amnesty reports, in the US more than 20% of Blacks and Hispanics involved in capital offenses are convicted by all-white Juries, and as a result, they are the most likely people to receive the capital punishment despite being innocent. Since 1973, approximately 139 death row inmates have been exonerated, and about 61% of this number has been people of color (Arguments against Capital Punishment). Such is the case of Anthony Hinton who despite being convicted in 1985 was later acquitted in 2015 after spending 30 years on death row; his was a case of a racially biased prosecutor.
Another case is that of George Stinney; a 14-year-old Black boy executed for murdering two girls; however, he was later acquitted with the Judge terming his execution as a “great injustice” (Eleftheriou-Smith). Concerning capital punishment, research also indicates that people with low incomes; hence, poor backgrounds are also likely to receive capital punishment as they lack the ability to hire competent legal defense and as a result 6% of individuals on death row are innocent. Therefore, the institution of the capital punishment makes miscarriage of justice not only unjust but also irrevocable in the event execution is carried out on an innocent person.
While most of the inmates on death row are guilty of committing capital offenses, some of them are not entirely to blame for their actions. For example is in the case of perpetrators that suffer long-term physical, mental and emotional abuse in the hands of their victims as well as those that suffer from underlying mental and personality disorders. While such perpetrators to some extent deserve to be punished for their actions, capital sentence is, however, not a favorable mode of punishment; despite this some of such perpetrators
Unethical and Violation of Human Rights
Capital punishment is instituted to punish individuals for various crimes which include murder; therefore, the punishment can be considered as hypocritical since its self is murder (Bedau). It is also unethical as it greatly supports the notion of “an eye for an eye.” Moreover, many ideologies inclusive of religions such as Christianity and Islam also condemn the punishment as it not only goes against religious teachings but also flagrantly violates the universal right to life as the perpetrator is executed.
Application of methods such as electrocution and hanging have over the years proven to be not only inhumane but also cruel. For example, application of hanging as an execution method; which was prevalently used during colonial America, has in some instances resulted in the decapitation of the criminal, which highly degrades the criminal. Using the electrocution method, there have been instances where the victims went up in flames; moreover, research also indicates that other methods such as the lethal injections are extremely painful.
Therefore, capital punishment exists as a breach of the laws prohibiting inhumane, cruel as well as degrading treatment. Moreover, over the years there have been growing consensus that the phenomena violates the international human rights against human torture and the right to life (Yorke, 4). Most of the spend years on the death row awaiting execution; as a result, they experience not only psychological but also emotional torture as the execution day approaches.
Ineffective in Deterrence
While the proponents of capital punishment argue it is an effective deterrence, research studies, however, prove otherwise. According to research studies conducted by the Death Penalty Information Centre, capital punishment only reduced crimes by approximately 30%, thus from 1991-2011. Despite this, states that implement the sentence still have higher rates of crimes as compared to those that have abolished the sentence (The Facts: 13 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty).
Also, as compared to countries such as Sweden, Canada, and Norway which do not have death penalty, the US has higher crimes rates which indicates the ineffectiveness of the sentence in crime reduction. This is because when most crimes occur the perpetrators rarely think about the consequences of their actions. Another reason why capital is not an effective deterrence is that when an innocent person is sentenced to death, the perpetrator is able to walk away free, this only increases the perpetrator’s confidence that he/she is invisible to the law; hence, resulting in more heinous crimes.
The Pro-death penalty supporters argue that the sentence is less expensive as compared to other sentences such as life imprisonment since there exists no food or other associated costs. However; on the contrary, research indicates that Capital punishment costs the taxpayers a lot more than life sentences (Death Penalty Cost). Some of these costs arise from appeals, additional payment to jurors, extra costs on defense, and execution costs.
According to research, in states like California, approximately 38% more is spent on individuals on death row than in life sentences. Hence, the US government spends approximately 11.5 million more annually in Capital offenses and executions as compared to the life sentences (Death Penalty Cost).
Serves as Retribution
One of the primary arguments brought forward by the pro-capital Sentence is the fact that it serves as retribution for the families of victims; therefore, it is not only appropriate but also justifiable. However, despite the execution most of the victim’s family never recover from the trauma caused nor do executions bring back the victims. Moreover, capital punishment is a less harsh punishment as compared to other punishments such life sentences without parole (The Facts: 13 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty).
This is primarily because it provides the perpetrators with an easy way out of their crimes unlike in life sentences where they have to spend their lives behind bars thinking of their crimes. Therefore, simply restricting both the right and freedom to interact with the outside world and movement, a more defining punitive action is undertaken (The Facts: 13 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty). The proponents of capital punishment also argue strongly on the sentence being cheaper; however, human life, in this case, human life is more important. Therefore, despite their offenses, the value of human life should be upheld. Conclusively, given the fact that, capital punishment can result in the conviction of innocent people, it is unethical and violates basic human rights, ineffective in deterring capital offenses and also too expensive, the death penalty should be abolished.
“Arguments against Capital Punishment”. British Broadcasting Corporation, (2014). http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/capitalpunishment/against_1.shtml
Bedau, H. A. “The Case against the Death Penalty. American Civil Liberties Union, 2012). https://www.aclu.org/other/case-against-death-penalty
“Death Penalty Cost”. Amnesty International, (n.d.). https://www.amnestyusa.org/issues/death-penalty/death-penalty-facts/death-penalty-cost/
Devlin A. & Baker, N. “On Death Row; How many US states still have the death penalty, what is the lethal injection and how many people have been executed?” The Sun, (2017). https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2585888/death-penalty-states-lethal-injection/
Eleftheriou-Smith, L. “George Stinney Jr: Black 14-year-old boy exonerated 70 years after he was executed”. Independent, (2014). http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/george-stinney-jr-black-14-year-old-boy-exonerated-70-years-after-he-was-executed-9932429.html
“The Facts: 13 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty”. Oregonian’s For Alternatives to the Death Penalty, (2016). https://oadp.org/facts/13-reasons
Yorke, Jon. Against the Death Penalty: International Initiatives and Implications. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2008. Pp. 474