The Pros and Cons of Capital Punishment
Capital punishment, known more commonly as the Death Penalty, is the most severe government-sanctioned criminal punishment in the United States. It has sparked a voracious debate ever since its inception during the Revolutionary War. The question on whether or not the death penalty should be allowed to continue was thrown recently into sharp relief, when, just a few days ago, the US Attorney General said that the Federal Government would resume use of capital punishment after a sixteen year long break.
One of the largest arguments made on both sides of the debate concerns morality. Many people who argue for the use of the death penalty claim that it is only used when it is deserved. The nation’s worst criminals, who have committed the most heinous, unspeakable crimes, deserve nothing more or less than death. In the commission of their crimes, they have forfeited their right to their life. Morality is also an argument used against the Death Penalty. There are many who believe that no person or government should ever have the right to decide whether someone should live or die. Punishment that results in death is highly immoral, regardless of what crime was committed.
There is also the question of constitutionality. The Eighth Amendment in the Bill of Rights is a protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.” This is an oft used argument by opponents of the Death Penalty, as most methods, as well as the thing itself, can easily be considered cruel and unusual. Death by electric chair, firing squad, or lethal injection can all be considered cruel and unusual. Lethal injection was designed to be legal under the constitution, but has a history of mishaps including paralysis and slow, painful deaths, that prove the argument of cruelty, and therefore, a constitutional violation. Proponents of the Death Penalty can also use constitutionality to support capital punishment, as the constitution allows execution, so long as it follows due process of law.
The argument of retribution is an extremely subjective one. Many are subject to the view that the only morally right consequence to a crime of absolute and utter evil, is death. Others believe that the best way to make a murderer pay and suffer as a consequence of his crimes is a lifetime of imprisonment, a lifetime of having to live with themselves. Death is an easy way out, and one that people who possess this high level of cruelty do not deserve.
The question of cost-efficacy factors heavily into the debate. Those in support of the Death Penalty might argue that execution takes people out of the prison system, thereby reducing the costs of keeping someone in prison. Opponents, including experienced trial attorneys like Gruszeczki & Smith Law, will argue that the cost of execution is insurmountably higher than life in prison. This is due to several factors, including the incredibly lengthy process of trial, retrial, and investigation, which could take years, dozens of attorneys, and little resolution. Convicts have served up to 33 years on Death Row before their execution; that is 30 years worth of expenses, lawyers, trials, and jury selections, etc. The cost of the execution itself is incredibly high. As of 2016, Virginia’s cost of lethal injection drugs per execution was at $16,500.
Another large argument against the Death Penalty revolves around innocence, failed trials, and weak attorneys. A 2014 study found that some 4.1% of prisoners on Death Row are actually innocent. Further, after spending years on Death Row, less than 2% of prisoners are exonerated. If capital punishment results in the organized slaughter of innocent, wrongfully convicted civilians, should it be allowed to continue? If capital punishment exists for justice, and injustice is being served in its stead, no matter how small the scale, that small fact should outweigh the support of a system that exists to kill.
Capital punishment does have its pros and cons. But the country and the world are leaning away from it. As of today, 21 states have banned the Death Penalty, 29 states still have it, and 3 have the Death Penalty under a moratorium. Globally, as of 2017, some 140 countries have abolished the Death Penalty. And those countries and states that still have capital punishment have seen a definite decline in the numbers of annual executions. And yes, the prison system is broken, justice is hard, if not impossible, to discern, and facts and truth are becoming a murky world. The argument of capital punishment, even looked at solely through a legal lens, is one that can full to either side.
The question boils down to this: whether you believe that the government has the right to take a life, and whether, if you were an innocent facing execution, you would still support the legal act of murder.