At present, capital punishment, the execution of a person as punishment for a crime, is legal in 28 US states. However, the use of capital punishment is ethically ambiguous and has resulted in the wrongful execution of falsely accused on multiple occasions. Given the advanced technology of modern society, which can allow for strategically fabricated ‘evidence’ and manipulation of data, it is not appropriate to use capital punishment as a means of retribution.
In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for starting a fire that killed his three daughters. However, after his execution, new evidence came to light which revealed that Willingham was not responsible for the fire and died an innocent man. Therefore, whilst Willingham was grieving the loss of his children and in need of support to come to terms with the phenomenal grief, he lost his life due to an inhumane and corrupt system. Unfortunately, Willingham is not a one off case. Data has revealed that at least eighteen people executed on death row since 1976, some as early as last year, were most likely innocent. Between inept gun legislation and the use of capital punishment in cases where facts cannot be thoroughly guaranteed as accurate, it can be questioned whether the US is a country where murder is accepted as part of life.
Many people have determined that the legalisation of capital punishment is conceptually deterring, even if not put into practice on a regular basis. However, this is an unsubstantiated claim as there is no evidence to support the assertion that capital punishment performs as a deterrent. The majority of Scientists have agreed that the death penalty has no deterrent effect.
In states which have outlawed the use of the death penalty, there has been no data to suggest an increase in crime rates. A study in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology even found that 88.2% of criminology experts who participated in the study determined that the death penalty does not deter murder, a consensus level comparable to the number of scientists who acknowledge climate change.
Moreover, murder rates in New York, Connecticut, and Illinois have actually fallen since the abolition of the Death Penalty.. As such, there is no valid basis for suggesting that capital punishment contributes to a reduced crime rate or that it provides any practical benefits to society. At most, capital punishment is a misguided and vengeful pursuit of justice. However, as aforementioned, the act of execution is irreversible and at risk of violating the human rights of innocent people falsely convicted.
Furthering the case against the use of capital punishment, the racial disparity underlying the death sentence is an acknowledged, but repeatedly disregarded, fact of the practice. It has been statistically shown that defendants who are convicted of murdering white victims have been executed at a rate seventeen times higher than those who have been found to have killed black victims. The Supreme Court even determined by a 5-4 vote that evidence of racial discrimination within the system of capital punishment is not an affront to the Constitution.
Not only does capital punishment serve as a means to further racial tensions in the US and have no deterrent basis, but it is also an expensive undertaking. In a study conducted by Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell in 2011, it was revealed that California taxpayers had spent north of $4 billion as a result of the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1978.
As a result of additional capital sentence expenses, in comparison to non-capital sentences, on average in the US a death row inmate costs $1.12 million more than a regular inmate. This is due to the cost of the trial itself, which is an extensive and thorough process, the cost of automatic appeals, the cost of actual imprisonment on death row, and the cost of the execution. In Florida alone, the death penalty is a huge burden on society, costing $51 million per year more than if all convicts had been sentenced with first-degree murder life in prison without parole.
Given that as a species we are facing global problems such as climate change, terrorism, and mass migration, this economic drain of capital punishment is an unnecessary expenditure. The financial aid that is allocated to capital punishment should be redirected to solving the aforementioned problems and actually improving the quality of life of all people, as opposed to endorsing a fundamentally pointless killing spree by the state.
Taking all of this evidence into account it is, therefore, a positive step forward that President-elect Biden has vowed to eradicate the death penalty once he enters office next year. However, Trump’s administration intends to see the execution of three inmates before the transfer of power in January and has already executed seven convicts since July. Whilst their crimes are certainly deplorable, including that of rape and murder, a life sentence preserves the moral high-ground which the state is supposed to hold in order to lead by example.
A life sentence forces convicts to endure a longer punishment for their crimes and face the monotony of everyday life with the knowledge that this is the reality of the rest of their existence. Living with the realisation that you will never experience anything beyond the confines of prison, that any potential adventures you could have had are now impossible is a torturous punishment in itself. As such, imprisonment for life provides substantially greater punishment than death, which provides an escape from justice, and simultaneously lifts an exhaustive burden off of the state.