The Death Penalty–For It Essay, Research Paper
The Death Penalty
Putting to death people judged to have committed certain extremely heinous crimes is a practice of ancient standing, but in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century, it has become a very controversial issue. Changing views on this difficult issue led the supreme Court to abolish capital punishment in 1972 but later to uphold it in 1977, with certain conditions.
Indeed, restoring capital punishment is the will of the people, yet many voices are raised against it. Heated public debate centers on questions of deterrence, public safety, sentencing equity, and the execution of innocents, among others. I have listened and read the arguments opposing the death penalty and I find that they are not at all convincing. Here’s why:
The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment:
One argument states that the death penalty does not deter murder. Dismissing capital punishment on that basis requires us to eliminate all prisons as well because they do not seem to be any more effective in the deterrence of crime.
Others say that states which do have the death penalty have higher crime rates than those that don’t, that a more severe punishment only inspires more severe crimes. I must point out that every state in the union is different. These differences include the populations, number of cities, and yes, the crime rates. Strongly urbanized states are more likely to have higher crime rates than states that are more rural, such as those that lack capital punishment. The states that have capital punishment have it because of their high crime rate, not the other way around.
In 1985, a study was published by economist Stephen K. Layson at the University of North Carolina that showed that every execution of a murderer deters, on average, 18 murders. The study also showed that raising the number of death sentences by one percent would prevent 105 murders. However, only 38 percent of all murder cases result in a death sentence, and of those, only 0.1 percent are actually executed.
During the temporary suspension on capital punishment from 1972-1976, researchers gathered murder statistics across the country. Researcher Karl Spence of Texas A&M University came up with these statistics, in 1960, there were 56 executions in the USA and 9,140 murders. By 1964, when there were only 15 executions, the number of murders had risen to 9,250. In 1969, there were no executions and 14,590 murders, and 1975, after six more years without executions, 20,510 murders occurred. So the number of murders grew as the number of executions shrank. The figures are there but abolitionists have chosen to ignore them.
And more recently, there have been 56 executions in the USA in 1995, more in one year since executions resumed in 1976, and there has been a 12 percent drop in the murder rate nationwide.
And JFA (Justice for All) reports that in Texas, the highest murder rate in Houston (Harris County) occurred in 1981 with 701 murders. Since Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1982, Harris County has executed more murderers than any other city or state in the union and has seen the greatest reduction in murder from 701 in 1982 down to 261 in 1996 – a 63% reduction, representing a 270% differential!
Abolitionists will claim that most studies show that the death penalty has no effect on the murder rate at all. But that’s only because those studies have been focused on inconsistent executions. Capital punishment, like all other applications, must be used consistently in order to be effective. However, the death penalty hasn’t been used consistently in the USA for decades, so abolitionists have been able to establish the delusion that it doesn’t deter at all to rationalize their fallacious arguments. But the evidence shows that whenever capital punishment is applied consistently or against a small murder rate it has always been followed by a decrease in murder. I have yet to see an example on how the death penalty has failed to reduce the murder rate under those conditions.
So capital punishment is very capable of deterring murder if we allow it to , but our legal system is so slow and inefficient, criminals are able to stay several steps ahead of us and gain leeway through our lenience. Several reforms must be made in our justice system so the death penalty can cause a positive effect.
Capital Punishment vs. Life Without Parole:
Abolitionists claim that there are alternatives to the death penalty. They say that life in prison without parole serves just as well. Certainly, if you ignore all the murders criminals commit within prison when they kill prison guards and other inmates, and also when they kill decent citizens upon escape, like Dawud Mu’Min who was serving a 48-year sentence for the 1973 murder of a cab driver when he escaped a road work gang and stabbed to death a storekeeper named Gadys Nopwasky in a 1988 robbery that netted $4.00. Fortunately, there is now no chance of Mu’Min committing murder again. He was executed by the state of Virginia on November 14, 1997.
