Abolishing the death penalty
The death penalty is the most severe form of punishment meted out for an offense. Usually, the courts reserve the death penalty for the most coldhearted criminals where it is clear that no amount of jail time will lead to reform. In the United States of America, the death penalty is subject to plenty of controversies amid waning support from the American public. The recent public furor over the use of chemical injections to kill criminals is just one facet of the death penalty controversy where states still cling on to the practice of executing criminals despite the high costs and bad publicity. This paper analyzes the nature of the death penalty with the aim of agitating for its abolishment across America.
The decision to use the death penalty leaves plenty of destruction in its wake, despite the high costs and a decline in public support, most American states have an active death penalty statute that makes it legal for the courts to sentence a criminal to death. Among the first world nations, America is the only country that clings on to a practice that many view as archaic. The death penalty is an ineffective method of dealing with crime and America should abolish the practice. This paper analyzes the nature of the death penalty in the USA and reveals just why America should abolish the practice for more humane methods of dealing with crime.
Capital punishment and the use of the death penalty is a core criminal justice issue. Criminal justice revolves around the systems and the laws used to control crime and ensure justice. For a long time in the United States of America, the death penalty has been the problem child of the criminal justice system. The Supreme Court made the death penalty illegal between 1967 and 1972 only to legitimize the practice again in 1976 (Radelet and Borg). In the face of waning public support for the death penalty, the criminal justice system makes less and less death penalty convictions each year.
A wealth of research regarding the death penalty spans many decades, the general opinion of the scientific community is overwhelmingly against the use of the death penalty as a method of deterring crime. Scientific research on the death penalty focuses on the impact on the society, public opinion, impact on the criminal among other areas. In most of the research and works published about the death penalty, the researchers and authors conclude that the negative impact of the death penalty far outweighs the positive impact. There are far better ways to reduce crime and achieve justice than opting to kill the criminals.
The impact and conclusion of the scientific body of research regarding the death penalty easily translate to the real world. The overwhelming negative impact of the death penalty does not warrant continuing the practice. The aim of the criminal justice system is to ensure peace in the society by suppressing crime; there are far better ways to achieve this than simply eliminating the worst criminals. The millions of dollars spent each year to execute death sentences could support community-based initiatives that have a positive impact on reducing crime.
The first resource used for the paper has the title of “The decline of the death penalty and the discovery of innocence” published by the authors Baumgartner, Boydstun, & Boef in the Cambridge University Press. The book focusses on the worldwide decline in the use of the death penalty as a form of punishment. Many countries have lessened the use of the death penalty as capital punishment; instead, nations have improved their judiciaries and crime investigation tactics to ensure that the innocent do not go to jail (Baumgartner, Boydstun, and Boef). The book presents some interesting insights that will be crucial in writing the paper; the author’s observations on the nature of the death penalty will help me in drafting arguments against the practice in the United States of America.
The second resource used in the book has the title of “The death penalty in America: Current controversies” published in 1988 by the author Bedau through the Oxford University Press. In the book, the author analyzes the use of the death penalty in the United States of America and carefully outlines the controversies for the reader (Bedau). Even though the author wrote the book in 1998 when most of the world still used the death penalty, the book presents some cogent arguments against the death penalty that are still valid today. The book will enable me to understand the use of the death penalty in America and help me to form relevant argument points.
The third resource used has the title “A taste for punishment: Black Americans' views on the death penalty and the war on drugs” written by the authors Bobo, & Johnson and published in the Du Bois Review in 2004. The book analyzes the opinions of the black minority in America regarding the use of the death penalty. The focus on Black people is apt because they are the minority group most affected by the war on drugs (Bobo and Johnson). The authors note that the use of the death penalty to punish black offenders may have a discriminatory effect. The authors also state that most black folks look upon the death penalty with disdain as it hearkens back to the days of slavery when the intention of the death penalty was to suppress and control the slaves through public hangings. The resource provides some valid viewpoints that will help me shape my arguments in the paper.
The fourth resource used has the title “The political sociology of the death penalty: A pooled time-series analysis” written by the authors Jacobs, & Carmichael and published by the American Sociological Review in 2002. The article in the Journal presents the results of a scientific inquiry conducted by the authors. The authors sought to have a better understanding of the political sociology of the death penalty; they did this by assessing public opinions and past research papers regarding the use of the death penalty in the United States of America (Jacobs and Carmichael). The resource will be very instrumental in helping me to understand public opinions regarding the use of the death penalty and helping me to shape my arguments.
The fifth resource used for the paper has the title “The Death Knell for the Death Penalty and the Significance of Global Realism to its Abolition” written by Malone in 2016. The author observes and documents the decline of the use of death penalty across the world. The author notes that America is one of the last advanced nations still clinging on to the practice (Malone). The observation of the author provides me with insight that enables me to shape my arguments for the abolition of the death penalty in America.
The sixth resource used for the paper has the title “State, Be Not Proud: A Retributivist Defense of the Commutation of Death Row and the Abolition of the Death Penalty” written by Markel and published in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review in 2005. The author argues that the death penalty does not do enough to punish and remedy the offender (Markel). The author not only argues for the abolition of the death penalty but also suggests better alternatives that serve a better use to the society. This resource provides me with valid points that I will inculcate in my arguments against the death penalty.
