The legal system in the United States is highly developed and despite comprising many levels and judicially functions different by each state, the overal procedures tend to be performed after a very convoluted set of legal and ethical evaluating.1 Before the jury carries out the final verdict, it undergoes an extremely lenghty process of evidence-based analysis and, despite oftentimes extremely difficult, an objective and a fair trial with the focus on indvidual’s rights irregardless of the crime. In case of capital punishment there are twelve carefully selected jury members who decide that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Cases where innocent individuals were sentenced to death did occur and are a common theme in several movies and novels (e.g Green Mile) but such percentage is extremely low and does not constitute for the main argument against the procedure. (It is believed that since 1973, 1.6 percent of formerly sentenced inmates were exonerated2.)3 Wishfully this phenomena is to decrease with the impovements of forensic science and technology in general.
Moving forward to understand the objections of the abolishonists, another important argument is that the death penalty is not neccessarrily a deterrent against most violent crime. Those in favor of the death penalty will usually take a more philosophical arguments against this claim in order to justify the punishment, one which I will include in the second half of my essay when describing motifs of the defenders. Theoretically however, it is true that the death penalty and decrease in crime are not correlated. Those who defend the detterance theory behind the punishment ought to answer certain questions before determining their stances. Does the threat of death as a punishment deter individuals from committing abhorrent crimes more than the prospects of life imprisonment? Even if it empirically deter these crimes, would it be morally justified? Let us consider that we would introduce a death penalty against all crimes from petty theft to tax fraud. Crime rate would almost certainly decrease, the message behind these actions would be far from moral and most importantly, incompatible with the democratic principles. Many deterrence and death penalty theorists would argue for clear upper limits on the punishment which essentially supports the concern of many, including myself, who stand on the neutral ground in the argument – that the state should simply not have the power to decide on the life of its citizen.4
The other concerning argument is that the death penalty represents a cruel and outdated punishment for there are other punishments that are more humane. Whilst referening back to my introduction, every death is in a way a tragedy but the unfortunate yet realistic methods of punishment by death in the United States are, despite its nature done as humanely as possible with the lethal injection being the most commonly used method.5 It is a method in which arguebly, the individual falls into a deep sleep prior to his or her heart stopping.
Having covered the most common issues with death penalty, let us now look at some reasons that are in favor of the law and which can help us understand better why the majority of Americans still support the capital punishment for murder. According to the most recent results of the 2017 Gallup poll, 55 percent (out of 1,028 adults) of Americans said are in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder. The message behind the survey was to demonstrate that the support of capital punishment is decling (from 60 percent in 2015). However, if we base our very first argument solely on a democratic decision it is clear that still little over half of the population tends to support the ruling. Unfortunately this phenomenon should not satisfy the pro-abolitionist simply because solely statistically speaking, the trends in the national thought tend to pendulate.6
These stats reveal an interesting phenomenality and can guide us in the issue when considering it in context with future. Many could see these numbers to be a proof of a winning campaign against the capital punishment but the historical and current evolution of public opinion can guide us towards a more understandable outcomes when thinking about the future of death penalty in the United States.
Europe could also help predict certain periodical changes in the public perception. In 2017 YouGov poll in the United Kingdom, up to 40 percent of the respondents wished to bring back the death penalty in contrast with the numbers from late 60’s when the death penalty was abolished in the midst and outrage of Timothy Evans’ acquittance, years after his death.7’8’9 In Norway, after the 2011 heinous masacre by Anders Breivik, public support only grew slightly among specific groups but overall remained on its standard low opposing the death penalty completely.10 However, the event caused a debate on how should a developed society punish crimes against humanity and essentially, those who murder.
Firstly, those who support the capital punishment tend to do so from a moral perspective. A popular anti-death-penalty slogan says „we kill people to show people that killing people is wrong”. It is quite a persuasive slogan in its innocent nature but the opponents have to understand the moral reasoning behind the death penalty argument. Killing is not the same as murder, hence people who kill in self-defense are not, by law, sentenced to death penalties. However, murder is by definition a malicious and premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Therefore death penalty ruled out in cases of murderes can not be equated with murder as it is reactionary. Simply said, if there were no murderes, state would not have to kill its citizens.
The moral argument goes further with the whole nature of murder. This argument sould be absorbable even for a secular society as the morality itself represents what is generally understood to be right and wrong.11 Dennis Prager, a conservative radio host and writer makes an interesting moral point saying that „when keeping all murderers alive, we do not sanctify the value of human life but rather the contrary. Keeping murderes alive cheapens human life because it belittles murder.”12 Our society teaches how bad an action is by a corresponding punishment. The severity of punishment is simply not comparable to life imprisonment for one who murders another human being can only repent for his crimes by forfeiting his own life. The loss of freedom can never compare to loss of life. The argument can be displayed on a case of theft – if a person who steals becomes imprisoned, a person who murders should logically, by this equation, be sentenced to death if we believe that the value of human life is infinitely more valuable than the value of a stolen item.
2 It goes without saying that even a single case of an innocent person who was sentenced to death is tragically unfortunate but the percentage is simply too low to cause a federal ban on the death sentence. As much as it is true that some death row prisoners have been released in the past, it is not always true that they are innocent in spite of the decision. Dudley Sharp describes this in his death penalty paper, “It is important to preserve the distinction between acquittal and innocence, which is regularly obfuscated in news media headlines. The media often overlooks this distinction, and thrives on causing widespread panic that an innocent person was falsely convicted. Being acquitted, however, does not mean that the defendant did not actually commit the crime. A jury must acquit “someone who is probably guilty but whose guilt is not established beyond a reasonable doubt.” Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 225 (1976).