- The death penalty costs less than life in prison
- It is a deterrent to criminals; crime rates rise in the absence of a death penalty
- The death penalty should be reserved only for the most heinous crimes
- It provides closure for the victims’ family members
The death penalty is an appropriate punishment for certain egregious crimes, which are the only ones to which it applies. It is sought by prosecutors only rarely in recent times, and there is a robust appeal process and no shortage of death penalty opponents and others who will finance and conduct vigorous defenses against its imposition, and challenge each and every death sentence on appeal. In extraordinary cases a governor (and, in rare circumstances involving a federal death sentence, the President) can commute a sentence to life imprisonment or some other term. And juries must make specific findings and apply high standards of proof before such a sentence can be imposed. The threat of a death sentence is a significant deterrent to the most serious of crimes. It also assures that those convicted after appeal of the most egregious crimes will never be able to harm anyone else, either through eventual release or escape. And while the death penalty and the appeal process consume significant state resources, housing and caring for an inmate who has committed an especially egregious crime for the rest of their life likely would exceed that cost.
- Mistaken applications of the death penalty are irrevocable – there is always the risk of sentencing the innocent to death
- Without a higher standard of proof than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it is too prone to error
- The death penalty does not account for mental illness as a cause for the crime
- Given the trial, appeals, and attorney costs – it may be more expensive
- It is barbaric. No other western nation employs it any longer.
- “Cost” is a very poor reason for killing anyone
Unfortunately, we have an imperfect judicial system and the incorrect use of capital punishment is an irrevocable mistake. Society should value the life of one innocent person ahead of its desire for vengeance against a small number of criminals, especially when those criminals will be sentenced to life without parole anyway. Life sentences without parole are sufficient deterrents to crime, and many people who commit crimes egregious enough to warrant the application of the death penalty are either acting under immediate impulses that would not allow them to weigh the threat of the death penalty, or are mentally ill. The death penalty also appears to have been historically imposed disproportionately on minorities, and in certain instances on mentally ill defendants. In addition, given the time consumed by the appeal process, victims and their families are required to endure prolonged waiting periods before they can get closure based on the final imposition of a verdict. And our society should have evolved to the point by now where taking a life intentionally is no longer viewed as a valid social sanction.
Posted in: Point/Counterpoint