Another flaw is that life imprisonment tends to deteriorate with the passing of time. Take the Moore case in New York State for example.
In 1962, James Moore raped and strangled 14-year-old Pamela Moss. Her parents decided to spare Moore the death penalty on the condition that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Later on, thanks to a change in sentencing laws in 1982, James Moore is eligible for parole every two years!
If Pamela’s parents knew that they couldn’t trust the state, Moore could have been executed long ago and they could have put the whole horrible incident behind them forever. Instead they have a nightmare to deal with biannually. I’ll bet not a day goes by that they don’t kick themselves for being foolish enough to trust the liberal sham that is life imprisonment and rehabilitation. (According to the US Department of Justice, the average prison sentence served for murder is five years and eleven months.)
Putting a murderer away for life just isn’t good enough. Laws change, so do parole boards, and people forget the past. Those are things that cause life imprisonment to weather away. As long as the murderer lives, there is always a chance, no matter how small, that he will strike again. And there are people who run the criminal justice system who are naive enough to allow him to repeat his crime.
Consider the case of Leroy Keith, a recidivist killer who became a major embarrassment to opponents of capital punishment. In 1934 Keith appeared at Warren, Ohio. There he walked up to a man named Frederick Griest as he was sitting behind the wheel of his parked car and shot him dead. Then he opened the car door, tumbled the slain man onto the pavement, and drove away in the vehicle. For that crime he was sentenced to death. And appeal resulted in a retrial. Again Keith was convicted and again he was sentenced to die. Another appeal resulted in the sentence being reduced to life imprisonment. On March 7, 1956, Keith was paroled. He was then given a government-mandated job in Youngstown, Ohio, with the Department of the County Engineer. He lasted there for three days before vanishing. On November 21, 1956, he turned up on North Howard Street in Akron, Ohio, where he walked up to a parked car and shot the driver, Coburn von Gunten, dead. He then dumped his body in the street and was about to drive off in his newly acquired car when near by police officers intervened. Keith then engaged the police in a gun fight and managed to escape.
Around the same time Keith also became the prime suspect in a grocery store robbery at Uniontown, Ohio, in which two people were shot to death.
When Ohio became too dangerous for him, Keith headed to New York City. He arrived in the Bronx and survived by robbing liquor stores and gas stations. On December 19, 1956, he joined three other men for the purpose of robbing a taxi. The foursome hailed a cab and were picked up by a driver named David Suro. When Keith pressed a gun to the back of Suro’s head and demanded money, the man deliberately crashed his vehicle into a police car. The thieves jumped out of the disabled taxi and fled in different directions. Leroy Keith paused long enough to shoot the cab-driver dead. Then he engaged police in a running gun battle through the crowded streets. Finally, five bullets brought him down. He survived his wounds and was charged with capital murder. He didn’t get off with a prison sentence or parole this time. On July 23, 1959, his reign of terror ended when he was put to death by electrocution.
This is why for people who truly value public safety, there is no substitute for the best in its defense which is capital punishment. It not only forever bars the murderer from killing again, it also prevents parole boards and criminal rights activists from giving him the chance to repeat his crime.
Cliched Arguments Against Capital Punishment:
I have also heard cliched arguments about the futility of combating violence with more “violence,” that you can’t fight fire with fire. Now I know that there is a difference between violence and law enforcement, or punishment. Law enforcement and punishment is to crime as water is to fire, where fire-fighters spray water on a burning building with such force that the flames have no choice but to back down. But the rate that we’re executing murderers is analogous to trying to quench a bonfire with an eye-dropper.
Another cliched argument is the question: “Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?” That two wrongs do not make a right, therefore, executions are equivalent to murder. First of all, the term murder is specifically defined in any dictionary as the unlawful killing of a person with malice and aforethought. So logically, the word murder cannot be used to describe executions since the death penalty is the law. To do so is an obvious abuse of semantics. Second of all, comparing executions to murders is like comparing incarcerating people to kidnapping or charging taxes and fines to extortion. There is a difference between violent crime and punishment. Is there a contradiction in a policeman speeding after a speeder to enforce speeding laws? One displays a serious lack of moral judgment to believe that just because two practices share a physical similarity means that they are morally identical.
