Capital punishment debate

Capital punishment debate
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Capital punishment
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The use of capital punishment, frequently known as the death penalty, is highly controversial.

Contents

Philosophical arguments

Retribution

Supporters of the death penalty argued that death penalty is morally justified when applied in murder especially with aggravating elements such as multiple homicide, child murder, torture murder and mass killing such as terrorism or genocide. Some even argue that not applying death penalty in latter cases are patently unjust. This argument is strongly defended by New York law professor Robert Blecker [1], who says that the punishment must be painful in proportion to the crime. It would be unfair that those who have committed these horrible crimes stay alive, even incarcerated.

Abolitionists argue that retribution is simply revenge and cannot be condoned. Others while accepting retribution as an element of criminal justice nonetheless argue that life without parole is a sufficient substitute.

Human rights

Abolitionists believe capital punishment is the worst violation of human rights, because the right to life is the most important, and judicial execution violate it without necessity and inflict to the condemned a psychological torture. Albert Camus wrote in a 1956 book called "Reflections on the Guillotine, Resistance, Rebellion & Death" :

An execution is not simply death. It is just as different from the privation of life as a concentration camp is from prison. [...] For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life. [2]

Practical arguments

Wrongful execution

Capital punishment is often opposed on the grounds that innocent people will inevitably be executed. Between 1973 and 2005, 123 people in 25 states were released from death row when new evidence of their innocence emerged.[3] However, statistics likely understate the actual problem of wrongful convictions because once an execution has occurred there is often insufficient motivation and finance to keep a case open, and it becomes unlikely at that point that the miscarriage of justice will ever be exposed.

Another issue is the quality of the defense in a case where the accused has a public defender. The competence of the defense attorney "is a better predictor of whether or not someone will be sentenced to death than the facts of the crime".[4]

Also, improper procedure may result in unfair executions. For example, Amnesty International argues that, in Singapore, "the Misuse of Drugs Act contains a series of presumptions which shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused. This conflicts with the universally guaranteed right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty".[5] This refers to a situation when someone is being caught with drugs. In this situation, in almost any jurisdiction, the prosecution has a prima facie case.

Racial factors in the United States

African Americans, though they currently make up only 12 percent of the general population, have made up 41 percent of death row inmates and 34 percent of those actually executed since 1976.[6]

According to Craig Rice, a black member of the Maryland state legislature: "The question is, are more people of color on death row because the system puts them there or are they committing more crimes because of unequal access to education and opportunity? The way I was raised, it was always to be held accountable for your actions."[7]

Deterrence

The existence of a deterrence effect is disputed. Studies differ as to whether executions deter other potential criminals from committing murder or other crimes.

One reason that there is no consensus on whether or not the death penalty is a deterrent is that it is used so rarely - only about one out of every 300 murders actually results in an execution. In 2005 in the Stanford Law Review, John J. Donohue III, a law professor at Yale with a doctorate in economics, and Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote that the death penalty "... is applied so rarely that the number of homicides it can plausibly have caused or deterred cannot reliably be disentangled from the large year-to-year changes in the homicide rate caused by other factors... The existing evidence for deterrence... is surprisingly fragile." Wolfers stated, "If I was allowed 1,000 executions and 1,000 exonerations, and I was allowed to do it in a random, focused way, I could probably give you an answer."

Naci Mocan, an economist at the University of Colorado at Denver, authored a study that looked at all 3,054 U.S. counties over two decades, and concluded that each execution saved five lives. Mocan stated, "I personally am opposed to the death penalty... But my research shows that there is a deterrent effect."

Joanna M. Shepherd, a law professor at Emory with a doctorate in economics who was involved in several studies on the death penalty, stated, "I am definitely against the death penalty on lots of different grounds... But I do believe that people respond to incentives." Shepherd found that the death penalty had a deterrent effect only in those states that executed at least nine people between 1977 and 1996. In the Michigan Law Review in 2005, Shepherd wrote, "Deterrence cannot be achieved with a half-hearted execution program."

The question of whether or not the death penalty deters murder usually revolves around the statistical analysis. Studies have produced disputed results with disputed significance.[8] Some studies have shown a positive correlation between the death penalty and murder rates[9] - in other words, they show that where the death penalty applies, murder rates are also high. This correlation can be interpreted in either that the death penalty increases murder rates by brutalizing society, or that higher murder rates cause the state to retain or reintroduce the death penalty. However, supporters and opponents of the various statistical studies, on both sides of the issue, argue that correlation does not imply causation.

