US Should Abolish Death Penalty

Troy Davis should not have been executed. Disregarding completely any question of innocence, Davis’s death sentence was wrong for one simple reason: Nations shouldn’t kill people.

The fact that there was any question of guilt reinforces the fact that it was a terrible decision to execute Davis. This sentiment was shared by many international entities, who condemned the United States’ failure to stay the execution. Amnesty International was one of these voices: “The U.S. justice system was shaken to its core as Georgia executed a person who may well be innocent. Killing a man under this enormous cloud of doubt is horrific and amounts to a catastrophic failure of the justice system,” Amnesty said. Many leaders worldwide shared similar sentiments, and a recent CNN article written by Peter Wilkinson contained many of these reactions. Wilkinson’s article claimed that the world was “shocked” by the United States’ execution of Davis.

The international perspective on capital punishment places the United States’ current position among many nations known for their human rights abuses.  Many nations considered “peer” nations to the United States (England, Germany, France, Finland, Netherlands, etc.) have abolished the death penalty long ago, while those that still utilize capital punishment (China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.), are known for their suppression of personal liberties, and harsh restrictions on what Americans would deem basic human rights.

Looking at these facts , there appears to be a growing international consensus against capital punishment. Each year more and more nations do away with the death penalty. The Supreme Court of the United States, however, continues to leave this issue to the states, allowing them to make their own decisions regarding the morality and legality of capital punishment. Currently 35/50 states allow the death penalty.

The inaction of the Supreme Court is as good as an acquiescence to capital punishment, and as Wilkinson’s article maintains, this disappoints the international community. Why wont the United States do what many nations have already done and put an end to this barbaric act? What is the benefit of the death penalty? There is the common misconception that it saves money, but that theory often fails to take into consideration the 10+ years of appeals necessary to sustain a capital punishment conviction. So what is the benefit of the death penalty, or is it merely a societal acceptance of Hammurabi’s eye for an eye “justice”?

 

6 comments

  1. The Troy Davis case was an absolute upset. It seemed like the whole world was watching to see if someone (the government, in particular) would actually step in and come to Davis’s aide in halting the execution. Unfortunately, no one ever did.

    I am not condoning the use of the death penalty in a case like Troy Davis. However, in some way, I would not be satisfied with the Supreme Court abolishing the death penalty in toto either. In this year alone, approximately thirty-five individuals have been put to death by the death penalty, three of whom were killed in the same week as Troy Davis. While it is used somewhat sparingly, I certainly agree that the benefit of the death penalty is driven by our social acceptance of the Hammurabi code analogy. While statutes that enforce the death penalty do not specifically say, “The death penalty is enforced so victims’ families can find justice and peace,” it surely seems as though public policy and social ratification of the death penalty underlies, and possibly outweighs, the costs associated with housing a prisoner for so long before ultimately putting them to death.

  2. The death penalty is a form of punishment. Whether it confers a benefit on society sufficient to outweigh any detriment may depend on which theory of punishment one adopts in his evaluation of the issue. The detriment incurred by society is two-fold: (1) the risk of and, unfortunately, all too frequent occurrence of error in executing the death penalty and (2) the taking of another’s life on any grounds is, arguably, a stain on the moral fabric of society.
    Rehabilitation theory says that the goal of punishment is reform. Those who subscribe to this theory of punishment, probably do not view the death penalty detriment as justified by any benefit. A rehabilitative goal is not met by putting a person found guilty of a crime to death.
    Deterrence theory says knowledge that punishment will follow crime deters people from committing crimes which reduces future violations & the unhappiness they cause. The death penalty is perhaps the harshest punishment one can receive short of torture. For many, knowledge that they will be subject to such punishment may deter them from committing violent crimes. Those who subscribe to this theory may view such strong deterrence as outweighing any detriment.
    Retribution theory says moral culpability gives society a duty to punish. As Mr. Sinchak correctly asserts, the theory’s basic rationale is “eye for an eye”. Those who subscribe to this theory would likely view the death penalty as absolutely necessary despite almost any detriment incurred. Under this theory, some crimes are considered so heinous that only by taking the perpetrator’s life is justice served. This is especially true for supporters of assaultive retribution – a more extreme form of the retribution theory.
    Thus, the societal benefit of the death penalty varies depending on one’s view of the purpose of punishment.