What separates crime from punishment, good from evil are not their physical aspects but rather their moral aspects. And moral aspects examine the reasons and motivations behind one’s actions. Abolitionists tend to focus on the death penalty’s physical aspects to demonstrate that it is the same as murder while completely ignoring its moral aspects involved.
Still another cliched argument abolitionists use is that we should value all human life, even the most violent and despicable ones. That philosophy indicates that there is nothing more to humanity than the physical traits that identify our species. I say they are wrong. There is an entire spiritual aspect to humanity that they tend to completely ignore. Anybody can be physically human. All that is, is an accident of genetics. It is the spiritual aspects of humanity that actually define who and what we are. Being human on a spiritual level means having compassion and respect for all that is good and decent. Murderers display none of those traits. Our spiritual traits is where our true differences lie. When a culture develops the moral structure to recognize humanity as more a spiritual thing than just some physical thing, they will have no excuse to allow, tolerate, or preserve evil and barbarism just because it hides inside a physical human shell.
Syndicated columnist Charley Reese made an interesting analogy while criticizing the way abolitionists typically behave when he wrote:
When I think of all the sweet, innocent people who suffer extreme pain and who die every day in this country, then the outpouring of sympathy for cold-blooded killers enrages me. Where is your (expletive deleted) sympathy for the good, the kind and the innocent? This fixation on murderers is a sickness, a putrefaction of the soul. It’s the equivalent of someone spending all day mooning and cooing over a handful of human feces. Sick and abnormal.
Personally, I think abolitionists have a lot of audacity claiming that they are motivated to oppose the death penalty by their “reverence for human life” when the only people that they are interested in preserving are those who display the least of it…the very least reverence for human life.
And a final and perhaps most the most dense cliched argument is that executing a murderer won’t bring back his victim. That is not the point of executions and it never was. Justice is not about bringing back the dead. It is not about revenge either. Justice is about enforcing consequences for one’s own actions to endorse personal responsibility. We cannot expect anyone to take responsibility for their own actions if these consequences are not enforced in full.
Racism and Capital Punishment:
Murder has no color, class, or IQ A murderer is a murderer. When a loved one is killed, I doubt anyone could take comfort in the fact that the perpetrator had a low IQ, was black instead of white, or poor instead of rich. Ernest van den Haag wrote:
“If and when discrimination occurs it should be corrected. Not, however, by letting the guilty blacks escape the death penalty because guilty whites do, but by making sure that the guilty white offenders suffer it as the guilty blacks do. Discrimination must be abolished by abolishing discrimination – not by abolishing penalties. However, even if…this cannot be done, I do not see any good reason to let any guilty murderer escape his penalty. It does happen in the administration of criminal justice that one person gets away with murder and another is executed. Yet the fact that one gets away with it is no reason to let another one escape.”
A 1991 Rand Corporation study by Stephen Klein found that white murderers received the death penalty slightly more often (32%) than non-white murderers (27%). And while the study found murderers of white victims received the death penalty more often (32%) than murderers of non-white victims (23%), when controlled for variables such as severity and number of crimes committed, there is no disparity between those sentenced to death for killing white or black victims.
Also, doesn’t the fact that the death penalty is optional make it seem more prone to racial discrimination? It has been called racist since a prosecutor can seek a death sentence against an African-American for a capital crime but not a white person for the same offense. I never hear prisons called “racist” because they are mandatory for many crimes. If the death penalty were the same way, race would be a non-issue and the courts would be forced to concentrate only on the crime committed, as it should be.
For capital punishment to be applied equally to every criminal, rich or poor, black or white, it must be mandatory for all capital cases.
