With an open mind and two sides of the story, you’re bound to learn something new.
Welcome to the zoo! This is a blog where both the Republican and Democrat viewpoints are represented. The blog is not meant to sway you either way necessarily, just present both sides of the story. You may not agree with the whole article, but hey, you’re likely to agree with half! The topic this week: the death penalty.
We, as Americans, condemn murder. So how can we accept murder as a course of punishment? Aren’t we then committing the same crime that we are punishing others for perpetrating? Obviously, committing a horrendous crime should result in serious punishment, but that punishment should not be the death penalty – living one’s life in solitary confinement or in federal prison is a far worse fate. Focusing solely on the expense to taxpayers, the average cost of a federal death penalty case is eight times that of a federal murder case in which the death penalty is not a factor. In every state, it is significantly more expensive to enact the death penalty than it is to imprison a convict in a single cell in the highest security level prison for 40 years. Furthermore, there is no proof that the death penalty is a proper deterrent to murder. According to the National Research Council, in 2008, the 14 states without capital punishment had homicide rates that were at or below the national homicide rate.
Not only does the death penalty lack efficacy and cost too much, but it also puts innocent lives at risk. Prosecutors and juries are only human and therefore are capable of mistakes; a human mistake should never include taking the life of an innocent person. Race and poverty also play a significant role in death penalty cases. A study commissioned by the Governor of Maryland found that defendants who murdered white victims are much more likely to receive the death penalty than those defendants who murdered black victims. In addition, black defendants are disproportionately represented in death penalty cases. The Maryland study found that out of those on death row, 42 percent are black despite only 15 percent of the national population being black. There is inherent racism when jurors vote in favor of the death penalty; jurors are three times more likely to sentence black defendants with the death penalty than white defendants with similar cases. Further stacking the odds against poor defendants, almost all death row inmates could not afford their own attorneys and were therefore forced to use state mandated lawyers to defend them.
Lastly, the death penalty is inhumane. There have been many cases in which botched lethal injections resulted in the torture of those on death row. In 2014, Joseph R. Wood III was killed by lethal injection in Arizona; it took two hours for him to die as he gasped and struggled to breathe. This infliction of severe pain violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from imposing cruel and unusual punishments on any citizen. The death penalty is definitely classified as a cruel and unusual punishment.
The death penalty is controversial because we were taught that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. However, think for a moment: Are kidnapping and legal incarceration the same? Both involve imprisonment against one’s will, the latter being punishment for the former. The punishment must fit the crime, and in some cases, this will come across as an eye for an eye mentality. The death penalty is a reasonable punishment for individuals who have committed murder, espionage, treason, genocide, etc.
There are at least 28 processes in reaching the death penalty that must be completed. These include having the grand jury indict the suspect for capital murder, all 12 jury members finding the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and proving the defendant to have acted willfully and deliberately in the crime. In addition, the defense must present all circumstances that lessen the probability of the jury imposing death, such as prior substance abuse, mental disability, poverty and family problems. Furthermore, the perpetrator receives an automatic appeal when the death sentence is imposed.
Another argument against the death penalty is the cost. For many years it has been believed that the cost of life without parole was $1 million. Compare that to the $2 million cost of the lethal injections involved in the death penalty, and a lifetime sentence appears more reasonable (I’m all for saving tax dollars here folks). However, these assertions were found to be invalid: Estimates now show that the cost of life without parole cases and trials actually is $1.2-3.6 million more than equivalent death penalty cases.
The Fifth Amendment reads, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime… nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The key phrase in this amendment is “due process of law,” a phrase that would not be necessary if an individual could never be deprived of life by the state. This phrase allows for the possibility that citizens may be denied their life, liberty or property as long as there are certain procedural safeguards in place. It is implied that the life of an individual may be taken by the state under the proper circumstances.
Capital punishment is legal in 31 states, including those with death penalty moratorium. The death penalty involves fair procedures, saving tax dollars, wasting less space in already crowded prisons and it is constitutionally viable. Logically, capital punishment should be legal in all of the United States.
Katie Barlow is a sophomore biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences. When not debating politics, she can be found running half marathons and eating nutella by the spoonful. If you’re up for a chat, Katie can be reached at [email protected]
Rebecca Saber is a sophomore government major in the College of Arts and Sciences. She aspires to be Secretary of State, but is willing to settle for Supreme Court Justice. When she is not writing about politics, Rebecca can be found watching TV in her bed or at some musical theater rehearsal. If you want to chat, Rebecca can be reached at [email protected].
Welcome to the Zoo appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester.