The Death Penalty: A Case for Abolition

The death penalty is a brutal hangover from primitive legal systems and has no place in modern society. The United States stands alone among the world’s democracies in its use of capital punishment. This form of punishment has no place in a nation founded upon reason, justice, and liberty. Reason dictates that the death penalty can only further incite violence in this culture as legal authority condones retributive killing. Justice sees nothing valuable in a punishment that clearly discriminates against the impoverished lower classes of society. Liberty finds its greatest violation in a government that is allowed to kill its citizens.

Beyond the intrinsically noxious nature of capital punishment, arguments for the measure are completely undemonstrated. The biggest argument in support of capital punishment, deterrence, lacks any supporting evidence. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that capital punishment actually encourages violence by incorporating state-sanctioned murder into society. Furthermore, most murders are crimes of passion, drunkenness, or both. The argument for deterrence rests solely upon the criminal’s capacity for sound reasoning to prevent a killing. Both inebriation and extreme emotion override the mind’s ability to logically examine a situation.

An even worse defense of capital punishment is the purported necessity of retribution. This puerile argument panders to the primitive mind and raw emotion. What place does this vulgar appeal have in a society based on rational empathy and social advancement? “An eye for an eye” is a Bronze Age intellectual concept that deserves to be left in the past along with slavery, infanticide, and numerous other social institutions which we no longer accept.

Originally posted here.

Views: 35

Comment by Michel-san on March 1, 2010 at 10:39pm
Very well put! Your assignments are really well thought out.

I know in Europe the death penalty is prohibited under the ECHR.
Comment by Mario Rodgers on March 1, 2010 at 10:51pm
Comment by Robert E. O'Dell on March 1, 2010 at 11:37pm
I fully disagree! If you murder someone in cold blood in a premeditated manner and for reasons of greed there is only one just punishment; and its not room, board, and free medical care for life. What ever happened to justice?!! An eye for an eye is one of the instances in which the Bible and other religious texts get it right. (and there aren't that many, so give 'em there due when they have it coming) The fact that many innocent people have been sentenced to death is not an indictment of the death penalty, it is and indictment of the jury system, inadequate education, and politics and corrupt prosecutions. Let someone brutally murder your family or loved one and see how you feel about the death penalty then. You just may want a little retribution, and, in appropriate circumstances, I for one hope that you get it!
Comment by Lord Atheist on March 2, 2010 at 4:12am
To many people have been exonerated due to forensics. No telling how many of them have been unfairly executed.
Comment by Michel-san on March 2, 2010 at 8:30am
Keeping prisoners is expensive, the best way to combat the costs is to find ways to stop people committing crimes. A better parole system, better education for children, a society that's kinder to those that are at the bottom so the poor are less tempted by crime (maybe a national health service?). Removing firearms to force people to think a bit more before they are able to kill or injure someone. Perhaps prison labour also contributes to the problem, if prisoners see the system as exploiting them then then they will likely have less respect for the system.

The US has a very, very high prison population, this is the main source of the costs. I've read that 25% of the world's prison population is in the US (the US makes up around 5% of the world's population). Around 0.75% of the US population is in prison, higher than any other country. Most European countries have around 0.10%.

To suggest the best way to cut the costs of an inefficient penal system is to execute those in prison who are most violent is barbaric! It is killing people out of convenience. Many handicapped and elderly people as well as orphans cost a lot to keep. It also distracts attention away from the true problem: Why do so many US citizens turn to crime?

As a form of revenge for the victims I think it encourages less respect for human life. It is allowing someone to enjoy another person's suffering and death. The penalty is a form of psychological torture, those going to be executed know they are being kept alive for the sole purpose of being killed later, I can't see the justice in forcing that upon someone when it's unnecessary.

