Death Penalty vs Life in Prison

The death penalty has been around since the 18th century. It was made by a King named King Hammurabi of Babylon. He which codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes from stealing, cutting down trees. and robbery. Since the death penalty was arranged, citizens of the United States are thinking if it should be expunged or the states should still have it. Passing lex talionis “eye for an eye” law, most courts are sending prisoners to life in prison including rapists, murders, and child molesters. Citizens of the United States and around the world are on both sides of keeping prisoners in for life or for giving them the death penalty. But some citizens say that they should get the death penalty because they murdered a loved one or they raped a little kid. Some of the reasons why states can’t do the death penalty more often and keeping them in prison for life without probation is the cost, some countries don’t believe in the death penalty, some of the prisoners are mentally unstable to think for themselves, and some citizens don’t believe in the death penalty but instead that the prisoner should stick behind bars for the rest of their life. These are some of the issues about the death penalty that is going around the world as we speak. Courts are putting more prisoners on life without parole instead of giving them the death penalty. Some of the citizens want action instead of words from the court system but having prisoners being in prison for life is better than nothing.

The death penalty was invented by King Hammurabi of Babylon back in the 18th Century B.C. But the death penalty was also part of the 14th Century B.C., in the 7th Century B.C., 5th Century B.C., and in the Roman Law of the Twelve Tables. These Death sentences were carried out by means of crucifixion, downing, beating to death, burning alive, and impalement. King Hammurabi named this Code of Hammurabi. The Code was determined to be written circa 1780 B.C. Although there were other codes preceding it, The Code is considered the first important legal code known to historians for its comprehensive coverage of topics and wide-spread application. It has been translated and analyzed by historians, legal and theological scholars. The Code is well known for embodying the principle of Lex Talionis (“eye for an eye”) which is described as a system of retributive justice. However, the Code is also much more complex than just describing offenses and punishments and not all punishments are of the retributive kind. The Code has great relevance to economists. However, very few studies have been undertaken from an economic or economic thought point of view. The objective of this paper is to explore the content of The Code and extract the implied economic principles (Nagrajan 2011).

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There was a study on the Hammurabi’s Code. Fudenberg and Levine take the second paragraph of the Code and case terms of the theory of learning in game theory. If a man has charged a man with sorcery and then has not provided (it against) him, he who is charged with the sorcery shall go to the holy river; he shall leap into the holy river, and if the holy river overwhelms him, his accuser shall take a keep his house; if the holy river proves that man clear (of the offence) and he comes back safe, he who has charged him with sorcery shall be put to death; he who leapt into the holy river shall take and keep the house of his accuser (Nagrajan 2011).

In China, there is a legal and cultural tradition that “He who Kills others shall die”. Therefore, it is not surprising to apply the death penalty to those criminals. China doesn’t have a death penalty but they do have other techniques for people that are in prison for life. The guiding principle of the death penalty to reduce the severity of the punishment, death penalty was surely to be reformed. The mitigation of death penalty could be divided into the following two aspects: First, mitigate the cruelty of death penalty. Three sever punishments, dismembering, beheading, and torture of dead body, were abolished, only decapitation and hanging were left. Second, reduce the number of capital offenses. Through the criminal law reform in late Qing dynasty, the number of capital offenses were greatly reduced. So instead of being put onto death row like the United States, the prisoners are tortured by poke sticks, bones are broken, and the prisoners later would be on their best behavior because they wanted to get out of the prison cell.

The difference between the United States and China is the death penalty in general. China doesn’t have one because they use a different technique for their prisoners compared to the United States. The United States would call in witnesses to watch a prisoner get the injection and it is harmless compared to torture. Though, China does have less crime rates compared to the United States because they don’t want to go to prison again compared to the United States where they get a room and board for free.

The United States does have the largest population of prisoners and for repeat offenders. When repeat offenders decide to go back and forth in prison, they cause more money than the death penalty does. Some supporters assert that those convicted of first-degree murder ought to be executed so as to avoid the high cost of their life-long incarceration. That belief is another widely accepted myth given that executions are exceedingly expensive. Court and legal costs stemming from complex trials and lengthy appeals (which are in place to ensure against the execution of an innocent person) are paid for by tax dollars. In research, cities specific aspects of capital punishment contributing to its high cost:

1. Capital trials are far more expensive for the state to prosecute and for the defendant to defend than non-capital trials due to the numerous and complex legal issues that must be resolved before the sentence of death can be imposed.

2. Capital trials are really two separate trials: a guilt and a penalty phase. Each stage requires far more preparation and additional resources than non-capital cases.

3. The appeals process in capital cases is also complex and lengthy, demanding larger financial expenditures necessary to bring such cases to a final legal determination.

Costs vary from state to state and case to case, but generally, executions are tree to four times more expensive than life imprisonments. Estimates for Ted Bundy’s execution in 1989, for instance, range from $6 to $10 million (Welch 2011).

