How the Death Penalty is Killing America

News & Politics
Electric Chair
Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once said, "The question with which we must deal is not whether a substantial proportion of American citizens would today, if polled, [agree] that capital punishment is barbarously cruel, but whether they would find it to be so in light of all information presently available." I would like to present you with information on capital punishment, particularly the cost, effectiveness, and moral issues surrounding it, and I hope that you will consider your thoughts on capital punishment in more detail. Our generation has a chance to change these unjust and barbaric laws in the near future and we should take the opportunity to do so.

Supporters of capital punishment often try to cite the effectiveness it. However, the evidence clearly shows that capital punishment is ineffective. According to the December 5, 1997, Chicago Tribune, "A new national poll of police chiefs and sheriffs was conducted and the death penalty was ranked as the least cost effective way of reducing crime." According to Amnesty International, currently only 47% of countries worldwide use the death penalty and the United States is one of the only Western nations still using it. However, the US still has one of the highest crime rates. In fact, some theorize that capital punishment might actually increase crime since some criminals see homicide and the consequent death penalty as a roundabout way to committing suicide. On the other hand, since murder is an inherently irrational process, murderers rarely think about risks and rewards of their actions. Besides, murderers never believe that they will be caught.

"Our generation has a chance to change these unjust and barbaric laws in the near future and we should take the opportunity to do so."
Another reason often cited by supporters of the death penalty is that the death penalty is less costly than life imprisonment. However, this is far from the truth. According to Spangenberg and Walsh in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, "The death penalty is not now, nor has it ever been, a more economical alternative to life imprisonment." In fact, a study conducted by the New York State Defenders Association showed that the cost of a capital trial alone was double the cost of life imprisonment. The January 5, 1997, Miami Herald estimated that the true cost of each execution is approximately $3.2 million, or roughly six times the cost of a life-imprisonment sentence.

The other issue surrounding capital punishment deals with morality. Does anyone believe that it is okay to sentence innocent people to death? According to an extensive study by noted sociologists Bedau and Rodst, 350 people have been wrongly convicted in capital cases from 1970, and 23 people have been wrongly executed. This can be seen with the recent case in Chicago of Anthony Porter, who with the help of law students, was found innocent two days before he was scheduled to die.

The death penalty is not a fair judgment. John Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights said that the, "Death penalty is still very arbitrarily inflicted, based primarily on race, poverty, geography, and politics." Furthermore, law professor Roy Dingerson stated that, "Most death row inmates were very poorly represented by trial counsel." Racial discrimination is also rampant in capital punishment. According to the 1995 CQ Researcher, the sentencing of the death penalty on the combination of an African-American on White crime is four times more likely than the sentencing of the death penalty on any other racial combination, such as White on White crime.

The system has become so corrupt that support for a moratorium on the death penalty is growing with the American Bar Association, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times all calling for a moratorium on the death penalty until further research is done into studying the effects of the death penalty. The American Bar Association stated that, "Efforts to forge a fair capital punishment jurisprudence have failed. Today, administration of the death penalty is a haphazard maze of unfair practices with no internal consistency." The American Bar Association is specifically calling for competent counsel for all capital defendants, availability of federal court review of state prosecutions, efforts to eliminate racial discrimination in capital sentencing, and no executions of mentally retarded defendants or those under 18 when they committed their crimes.

The benefits of capital punishment are few. It costs more than life imprisonment, does not deter crime, and is, arguably, not ethical. I believe that the United States should reconsider its stance towards capital punishment, after all, I don't want the state to kill for me.

David Lau was a Junior in high school when he wrote this piece.

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