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Death Penalty Overview: Ten Reasons Why Capital Punishment is Flawed Public Policy
There are many reasons the death penalty should be abolished. It is a complex issue and it is difficult to point to any single fact or argument as the most important. Below are a number of reasons why states should stop the practice of capital punishment.
1. Executions are carried out at staggering cost to taxpayers.
It costs far more to execute a person than to keep him or her in prison for life. A New Jersey Policy Perspectives report concluded that when the state had the death penalty, it cost New Jersey taxpayers $253 million since 1983, a figure that is over and above the costs that would have been incurred had the state utilized a sentence of life without parole instead of death. (New Jersey abolished capital punishment in December 2007).
"From a strictly financial perspective, it is hard to reach a conclusion other than this: New Jersey taxpayers over the last 23 years have paid more than a quarter billion dollars on a capital punishment system that has executed no one," the report concluded.
Michael Murphy, former Morris County, NJ prosecutor, remarked: "If you were to ask me how $11 million a year could best protect the people of New Jersey, I would tell you by giving the law enforcement community more resources. I'm not interested in hypothetical or abstractions; I want the tools for law enforcement to do their job, and $11 million can buy a lot of tools.
Scientific studies have consistently failed to demonstrate that executions deter people from committing crime any more than long prison sentences. Moreover, states without the death penalty have much lower murder rates. The South accounts for 80% of U.S. executions, and has the highest regional murder rate.
3. States are unable to prevent accidental executions of innocent people.
The wrongful execution of an innocent person is an injustice that can never be rectified. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, at least 138 men and women have been released from death row nationally – some only minutes away from execution. Moreover, in the past two years, evidence has come to light that indicates that four men may have been wrongfully executed in recent years for crimes they did not commit - an error rate that is appalling and unacceptable when talking about life and death.
4. Race plays a role in determining who lives and who dies.
Since 1977, blacks and whites have been the victims of murders in almost equal numbers, yet 80% of the people executed in that period were convicted of murders involving white victims.
Politics, quality of legal counsel, and the jurisdiction in which a crime is committed are more often the determining factors in a death penalty case than the facts of the crime itself. The death penalty is a lethal lottery: of the 22,000 homicides committed every year, approximately 150 people are sentenced to death.
6. Capital punishment goes against almost every religion.
Although isolated passages of religious scripture have been quoted in support of the death penalty, almost all religious groups in the United States regard executions as immoral.
7. The U.S. is keeping company with notorious human rights abusers.
The vast majority of countries in Western Europe, North America and South America — more than 128 nations worldwide — have abandoned capital punishment in law or in practice. Year after year, only three countries execute more prisoners than the United States – China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
8. Millions of dollars could be diverted to helping the families of murder victims.
Many family members who have lost love ones to murder feel that the death penalty will not heal their wounds nor end their pain, and the extended process prior to executions can prolong the agony experienced by the family. Funds now being used for the costly process of executions could be used to help families put their lives back together through counseling, restitution, crime victim hotlines, and other services addressing their needs.
9. Bad lawyers are a persistent problem.
Perhaps the most important factor in determining whether a defendant will receive the death penalty is the quality of the representation he or she is provided. Almost all defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys. In many cases, the appointed attorneys are overworked, underpaid, or lacking the trial experience required for death penalty cases. There have even been instances in which lawyers appointed to a death case were so inexperienced that they were completely unprepared for the sentencing phase of the trial. Other appointed attorneys have slept through parts of the trial, or arrived at the court under the influence of alcohol.
10. Life without parole is a sensible alternative to the death penalty
Almost every state in the U.S. now has life in prison without parole. Unlike decades ago, a sentence of life without parole generally means exactly what it says – convicts locked away in prison until they die. Unlike the death penalty, a sentence of life in prison without parole allows mistakes to be corrected or new evidence to come to light.
States Without the Death Penalty (17): Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin. Also: District of Columbia and Puerto Rico
States With the Death Penalty (34): Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming
In 2006: 53 In 2007: 42
In 2008: 37
In 2009: 52
In 2010: 46
In 2011: 43 In 2012: 18 (As of May 15)
Since 1976: 1,295 (As of May 15, 2012)
Click Here for extensive, impartial and regularly updated information on all aspects of the death penalty from the Death Penalty Information Center.