The seriousness of each capital indictment warrants its treatment as a true capital case requiring a great expenditure of time, energy and resources. However, not all indictments proceed to the trial state. For example, in Ohio there are approximately 125 indictments per year for capital cases, although only about twenty percent will ultimately proceed to trial. Thus, the overall costs of capital indictments may be enormous, even though in some jurisdictions only a few will actually proceed to trial (Tabak 1989).

Investigation conducted by the state does not halt upon indictment or arraignment, but continues throughout the pretrial level and throughout the crime process. Additionally, investigation by the defense will be necessary in trial. Investigation is estimated to take approximately three to five times longer in capital cases than in non-capital cases because the defense and the state must prepare not only for the guilt phase, but for the separate penalty phase. In one survey, investigators fees were estimated to range from $500-$1500 per day or between $75-$200 per hour for experienced investigators. In a capital case, motions are commonly filed asserting the defendant’s incompetency to stand trial. Defense counsel also consider using a diminished capacity or insanity defense. Thus, in addition to investigators, both sides require the services of psychiatrists as well as other experts. Equally common is the state’s use of testimony by similar experts to refute the claims asserted by the defense. The court may also hire its own experts to perform evaluations on its behalf. Each of these experts will perform examinations and formulate evaluations prior to trial. This expense is separate from the cost of in-court expert testimony during trial. Estimated costs for psychiatric experts range from $500-$1,000 per day, or $100-$150 per hour. The services of other experts at the pretrial level are required as well (Spangenberg 1989).

In one state, for example, the additional cost of expert witnesses and investigators were estimated to be $3,000 and $2,000 respectively. Additionally, it was assumed that the prosecution would also utilize its own experts, thereby nearly doubling the total cost. In California during the fiscal years 1984-1985, the average per case allotment for defenses expert’s preparation for trial was $12,000. The average amount expended for support costs in Maryland capital cases is $9,822 per case. Numerous pretrial motions are filed in capital cases both by the defense and the prosecution. Although typical of motions field in all criminal cases, those filed in capital cases tend to be longer, more complex, and rise issues that are part of the defense attorney’s strategy—preventing imposition of the death penalty (Spangenberg 1989).

The estimates of costs at the guilt and sentencing phases very greatly from state to state. New York has estimated that if the death penalty were to be reinstated there, trial costs including attorneys’ fees, investigators, and experts would be $176,350, and the costs for the prosecution would be $845,400. Further, New York also estimated court costs at $300,000, exclusive of corrections costs. Appeals have been calculated to cost another $320,000. The total process would cost the State of New York approximately $1.7 million (Spangenberg 1989).

Next are examples of expenses and courtroom cost in California, New Jersey, Ohio, Maryland and Kansas. Courtroom costs in California is $65,580, $16 million per year for all capital cases in New Jersey, $1.5 million annually to public defenders in Ohio, $50,000-$75,000 for one capital trial case in Maryland. Lastly, total trial costs would equal $9,269,750 annually, and state another $2 million annually in Kansas for a capital punishment case (Spangenberg 1989).

These quotes are the reason why everyone is saying the death penalty is expensive. On Capital Punishment cases, prisoners have to go in and out of court, have their layers present, they have a juror presence once they have to go to trial, officers, etc. Instead of a guilty charge and giving the lethal injection in a few days/weeks, courts and attorneys are saying they don’t want to do the injection. They are letting prisoners be on life without parole instead of the death penalty. It’s a proven fact that if they are on life without parole, it’s more expensive to keep the prisoner alive. Instead of giving the lethal injection and being in debt and having the state help out with paying for the injection, it takes years for the state to get out of debt for keeping someone on death row for years.

Another issues the United States is having issues with is should the death penalty be placed on mentally ill people or them even going to prison for anything they did. Mentally disabled people are in prison for life or if they aren’t in prison they will be in a mental institution for life. If they are on disability, on medication, or even on social security, most of the time these patients don’t remember what they did or didn’t do. Most of the time, these patients don’t remember that they did because they show proven factors, they are mentally unstable or on heavy medication. They talk to themselves as well as talking to someone that isn’t there. Some say mentally ill people shouldn’t be in prison or even on death row.

The number of incarcerated men and women with severe mental illness has grown so tremendously in the last few decades that prisons may now be the largest mental health providers in the United States. Prison conditions are hard on mental health in general, because of overcrowding, violence, lack of privacy, lack of meaningful activities, isolation from family and friends, uncertainty about life after prison, and inadequate health services. The impact of these problems is worse for prisoners whose thinking and emotional responses are impaired by schizophrenia, bipolar disease, major depression, and other serious mental illnesses. The mentally ill in prison also faces inadequate mental health services that leave them undertreated or mistreated. In addition, poor mental health services leave many prisoners receiving, inappropriate kinds of amounts of psychotropic medication that further impairs their ability to function (Fellner 2006).

