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The Rhetoric of Death Penalty
The Death Penalty in America: An Introduction
The death penalty or the Capital Punishment in the USA has been hotly debated for many decades. There had been various efforts to abolish the death penalty in the USA for well over a century (Davis 23-46) though, have continued today (Galliher, Ray, and Cook 538-576 Haines 1996). As well, many US states differ extensively in its continuance and application. Since 2008, the death penalty is legalized in about thirty-six states nevertheless its actual executions are quite open. The U.S. Supreme Court re-stated the legality of the death penalty in its 1976 in the case of Gregg v. Georgia decision.
In view of the enormous challenges regarding the death penalty, the abolition movement has not made much headway since the 1976 Gregg decision. For the last few decades, 10 states have deliberated on bills to eliminate the death penalty however only New Jersey has been successful in passing such legislation, thus becoming the first state to legally eliminate capital punishment in more than 3 decades.
Death Penalty: Its Pros & Cons
Following are some pros and cons of the death penalty:
1. The taxpayers should not support for the care of these atrocious persons.
2. The death penalty can serve as a deterrent for future crimes done.
3. Peace of mind can be dispensed to affected families devastated by these offenders, with the assurance that these people would no longer hurt again.
4. With modern technology like DNA testing, the true criminal would be awarded death penalty.
1. In fact the cost of the execution process is significantly larger than a life in prison sentence.
2. The “deterrent” theory is dubious. Criminals generally commit heinous crimes with the belief they would not be apprehended.
3. The death penalty cannot “undo” the crimes done by the criminals. Possibly better programs should be launched to prevent such crimes by potential criminals and measures to identify such dangers.
4. There are prospects that innocent persons could be awarded death sentence.
Death Penalty: An Analysis
The death penalty`s key benefit occurs when preventing the heinous perpetrators of crimes are caught and executed so to avoid killing again. More such benefits occur from the capital punishment restrictive effect on the prospect murderers, what is termed as general deterrence. Evidence for capital punishment`s general deterrent effect occurs from three sources that are explained below:
Human logic supports that the capital punishment is the most efficient way for the deterrence for various kinds of prospective murderers. Such logic is rational as James Q. Wilson stated in his analysis:
`People are governed in their daily lives by rewards and penalties of every sort. We shop for bargain prices praise our children for good behavior and scold them for bad expect lower interest rates to stimulate home building and fear that higher ones will depress it and conduct ourselves in public in ways that lead our friends and neighbors to form good opinions of us. To assert that “deterrence doesn`t work” is tantamount to either denying the plainest facts of everyday life or claiming that would-be criminals are utterly different from the rest of us (Wilson 121).
Indeed in every society of the world when faced with a large number of crimes, the public constantly demand to increase the criminal penalties related to those crimes. Such demands can be taken as uncontroversial as these rigorous penalties would prevent the prospective criminals. The whole criminal justice system is based on the belief that increased penalties would be a successful deterrence of crimes. Such logic of deterrence relates well to the heinous crime. As the US Supreme Court ruled in Gregg v. Georgia case as:
`There are carefully contemplated murders, such as the murder for hire, where the possible penalty of death may well enter into the cold calculus that precedes the decision to act (Gregg v. Georgia, 1976).
Accordingly, the US Supreme Court stated that the death penalty relates only to “carefully contemplated” first-degree homicide. That is, the killings carried out deliberately and with cruelty. Logic shows that it is much likely that some potential killers would be deterred.
Statistical Data Supporting Death Sentence
The five US states showing the optimum relative improvements in crime rates are Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Delaware, and Texas. All these states have endorsed the death penalty as deterrence to heinous crimes.
On the other hand, contrary to the general declines in the leading death penalty states, the top abolitionist states have witnessed a rising murder and crime rates since 1966. Such state comparisons are reinforced by more advanced and current econometric studies. These studies imply that the capital punishment has considerable incremental deterrent effect against imprisonment of criminals that means it has saved a lot of innocent lives.
Professors Hashem Dezhbakhsh et al have written the most detailed and convincing analysis of the US death penalty data (Dezhbakhsh et al 344 – 376). They analyzed data from nearly 3000 US counties over the period 1977 to 1996. They noted that, generally, homicide incidents dropped as more killers were apprehended, sentenced, and as well awarded death sentences. Especially, these researchers concluded that each additional death sentence during 1977 to 1996 resulted in about 18 fewer killings.