The seventh resource used for the paper has the title “Getting off death row: Commuted sentences and the deterrent effect of capital punishment.” written by the authors Mocan, & Gittings and published in the Journal of Law and Economics in 2003. The authors analyze the impact that commuted sentences have in remedying the behavior of the offender and note the deterrent effect of capital punishment (Mocan and Gittings). By acknowledging that the death penalty can also serve as a deterrent to crime, the authors provide a useful counterargument to the abolition of the death penalty. The resource provides me with greater insight on the impact of the death penalty and helps me to shape my arguments.
The eighth resource used has the title “Death penalty abolition and the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol” written by Neumayer and published in the International Journal of Human Rights in 2008. In the resource, the author focuses on the worldwide movement that has seen the abolition of the death penalty in many world regions. The author notes that international treaties on human rights have had a tremendous impact in pushing nations towards more humane treatment of their prisoners (Neumayer). The resource increased my awareness about the use of the death penalty outside the United States of America and helped me shape my arguments.
The ninth resource used for the paper has the title “Death Penalty: The political foundations of the global trend towards abolition.” Written by Neumayer and published in the Human rights review in 2008. The author analyzes the core reasons that increased the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty (Neumayer). The author notes that there are strong political motivations for the abolition of the death penalty. The resource provided me with profound insight regarding the political nature of the movement for the abolition of the death penalty.
The tenth resource used for the paper has the title “Persuasion and Resistance: Race and the death penalty in America” written by the authors Peffley, & Hurwitz and published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2007. The authors analyze the use of the death penalty in America from a race perspective. In doing so, the authors observe that capital punishment was often used to suppress the rights of racial minorities in America. The authors conclude by agitating for the abolition of the death penalty in America (Peffley and Hurwitz). The resource from the American Journal of Political Science helped me to shape my opinions on the nature of the death penalty in America.
The eleventh resource used for the paper has the title “The changing nature of death penalty debates” written by the authors Radelet, & Borg and published by Annual Reviews of Sociology in 2000. The authors note the evolution of arguments across America regarding the use of the death penalty. In the past, people argued strongly for the death penalty noting its impact in deterring crime and providing retribution to the victims. In the present people argue strongly for the abolition of the death penalty noting that it is an inhuman practice (Radelet and Borg). The resource provided me with insights that helped to shape my arguments in the paper.
The final resource used in the paper has the title of “The abolition of the death penalty in international law” written by the authors Schabas, & William and published by Cambridge University Press. The authors note the international movement against the death penalty. The international forces that caused the abolition of the death penalty throughout the world are still relevant in America (Schabas and William). The resource provided me with insight that went into writing the paper.
The death penalty in America
The use of the death penalty in America has its roots in the seventeenth century where the first death sentence issued was to Captain George Kendall for spying for the Spanish government. The American criminal justice system mostly reserves death sentences for murderers.
The American bill of rights supports the use of the death penalty under the requirement that the government engages in the due process of law before depriving an individual of their life. The relationship between American states and the death penalty constantly fluctuates with the states of Arizona and Oregon at one time abolishing the death penalty only to reinstate the practice years later (Neumayer). Despite current progressive attitudes against the death penalty, America still executes people with 15 people executed so far in 2016.
Almost all of the first world nations except America have abolished the use of the death penalty (Schabas and William). In the United States of America, death penalty discussions never achieve much fruition because the debates take on partisan tones and reach an impasse under which the status quo prevails. Statistical research reveals that support for the death penalty among the American public is higher than in other first world nations; despite this, only a small portion of Americans agree with the practice (Malone).
Arguments against the death penalty
An analysis of the scientific body of knowledge regarding the death penalty leads to several arguments on why America should do away with the death penalty and divert the money to more fruitful crime prevention strategies.
Liberal arguments against the death penalty stress that human life is very valuable, and the government should do all it can to protect this right; this notion is echoed in many international treaties where nations commit to respecting human rights, including the right to live. Given the value of human life, capital punishment goes against the obligation of governments to protect the lives of its citizens (Jacobs and Carmichael). Given the possibility of reforming the criminal, governments should strive to give criminals a chance to redeem themselves instead of taking away their right to live.
States usually take several years before executing death penalties; the long period allows the state to carry out due process to prove without a reasonable doubt that the criminal is guilty and deserving of the punishment (Bedau). Despite the long time and plenty of resources availed to ensure that death row criminals are guilty, there is still a high likelihood that innocent individuals get executed for crimes that they did not commit. There are many historical instances of innocent people sentenced to death and later exonerated of the crime after the state has executed them (Bedau). The death penalty should be abolished if only to eliminate the massive injustice of sentencing an innocent person to their death. There always exists the possibility that circumstances lead to the execution of an innocent individual (Baumgartner, Boydstun and Boef).