There are more than 200,000—perhaps as many as 300,000—men and women in U.S. jails and prisons suffering from mental disorders, including such serious illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. The proportion of prisoners with mental illness is increasing. The high number and growing proportion of persons with mental illness in U.S. prisons are unintended and tragic consequences of inadequate community mental health services combined with punitive criminal justice policies. Numerous studies and surveys have documented this rise in the incarceration of the mentally ill. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that sixteen percent of adult inmates in state prisons and local jails are mentally ill. There are three times as many mentally ill people in prison than in mental health hospitals, and the rate of mental illness in prisons is two to four times greater than the general public (Fellner 2006).

Mentally ill prisoners, however, do not have the same capacity to comply with prison rules as do other prisoners. If they have schizophrenia or other serious “Axis I” disorders, psychotic symptoms, or other serious dysfunction, inmates may suffer from delusions (false beliefs), hallucinations (erroneous perceptions of reality), chaotic thinking, or serious disruptions of consciousness, memory, and perception of the environment. They may experience debilitating fears or extreme and uncontrollable mood swings. As a result of their illness, they may huddle silently in their cells, mumble incoherently, or yell incessantly. They may hear voices or “command hallucinations,” telling them to commit violence against themselves or others. They may exhibit their illness through disruptive behavior, belligerence, aggression, and violence. They may suddenly refuse to follow routine orders, such as to come out of a cell, to stand up, for the count, to remove clothes from cell bars, or to take showers. They may beat their heads against cell walls, smear themselves with feces, self-mutilate, and attempt suicide (sometimes succeeding). In short, they may—and often do—behave in ways that prison system considers punishable misconduct (Fellner 2006).

Having the sheer number of inmates in prison is higher than the normal prisoners that are not unstable. But some prisoners that are prison for life are the deserving people like James Holmes. James Holmes is a known serial killer and was on death row for what he did but his attorney mentioned that he is mentally unstable and he shouldn’t be put on death row. Another person that was on death row was Nathan Dunlap. He received the death row sentence, but later on in his prison sentencing, his death sentence was put to life in prison without parole. This was because of the impeachment process that was passed in 2019 for the abolishment of having it in Colorado. Since this passed every person that was on the death penalty sentencing, everyone is on life without parole without the possibility of early parole. But if they are on good behavior, they may get early parole if their attorney will get it going through the court system.

In sentencing James Holmes, the shooter from the 2012 Aurora, Colorado massacre, Judge Carlos A. Samour stated, “James Holmes was an angry quitter who gave up on life and turned his hatred into murder and mayhem against innocent victims. It’s also impossible to comprehend how a human being is capable of such acts. He sentenced Holmes to twelve consecutive life sentences equaling 3,318 years. The Severity and intensity of his psychosis was so high so sever, as to render him incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong. A psychiatrist who treated James Holmes described him as an anti-social “Odd-ball” who thought obsessively about killing people in the months before the shooting. His psychiatrist testified that James Holmes had “homicidal thoughts” as often as three or four time a day in March 2012 and had an obsession with killing that was only getting worse. Insanity is a legal term of art that changes definitions depending on the legal standard in American jurisprudence. When the defense attorney did a test on James Holmes, the test results came back as a Federal Rule of Evidence of 704(b)—now protests expert witnesses from assuming the jury function and making legal conclusions about a defendant’s mental state. The rule was added into the evidentiary rules in 1984 after the passing of Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 to further limit expert testimony in criminal cases. Expert testimony was restricted to mental matters, and the expert is barred from making legal conclusions in court as to whether the defendant had the sufficient means rea to be held criminally responsible. While 704(b) was not added until 1984, the obvious problems with the Durham Product Test led to the American Law Institute to create own insanity definition (Collins 2018).

The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 made three major changes to the insanity defense. First, the act significantly restricted the standard of insanity to the M’Naghten test. Second, the burden of proof was shifted from the government to the defendant. Third, the law prohibits experts from testifying as to the ultimate legal issue of whether the defendant was insane at time of the commission of the crime. Following the passage of the act, many states today have adopted the standard of insanity set forth by the act with some states abolishing the insanity defense entirely. Colorado, the state where James Holmes was tried, adopted a modified standard of the M’Naghten test with the State baring the burden of proving the defendant’s insanity. This means that if a defendant pleads not guilty by reason of insanity, the State has the burden of disproving the insanity plea. Thus, ultimately trying to prove that the defendant was sane at the time of the crime. While the less restrictive standard for insanity was the law for the James Holmes case, it was not enough to save him being found sane at the time of his mass shooting (Collins 2018).

The history of the Death Penalty has been around since the Roman Law of the Twelve Tables and back then, they were executing people by chopping off their heads or by torturing people to get information out of them. These days, lethal injections or gas chambers are used for the death penalty. The death penalty has killed the prisoners for years because of what they did for example: murder, child molestation, manslaughter, etc. These are the common ones that prisoners these days and back in the days were accused of and were executed for.

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Death Penalty vs Life in Prison. (2022, Jan 10). Retrieved from