  3. It is not reasonable to characterize the US with other countries that have the death penalty in order to infer that the US also violates human rights. First, China is known to admit coerced confessions through the use of torture in order to convict its citizens. On the other hand, the US guarantees its citizens certain rights in order to avoid that exact violation of human rights. Therefore, you cannot reasonable reconcile countries that simply have the death penalty in order to infer similarities of violating human rights. Second, Saudi Arabia is another country that has the death penalty but they do not grant freedom to their women. Instead, strict bans exist for Saudi women such as not being able to drive or owning property without their husband’s or father’s consent. On the other hand, the US guarantees its women equal rights. How can the US be linked with a county that violates human rights?

    Further, the US allows its states to choose whether the death penalty will be used as a form of punishment. Therefore, New York does not allow the use of the death penalty while Texas does.

    Regardless if other countries ban the death penalty as a punishment, the UN, which can be referred to as the international arena, does not consider the death penalty to be against international law. In fact, a few countries mentioned above, that have the death penalty, are UN permanent Security Council members. How can a consensus against the death penalty exist internationally when the permanent members of UN Security Council use the death penalty in their own country?

  4. It seems to be true that the death penalty offers neither money savings nor deterrence. The cost of executing someone is usually far more than if they just spent their life in prison. There is also not really a deterrent effect in the death penalty. Murder is not a crime that someone would commit more than once in their lifetime, and when murder is committed it is done most times in the heat of the moment without the consequences of the act being rationally considered.
    I think that the Supreme Court does not want to abolish the death penalty because American society is not yet willing to accept this on a grand scale. Many still support the death penalty, feeling that it brings justice to those who commit heinous acts and brings closure to the families of victims. Our system of Federalism allows the Supreme Court to forgo having to make a blanket determination of what is acceptable in society at large, and rather leaves it up to the states to make their own determinations.
    Lastly, while many nations have abolished the death penalty, this does not mean that the U.S. necessarily should. Our nation has sensibilities very different from that of Europe due to the unique history and composition of the U.S. Therefore, while Europe and other nations may serve as a guide, their actions are not dispositive of what the U.S. should do.

  5. While I agree with you that this incident in itself is tragic, I do not entirely agree that international pressure alone is enough to get the United States to abolish the death penalty. While I do not know a lot of information about the general death penalty off the top of my head, I do know a lot about the abolition of the Juvenile Death Penalty in the United States Supreme Court Case of Roper v. Simmons in 2005. As with the issue of the death penalty now, in 2005 the U.S. was one of the few countries that used the Juvenile Death Penalty and there was a lot of international pressure to terminate it. However, the Supreme Court was not persuaded by that logic and instead decided to make its decisions on other grounds. Rather, one of the main factors that the court considered was the changes in domestic public opinion since the prior two times the juvenile death penalty reached the Supreme Court level.
    At the time, I did not agree with this point of view because I reasoned that if the entire world is not doing it then the United States should follow their examples and not make itself look unjust and barbaric. However, after writing a few more papers on the topic, I came to realize that the Supreme Court’s logic made sense. If the law is to be changed, and just for the record I think the death penalty should be abolished due to its inefficient costs and lack of deterrence (for more info see Death Penalty Information Center), then it should be changed for the right reasons. Changing the law just because of international pressure shows that the United States does not have a voice of its own. If the law is to be changed, it should be changed because of the consensus at home. It should be changed because the people of America want it to be changed.

    * For information on Roper v. Simmons, see http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-633.ZS.html

    * For information on the death penalty, see http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/

  6. I was one of the millions of people that was upset and angered by Troy Davis’ execution. Obviously, what is most troubling about the Davis’ execution is the lack of physical evidence, the fact that numerous witnesses recanted, and testimony that suggested that the prosecution’s main witness might in fact be the killer. Despite all of the evidence stacked against capital punishment, I do not see the United States abolishing the death penalty in the near future. In my opinion, the main reason the death penalty has not been eliminated in this country is ultimately a question of morals and values. Capital punishment policy in the United States seems to be heavily guided not only by the “eye for an eye” principal or theories of punishment, but by the idea that there are some crimes that are so horrible or heinous that death is the only just option (in no way am I saying this is the right view). The American view of what constitutes one of these horrible crimes may differ drastically than the European view. Under current law in the United States, one can receive the death penalty not only for committing murder, but for committing treason, espionage, deserting one’s military unit during wartime, etc. As Louis points out, our sensibilities towards some principles are very different from that of Europe. We place some principles and ideas on very high pedestals and while the death penalty has some serious flaws, many Americans still view it as a way to ensure that some of the principles and values that this country was built on remain in tact.

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