By Ashwath Vimal
The Eighth Amendment of our Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment on criminals. Why should the death penalty not fall under that? Why do we get to decide who dies and who does not? If we kill criminals who have killed, are we not stooping to their level? If we kill criminals, are we not becoming monsters ourselves?
The debacle of the death penalty has been a heated issue in the United States since the nineteenth century. To this day, it has not only evolved into a social justice movement but has become a popular topic for scholarly debates, essays, etc.
This article will not include the typical “Oh, it’s morally wrong” argument, as we already collectively know that; it will include the REAL reasons the death penalty must be abolished.
The Death Penalty Is Depleting Our Resources
The death penalty is a complete waste of national funds and assets. It leeches off of America’s money and puts that money towards killing human beings. According to the California Innocence Project, California alone has spent “more than $4 billion” on the death penalty since 1978.
The project also reported that only 13 people have been executed since the same year, bringing the total amount to $308 million per person. This money could be better used towards practices that can improve our justice system to make it fairer and more effective. Funding could go towards things such as indigent defense and persecuting corruption in the judicial system. Additionally, using that money to help victims and their families through the aftermath of crimes is more important than punishing their assailant(s) to the extreme.
The American Civil Liberties Union states not only is the death penalty a waste of money, but also a waste of other resources such as the “time” and energy” of the courts, attorneys and law enforcement. The time spent by this personnel could be used towards other important cases with pending charges. And don’t forget about wasting YOUR time — an average person who might have jury duty during a case of whether someone should die or not.
The Death Penalty DOES NOT Stop Crime
People may say the death penalty does not WASTE anything, but is a proven deterrent to crime and provides justice for victims. An informational article from Cornell Law School states that when the death penalty was reinstated during the court case of Gregg v. Georgia in 1976, the court ruled that it was not unconstitutional because it helped stop crime and provided “retribution”.
If the death penalty prevents crime and provides solace to victims and their families, it should stay, right? Victims deserve justice for the horrible acts that were committed against them, and if the death penalty is the best way to achieve it, then it should be allowed. The injured party also deserves to feel comfort after the fact, and if death to their attacker helps that happen, then so be it.
However, why waste money going through all the trouble of putting someone on death row when a life sentence would also suffice? It is a harsher punishment as one has to spend the rest of their life in a dark and gritty prison, with eternity to think upon your mistakes. A life punishment ensures that the criminal can never harm their victims or anyone else ever again, similar to the death penalty.
You may argue that paying for someone’s food, clothes and other necessities is expensive. While this may be true, the reality is that the death penalty is even more so due to its legal process to implement and lawsuits that come from improper executions. Pair that with foreign chemical manufacturers are growing increasingly resistant to capital punishment, the result is that death penalty inmates cost $1.12 million more than the standard inmate.
Even so, the death penalty is still considered the best way to scare criminals from committing murder, thereby reducing crime rates.
Yet, law enforcement officials seem to say otherwise. In the same article from the American Civil Liberties Union, it is stated that the Taxpayers of Justice, a group that includes law enforcement, supported the proposition to abolish the death penalty on the 2012 California ballot. The people who actually help put away criminals that are charged with the death penalty believe that it is useless. They would know which methods are the most effective. However, if you do not believe them, believe the statistics: States with the death penalty actually have higher rates of murder than states without it.
The Death Penalty Targets Disadvantaged People
The death penalty is not only economically damaging but also socially damaging. It targets the less fortunate and paints people undeserving of the death penalty as the devil (and by killing them they are sent to hell, where the devil supposedly belongs) due to racial and financial disparity.
This Harvard study states that defendants who are convicted of murdering a white person are 17 times more likely to be issued the death penalty than people who are convicted of murdering a black person. Think about that. Why are white victims much more likely to get justice for crimes against them than black victims? This encourages the racism that corrupts our justice system today which has led to disadvantaged people being a common target for the death penalty.
Additionally, African-Americans are overrepresented on death row when you look at the American population: 34.1% of executed persons have been black, while only 11.9% of the U.S. is made up of black people. On the other hand, while white people make up 55.7% of executions, 57.3% of the population is white. These numbers are vastly and unjustly skewed.
You may ask, why is that? The answer should be obvious. Despite the strides America has made to combat racism over the centuries, this country was built on racism, which still exists to this day within many people, groups and organizations. The death penalty is a manifestation of the many racist policies in this nation that hinders equality for all people. However, is that not also an ideal America was built on? Did we not state in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, two of America’s most important founding documents, that all people are created equal?
Racism isn’t the only social issue that makes the death penalty unjust, though. Classism also plays a part. The distinctions between the lower, middle and upper classes are very prevalent, especially in court.
It is very common for people facing the death penalty to have insufficient defense counsel, often because they are economically disadvantaged and unable to finance lawyers dedicated to their case. As a result, they are stuck with an overworked public defense lawyer because the public defense system has inadequate funding. Innocent people living in poverty are much more likely to be sentenced to the death penalty, simply because they do not have enough money to hire a private attorney. The money used for it could instead be used to provide people with proper public defense lawyers to avoid unwarranted executions.
Modern Technology Does Not Make Sure Innocent People Are Not Put On Death Row and Does Not Stop PTSD
However, many argue that an innocent person being put on death row is highly unlikely because of modern technology such as DNA testing. With new processes of identifying criminals, the certainty of guilt occurs more often. Furthermore, new technology also helps discover new information in certain cases, often leading to the exoneration of someone on death row before they are executed.
Although this may be true, as 75 people have been exonerated in the last 20 years, these people were still wrongly put on death row in the first place. Furthermore, if only 75 people were actually innocent of their crimes, imagine how many more there are. Modern technology cannot catch everything. There are most definitely countless more cases where shaky testimonies and evidence have sent innocents to their death. And don’t forget about the innocent people who have already died to the death penalty before modern technology.
But let’s say that everyone who has been recently executed was guilty. Either way, anyone who was wrongly put on death row will be haunted for the rest of their lives, despite being saved from execution. A story published by National Geographic shares the stories of different death row exonerees, explaining their lives after the fact. As the story shares, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the many things that can result from being an innocent person on death row, along with other trauma and a “struggle to reacclimate to life outside of prison”.
Overall, Let’s Get Rid of It
The death penalty is NOT something that should exist within the United States. Not only is it inherently useless and a waste of money, but there are also other completely viable sentences such as life in prison. Furthermore, it helps preserve the roots of racism and classism that are still holding back America today.
The U.S. is considered one of the most advanced countries in the world, so why are we so archaic over the issue of the death penalty? When three-fourths of other nations across the world have already abolished the death penalty, does that not reveal the truth? As such, should we not follow their example? Do we not, as human beings, have the natural obligation to protect life, not take it away? When there are other options available, killing should never be used as anything other than a last resort. We are not a country based on cruelty and discrimination, but a country founded on liberty and justice for all.
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