Capital Punishment and its Costs:
There’s a claim that it is more expensive for the state to execute a criminal than to incarcerate him for life. Many opponents present, as fact, that the cost of the death penalty is so expensive (at least $2 million per case?), that we must choose life without parole (”LWOP”) at a cost of $1 million for 50 years. Most likely, these pronouncements are entirely false. JFA (Justice for All) estimates that LWOP cases will cost $1.2 million – $3.6 million more than equivalent death penalty cases.
And life without parole prisoners face, on average, 30 or 40 years in prison while the annual cost of incarceration is $40,000 to $50,000 a year for each prisoner or more! There is no question that the up front costs of the death penalty are significantly higher than for equivalent LWOP cases. There also appears to be no question that, over time, equivalent LWOP cases are much more expensive – from $1.2 to $3.6 million – than death penalty cases.
The death penalty costs reside mainly in appeals costs. Life without parole prisoners get the same appeals and should be considered to bear the same costs.
Furthermore, the cost for justice does not have to be so high for the execution of murderers. If we only allowed appeals that are relevant in proving one’s innocence and eliminated the many more that are used merely as delaying tactics, it would save millions in taxpayer dollars. In most cases, I don t think inmates sentenced to Death Row have a right to appeal at all. Maybe it sounds selfish, but I do not want any of my money going to keeping these murderers alive.
The Constitutionality of Capital Punishment:
Abolitionists claim that the death penalty is unconstitutional by quoting the eighth amendment which forbids “cruel and unusual punishment.” “Cruel and unusual” has never been defined by our founding fathers, but let’s examine the issue anyway.
Where does the Supreme Court stand on the “cruel and unusual” claim of the abolitionists? In several cases the Justices of the Supreme Court have held that the DP is not cruel and/or unusual , and is in fact, a Constitutionally acceptable remedy for a criminal act.
In Trop vs. Dulles, Chief Justice Earl Warren, no friend of the death penalty, said:
“Whatever the arguments may be against capital punishment, both on moral grounds and on grounds and in terms of accomplishing the purposes of punishment…. the death penalty has been employed throughout our history, and in a day when it is still widely accepted, it cannot be said to violate the conceptional concept of cruelty”.
Indeed, the Supreme Court has constantly held that the death penalty in itself, as a sentence for a crime, is neither cruel or unusual. In another case of note, the court said:
“The punishment of death is not cruel, within the meaning of that word as used in the Constitution. It implies there is something more inhuman and barbarous, than the mere extinguishment of life.”
There are those who insist that the Constitution does not support the death penalty. This is simply not true. The fifth amendment states:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
“…a capital, or otherwise infamous crime… …be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb… …nor be deprived of life…without due process of law…”
So the constitution does allow capital punishment through indirect references such as these.
US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia confirmed this analysis in 1997 when he said:
“No fewer than three of the Justices with whom I have served (Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun) have maintained that the death penalty is unconstitutional, even though its use is explicitly contemplated in the Constitution. The Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments says that no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law; and the Grand Jury Clause of the Fifth Amendment says that no person shall be held to answer for a capital crime without grand-jury indictment.”
I would imagine that the Founding Fathers could not have conceived of a world or nation without capital punishment. Indeed, in those days, there was absolutely no question of the value of public safety and personal responsibility. Had they foreseen the rise in violent crime we have had in the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s, they might have declared the death penalty in the preamble!
The Risk of Wrongful Execution of Innocents:
As for the penal system accidentally executing an innocent person, I must point out that in this imperfect world, citizens are required to take certain risks in exchange for relative safety. After all, far, far more innocent lives have been taken by convicted murderers than the supposedly 23 innocents mistakenly executed this century. For instance, over 600 repeat offenses occur within prison walls each year in this country. Not only that, but over 13,000 American citizens are murdered each year by released and paroled criminals. These are the serious flaws in life sentences that abolitionists prefer to trivialize to nonexistence.
