Should There Be a Death Penalty?
There is a growing consensus that the death penalty is incompatible with human rights. It is used for drug-related offences, terrorism charges and murder in some countries. Many people have spent years on death row despite being probably innocent, due to false eyewitnesses, jail house snitches and junk science.
Moral arguments focus on procedural issues, such as decisions about arrest; what charges to file; the use of defenses like insanity; and sentencing, including jury selection; and post-conviction appeals.
It is a form of punishment
The death penalty is a government-sanctioned killing of an offender convicted of a crime. It can be imposed for crimes including murder, terrorism-related acts and other serious offenses. It is also used for a wide variety of drug-related crimes and some political offences. People who are convicted of a capital offence can spend years on “death row” waiting for their execution. In some countries, they are executed even though they have been found innocent. This is an unjust practice that should be banned.
Across the United States, there is a significant divide over the death penalty. Support for it varies by party, education and race and ethnicity. For example, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to support the death penalty. In addition, Americans with less education are more likely to support it than those with higher educational levels. In the past decade, several Supreme Court rulings have limited the death penalty’s scope. They include Atkins v. Virginia (2002; ruled the death penalty is unconstitutional for those with intellectual disabilities) and Roper v. Simmons (2005; ruled it is unconstitutional to execute those who were under the age of 18 when the crime was committed).
It is a form of deterrence
The death penalty is often defended as a way of deterring crime. However, this argument is unfounded and the evidence shows that it does not deter murder or other serious crimes any more than life imprisonment. Moreover, the risks of executing an innocent person are significant. In the United States, over 191 people have been wrongfully executed since 1973.
The claim that the death penalty is a deterrent rests on two flawed assumptions: 1) that criminals behave rationally and 2) that the criminal justice system is fail-safe. The truth is that the criminal justice system is a human institution that can be biased against certain groups. For example, prosecutors tend to seek the death penalty less frequently in cases involving racial minorities.
Moreover, a study by UCLA professor Richard Berk found that most studies claiming that capital punishment deters murder are based on faulty data. He re-examined the available data and found that claims of deterrence are mostly a result of a statistical artifact caused by states executing very few people in some years.
It is a form of justice
The death penalty is a form of justice, which may deter violent crime. However, opponents of capital punishment argue that it is not only unjust but also wastes society’s resources. They argue that the costs of executions are three times those of life imprisonment. Furthermore, the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on poor people and racial minorities. They are also more likely to have been wrongfully convicted. They have fewer opportunities to challenge their case or access legal representation.
The death penalty is widely opposed by a majority of U.S. adults, including those who identify as Republicans and Republican leaners (77% vs. 47%) and those with less education (68%) compared to those with some college or a bachelor’s degree (49%). Moreover, many states have abolished the death penalty in recent years. These include New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012), Maryland (2013), and Delaware (2016). The second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also prohibits the death penalty.
It is a form of retribution
A retributivist approach to punishment seeks to deter future crime by punishing offenders. This approach, however, is flawed by the possibility that the state will execute an innocent person. In addition, the death penalty violates a basic principle of due process.
Retributivist defenders of the death penalty rely on the ancient legal principle lex talionis- “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life”- to justify capital punishment. They also distinguish retribution from vengeance, which is usually disproportionate to the offender’s misconduct and motivated by a petty desire for revenge.
Philosophers have debated the death penalty for centuries. Some philosophers argue that retribution rationalizes criminal behavior by treating criminals as rational agents, while others suggest that it fails to address underlying social conditions that contribute to crime. Others argue that the death penalty does not deter crime and should be replaced with a more restorative approach to punishment. Hard treatment, deprivations, and incarceration can all be considered vehicles for conveying messages to criminals about the community’s values.