I have written far too much! An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Comment by Shine on March 2, 2010 at 8:32am
Hey all, thanks for the feedback. I know that the death penalty is a contentious subject, but it is one that I have done a mild amount of research on and not had an opportunity to debate over. So I figured that I would come trolling here for a friendly argument; you can never really be sure of the weight of your own arguments until you test them against others. :D

One major aspect of the capital punishment debate is certainly the financial burden to society of housing convicted criminals. However, execution is not necessarily an inexpensive method of punishment itself. The additional costs of retaining prisoners on death row--sometimes for over a decade--couple with the necessary litigious cost of the appeal process can exceed the cost of housing an inmate in a maximum-security prison for life. Here and here are some studies attesting to the actual financial impact of capital punishment. However, as I realize that both of those sites are clearly biased against the capital punishment, here is a collection of pro, con, and neutral statements regarding cost comparisons for capital punishment. One thing that seems clear, unfortunately, is that data collection is very difficult in determining what monies are spent specifically on death penalty cases; I do not know if this portends well for either side of the debate.

Yikes, I'm late for class and don't have time to properly respond to the rest of the arguments presented. Also, I am thinking that perhaps a blog post was the wrong place to initiate a full-fledged debate on; I think I will open a forum post for the topic to allow for easier commenting.

Thanks again for the responses!
Comment by Shine on March 2, 2010 at 8:43am
I started a forum post for ease of debate if anyone is interested.
The Death Penalty: A Case for Abolition (forum)
Comment by Jason Wagner on March 2, 2010 at 10:55am
The U.S. government is ok with a certain amount of death. We're ok with 40k+ automobile related deaths annually because we need to go places quickly. We're ok with being #33 in ranking for infant mortality rates, Cuba has fewer infant deaths than we do. We're ok with people dying due to an inadequate health care system, starvation, and other issues equally grotesque in their simplicty for being able to solve and having the means to do so this instant.... but the death penalty is the big injustice? The U.S. is all about acceptable losses. More thoughts on this later...
Comment by Apple on March 2, 2010 at 11:47am
This is most certainly a matter of cost. It is easy to get emotional about things like murder, but we cannot look at this matter emotionally. This goes both ways.

Emotional arguement for death penalty: This man killed my 10 year old son. He deserves to die! You'd want him dead too if he killed your son!

Emotional arguement against death penalty: All human life is precious, and we're no better than the killers themselves if we allow this barbaric punnishment.

Neither of these arguments are vaild, as they both rely on emotion. The first on revenge, the second on the desire for a clean conscience. We need to look at things rationally. I think that if we can't do that, then nobody will be able to.

Michael-san talks about improvements to society to help prevent people from becoming criminals in the first place. Of couse, this is something we should focus on but it's also too idealistic. There will always be criminals.

As far as the conviction of innocent people goes, unless there are huge numbers of people serving life sentences who are later released once found innocent, I fail to see how this point is relavent. The purpose of a life sentence and the death sentence is the same, to keep the killers and rapists out of society. That is what prison is for.

As for the point of murder happening in a rage, or while drunk, this is why there are different degrees of murder. You also have to consider people who are serial killers, and will murder over and over again. It is what they do. How many people innocent people should we allow to die by their hand?

For those against the death penalty, I must ask, why is a life sentence any better? It is just a costlier way of taking the criminal out of society.
Comment by Robert E. O'Dell on March 2, 2010 at 6:39pm
I hope that was not overly forceful in stating my opinion. I do respect your opinions Shine. I think that I may have perceived the starting of an "agreeathon", and this is definately one of those issues upon which reasonable minds can have very passionately and hardly held opposite opinions! My opinion would not be changed if it cost fully twice as much taxpayer money to inflict the death penalty in appropriate cases as would cost to incarcerate for life. I do not see it inconsistent with my view that I support innocent projects and am fully in favor of re-trials and dismissals of verdicts of those that have been wrongly convicted, of which there are too many! I probably even support limiting death penalty cases to those in which there are statutory thresholds of proof. One thing for sure, eye witness identification sucks as proof of guilt. Almost all of the innocents freed by the innocence projects and diligent attorneys who pursue review of wrongfull convictions were put on death row by mistaken (or perjured) eye witness identification. Much of the time the weight circumstantial evidence is better evidence of guilt than is eye witness ID. What we really need is jurors who are intelegent and scientific enough to understand, analyze, skepticize, and weigh evidence, and who will hold the state to their high burden of proof in the guilt or innocence phase of trials.


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