Thursday, December 11, 2008

Death Penalty

The United States is the only country in the Western industrialized world that still uses the death penalty.

There are many reasons why I'm against the death penalty. First off, it costs more money to put someone to death than to leave them in prison for life. Also, the death penalty as it is currently practiced is racist and discriminates against the poor. Statistics show that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, and may even encourage violent acts.

These are all good reasons to oppose the death penalty on their own, but the main reason, and the most important reason, I'm against the death penalty is simply the fact that innocent people get put to death for crimes they did not commit. As long as humans are imperfect, our justice system will be imperfect and innocent people will be put behind bars. However, as long as these people aren't put to death, there is still a chance of the mistake being corrected. The death penalty is permanent.

The Death Penalty is Expensive

The cost of executing a person in the U. S. is far higher than the cost of imprisoning him or her for life. The reason for this is our need to be absolutely sure that we've got the right person. Capital cases have a more rigorous jury selection process and more money is spent on expert investigators and consultants. There is also a more lengthy appeals process, several safe guards, and a state review of the case to make sure the person accused is indeed guilty. In California, trials involving the death penalty are six times more costly than other murder trials. If for no other reason, doing away with the death penalty would save tax payers money.

The Death Penalty Discriminates

If you are accused of a violent crime, the color of your skin and the size of your wallet determines whether or not you'll be sentenced to death. African-Americans make up only 12 percent of the population, but 42 percent of those on death row are black. Cases with a white victim are more likely to use the death penalty than cases with a minority victim. Although approximately 50% of murder victims are black, only 14 percent of death penalty cases involve a black victim. In 80% of death penalty cases, the victim is white. Of the over 18,000 executions to take place in our country's history, only 42 involved a white person being executed for killing a black person. The death penalty is overwhelmingly racist.

Also, over 90% of defendants in capital trials cannot afford to hire experienced lawyers and are forced to use inexperienced court-appointed attorneys. You need to be rich in order to get away with murder. The level of legal representation a defendant gets has nothing to do with guilt or innocence, only money.

Since 1973, 21 children under 18 have been put to death in the United States. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has since ruled against putting children to death. It is also horrifying to note that 34 mentally disabled inmates have been executed. Executing people who do not fully understand their actions is barbarous and must be stopped. When we put a mentally disabled person on trial, we are taking advantage of their inability to fight back since they are not aware of the various legal avenues open to them.

The death penalty as it is currently practiced is racist and unfairly discriminates against the poor and the mentally disabled. Until the system can be improved so that all persons facing a capital sentence are treated equally, the death penalty should be discontinued.

The Death Penalty is Not a Deterrent

States which enforce the death penalty, have higher murder rates than states which do not practice it. A logical person would assume that the threat of being put to death would lower the number of violent crimes, however, people who murder do not behave logically. The threat of execution at some future date does not enter into their minds while they are filled with rage or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Far from being a deterrent, the death penalty instead desensitizes people to violence. When a state puts people to death, it sends the message to its populace that killing is okay. Texas has the highest execution rate and also has one of the highest murder rates in the country. If the death penalty was a deterrent to crime, we'd expect to see the state with the most executions have among the lowest murder rates, but the opposite is true. By putting people to death, Texas encourages violence instead of denouncing it. FBI statistics show that states which use the death penalty tend to have higher murder rates than states which don't. If for no other reason, we should oppose the death penalty in order to reduce the number of murders. An eye for an eye may feel good and give the families of the victims closure, but it only serves to escalate matters and increase the overall violence in this country.

The Death Penalty Punishes the Innocent

23 prisoners who were later found innocent of the crime of which they were accused, are known to have been executed. Who knows how many other innocent people have been put to death in this country? A recent study revealed over 400 cases of wrongful conviction in the United States between 1900 and 1991. Most of the prisoners were proven innocent and released, but for 23 of them, the evidence came too late.

In 1989 there were two close calls. Randall Dale Adams was three days from execution when Texas authorities overturned his conviction and released him. James Richardson, in the state of Florida, was released within 24 hours of execution for a crime he did not commit. He had spent 21 years on death row before being found innocent. There are no doubt others like these two men who were not as lucky. What happened to beyond a shadow of a doubt? Before we put someone to death, shouldn't we be 100% certain he did what he was accused of?

Since 1976, Illinois has released as many people from death-row as it has executed. In fact, in the U. S. overall, 1 in 7 of those on death row have been freed after being fully exonerated. These statistics just go to show that our current system of justice, which administers death, is far from perfect. Until our system of justice is perfect, we should stop killing people. We need to reexamine how we currently practice the death penalty, and if we can't stop the slaughter of innocents, we should end the death penalty altogether.

But I believe in the Bible and it says 'an eye for an eye.'

Mosiac law contains 613 commandments. Many contemporary people like to appeal to the higher authority of God and the Bible, however, they do so selectively. People pick and choose certain scriptures they agree with and ignore scriptures they disagree with. For example, homophobic people will point out that Mosiac law calls for the death penalty for homosexuality, while ignoring the rest of Moses' law. If you truly believe the Bible is the word of God, you should believe all of it, not bits and pieces of it.