Another reason why America should do away with the death penalty is the sheer cost spent on each execution. The actual process of killing the criminal does not cost plenty of money, but the law obligates the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the criminal is innocent of the crime. The process of proving the guilt of the crime consumes plenty of resources that collectively add up to millions of dollars each year (Bedau). Life sentences cost significantly less than death sentences yet still ensure the protection of the public from the criminal. Research shows that the state of California spends $184 million each year on the death penalty due to the costs of capital trials, legal representation, and enhanced security (Schabas and William). Given current trends, the cost of the death penalty could cost taxpayers 9 billion by 2030. The millions of dollars spent executing death penalties can have a much more positive impact if redirected to community initiatives that improve societies and reduce crime.
Research also shows that the use of the death penalty has a negligible impact in deterring crime in communities (Mocan and Gittings). Empirical research conducted by leading criminologists on the question of capital crime and deterrence revealed that the death penalty has limited deterrence effect compared to the impact achieved by long imprisonment. The revelation about the limited ability of capital crime to deter crime delegitimizes one of the most popular arguments in support of capital crime. Long periods of imprisonment achieve similar deterrence impact with capital punishment (Mocan and Gittings). Given the controversial nature of the death penalty and waning public support, the government should abolish the death penalty in favor of long periods of imprisonment for the most heinous crimes.
Another reason for the abolishment of the death penalty in the United States of America is the likelihood of racial disparity and discrimination in the way the death penalty is applied. Research shows that African Americans are more likely to receive death sentences than their white counterparts are (Peffley and Hurwitz). America has a fractured racial history and the continuing use of the death penalty hearkens back to a period in America’s history where colonialists used the public hangings of black folk to suppress slaves. The abolition of the death penalty is a key step in the process of resolving racial tensions and allowing America to heal.
The racial disparity in the application of the death penalty also applies to the race of the victim. The race of the defendant and the race of the victim is a major factor that influences capital punishment convictions in the United States of America. A 1990 inquiry by the General Accounting Office revealed that in eighty-two percent of cases, the court is more likely to issue a death sentence for the murder of a white individual than for the murder of a black individual (Bobo and Johnson).
The harmful impact of the death penalty has influenced a progressive movement across the world that has seen the abolition of capital punishment in many nations. Overwhelming scientific research proves that there are better ways of deterring crime and justice than executing offenders (Neumayer). Given the high cost and lack of support for the death penalty among the public, the government should abolish the death penalty and redirect the money to more fruitful community initiatives that make communities safe places to live in. The recent controversies surrounding the execution of the death penalty in America have done much to galvanize public opinion against the practice. State governments are walking on an increasingly short leash regarding the use capital punishment as increasing numbers of people oppose the practice.
Arguments for the death penalty
It is prudent to analyze the positive and negative evidence against the use of the death penalty to form an honest opinion. Supporters of the capital punishment argue that the punishment achieves retribution. Conservative notions of justice hold that people should suffer for their wrongdoing with the suffering commensurate with the crime committed; the use of jails is a way of punishing criminals. Under the conservative notions of justice, it is only rational that those who maliciously take the lives of others have their lives taken from them in return (Markel).
People who support the use of capital crimes also argue that the death penalty is the surest way of preventing criminals from committing further crimes. With death penalties, communities and the victims of the crime get to achieve closure. The use of the death penalty also reinforces the notion that bad things happen to those who deserve it; this helps to deter crime.
In conclusion, the death penalty is an ineffective method of suppressing crime. Research proves that there are better alternatives to reducing crime and making communities safer than executing criminals. America should redirect the millions of dollars spent on capital punishment to solving more pertinent community problems such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure.
Baumgartner, Boydstun, and Boef. The decline of the death penalty and the discovery of innocence. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Bedau. The death penalty in America: Current controversies. Oxford University Press., 1998.
Bobo and Johnson. "A taste for punishment: Black and white Americans' views on the death penalty and the war on drugs." Du Bois Review (2004): 1(01), 151-180.
Jacobs and Carmichael. "The political sociology of the death penalty: A pooled time-series analysis. ." American Sociological Review (2002): 109-131.
Malone. "The Death Knell for the Death Penalty and the Significance of Global Realism to its Abolition from Gossip V. Gross to Brumfield V. Cain." Gross to Brumfield V. Cain (March 23, 2016).
Markel. "State, Be Not Proud: A Retributivist Defense of the Commutation of Death Row and the Abolition of the Death Penalty." Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (2005): 40, 407-480.
Mocan and Gittings. "Getting off death row: Commuted sentences and the deterrent effect of capital punishment." Journal of Law and Economics (2003): 46(2), 453-478.
Neumayer. "Death penalty abolition and the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol. ." International Journal of Human Rights (2008): 12(1), 3-21.
—. "Death Penalty: The political foundations of the global trend towards abolition." Human rights review (2008): 9(2), 241-268.
Peffley and Hurwitz. "Persuasion and Resistance: Race and the death penalty in America. ." American Journal of Political Science (2007): 51(4), 996-1012.
Radelet and Borg. "The changing nature of death penalty debates." Annual Review of Sociology (2000): 43-61.
Schabas and William. The abolition of the death penalty in international law. Cambridge University Press, 2002.