The Death Penalty: Why Does It Still Exist?

By Brian Cuevas

The United States is no stranger to capital punishment, as the eye-for-an-eye sentence is allowed in more states than not. Currently, thirty-one states allow the death penalty.1 But why only thirty-one? Why not all fifty states? Or, on the other hand, why is it even allowed in any state? The discussion of the death penalty and its moral implications has always been a hot issue, although the discussion appears to be getting hotter as society progresses. Some states believe that being executed serves justice, though more and more states have begun to question its morality, as New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, and Maryland all have legislatively abolished the death penalty in the last nine years.2 Though morality is a big road block to a larger administration of the death penalty, various practical issues impede as well.

 

Legally executing a person costs taxpayer money. In Florida, the death penalty costs “$51 million a year above what it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison

without parole.”3 In Texas, a death penalty case costs upwards of $2.3 million, which is about three times more than what it would cost to imprison someone for forty years in a single cell at the highest level of security.4 In Kansas, the average cost for a defense in a trial where the death penalty is sought is about $400,000, whereas it only cost about $100,000 when the death penalty was not sought by the prosecution.5 Legislatures are burdened with figuring out how to efficiently allocate taxpayer money and the numbers seem to tell lawmakers to steer away from allocating any to the imposition of a death penalty.

 

Though Lady Justice is blind in theory, she is not always blind in practice. In America, only about 50% of murder victims are white, yet more than 75% of the murder victims were white in cases where the death penalty was sought.6 Additionally, since October 2002, “12 people have been executed where the defendant was white and the murder victim black, compared with 178 black defendants executed for murders with white victims.”7 According to such studies then, a white person who kills a black person is more likely to continue living than a black person who kills a white person. While America has come a long way since Plessy v. Ferguson, there are still plenty of holes to be filled.
The American justice system has been refined throughout the years but, alas, it still makes mistakes. Putting someone to death stops those mistakes from being corrected. A prisoner who has been executed cannot come back to life if they are ever exonerated in the future. Such prisoner will simply have his name cleared while their family remains mourning for them. Luckily, 138 innocent death row prisoners have been exonerated since 1976, many of who even “came within minutes of execution.”8 If an innocent prisoner is serving a life sentence, though, they regain their life and liberty if they are ever exonerated. Let alone innocent prisoners, bad counsel can also lead to the death of a person who legally should not be subject to the death penalty. Columbia University conducted a study that found that “68% of all death penalty cases were reversed on appeal, with inadequate defense as one of the main reasons requiring reversal.”9

 

On a more existential note, is right for the government to decide when someone should die? While the government does not decide when someone is born, thirty-one states allow the government to decide when someone should die. Many people appear to think that the government should not have this power, as a 2010 study shows that only 33% of voters support the administration of the death penalty.10 Even police chiefs ranked capital punishment last among ways to reduce violent crime.11 To further the claim that the death penalty is not a good deterrent, states that do not even allow the death penalty have a lower murder rate than neighboring states that do allow the death penalty.12

 

Capital punishment will likely continue to exist in America for some time. Though, is it worth spending millions of taxpayer money on it? Should its apparent racist application subject the death penalty to even higher scrutiny? Can governments can find better ways to deter violent criminals without having to put innocent lives at risk of legal execution? These questions should be thoroughly answered before the government continues to legally execute more people.

 

 

  1. State and Capital Punishment, Nat’l Conf. of St. Legs. (Feb. 2, 2017), http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/death-penalty.aspx.
  2. Facts About the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Info. Ctr. (Oct. 6, 2017), https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf.
  3. Race and the Death Penalty, Civ. Liberties Union, https://www.aclu.org/other/race-and-death-penalty (last visited Oct. 7, 2017).
  4. The Facts: 13 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty, Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, https://oadp.org/facts/13-reasons (last visited Oct. 7, 2017).
  5. Facts About the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Info. Ctr. (Oct. 6, 2017), https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf.
  6. The Facts: 13 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty, Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, https://oadp.org/facts/13-reasons (last visited Oct. 7, 2017).

 

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