Similar conclusions can be drawn from the research by H. Naci Mocan and his associates. They analyzed the outcomes of the multiple regression study of a newly available database regarding about 6,000 capital punishments awarded between 1977 and 1997. Controlling for numerous variables, these analysts noted “a statistically significant relationship between executions, pardons and homicide” (Mocan & Gottings 453 – 478). Specifically, they analysts found that each additional death execution sentence prevents five killings. Of particular significance to state law in Illinois, for the effects of commutations of capital punishment, they viewed that a commutation of convicts decreases deterrence and results in various homicides of dozens of innocent persons.
Similarly in 2002, Paul Zimmerman, a noted statistician supported for the death penalty sentences. He carried out an econometric research study of various US state data over a period of 1978 to 1997 to find out the deterrent effects. Zimmerman found for each state death sentence prevents about between 3 and 25 homicides annually. He also concluded that the “announcement” impact of a death sentence is the most effective method in fact promoting the deterrent effects related to the state executions Zimmerman, 2004).
Moreover, Professors Dale Cloninger and Roberto Marchesini (2001) had similar conclusions while studying the number of killings perpetrated in the state of Texas all over 1996 and 1997. Prior to 1996, Texas carried out about 17 death sentences to convicted killers each year. In 1996, the number of such sentences dropped to almost zero as a result of a temporary ban on actually executing the death sentences registered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Later, in the ensuing year, Texas carried out death sentences to 37 killers. By the application of a model that evaluated the true number of killings with the “expected” number of killings, both Cloninger and Marchesini noticed that the deferment in death sentences created a statistically major rise in the murder rates in the state of Texas. They predicted that the deferment of death sentences caused more than 200 additional murders that would have otherwise been prevented — or, in other words could save the lives of more than 200 innocent people. They added:
`The unexpected homicides occurred despite the fact that arrests continued to be made for homicide, scheduled trials for both capital and non-capital offenses went on, sentencing capital and non-capital verdicts went uninterrupted, and there were no known, dramatic changes in the state`s demographics. The only change relevant to the crime of homicide was the suspension of executions` (Cloninger & Marchesini, 2001) .
In the other words of these analysts, they noted that “politicians may wish to consider the possibility that a seemingly innocuous moratorium on executions could very well come at a heavy cost” (Cloninger & Marchesini, 2001).
On the other hand, the abolitionist response to such highly influential studies is somewhat striking: in fact they basically evade the gist of the capital sentence issue. Bedau & Cassell study exemplifies this view. They acknowledged that the abolitionist stand is “vulnerable to evidence” of a deterrent effect they argued, as:
`Since there is so little reason to suppose that the death penalty is a marginally superior deterrent over imprisonment, or that such superiority (if any) can be detected by the currently available methods of social science, this “what-if” counterargument can be put to the side and disregarded (Bedau & Cassell 15).
Bedau & Cassell candidly admitted that various studies provide a deterrent effect on heinous crimes, though “predicts” that new studies would have the contrary conclusions on this issue.
The abolitionists as such seemed unduly optimistic. If the deterrence argument is claimed to be true, innocent people would still die when the courts depend only on incarceration and would be unsuccessful to perform executions. Indeed, deterrence is endorsed by reasons, valid reports, and statistical researches. These entire data source provides a particular, incremental security of lives from the capital punishments, as well as long-term incarceration.
Accordingly, the critics of capital punishments in fact seeking protection in the theory as Bedau and Cassell suggested that a deterrent effect cannot be “detected” by the existing valid database of social science. This implies that social science studies are generally doubtful and invalid. For instance if ironclad proof of a deterrence effect for heinous crimes were needed to validate prison sentences, then the law courts would have to put every criminal in the country scot-free.