In recent years, a number of new studies have been published, mostly by economists, that statistically demonstrate a deterrent effect of the death penalty.[10] However, critics claim severe methodological flaws in these studies and hold that the empirical data offer no basis for sound statistical conclusions about the deterrent effect.[11]

Surveys and polls conducted in the last 15 years show that some police chiefs and others involved in law enforcement may not believe that the death penalty has any deterrent effect on individuals who commit violent crimes. In a 1995 poll of randomly selected police chiefs from across the U.S., the officers rank the death penalty last as a way of deterring or preventing violent crimes. They ranked it behind many other forms of crime control including reducing drug abuse and use, lowering technical barriers when prosecuting, putting more officers on the streets,and making prison sentences longer. They responded that a better economy with more jobs would lessen crime rates more than the death penalty (Deiter 23). In fact, only one percent of the police chiefs surveyed thought that the death penalty was the primary focus for reducing crime (Deiter 25).

However, the police chiefs surveyed were more likely to favor capital punishment than the general population.

Deiter, Richard. “The Death Penalty is not an Effective Law Enforcement Tool.” Ed. Stephen E. Schonebaum. Does Capital Punishment Deter Crime? San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1998

In addition to statistical evidence, psychological studies examine whether murderers think about the consequences of their actions before they commit a crime. Most homicides are spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous, emotionally impulsive acts. Murderers do not weigh their options very carefully in this type of setting (Jackson 27). It is very doubtful that killers give much thought to punishment before they kill (Ross 41).

But some say the death penalty must be enforced even if the deterrent effect is unclear, like John McAdams, who teaches political science at Marquette University : "If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call."[12]

Use of the death penalty on plea bargain

Supporters of the death penalty, especially those who do not believe in the deterrent effect of the death penalty, say the threat of the death penalty could be used to urge capital defendants to plead guilty, testify against accomplices, or disclose the location of the victim's body. Norman Frink, a senior deputy district attorney in the state of Oregon, considers capital punishment a valuable tool for prosecutors. The threat of death leads defendants to enter plea deals for life without parole or life with a minimum of 30 years—-the two other penalties, besides death, that Oregon allows for aggravated murder.[13] In a plea agreement reached with Washington state prosecutors, Gary Ridgway, a Seattle-area man who admitted to 48 murders since 1982 accepted a sentence of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors spared Ridgway from execution in exchange for his cooperation in leading police to the remains of still-missing victims.[14][15][16]

Notes

  1. ^ http://www.nyls.edu/faculty/faculty_profiles/robert_blecker/
  2. ^ http://people.smu.edu/rhalperi/
  3. ^ Death Penalty Information Center, Innocence and the Death Penalty
  4. ^ Barbara McCuen, "Does DNA Technology Warrant a Death Penalty Moratorium?" (May 2000)
  5. ^ Amnesty International, "Singapore - The death penalty: A hidden toll of executions" (January 2004)
  6. ^ United States of America: Death by discrimination - the continuing role of race in capital cases. | Amnesty International
  7. ^ http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/07/AR2009030701768.html
  8. ^ Death Penalty Information Center, Facts about Deterrence and the Death Penalty
  9. ^ Joanna M. Shepherd, Capital Punishment and the Deterrence of Crime (Written Testimony for the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, April 2004.)
  10. ^ Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, Articles on Death Penalty Deterrence
  11. ^ Death Penalty Information Center, Discussion of Recent Deterrence Studies
  12. ^ http://www.prodeathpenalty.com/
  13. ^ (English)Killing Time : Dead Men Waiting on Oregon’s Death Row « Even though we don’t execute people, Frink considers capital punishment a valuable tool for prosecutors. The threat of death, he says, leads defendants to enter plea deals for life without parole or life with a minimum of 30 years—the two other penalties, besides death, that Oregon allows for aggravated murder. »
  14. ^ (English)Harvey case's shock recalled « Whalen worked out a much-criticized plea bargain arrangement with then-county prosecutor Arthur M. Ney Jr. in which Harvey would be spared the death penalty in exchange for pleading guilty to 21 murders. Later, Harvey confessed to four more murders at Drake. In September 1987, he pleaded guilty in his hometown of London, Ky., to nine more murders. »
  15. ^ Death Penalty Information Center
  16. ^ Death penalty proves useful

See also

External links


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