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The Death Penalty

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Michael Nunnery

Research Paper

The Death Penalty

CJAD 350

Columbia College

May 8, 2014

        The death penalty has a very long history. The first person was executed under the United States Federal death penalty in “1790” ("Death penalty facts, pros and cons, statistics for US states", n.d.) As long as the death penalty has been around people have debated about the subject. There are people for the death penalty and there are people against the death penalty. Both groups have valid points behind their choice. It is important to understand each viewpoint.

        Those that are for the death penalty believe that the death penalty is a way to give closure to the victim’s family. They also believe that it is a deterrent and that justice is better served because of the death penalty. Advocates for the death penalty suggest that by allowing someone to be released on parole or those that escape, it gives them another chance to kill. Many believe that prosecutors can use it as a bargaining chip. The benefits of the death penalty go way beyond these reasons. With that being said, those against it have very valid reasons as well.

        One argument that is heard time and time again is, people are afraid that an innocent person will be put to death. There are those that believe it is a cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment. Many individuals believe that the financial costs to taxpayers is far greater with death penalty cases than that of cases not seeking the death penalty. Along the same lines they believe that the endless appeals bog down the court system. Some are of the mindset that life in prison is worse than being put to death. The argument for both sides is very understandable. It is imperative that advocates and adversaries understand what is truly happening with the death penalty.

        All too often it is said that by executing an inmate it provides closure to the victim’s family. This is a very interesting concept. Often times the person convicted of the crime is not remorseful for his or her actions. One cannot be forced to offer an apology for what they have done. Even if they were forced to give an apology it would mean nothing if not from the heart. The family members of the victim receive closure in each step of the process. Every time there is a step taken in the judicial process the family receives some type of closure. When the suspect is arrested they can rest a little easier knowing the person is off the streets. When they are convicted of the crime they have a sense of closure knowing the person that killed their loved one it truly going to pay for their crime. The final chapter is really the moment the sentence is handed down. Whether the individual receives life or death, the family still closes another chapter in the book. Closure is going to be different for each person, even with the same case.

        Many advocates believe that the death penalty is a deterrent for the crime of murder. Not only is this proven statistically to be wrong, but common sense should prove that it is wrong. Statistically since 1990, the murder rate for states with the death penalty was at the highest in 1991. That year the murder rate was “9.94” ("Death Penalty: Deterrence", n.d.), while the highest the rate has been for states without the death penalty was “9.27” ("Death Penalty: Deterrence", n.d.) in the same year. The murder rate for states with the death penalty has never been below “5.71” ("Death Penalty: Deterrence", n.d.) while those states without the death penalty have seen it is as low as “4.02” ("Death Penalty: Deterrence", n.d.) Now one would think that the numbers would be flip flopped, but they are not. The common sense aspect is this. When a criminal decides to commit a crime, especially murder, do they really think about the consequences? Most have to know that killing someone will either land them in prison for a long time or possibly lead them to their death by execution, but they still commit the crime. Bottom line is criminals are not going to stop and think about their actions. Most do not realize the severity of their actions until it is too late.

        An argument that goes both for and against the death penalty deals with putting an innocent person to death. Truth is it could happen. Reality is that it is 2014 and the advancements of both science and technology have come a long way even from ten years ago. It is very possible that someone who was found guilty in the 1970’s and 1980’s might have not gotten a fair shake. There is really no arguing DNA results. The testing of the DNA and the results from those tests can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone was present at a crime scene. The excuse that an innocent person could die needs to stop. There will be mistakes made, but those mistakes should not put an innocent person behind bars. Most cases are not tried simply on DNA evidence, but if the DNA evidence is put together with other evidence and testimony from witnesses and experts, then the prosecutor should have a pretty convincing argument. Many say that once someone is put to death there is no bringing them back. That is a good point, but DNA results are so accurate that even the best defense attorney couldn’t argue them.

        It is no secret that the prisons in the United States are extremely overcrowded. The death penalty is unique in that is contributes to the problem in a negative and positive way. The positive way is very clear, when an inmate is executed the prison population is lowered by one. The death penalty also ensures that the inmate will not return if they are released on parole. Most states view life in prison as thirty years. So if someone is convicted of murder and sentenced to life they may very well get out and still have many years to live. Chances are if they are released they will return to prison within three years. Now the negative impact on the prison population is the fact that those on death row are kept in individual cells. The cells are located in their own section of the prison. It is interesting that they are not allowed to be put in general population because they pose a risk to other inmates. The thought behind this is they have nothing to lose. The argument with this would be neither do those that are career criminals. Make them bunk with another inmate and put them in general population. This would free up space and resources that an overcrowded prison does not have to spare.

        Then there is the cost argument. One would think that executing someone convicted of murder would be somewhat cheap. That is the furthest from the truth. In all actuality, executing someone is very expensive. The state of Florida spends “$51 million more a year on those on death row than those on life without parole.” ("Death penalty facts, pros and cons, statistics for US states", n.d.) There are several factors that contribute to that large amount. The cost to incarcerate a death row inmate is immense. As mentioned previously, they are put in a single cell and theses cells are located in a segregated part of the facility. What this means is that not only are prisons having to come up with a specialized area for death row inmates, they are having to allocate resources like guards, water, and electricity that could otherwise be used for a large group of inmates. There are even more costs associated with death row inmates aside from housing costs.

        Other costs associated with death row inmates includes pre-trial and trial costs, automatic appeals and Habeas Corpus petitions, federal Habeas Corpus appeals, and the defense of death row inmates. The state of California, one state that is definitely not swimming in money, has spent “$4 billion” ("Death penalty facts, pros and cons, statistics for US states", n.d.) since 1978. Doing the math, that is $117,647,058 annually spent on death row inmates. The state broke that number down into the following figures: “$1.94 billion in pre-trial and trial costs, $925 million in automatic appeals and state Habeas Corpus petitions, $775 million in federal Habeas Corpus appeals, and $1 billion in the costs of incarceration.” ("Death penalty facts, pros and cons, statistics for US states", n.d.) It was also reported that if the governor changed the sentences from death to life without parole, the state of California would save “$5 billion” ("Death penalty facts, pros and cons, statistics for US states", n.d.) in twenty years. Another interesting note is the amount of money that it takes to defend a death penalty case. Now initially it is the responsibility of the defendant to get his or own counsel, but if they cannot afford an attorney the state will appoint an attorney to them. A public defender is paid by tax money. It costs “$620,932” ("Death penalty facts, pros and cons, statistics for US states", n.d.) to defend a federal death case trial. All of these numbers add up, and when the math is done they add up to change needing to take place. Change needs to be made in regards to the death penalty.

        Most inmates on death row will spend between “15-20 years” (" - Death Penalty (Pros & Cons, Arguments For and Against, Advantages & Disadvantages)", n.d.) behind bars. There is no need for cases to be drawn out this long. Why should someone get appeal after appeal after appeal when they were found guilty by twelve of their peers? Further, why do they even get to appeal the outcome if they confessed to the murder, there is video evidence of the crime, or there are eye witnesses? The states that have the death penalty perform executions by lethal injection or electric chair. This is where public executions should come into play. If the individual is found guilty and one of the above mentioned components is involved with that verdict, then they should be taken to the front lawn of the courthouse and hung right then and there. These states spend millions of dollars, dollars that most of these states do not have and could allocate somewhere else, when the spending could stop as soon as the verdict is handed down.


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