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The Case Against the Death Penalty

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Case Against the Death Penalty

There has been an odd resurgence in the debate for and against the death penalty and I would like to take part. What follows will be my case against the death penalty, the basic premise of which is that the death penalty is more costly than life without parole and simply does not help anything.

Point 1: Cost.

To prove that death penalty cases are much more expensive then life without parole I will provide evidence from California, Kansas, Tennessee and Maryland.

California: Switching from the death penalty to life without parole could save California over $1 billion over the next few years![1] Also, in California, the cost of a death row prisoner is $90,000 more than regular incarceration.[1]

Kansas: A death penalty case in Kansas is over 70% more expensive than life without parole.[2] Also, the median cost of a death penalty case is $1.2 million whereas the median cost of incarceration is $700,000.[2]

Tennessee: Death penalty cases in Tennessee cost an average of 48% more than life imprisonment costs.[2]

Maryland: Death penalty cases costs about $3 million in Maryland.[2]

With the above evidence one can see that, if only the cost is looked at, the death penalty is massively more expensive than life without parole.

Part 2: Deterrence.

Here proponents of the death penalty argue that it has the effect of deterring would-be murderers but if one looks at the data regrading homicide rates in death penalty states/non-death penalty states, a clear trend emerges. The death penalty serves NO deterring effect.

According to, states without the death penalty have had, from 1990 until 2009 (that is all the data that is given), a homicide rate difference of more than 4% and sometimes as high as 44%! For example, in 2009 the murder rate in states with the death penalty was 5.26 whereas states without the death penalty had a murder rate of 3.90! Here is a graph from the site:[3]

Another key thing is the fact that in 1972 the US government stopped all state killings until 1976. Now while it is true that the murder rates rose during this time of prohibition, they continued to rise to record highs even after the death penalty was reinstated thus contradicting the claim that the death penalty serves as a deterrent.[4]

Use of the death penalty in a given state may actually increase the subsequent rate of criminal homicide. In Oklahoma, for example, reintroduction of executions in 1990 may have produced "an abrupt and lasting increase in the level of stranger homicides" in the form of "one additional stranger-homicide incident per month." Why? Perhaps because "a return to the exercise of the death penalty weakens socially based inhibitions against the use of lethal force to settle disputes…. "[5]

Thus with the aforementioned evidence being shown, no one can honestly say that the death penalty serves any deterrent effect.

Point 3: Innocence. 

One of the biggest fears regarding the death penalty is the fact that an innocent person could be put to death just as easily as a guilty one whereas life without parole means that the person could be released if they were proven innocent rather than them just being dead and that's that. There are numerous cases where people have been accused, convicted and sentenced to death for capital crimes but were just barely saved in the nick of time with a reversal. Of these are: Samuel Poole, James Creamer, Dale Johnston, Jay Smith, James Robison, Muneer Deeb, Andrew Golden, Clarence Smith, Joseph Burrows, Adolph Munson, Robert Charles Cruz, Rolando Cruz, Alejandro Hernandez, Sabrina Butler, Verneal Jimerson, Dennis Williams, Roberto Miranda, Gary Gauger, Troy Lee Jones, Carl Lawson, Ricardo Aldape Guerra (info on them can be found in footnote 6) and the list goes on. The point being that there are many cases of people being let go in the nick of time whilst many others being put to death. We have no way of knowing how many innocent people have been killed but just knowing the huge numbers of people who have been let go after they were sentenced to death makes one wonder as to the number. Further Reading

Point 4: Cruelty. 

The death penalty is flat out cruel for numerous reasons. First off, hanging is still utilized in 3 states and with hanging comes the inherent possibility for mess ups. The drop must be just right or the person has an agonizing death or has their head ripped off. Here a proponent of the death penalty will argue that electrocution is a humane way to kill someone but this is just not the case. For starters it is unknown how long a person is conscious whilst being electrocuted which shows that there is a huge possibility for inhumane treatment.[5] Here is a quote regarding the electrocution of John Evans in 1983:

"At 8:30 p.m. the first jolt of 1900 volts of electricity passed through Mr. Evans' body. It lasted thirty seconds. Sparks and flames erupted … from the electrode tied to Mr. Evans' left leg. His body slammed against the straps holding him in the electric chair and his fist clenched permanently. The electrode apparently burst from the strap holding it in place. A large puff of grayish smoke and sparks poured out from under the hood that covered Mr. Evans' face. An overpowering stench of burnt flesh and clothing began pervading the witness room. Two doctors examined Mr. Evans and declared that he was not dead.[7]
(He had to be shocked 3 times until he was actually killed. Humane? I think not!)
Again, a proponent could say that the lethal injection is more humane but the evidence regarding it's humaneness is inconclusive. The US Court of Appeals said this regarding the lethal injection:
"substantial and uncontroverted evidence… that execution by lethal injection poses a serious risk of cruel, protracted death…. Even a slight error in dosage or administration can leave a prisoner conscious but paralyzed while dying, a sentient witness of his or her own asphyxiation." (Chaney v. Heckler, 718 F.2d 1174, 1983).[5]
There have also been reports of drug users being stabbed randomly because their veins could not be found (due to frequent use of illicit drugs)[5]

Thus, if one looks at the evidence cleanly, it is easy to see that the death penalty is in no way humane.

Point 5: Conclusion. 

Of course I could point to more cost statistics or more numbers for deterrence. I could pull more names out of quote more sources but I feel that my job here is done. Judging by all the evidence presented it is not difficult to see that the death penalty helps nothing, costs too much and is simply too inhumane and risky for it to be utilized in our [somewhat] civilized nation any longer.



1: "Death Penalty : The High Cost of the Death Penalty." Death Penalty. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 July 2011. <>.
2: "Death Penalty Cost | Amnesty International USA." Amnesty International USA | Protect Human Rights. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 July 2011. <>.
3: "Deterrence: States Without the Death Penalty Have Had Consistently Lower Murder Rates | Death Penalty Information Center." Death Penalty Information Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2011. <>.
4: "United States Crime Rates 1960 - 2009." The Disaster Center - Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2011. <>
5:  "The Case Against the Death Penalty - Cons, Anti Death Penalty Arguuments | American Civil Liberties Union."American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2011. <>.
6: "Innocence and the Death Penalty: The Increasing Danger of Executing the Innocent | Death Penalty Information Center." Death Penalty Information Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 July 2011. <>
7: "The Case Against the Death Penalty - Cons, Anti Death Penalty Arguuments | American Civil Liberties Union."American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.


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