Abolish the Death Penalty Essay
The death penalty is a major issue that brings up a lot of arguments in our society.
The most important question concerning the death penalty is whether it should be
abolished or not. I think that the death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It
violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is
the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment. Race, social and economic status,
location of crime, and pure chance may be deciding factors in death sentencing. In
addition, prosecutors seek the death penalty far more frequently when the victim of the
homicide is white than when the victim is black. The actual cost of an execution is
substantially higher than the cost of imprisoning a person for life.
Death was formerly the penalty for all felonies in English law. In practice the
death penalty was never applied as widely as the law provided, as a variety of procedures
were adopted to decrease the harshness of the law. Many offenders who committed
capital crimes were pardoned, usually on condition that they agreed to be transported to
what were then the American colonies; others were allowed what was known as benefit of
clergy(Ploski 2). The beginning of benefit of clergy was that offenders who were
established priests were subject to trial by the church courts rather than the non-religious
courts. If the offender convicted of a felony could show that he had be ordained, he was
allowed to go free, subject to the possibility of being punished by the ecclesiastical courts.
In medieval times the only proof of ordination was literacy, and it became the custom by
the 17th century to allow anyone convicted of a felony to escape the death sentence by
In 18th-century England concern with rising crime led to many statutes either
extending the number of offenses punishable with death or doing away with benefit of
clergy for existing felonies, which as a result became capital(Black 2). By the end of the
18th-century English criminal law contained about 200 capital offenses. Many offenders
who were convicted of capital crimes escaped the gallows as a result of reprieves and
royal pardons, usually on condition of transportation, and many others who were charged
with capital crimes were acquitted against the evidence, because the jury was unwilling to
see the death penalty applied in a minor case(Black 5).
The unpredictable application of the death penalty in the late 18th and early 19th
centuries led to demands for humanitarian reform. Between 1820 and 1840 most capital
statutes were repealed, and by 1861 only murder, treason, arson in a royal dockyard, and
piracy with violence retained the death penalty. Until the mid-19th century executions in
England were public, and throughout the 18th century great crowds attended the regular
executions in London and other cities(Ploski 6). Often an execution was followed by
scenes of violence and disorder in the crowd. Public opinion eventually turned against the
idea of executions as spectacles, and after 1868 executions were carried out in private
The earliest recorded execution committed in the U.S. under state authority was in
1864. During 1864-1890, 57 persons were executed under state authority( Kasper 8).
Since the 1960s, 100% of the executions performed under civil authority have been state
executions(Mello 7). The power for local governments to perform executions, however,
greatly dropped during this century. Perhaps the transfer of death penalty power from
local to state governments was partially due to increased technology. Improved
communications made it easier to centralize the decision-making about executions with
The legal killing of a criminal by carrying out a death sentence is a type of
punishment called capital punishment. By taking away a criminals life, capital
punishment is the ultimate penalty. From 1930 to 1933, 4,085 prisoners were executed in
the United States(Haines 3). In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that laws regulating the
death penalty in various states were defined as being unconstitutional in the form in which
that existed at the time. This ruling prevented any executions from taking place period. In
1976, however, the Supreme Court upheld revised state laws regarding capital
punishment, which made it legally possible again for states to carry out death sentences.
From 1977 to 1993, 226 prisoners were executed(Kasper 2).
Capital Punishment offenses differ between the states, and not all states have a
death penalty. Most states with the death penalty choose first-degree murder as a capital
offense. Some federal crimes also can be capital offenses, such as certain crimes involving
contract killing, killing on-duty law enforcement officer, espionage, or assassination of the
President, Vice President, a member of Congress, or a Supreme Court Justice.
Deterrence is an argument often spoken of to justify the death penalty. On the outside,
the argument makes sense. Rational people understand links between cause and effect and
crime and punishment. A fear of death or the possibility of death also affects the behavior
of most reasonable people. People who murder, however, are rarely intelligent at the time
they commit the crime. The threat of execution at some future dates does not enter the
minds of killers acting under the influence of drugs or alcohol, panicking while committing
another crime, of simply lacking and understanding of the force of their crime. Hired
killers obviously believe they will not be caught.
The death penalty has never shown to benefit a society. In fact, there are strong
indications that it increases peoples tolerance towards violence. No credible study yet has
produced any solid evidence that the death penalty prevents violent crimes. According to
FBI statistics, the murder rate in some states which use the death penalty is twice that of
some states which do not use the death penalty(Mello1). Even researchers who set out to
prove that police officers have greater protection in jurisdictions permitting executions
uncovered no deterrent value in the death penalty. Between 1976 and 1985, almost twice
as many law enforcement officers were killed in death penalty states, as were killed in
states that did not execute(Mello 2).
The widely respected Thorsten Sellin studies, conducted in the United States
during 1962, 1967, and 1980, concluded that the death penalty has no deterrent
effect(Haines 4). The British Royal Commission on Capital Punishment analyzed statistics
from seven European, and three non European countries, reporting that no evidence
affiliated elimination of the death penalty to increased homicide rates(Haines 5). Some
researchers have found that the death penalty not only fails to reduce murder rates, but
also may increase the number of homicides. The U.S. Bowers-Pierce study, testing
executions between 1907 and 1963, concluded that an average of two additional
homicides were committed in the month after an execution took place(Kasper 6).
Why should taxpayers pay to keep a person in prison for life, why not execute the
person and save money? This question, appropriately offensive as it may be, is often
posed by death penalty supporters in the U.S. The fact is the cause of executing a person
in the U.S. is higher than the cost of locking up a person for life. The Unites States
Supreme Court has realized that because the death penalty is an unchangeable punishment,
capital cases require safeguards against errors. Jury selection is more lengthy in capital
cases, and expert investigators and consultants such as psychiatrists must often be heard.
Also, the costs of maintaining death rows in state prisons, of forgiveness hearings, and of
the execution itself must be added to the price of capital punishment.
A 1982 study of death penalty costs in New York placed the cost of executing a
prisoner at over $1.8 million(Mello 6). This figure is three times the cost of imprisoning a
person for life. California spends an extra $90 million per year on capital punishment. In
Florida, each execution costs the state $3.2 million, six times more than imprisoning a
prisoner for life. Texas, with the highest execution rate, spends an estimated $2.3 million
per capital case. This is almost three times the cost of keeping someone in prison for 40
years. A study in Kansas, which recently supported the death penalty, showed that a
capital trial costs $116,700 more than an ordinary murder trial(Haines 7).
In conclusion, I think the death penalty is wrong and should be abolished in the
United States. Even with the precautions required by the United States judicial systems,
entire miscarriages of justice take place. Innocent people have been executed in the past
and statistics show that several innocent people are convicted of capital crimes in the
United States each year. No matter what reason a government gives for killing prisoners in
its custody and no matter what execution method used, the death penalty cannot be apart
from the issue of human rights. Human rights are not given by governments, and they
cannot be taken away by governments. Human rights belong to everyone.