"Only the state shall kill" Scanners live in vain, by Cordwainer Smith.

Here I will present a few brief arguments against the capital punishment.

Argument #1: Not a deterrent.

There is no correlation whatsoever that the death penalty makes people less likely to commit capital crimes. In fact, areas of the United States that do not institute capital punishment actually have a lower crime rate. [1]

Argument #2: More valuable alive than dead. 

While putting a criminal to death provides the visible payment of a feeling of justice the surviving aggrieved, there is also the invisible cost of the loss of the potential service that the death row inmate can provide for society as a living example of the consequences of aberrant behavior. Furthermore, it costs more to kill that to let them live because of endless court appeals. 

Argument #3: Racism.

By the numbers: prosecution 20% more likely to seek death penalty if the victim was white, and blacks receive are executed at a 38% higher rate than whites. 40% of people believe that they would be disqualified to serve on a jury determining guilt in a capital punishment case because of their race.

Argument #4: Gender.

Only 2.9% of all executions in the United States have been women since 1602; only 13 women executed since 1976. The fact is that juries are far less likely to sentence a woman to death even if under the law they should have. 

Argument #5: Innocence.

To date, 142 people have been found innocent after having been sentenced to death. 14 of these have been because of advances in DNA procedures. What new technology might be used in the future to exonerate the false imprisoned?

If there is to be a death penalty it must be applied impartially and we have failed to do so. Criminals almost never use foresight in considering their capital crimes. In killing these people we fail to put them to work educating society in a positive manner. Let these people be seen and heard. That might be true deterrence, true repayment, true vindication if they are proven innocent. 

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Comment by Sentient Biped on October 31, 2013 at 9:27pm

Čenek,

Thank you.  I"m glad it's important to you and glad you posted.

It's kind of inactive right now, but I have a group on justice issues.  Still, posting here in the forum gets wider attention.  I'm glad you brought up the topic.

IF you can make the argument that the death penalty leads to a more violent society (I think the evidence supports that, and many "experts" agree, but it depends on who you believe), and there is a dollar cost to violence (but how to measure that?), then you could make an economic argument.  Certainly, in the US systems as they currently contrived, death penalty is expensive.  As I understand it, life imprisonment is less expensive. 

This is counter to what many feel - that there is a deterrence value in executing people.  It takes educating people that death penalty is not deterrence, and possibly makes violence more likely, not less.

I know correlation is not causation, but it's a step in understanding and building a hypothesis.  And the correlation is that states with the death penalty are more violent.  That violence means people lose their livelihoods, there is cost to replacing damaged or stolen property, there is cost in surviving without a parent or spouse or other family member.  There is the cost of trials, lawyers, jails, guards, prisons  There is cost in adding locks, security systems, more cameras, heavier doors.  A violent society isn't just scary, it costs money.

Comment by Čenek Sekavec on October 31, 2013 at 6:06pm

Wow, what a great response SB!

  • "I don't know how one would quantitate your argument #2.  Proponents of the death penalty might look to the China example..."

I have a hypothesis that even aside from the financial benefits that really only apply to the U.S.A. we can demonstrate a higher social value via cultural morality that would more than offset the cost of life imprisonment.  I need to collect more information to see if I can argue this point more definitely. There are many difficulties. Thanks for your response!

Comment by Sentient Biped on October 30, 2013 at 10:06pm

Čenek,

I'm in agreement with you on this topic.  The death penalty is not applied impartially, and there is considerable error, discrimination, and lack of objective benefit.  Places that execute people do not have lower crime rates, at least within the US.  I don't know about China and Iran. 

I think that by supporting the government in continuing and carrying out executions, we normalize the killing of people.  We desensitize people to the worst loss of humanity, and potentially create a more harsh society in general. 

Lack of deterrence.  States without death penalty have consistently lower murder rates.  So if the objective is really to encourage murders, then states should impose the death penalty.  If the objective is to discourage murders, states should eliminate the death penalty.

Execution of the innocent.  More info.   Also ACLU - "In the last 25 years, 102 innocent people have been released from death row. " so how many innocents were executed?  No way to know.  One thing - not only does an innocent lose their life - what execution is supposed to prevent, not exacerbate / multiply - but it also results in complete lack of motivation to find the real killer, who, now that someone has died for the crime, is free from further attempts at finding the criminal.  In effect, the innocent, executed, died for the sins of the guilty.  "Holy Jesus!"

Racism - also here.  and here.

I hadn't read much about gender bias, but as you note it, there is literature to supportyour statement.

I don't know how one would quantitate your argument #2.  Proponents of the death penalty might look to the China example - my understanding from past readings is that, once instituted, the executions proceed quickly - even, immediately- with minimal review.  Therefore, Chinese-style executions would be economical and possibly profitable of the bodies are sold as cadavers for exhibition (controversial), or for organs (something they claim to be stopping).  I don't think the argument of expense is fully valid, even though I am against executions.

The biggest argument for me is philosophical.  I don't know if it can be quantitated.  I think execution of human beings, results in a general cheapening of human life.  Maybe that is why  places that have the death penalty have more murders.  If it's OK for the state to kill people, why isn't it OK for the rest of us to kill people? 

Comment by Čenek Sekavec on October 30, 2013 at 5:35pm

Hello Peter! Thanks very much for taking the time to respond. I'm very pleased that you brought up your argument number three. In trying to keep my blog succinct and focused there were many things I didn't bring up and this was one of them. You wrote, "More importantly you should let observations trump ideals." I would in fact argue the opposite. I think that if society values ideals there is remuneration. 

As briefly as possible, a society that affirms that it is never right to kill except to save ones life cannot war. 

As for your argument one and two:  life imprisonment also eliminates future murders, is there any extra benefit to killing the prisoner? Finally, so far as I've been able to ascertain it really does currently cost more to kill these murderers than to feed and house them for life. For example in New Jersey each death penalty conviction was costing that state over $4 million - surely far more than life imprisonment. 

Comment by Peter Martin Page on October 30, 2013 at 8:49am

I am not saying there should be a death penalty but for this debate to be valid you should also include the arguments for the death penalty for people to have a greater possibility of making an informed choice. This issue is enormously complex.

Argument #1 For: The death penalty will eliminate the possibility of an anti-social murderer of ever having future victims.

Argument #2 For: The death penalty will eliminate the cost of incarcerating murderers and allow society to use those resources for more positive services.

Argument #3 For: The next step in the achievement of a more free society may involve implementing a corresponding amount of responsibility with freedom. If we were to become a culture of responsibility rather than a culture of absolution, this could require the ultimate price be paid for the ultimate crime.

To make a well reasoned choice you must consider all the factors. If you truly wish to test the verisimilitude of your belief you must try to refute it, not verify it. More importantly you should let observations trump ideals. Have we watched criminals operate with impunity since we have valued the virtue of compassion to the point where anti-social individuals can operate with impunity? We then need to consider the compassion we should show victims and probable future victims. These probable future victims do nor show up in statistics but it shouldn't take too much imagination to consider them.

Capital punishment is a more complicated issue than is usually presented. The consequences to civilization are far reaching. This should be reflected in the debate.

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