“Dead Man Walking!” This sound rings through each and every death row inmate a thousand times a day; But should it? Capital punishment is one of the most controversial topics among Americans today. Since every person has there own opinion on this topic, either for or against, the question always raised is “Is it morally right.” The number of problems with the death penalty are enormous, ranging from innocence to racism, and these problems will never be resolved unless the death penalty is abolished.
The problems with capital punishment stem as far back as the ritual itself. The number of occurrence on why the death penalty is racist is uncountable. A 1990 report released by the federal government’s General Accounting Office found a “pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty after the Furman decision.” Professor David Baldus examined sentencing patterns in Georgia in the 1970’s. After reviewing over 2,500 homicide cases in that state, controlling for 230 non-racial factors, he concluded that a person accused of killing a white was 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than a person accused of killing a black. The Stanford Law Review published a study that found similar patterns of racial dispair, based on the race of the victim, in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia. For example, in Arkansas findings showed that defendants in a case involving a white victim are three-and-a-half times more likely to be sentenced to death; in Illinois, four times; in North Carolina, 4.4 times, and in Mississippi five times more likely to be sentenced to death than defendants convicted of murdering blacks.
There is also the issue of Capital Punishment being a deterrent. But does the death penalty really deter crime? The death lobby wants you to believe the answer to that question is “yes.” But, in fact, it is a resounding “NO.” Consider this…the US is the only Western nation that still allows the death penalty, and we also have one of the highest crime rates. During the 1980s, death penalty states averaged an annual rate of 7.5 criminal homicides per 100,000, while abolition states averaged a rate of 7.4 per 100,000. That means murder was actually more common in states that use the death penalty. Also consider this…in a nationwide survey of police chiefs and sheriffs, capital punishment was ranked last as a way of reducing violent crime. Only twenty-six percent thought that the death penalty significantly reduces the number of homicides. The theory behind the deterrence doctrine is flawed itself. Murderers do not examine risk/reward charts before they kill someone. Being a criminal is inherently irrational…life imprisonment ought to deter a rational person itself. Besides, no criminal commits a crime if he believes he will be caught.
The next issue that deserves some observation is that of Capital punishment being economically correct, meaning will it save the U.S. and its taxpayers money. “The death penalty is not now, nor has it ever been, a more economical alternative to life imprisonment,” said Spangenberg and Walsh in an article in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review. A study by the NY State Defenders Association showed that the cost of a capital trial alone is more than double the cost of life imprisonment. In Maryland, a comparison of capital trial costs with and without the death penalty for the years 1979-1984 concluded that a death penalty case costs “approximately 42 percent more than a case resulting in a non-death sentence,” according to the US Government Accounting Office. In 1988 and 1989 the Kansas legislature voted against reinstating the death penalty after it was informed that reintroduction would involve a first-year cost of more than $11 million. And the Miami Herald reported that Florida, with one of the nation’s largest death rows, has estimated that the true cost of each execution is approximately $3.2 million, or approximately six times the cost of a life-imprisonment sentence.
The last issue that should be observed is that of innocence. Are there really innocent people on death row? At least twenty-three people have been executed who did not commit the crime they were accused of. And that’s only those that we know. And here lies an inherent danger of capital punishment…when we execute an innocent person; the real killer is still on the streets, ready to victimize someone else. But when an innocent person is arrested, he is often the driving reason behind further investigation, and if he is executed, than the case remains closed forever. Or, at least, until someone else gets killed by the real perpetrator.
On a Final note, there is also the aspect of religion playing a factor in the Capital Punishment debate. Many people point to the passage in Leviticus, which states that an eye for an eye is God’s decree. However, Jesus Christ overturns these Old Testament laws. Given are the examples on why the bible does not support the death penalty; “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Remember that when Jesus came upon the crowd stoning a prostitute, He told them, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Christ taught a doctrine of peace, love, and forgiveness, not revenge, retribution, and death.
Capital punishment is a power that no man or woman deserves to make for another human being. The Constitution clearly states that everybody deserves, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” But if you kill that person how can any of this be attained? Capital punishment is just plain wrong and has no place in today’s society. There are too many flaws in the death penalty; therefore the only reasonable solution is to abolish the death penalty.
Vivian Berger. “ Rolling the Dice to Decide Who Dies”. Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. 5th ed. Eds. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston, Bedford, 1999. 555 – 57 .
Edward I. Koch. “ The Death Penalty: Can It Ever Be Justified?”. Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. 5th ed. Eds. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston, Bedford, 1999. 512 –14
Michael Sepulveda. Death Penalty Deficits in Modern Society. Chicago: Newman, 1992