The Death Penalty
The death penalty is an overreaction on the part of a criminal justice system caught in the throes of a moral panic over criminal activity. While some form of criminal activity may be discouraged by this course of action, the overall deterrence value contained therein is oftentimes exaggerated. Violent crimes persist even in jurisdictions where this ultimate punishment is enforceable. Given the glaring shortcomings of the death penalty, it is time for its abolition to be taken into serious consideration and alternative means of punishment and rehabilitation sought. Reasons against the death sentence will be presented herein with a view to supporting the abolitionists’ position.
It is an accepted fact that one of the principle uses of punishment in the criminal justice system is retribution. Criminals and potential criminals should be made aware of the consequences of their actions, sending a strong message that their actions would not be tolerated. In the interest of justice, it has been argued that courts must impose punishments that are commensurate with given crimes so as to reflect the public’s abhorrence of these crimes (BBC). However, the death penalty by itself is the most blatant breach of the right to life. It has been described as the “ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights” (Amnesty International). It is a paradox that for justice to be enforced, justice is denied.
Secondly, the efficacy of the death penalty in addressing the problems for which it was designed has not stood the test of time. While proponents of the practice have pointed to its deterrence value, evidence to the contrary abounds. It has been established by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) that states with the death penalty have the highest murder rates (American Civil Liberties Union). This fact flies in the face of the deterrence argument and supports the assertion that the death penalty is inefficient. Further, the death penalty’s inefficiency as a deterrent is underscored by the fact that it is applied sparingly.The Death Penalty
Thirdly, the administration of the death penalty lends itself to controversy over bias if evidence in the United States is anything to go by. For instance, research shows that Colorado prosecutors are more likely than not to seek the death penalty for minority defendants as compared to white defendants (Beardsley, Kamin and Marceau). Such racial bias stands in stark contrast to the equitable application of justice in law. Unfortunately, this trend also persists in the military justice system. It has been shown that conviction and sentencing of a defendant is more severe in cases that involve a white victim than cases whose victim is non-white (Baldus, Grosso and Woodworth). This aspect of bias is complemented by the fact that wealthy individuals with access to crafty defense attorneys are more likely to get away with capital offences. The injustice of the death penalty therefore cannot be emphasized enough.
Finally, proponents of the death penalty have often put forth the closure argument; that families of the victims of capital crimes such as murder find a sense of psychological closure by witnessing the execution of the perpetrator. However, evidence obtained from victims of such heinous criminal acts as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing reveals that closure is not necessarily attained by executing the perpetrators. On the contrary, it is a process which one learns to live with throughout his or her life (Madeira).
In conclusion therefore, it is apparent that the death penalty has outlived its usefulness. Its shortcomings in the form of minimal deterrence value, biased administration and insufficient catharsis enabler render it obsolete as a tool in modern criminal justice.