The potential of killing an innocent person is an irreversible decision that pulls both views into a tug-of-war situation. There are those that believe that even the slightest possibility of executing an innocent person is completely ridiculous. Certain studies point out instances where convicted criminals have been released from death row because of evidence proving their innocence. “A study published in 1982 in the Stanford Law Review documents 350 capital convictions in which it was later proven that the convict had not committed the crime. Of those, twenty-three convicts were executed; others spent decades of their lives in prison. In a 1996 update of this study, it was revealed that in the past few years alone, four individuals were executed although there was strong evidence that they were not guilty of the crime for which they were condemned” (American). There is also the viewpoint that takes the stance that our justice system is not that flawed. It has been said that Americans has been falsely mislead about all the “innocent” people convicted on death row. “A review of death penalty judgments over a 23-year period found a national error rate of 68%” (Eddlem). There is DNA testing and other methods that are used during crime scene investigations that can effectively eliminate all uncertainty of a person’s innocence or guilt. It is hard to make a decision whether our society should have the death penalty with the risk of innocent lives being taken-but then again, are the reviews about innocent people on death row misleading?
In reaching a common ground between those that believe in the death penalty and those that do not, serious consideration should be taken of whether the punishment fits the crime. The whole point of the death penalty is to inflict the murderer with the worst possible punishment, so that they too can feel the pain that they have imposed upon others due to their heartless crimes. You cannot really define what extreme cruelty is in accordance to all people. Some people may find that spending the rest of their life in prison, rotting away in a jail cell, is the worst form of penalty. Others may feel that killing them and taking their whole life away is worse. When it comes down to it, people cannot even decide in our country today which is going to be the worst form of punishment. It is hard to find a common ground on deterrence when both sides of the different punishments bring up valid points.
There are many thoughts on the best deterrent for capital crimes. Many believe if the death penalty is assessed to a criminal, that people will see a “cause and effect” relationship between killing someone and the loss of their own life. It is obvious that capital punishment serves as a specific deterrence: the executed murderer will never kill again. However, the thought that capital punishment is more effective at deterring potential criminals from committing crimes rather than life in prison is a big debate. There have been many studies that show both sides (life in prison vs. death penalty) of the argument. One study showed that:
“The two states with the most executions in 2003, Texas 24, and Oklahoma 14, saw increases in their murder rates from 2002 to 2003. Both states had murder rates above the national average in 2003: Texas - 6.4, and Oklahoma - 5.9. The top 13 states in terms of murder rates were all death penalty states. The murder rate of the death penalty states increased from 2002, while the rate in non-death penalty states decreased” (Punishment).
This study resolves that the life in prison is more effective than the death penalty. There are also other statistics that show that that the death penalty does deter crime. In Shepherd’s journal article, he refers to a study that tried to figure out whether the death penalty deterred crime. “He found a statistically significant negative relationship between the murder rate and execution rate, indicating a deterrent effect: more executions meant less crime. Specifically, he estimated that each execution resulted in approximately seven or eight fewer murders” (Shepherd 203). There is also a chart that visualizes what she is talking about. In New York, it was reported that “…in 1995, violent crime has dropped 23%, assaults are down 22%, and murders have dropped by nearly one-third” (Schonebaum 11) because of the death penalty. In the end or rather at this point in time, society has not been able to prove or disprove either standpoint in the effort to effectively deter crime.
Many consider that the death penalty should be outlawed because of its unfairness to minorities in capital punishment cases regardless of its effectiveness as a deterrent. The question of whether racism plays a role in sentencing those to death row is a question that has yet to be answered. “As of January 1994, according to the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund's publication Death Row, U.S.A., 40 percent, or 1,117, of the prisoners under sentence of death in America were black, despite the fact that blacks comprise only about 12 percent of the national population. In some states, blacks outnumber whites on death row” (Ross). The fact that race may enter the justice system is of deep concern. If racism did play a role in capital punishment, then it could be that the irrelevant factor of what color skin a person has will determine who receives the death penalty. In today’s judicial system the “Chief Prosecutors, who are overwhelmingly white, make some of the most critical decisions vis-à-vis the death penalty” (Henningfield 120). If equality in race is not shown in the people making the decisions, the fact of whether it could roll over into the people convicted is a concern. There is the opposing viewpoint that says that research does not support the perception that racial unfairness affects the use of the death penalty. “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, whites who are arrested for murder or negligent manslaughter are actually more likely than their black counterparts to be sentenced to death (1.6% vs. 1.2%). Of those inmates under death sentences, white are actually likelier than blacks to have their sentences carried out (7.2% vs. 5.9%)” (Henningfield 125). Race determining court decisions will continue to be an issue in capital punishment as it has not been completely proven or disproven that race is a factor in the justice system. Until it can be determined, the battle on racial inequality will continue.
American Civil Liberties Union. "Capital Punishment Should Be Abolished." Opposing Viewpoints: Criminal Justice. Ed. Tamara L. Roleff. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. DISCUS. 16 Apr. 2008 http://find.galegroup.com/ovrc/infomark.do?&contentSet=GSRC&type=retrieve&tabID=T010&prodId=OVRC&docId=EJ3010120257&source=gale&srcprod=OVRC&userGroupName=scschools&version=1.0.
Ross, Michael. "The Death Penalty Is Applied Unfairly to Blacks." Opposing Viewpoints: The Death Penalty. Ed. Paul A. Winters. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. DISCUS. 16 Apr. 2008
Schonebaum, Stephen E, ed. Does Capital Punishment Deter Crime? San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1998.
Shepherd, Joanna. "Deterrence versus brutalization: capital punishment." Michigan Law Review 104.2(2005): 203.