Also, the death penalty isn’t the only instance which requires us to accept risks in exchange for social benefits. We, in fact, mindlessly use far more dangerous things that take the lives of innocents by the hundreds every day, like the three or four tons of lethal metal we call automobiles for example. How can we accept the average 45,000 person-a-year death toll in this nation due to car wrecks for our personal conveniences when we can’t accept the few risks of wrongful executions for the sake of defending public safety?
The following may be the most insensitive quote I found out of all my research, but I find it best describes my feelings on this subject (of the chance of a wrongful death). Columnist Charley Reese stated:
I favor a fair trial, one quick appeal and prompt execution. I don’t think murderers ought to live much beyond 12 months from the day their victim is buried…[and] As for not being able to correct a mistake, so what? Virtually all accidental deaths are deaths by mistake. Why impose a standard of perfection only on the criminal justice system? There are no perfect human institutions. Our system is, more than any other, designed to protect the rights of the defendant. The chance of a truly innocent person being executed is exceedingly slim. But if it happens, it happens just as things happen to people every day.
The Morality of Capital Punishment:
On a final note, how can murder be taken seriously if the penalty isn’t equally as serious? A crime, after all, is only as severe as the punishment that follows it.
Award-winning Chicago journalist Mike Royko stated:
“When I think of the thousands of inhabitants of Death Rows in the hundreds of prisons in this country…My reaction is: What’s taking us so long? Let’s get that electrical current flowing. Drop those pellets [of poison gas] now! Whenever I argue this with friends who have opposite views, they say that I don’t have enough regard for the most marvelous of miracles – human life. Just the opposite: It’s because I have so much regard for human life that I favor capital punishment. Murder is the most terrible crime there is. Anything less than the death penalty is an insult to the victim and society. It says..that we don’t value the victim’s life enough to punish the killer fully.”
Every country in the world is ready and willing to kill thousands, even millions of human beings in brutal, merciless ways to defend their nation from the aggression of other countries. I don’t see why public safety doesn’t deserve as much respect and protection as a nation’s national security does. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that supporting armies and waging war is far more barbarous than the death penalty is. So I find it hypocritical that the same countries who have abolished capital punishment because it is “barbaric” to defend public safety that way are at the same time prepared to enforce political power and defend their territorial claims through infinitely more violence and bloodshed than the death penalty would ever require. It seems to me that those nations are just trying to rationalize their apathy and scorn for any institution that doesn’t serve their self-serving and political interests.
The whole reason why nations and governments exist is to defend their decent citizens from vicious criminals. When it fails to do that, they become of little use to its citizens. When a society ignores their moral duty to defend the safety and security of their decent citizens and leaves them at the mercy of violent criminals, they are not being “civilized,” they are being negligent.
I am certain that there will come a time when all the nations in the world will be forced to agree after decades of experience on this issue, that capital punishment, like the military and the police force and taxes, is an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of every civilized society and it will no longer be a question of whether or not a nation should have the death penalty, but rather how it should be used.
While I believe that prompt and consistent executions would have a deterrent effect, there remains one great virtue, even for infrequent executions. The recidivism rate for capital punishment is zero. No executed murderer has ever killed again. You can’t say that about those sentenced to prison, even if you are an abolitionist.
Bronwyn, Carlton. The Big Book of Death . Paradox Press, 1996.
Guernsey, JoAnn Brenn. Should We Have Capital Punishment? Lerner Publications Company, 1993.
Nardo, Don. Death Penalty (Lucent Overview Series) Lucent Books, 1992.
Rose, Joel. The Big Book of Thugs . Paradox Press, 1996.
Wekesser, Carol. The Death Penalty (Opposing Viewpoints) Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1991.
Hammel, Andrew. Th Anti-Death Penalty Movement has Failed. Internet.
Johansen, Jay. Does Capital Punishment Deter Crime? Internet.
Justice for all. “Death Penalty and Sentencing Information in the United States.” Internet.
Pro-death penalty.com. Death Penalty and Sentencing Information. Internet.