The Capital Punishment: Should it Be Abolished or Kept?

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Imagine you are walking through the corridors of a jail with a guard on both sides. For your last minute of life, the only things that are going through your mind is your family and what led to this painful end. You walk into the execution room; it is dark and there is this bad feeling emerging from your body. You are being strapped to a gurney, while the executioner is filling the syringes with lethal poison. The needles pierce your skin one by one, and you feel the poison entering your body. Your family crosses your mind one last time, then everything goes dark. In the 21st century, there are still many prisoners that are on death row waiting to be put to death. Many countries have ceased the death; however, 58% of America’s states have yet to abolish the death penalty. Should the death penalty be abolished or not? A close look at this controversy shows three valid points why the death penalty should be abolished: there are racial disparities, innocent people are killed, and it is more expensive than imprisonment.

John Whitehead, an attorney, author, and founder of the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights organization, argues that the death penalty should be abolished. In the United States of America, blacks are more likely to receive a more severe punishment than any other ethnic group. According to Whitehead, “There are 1,371 blacks on death row […] despite the fact that blacks make up 12% of the U.S. population” (Whitehead 3). There is likewise a 40% possibility that blacks are more likely to be given the death penalty than a white individual who has been accused of the same crime. This shows that the legal system judges people by the color of their skin, and not the crime they have committed. Additionally, most individuals who face the death penalty are often brought up in poor and oppressed communities. As such, they are often the result of extraordinary maltreatment or poverty (3). Whitehead states that “In the US the overwhelming majority of those executed are psychotic, alcoholic, drug addicted or mentally unstable” (3). Class and wealth also contribute to those who are executed. Most death row prisoners are unable to afford their own lawyer and as such, they are usually appointed a lawyer by the court. Due to this, it has been proven that there are disparities in riches between murderers who live and those who die (3).

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Whitehead continues the argument when he points out that innocent people are killed due to the continuation of the death penalty. Capital punishment permits government authorities, who are frequently corrupt to convict others without enough evidence (3). Studies have shown that “Since 1973, 139 people have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence was brought to light” (4). This shows that each person has spent almost 10 years in jail, which adds up to 10% of prisoners wrongfully convicted. Furthermore, states have found that in 70% of death penalty cases there have been errors, such as suppressing evidence in court and one-sided juries and judges. This proves that the capital punishment system is crumbling under the heaviness of its own errors. Whitehead emphasizes that the framework is inefficient and broken and must be transformed (3).

Whitehead adds to his argument by giving an example of a case where an innocent man was put to death. Cameron Todd Willingham was sentenced for starting a fire that murdered his children. Even though he tried to save his children’s lives, he was still charged with the death penalty and executed. However, since his demise, new evidence has shown that he was innocent (4). According to Governor George Ryan, “Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error. Error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die” (4). Whitehead stresses that even if only a single innocent person is mistakenly executed, it is still too many. Despite what our individual views on capital punishment are, it is clear that the process merits examination (4).

Whitehead concludes his argument by showing readers that the death penalty is more expensive than imprisonment. Whitehead explains that discontinuing the death penalty would save states a lot of money. This money can be used to fund more important projects such as building more schools, reducing taxes so that Americans can save more money, and subsidizing open work programs to decrease destitution and kid misuse (3). According to Whitehead, “States spend 48% to 300% more prosecuting cases in which the death penalty is an option versus cases in which it is not”(3). Additionally, in North Carolina, it costs the state over 2 million dollars to execute each individual on death row. Whitehead ends by stating that states should use the money that is spent on the death penalty in a way that benefits Americans.

Conversely, David Muhlhausen, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis, believes that the death penalty should not be abolished. Muhlhausen reports that although others believe there is racial discrimination in the legal system research has shown that the system is free of it. Muhlhausen reveals that by the end of 2005, 37 inmates were set to be executed, “43.5 percent were white, while 54.1 percent were African American” (Muhlhausen 2). Since African Americans amount for most prisoners facing the death penalty, yet they are a minority of the United States’ population, others might conclude that there is racial discrimination in the legal system.

As such, to prove that racial discrimination is not a part of the system the National Institute of Justice entrusted the RAND Corporation with deciding if racial differences existed in the government’s capital punishment framework. The subsequent 2006 RAND study was devised to figure out what factors “including the defendant’s race, victim’s race, and crime characteristics” influenced the reason to seek the death penalty (2). Three separate groups of specialists were entrusted with developing their own procedures to investigate the information. Only after each group reached their own inferences did they share their discoveries with one another (2). After examining the study RAND found that the death penalty was sought when the details of the crime were considered. The data obtained from the RAND study proves that the death penalty is sought based on the characteristics of the crime and not the defendant’s race.

Muhlhausen also points out that the death penalty deters crime. He explains this through the general deterrence theory. “The general deterrence theory […] supposes that increasing the risk of apprehension and punishment for crimes deters individuals from committing crime.” Muhlhausen believes that criminals are the same as upstanding citizens. Offenders sanely boost their very own personal circumstance (utility) subject to imperatives (costs, livelihoods) that they face in the commercial center and other places. People make their choices based on the advantages of every option (2).

A study conducted from 1977 to 1999 by Joanna M. Shepherd accessed the connection among executions and murders previously, during, and after the U.S. Supreme Court's capital punishment ban (3). She found that “Each execution, on average, is associated with three murders.” Second, each execution deters the manslaughter “of one white individual, 1.5 African Americans, and 0.5 people of other races.” Finally, the sooner a person who is on death row is executed the more it deters crime. Muhlhausen concludes that the death penalty helps to deter crime as individuals assess the consequences before they act (3).

Although both sides make valid points, all states should make their way towards abolishing the death penalty. Dr. Kim Schnurbush believes that many people support the death penalty because they fail to put the facts over their emotions, as such justice might not be served. Schnurbush states that “Approximately 4.1 percent of people who are convicted and sentenced to death in the U.S. are actually innocent” (Schnurbush 1). One such case was Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person to be proven innocent while he was on death row. Bloodsworth was charged with raping a 9-year-old girl and as such he was set to be executed. After spending nearly nine years in jail Bloodworth asked for a DNA test, and the test revealed that he was innocent (1). He was then released from prison after spending nine years of his life behind bars, due to a system that wrongfully convicted him (1).

Arthur Rizer and Marc Hyden conclude that the United States’ legal system is set up in a biased fashion. A study conducted by the Justice Department between 1930 and 1972 shows in rape cases “89 percent of the defendants put to death were black men” (Rizer and Hyden 47). In every rape case, with a white victim and a black defendant, the defendant received the death penalty. Whereas, when it came to raping a black woman no one was sentenced (47). “The Innocence Project has estimated that […] 2 to 5 percent of currently incarcerated Americans are innocent.” Since there are about two million people in jail, that means 20,000 are innocent (48). An example of a case where a defendant was wrongfully convicted was the Ray Krone’s case. Krone was charged with murdering a young lady, although he was in his home at that appointed time. An expert linked Krone’s bite-mark to the bite-mark that was found on the victim. Krone was eventually convicted of murder and put on death row. After spending 10 years of his life behind bars he was found innocent (49). Rizer and Hyden emphasize that the resistance to capital punishment should come down to an absence of confidence in a mistake inclined government. Humans are not perfect therefore they will always make errors.

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The Capital Punishment: Should it Be Abolished or Kept? (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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