Death Peanlty

The subject of capital punishment is a sensitive matter. Many people think that the death penalty offers justice to the families of victims, deters others from commiting crimes, and that no alternative to the death penalty exists. Some find validity in it simply by thinking it is cheaper. These are not fact, but indeed are very much myths.

Does the death penalty really offer justice? Families of murder victims undergo severe trauma and loss which no one should minimize. But executions do not help these people heal their wounds. Execution of the murderer offers, at best, a feeling of “getting even.” However, the extended process prior to executions prolongs the agony of the family. Often, considerable media attention is directed to the criminal, often leaving the victim’s family feeling betrayed and neglected. Families of murder victims would benefit far more if the funds now being used for the costly process of executions were diverted to provide them with counseling and other help.

The death penalty is also not applied fairly. Local politics, money, race, and where a crime is committed can play a more decisive part in sending a defendant to the death chamber than the circumstances of the crime. The death penalty is a lethal lottery: just one out of one-hundred people arrested for murder is actually executed. The death penalty is not reserved for only the “worst” crimes. Often, one defendant recieves a death sentence while another who has committed a far more heinous act receives a sentence of life in prison. Since 1974, 113 men and women have been released from death row after being exonerated, several of whom came within just hours of execution. Racism is also an important factor in determining who is sentenced to die. In 1987, the US Supreme Court case of McCleskey v. Kemp established that in Georgia someone who kills a white person is four times more likely to be sentenced to death than someone who kills a black person. A study conducted by the University of North Carolina which examined 502 cases from 1993 to 1997 found that defendants whose victims were white were 3.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those whose victims were non-white.

Capital punishment is also more expensive than jail-time. It costs more to execute a person than to keep him or her in prison for life. A New York study revealed it cost $2.8 million to try an indigent capital defendant through the first stage of appeals. That's more than twice the cost of life imprisonment. The study concluded that it would cost about $850,000 to keep an inmate in prison for forty years. In Texas, the Dallas Morning News concluded that a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million dollars, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell with the highest level of security for forty years. In 1988, the Sacramento Bee found that the death penalty costs California $90 million dollars annually, $78 million of which is spent on the original trial. Considering that only one out of seven California death sentences is upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, millions of dollars could be saved if the these individuals were initially sentenced to life in prison.

Scientific studies have failed to conclusively prove that executions deter people from committing crime. According to Dr. Ernst van den Haag, a well-known scholar in favor of the death penalty, “ cannot claim...that it has been proved statistically...that the death penalty does deter more than alternative penalties.” Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall has said, “The Death Penalty is no more effective a deterrent than life imprisonment.” People often kill when under great emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol -- times when they are not thinking about the consequences. A person who plans a crime does not expect to get caught. Author Ernie Thompson examined criminal homicide rates in Los Angeles before and after the execution of Robert Alton Harris in 1992 and found that homicides actually increased in the eight months following the execution. Prior to the execution of Harris, the death penalty had not been used in California for twenty-five years. According to the