A final rationalization for the capital punishment is that it represents the right penalty for the gravest killings. Death sentence`s retributive function rationalizes the basic ethical principles that offenders should get the fair rulings. Even if the death sentence did not invoke incapacitative or deterrent function, its usefulness would be validated on this aspect alone. As Immanuel Kant strongly asserted, “[e]ven if a civil society resolved to dissolve itself … the last murderer lying in the prison ought to be executed …”(Kant, 1887). This type of punishment, which can offer no utilitarian advantage, is necessary as a consequence of the “desert of [the murderer`s] deeds.” There are many modern intellectuals who have expressed similar arguments supporting this point. For instance, renowned academic Michael Moore asked if the court would punish a vile rapist, even if his sexual needs are fulfilled and it is confirmed that he no longer holds a threat of recidivism and if it could be pretended that he was penalized, in order that others would not be induced to perform vicious criminal offenses. Moore believed that people discernments still would require penalization — an intuition that shows the preconditions for the criminal justice system to inflict fair penalties.
By imposing just punishment, the modern society shows its sense of repulsion against those people who brazenly violate the laws of the land and hold no respect human values and the venerated bonds that hold the communities of people together.
In sum it can be concluded that there are lasting effects of death sentences for the betterment of the society and the people if the laws are applied fairly and justly. It has proved from the statistical data that those states which have stricter law of capital punishment have lower incidents of heinous crimes.
Bedau, A. H. & Cassell, P. G. Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts from Both Sides Make Their Case. Oxford Univ. Press 2004.
Cloninger, D., & Marchesini, R. Execution and Deterrence: A Quasi-Controlled Group Experiment 33 Applied Economics 596 2001.
Davis, D.B. The movement to abolish capital punishment in America, 1787-1861. The American Historical Review 63: 1957:23-46.
Dezhbakhsh, Hashem et al. Does Capital Punishment Have a Deterrent Effect? New Evidence from Postmoratorium Panel Data 5 American Law & Economics Review 2, 2003: 344 – 376.
Galliher, J.F., G. Ray, and Cook, B. Abolition and reinstatement of capital punishment during the progressive era and early 20th century. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 83: 1992:538-576.
Gregg v. Georgia (1976) 428 U.S. 153, 186 (plur. opn.).
Haines, H.H. Against capital punishment: The anti-death penalty movement in America, 1972-1994. New York: Oxford University Press 1996.
Kant, I. The Philosophy of Law: An Exposition of the Fundamental Principles of Jurisprudence as the Science of Right, William Hastie, translator/ T. & T. Clark 1887.
Mocan, N & Gottings, K. R. Getting Off Death Row: Commuted Sentences and the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment 46 Journal of Law and Economics 2, 2003:453 – 478.
Wilson, J. Q. Thinking About Crime. (Random House rev. Ed. 1983:121.
Zimmerman, P. State Executions, Deterrence, and the Incidence of Murder. Journal of Applied Economics, Universidad del CEMA, vol. 0 2004
Cassell, P. G. We`re Not Executing the Innocent. The Wall Street Journal. 2000.
The author of this article argues in support of the death penalty by addressing the claim by those opposed to capital punishment about unjust executions of innocent people. He goes further to cite statistics of the number of previously convicted inmates who are currently serving time for homicide to show why justly convicted murderers should be executed. The author is a law professor at the University of Utah. He gives examples of Supreme Court Judges and why many of them believe the death penalty should be approved in all states. I found this article quite informative and will use it in arguing against the anti-death penalty claims of unjust executions.
Ellsworth, P. C. & Gross, S. R. Hardening of the Attitudes: Americans` Views on the Death Penalty. Journal of Social Issues, 50: 1994:19 – 52.
Phoebe C. Ellsworth, a professor of psychology and a professor of law at the University of Michigan and Samuel R. Gross, a professor of law at the University of Michigan confirms the supposition that the majority of peoples` death penalty stances is based on emotions and not information or rational argument. Their argument is extremely vital to my research article since it urges the lawyers to base their decisions, especially when dealing with death penalty cases, on factual facts and not their feelings when passing judgment.
Land, K. C., Teske, H. C. & Zheng, Hui. The Short-Term Effects of Executions on Homicides: Deterrence, Displacement, or Both? Criminology, 47 (4), 2009:1009-1043.
This article clearly discusses the importance of death penalty in saving the lives of innocent citizens. The article is based on a research conducted for 25 years from the 1970s to the late 1990s that concludes that a good number of lives have been saved through declines ensuing homicide rates after executions. In Texas for example, from January 1994 through December 2005, there is concrete evidence that indicate a reduction in homicide by 18 fewer homicides in the first and fourth months after an execution. This journal assists my project as it clearly shows that lives wasted in homicide cases can be saved through the death penalty.
