According to the Amnesty
International’s report in November 2017, more than two – thirds of the
countries in the world have removed the death punishment from their legal
system; the latest being Mongolia, where the capital punishment has been
completely abolished, and Guatemala. In the US, 31 out of 50 states are allowing
capital punishments as of 2017. Additionally, the numbers of death sentences
and executions have been noticeably reducing in recent years, according to
data. (Death Penalty Information Center, 2017a). The debate about whether the death
penalty should be abolished or not still remains. This paper shall discuss 3
main reasons why the punishment should be eliminated: cost, uncertain
efficiency and the disadvantage of poor people.
First of all, there is a common
myth about the death penalty being cheaper than other punishments. However,
data have shown the complete opposite: The death penalty costs considerably
more than less severe penalties, for example, the life sentence. In Tennessee,
death penalty trials cost 48% more than life imprisonment trials (Morgan, 2004).
In Maryland, the gross cost for one case of the death penalty is 3
million dollars, about 3 times more than cases without the death penalty. (Roman et al., 2008). In Kansas, it cost an average of
400,000 dollars per death- penalty case, about 4 times higher than other cases.
(Kansas Judicial Council, 2014). Capital cases
often have a more lengthy and complicated process than the others; the cost is
higher as a result. Even when the
process is shortened, the cost remains more expensive. Abolishing the death
penalty can save states lots of money. This money could be invested in other
beneficial fields for the states, such as child education, victim assistance or
better crime prevention.
The death penalty is indeed costly.
However, is it worth the money being invested in, or in another word,
deterrent? This is a very common argument regarding the efficiency of the
penalty: The capital punishment has the most deterrent effects amongst the
available penalties. The logic of the deterrent effect is that, if the penalty
can deter crimes, there should be fewer criminals in the area; therefore the
crime rates should be lower. However, it seems in states with capital
punishment, the murder rates are higher than states without the penalty,
according to statistics. In details,
recent data from 2010 to 2016 shows that states where the death penalty is not
available, the rate is 18-28% lower than states where it is still applicable.
(Death Penalty Information Center, 2017b). In fact, so far, there has been no
conclusive data to prove the actual deterrent effect of the death penalty.
According to a report in 2012 by the National Research Committee, written by
Daniel Nagin and John Pepper, flaws have been found in many researches on the
efficiency which led to such results. There are numerous flaws, the most
note-worthy being data collection, analyzing methods and how other aspects that
affect the crime rates were not considered in research. “No studies take
different alternatives to the death sentence into account; no studies consider
the potential murderer’s perception of his risk of execution”, as written by Nagin
(2014) in the report summary.
Poor people often get into
disadvantageous trials in which they have a higher risk of receiving death
sentences. They are often lack of access to “tools, social capital and basic
legal knowledge necessary to engage with the justice system (…), their legal
rights and entitlements, obligations and duties”. (United Nations, 2012, p.8). The
lack of knowledge can lead the defendants to the inadequate awareness of proper
representation. The fees and cost can be unaffordable for poor people, which
are “encountered at every stage of the legal process, along with several
indirect costs”. (United Nations, 2012, p.12). Additionally, few of them can
actually afford their own lawyers while the rest rely on legal aids in trials.
A good legal team can save the defendants from being sentenced to death. Stephen Bright (1994) stated that “the death penalty
will continue to be imposed, not upon those who commit the worst crimes, but
upon those who have the misfortune to be assigned the worst lawyers”. However,
there are often problems with the legal aids system in the US and the court-
appointed attorneys. Many law attorneys
suffer from excessive workload and low payment, which led to their
uncompetitive and unproductive performance on court. For example, Dawn Deaner,
who used to be Metro Public
Defender in Nashville, said that in 2012, her office took up 1000 misdemeanor
cases each lawyer, as twice as the average standard, leave them with less than
1 hour for preparation before trials. (Hale, 2017). The attorneys’
underperformance greatly affects the defendants, as it lowers their chance of
getting out of death punishment.
Despite the three arguments above,
there are a lot of arguments in support of the death penalty. One of the most
common arguments is that the death penalty deters the crime because it prevents
the criminal from recidivism. Of course, the penalty “deters” the murderer,
simply because if he is dead, he can no longer remain a danger to other people
and commit more murders. Therefore, the death penalty can be a society’s self –
defense before the murderer. (Nathanson, 2001, p.16)
The abolishment of the death penalty
has been a controversial issue for a long time. The world is on the way to
completely eliminate the penalty from legal systems in many countries and
areas. When not focusing on human rights and morality but rather looking at the
cost, effeciency and poverty issues, it would be beneficial for the states’
economy and the society to abolish the punishments. There are other punishments
to consider. In addition to that, governments should improve the life quality
of the citizens, crime prevention and provide aids and assistance to those with
underprivileged economic backgrounds.