The Bible calls for the death penalty often: for worshipping any God other than YHWH (Exodus 22:20), for a stranger entering the temple (Numbers 1:51), trying to convert a follower of YHWH to a different religion (Deuteronomy 13:1-10), for communicating with the dead (Leviticus 20:27), for being a witch (Exodus 22:18), for adultery (Leviticus 20:10), incest (Leviticus 20:11), homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), bestiality (Leviticus 20:15), a woman having sex before marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), for having sex with a woman and her mother (Deuteronomy 20:14), raping an engaged woman (Deuteronomy 22:25), for prostitution (Leviticus 21:9), for murder (Levitucus 24:17)(except for murdering a slave), for kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), for cursing one's parents (Exodus 21:17), for abusing one's parents (Exodus 21:15), for disobeying one's parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), for owning an animal which killed someone (Exodus 21:29), for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16), for working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), for ignoring the decision of a priest or judge (Deuteronomy 17:12), for perjury (Deuteronomy 19:15-21), for accidently killing a pregnant woman (Exodus 21:22-23), for a man not being circumcised (Genesis 17:14), for eating leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15), for manufacturing anointing oil (Exodus 30:33), for engaging in ritual animal sacrifices other than at the temple (Leviticus 17:1-9), for consuming blood, including rare meat (Leviticus 17:10), for eating peace offerings while ritually unclean (Leviticus 7:20), for waiting too long before consuming sacrifices (Leviticus 19:5-8), for sexual activity with a woman who is menstruating (Leviticus 20:18), for going to the temple in an unclean state (Numbers 19:13), for teaching another religion (Deuteronomy 13:1-11), for a prophet whose prophecy does not come true (Deuteronomy 18:22), for gluttony and excessive drinking (Deuteronomy 21:20).

Either the Bible is the word of God, or it isn't. If you really believed in the Bible, you'd advocate the death penalty for all of the above, including putting someone to death for eating rare steak or leavened bread. Nearly everyone has committed at least one of these offenses. Who hasn't disobeyed their parents? According to Mosiac law, all of us should be put to death.

Well, that was the Old Testament. Christians only care about the New Testament.

The frequency with which Christians quote from the Old Testament seems to contradict this statement, but for the sake of argument, let's say the above statement is true. What does the New Testament say about the death penalty? Two instances of the death penalty are observed in the New Testament: a couple is put to death for lying about church donations (Acts 5:1 to 11) and a man is put to death for blasphemy (Acts 6:8 - 7:60). New codes regarding the death penalty were not introduced by Jesus, so it's assumed the old laws still apply. In fact, Jesus said, "For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law" (Matthew 5:18-19) indicating that he agreed with Mosiac law.

However, Jesus also said that instead of an eye for an eye, people should "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:38-39) indicating that retribution was not desired. This is repeated when an adulteress was about to be put to death and Jesus interrupted and told the executioners "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (John 8:3-11) Since pretty much everybody has done at least one thing worthy of death according to Mosiac law, everybody would be dead if we actually practiced it.

But what if a killer escapes from prison to kill again like Ted Bundy did?

It's true that Ted Bundy escaped from jail and killed additional people who would have lived if he hadn't escaped. However, he escaped from jail while awaiting trail. He hadn't been found guilty yet. Certainly no one is in favor of killing someone before they've even been found guilty. Prison escapes are extremely rare. Killing everyone who's been accused of murder just in case they escape doesn't make any sense, especially now that prisons are more difficult to escape from.

If someone killed your loved one, wouldn't you want to see them dead?

Absolutely. However, if there was any doubt whatsoever of the accused's innocence, I wouldn't be able to cope with the idea that an innocent person was put to death. If I was 100% certain that they did it, then I'd definitely want to see them put to death. However, I'd know that killing them wouldn't bring my loved one back, or make me feel any better in the long run. Getting revenge feels good for a moment, but when we put someone to death, we aren't just punishing them, but also their loved ones who will miss them despite their evil actions.

With DNA evidence, isn't it possible to be 100% sure of someone's guilt or innocence?

I suppose so, with the exception of twins who share the same DNA. However many cases, even today, rely on eye witness testimony and circumstantial evidence. DNA isn't always available. Also, there's no law that says DNA is required before administering the death penalty. If the law was changed, so that the death penalty was administered fairly regardless of race or social class, all defendants were provided with the best lawyer possible, and DNA evidence was required in all cases, I'd perhaps be persuaded to get behind the death penalty. The fact that death penalty cases are more expensive shouldn't matter as long as our courts get to the truth.

The only objection that would still remain are the statistics that show murder rates are higher in death penalty states. Also, the fact that no other Western industrialized country practices the death penalty would make the United States appear barbaric to the rest of the world. Do two wrongs make a right? Do we as a society show that killing is wrong by killing or is this hypocritical? These questions are hypothetical at this point, since the death penalty as it is currently practiced isn't administered fairly or with requirements for DNA evidence. There are currently 3,220 people on death row. Certainly there are many guilty men on death row who deserve to die, but are we as a society so concerned with punishing them that we let the innocent occasionally fall through the cracks?


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