An Alternative Stance Against the Death Penalty - Disallowing State Sanctioned Killing of Citizens
The death penalty in the United States is an often hotly contested topic which tends to fall along party lines, with Republicans more likely to be in favor of it and Democrats more likely to oppose. Recent support among Independents has been about half-and-half. Regardless, the debate is usually one of simple ethics, argued along the lines of whether or not use of death as a punishment for crime is acceptable. I however would like to present an alternative take on the matter.
I oppose the death penalty as I do not believe that government should be given the legal right to execute its own citizens. As abuse of power by police and government officials at all levels is a constant concern I see no way to support the death penalty in good conscience. I grant that this stance is based upon a lack of faith in the government’s ability to operate a just system of criminal law, but I believe I am well justified in my belief. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, as recently as 2020 there were exonerations for crimes carrying life sentences. Indeed, there is a lengthy history in the United States alone of wrongful convictions resulting in an innocent or questionably guilty individual being executed or imprisoned for long periods of time.
Given the above I find the potential to deprive the innocent of life through the death penalty to be too great, and the powers granted to the state by its allowance too dangerous. Here is where we run into another argument favoring the death penalty however – that preventing the execution of legitimately dangerous individuals places society at continuous risk due to the possibility for said individuals to commit further heinous crimes. My rebuttal to this argument is that if those who have truly committed crimes such as murder somehow continue to present a threat to society, it is because our prison system is inadequate or that individual has not been given an appropriately lengthy sentence. Some cite the threat these individuals may pose to guards and fellow inmates – as I said, this is largely due to an inadequate prison system and these threats can be mitigated just as any other threat can. Isolation can be effectively used to separate prisoners that present a threat to those around them without the isolation itself becoming an ethical issue. While the use of solitary confinement is controversial and often associated with mental health issues, there are more ethical and effective ways to implement it.
Another argument I will briefly rebut is that the death penalty is a necessary deterrent, curbing any potential acts of capital crime before they happen. That the death penalty acts as a deterrent is not supported by evidence. According to the research paper Does Capital Punishment Deter Murder? by Dartmouth professor of mathematics John Lamperti there is no convincing evidence to support the death penalty as a deterrent for crime. Even according to the NIJ or National Institute of Justice, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, there is no evidence that harsh punishment in general deters crime.
To conclude, I see no reason to support the death penalty's continued existence as a part of our system of criminal law, given that the death penalty –
Carries the inherent risk of executing the innocent
Is not an effective deterrent of crime
Grants the government some latitude to use, and therefore abuse, its ability to execute its own citizens
Is costly due to the necessarily in-depth appeals process
There are simply more effective, efficient, and ethical ways to deter crime and separate dangerous individuals from society and these alternatives also serve to disallow the government from exerting the power to kill over its own citizens for nefarious purposes.
Update 8/30/2022 - Minor revision completed, substantive revision planned.