Lynch, M. Capital punishment as moral imperative: Pro-death-penalty discourse on the Internet. Punishment & Society, 4 (2), 2002:213-236.
Mona Lynch, the author of the article examines the issue of capital punishment and the role it plays in the American society. She asserts that the issue needs to be consulted at a macro-level in order to be fully understood. The article reveals the most effective and symbolic nature of capital punishment in the United States and shows why it is unproblematic and a preferred method of justice for both the victims and the society at large. I found the article very relevant to my project because it addresses the positive effects of death penalty for both the innocent victim and the capital murderer.
Muhlhausen, D. “The Death Penalty Deters Crime and Saves Lives | The Heritage Foundation.”Conservative Policy Research and Analysis. The Heritage Foundation, 28 Aug. 2007. Web. 01 Feb. 2011.
Muhlhausen focuses heavily on the theory of crime deterrence in his article to convince his audience that the death penalty does in fact deter crime. The theory uses the opportunity cost idea to show that when the risks of committing a crime are dramatically increased, people are less likely to do commit that crime. He also references studies and statistics that contradict the studies and statistics cited or performed by my other sources and draw the conclusion that the death penalty does in fact lead to lower crime rates.
Spence, Karl. “Crime and Punishment.” National Review 35.18 (1983): 1140- 1161. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 Feb. 2011.
In this article, Spence evaluates the effectiveness of the death penalty by measuring how effectively its enforcement deters crime. Spence looks at studies performed and relies on statistics to ultimately conclude that as far as crime deterrence is concerned, the death penalty is ineffective. Unlike Tyree`s study, Spence goes deeper into why the death penalty is perceived to be an effective punishment to carry out by explaining law enforcement officers` views of criminal rights as too lenient, and religious (particularly Catholic) views and support of the practice.
Sunstein, C. S. & Vermeule, A. Is Capital Punishment Morally Required? The Relevance of Life-Life Tradeoffs. Stanford Law Review, 58, 703 2006.
This research article supports the death penalty arguing that, the murderers should be executed to ensure that they do not commit such atrocities again. The authors of this article argue that life is sacred and is usually demeaned when murderers are protected from the ultimate punishment in the society. In fact the authors insist that the society has the right and the obligation to act in self defense to protect the innocent from murderers. This article significantly influenced my understanding of the importance protecting the innocent from murders committed with aggravating circumstances. The best punishment accorded to the murderers is therefore none other than the death penalty.
Taylor Jr., Stuart. “DOES THE DEATH PENALTY SAVE INNOCENT LIVES?.” National Journal 33.21 (2001): 1551-1560. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 Feb. 2011.
Taylor`s article looks deeper into why the death penalty may or may not deter crime by looking at more than statistics and looking at the issue from a more personable perspective. He mentions a specific case involving Timothy McVeigh, who even a prominent critic of the death penalty agreed should be executed. Taylor made the case the socio-pathic terrorist reasoning might actually lead someone to commit a crime. He notes that nearly all executions are carried out on convicted murderers, and homicides very often are an action fueled by psychological and emotional problems. Ultimately Taylor concludes that the death penalty does not in fact deter crimes.
Tyree, Benjamin S. “Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime?” University of Richmond Law Journal Law Review (2007) Web. 28 Jan. 2011.
Tyree`s study on the theory of deterrence is a very detached statistical analysis of whether the death penalty directly and indisputably results in lower crime rates by looking at states that instate in and states that don`t. He measures the effectiveness by comparing the murder rates of states with the death penalty and states without, but also by analyzing states the murder rates of states that use the death penalty often and comparing them who use the death penalty scarcely. His highly statistical analysis points to the death penalty as being an ineffective deterrent of crime.
Tullock, G. “Does Punishment Deter Crime?” Public Interest 36 (1974): 103- 111 National Affairs, Inc. Web. 1 Feb. 2011.
In Tollock`s article, he focuses on punishment in general and its effect on crime rates. He notes that an economist would have a different view as to the effectiveness of punishment than a sociologist because different statistics would be considered and interpreted differently. In his findings, Tullock concludes that punishing a criminal has a more substantial effect than rehabilitating a criminal when it comes to deterring crime, but adds that circumstances vary dramatically and variables pertaining to the frequency of both punishment and crimes.
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