The Evidential Argument Against The Death Penalty

01/03/2017 12:19
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These past months in politics have demonstrated how easy it is to exist in your own media bubble, accepting the opinions you have been told for so long they become cemented as unquestionable truths in your mind. With the election of President Trump fact checkers have been overrun with work trying to defy a politician who seems to put feelings over fact to the point that he can say whatever he believes regardless of how untrue. As citizens of the world we all have a vested interest in what the president does, this interest intensified for Americans and for a particular group in their society often disregarded: death row inmates. As you can have guessed from the title of this article I am against the death penalty and the argument to follow will not be one of morality or rights. Rather as a rebuttal to President Trump's lack of evidence based argument, this report is rebuffing proponents of the death penalty with tangible facts. I am not writing a moralistic argument or suggesting that all those who read this will immediately or at all accept my argument. However, in our current state of affairs it is necessary to remind ourselves that feelings and facts are separate ideas and the former cannot become the latter simply because we hope it will.

The economic argument for the death penalty, the notion that killing a prisoner is cheaper than housing them in prisons to fulfil their life sentences, can be disproved. The California system has been reported to cost $137 million a year while a system without the death penalty but the imposition of lifetime incarceration would cost $11.5 million [Amnesty USA, 2016]. Other states like Kansas, Tennessee and Maryland have also seen that the judicial costs of a death penalty case cost up to 70% more than a non-death penalty case. When it is often tax payer money that is going to the upkeep of this uneconomical system, the retention of said system seems illogical.

Proponents of the death penalty argue it is necessary in the case of those who have taken the lives of other humans, therefore sacrificing their right to life. However, a study discovered that 4.1% of death row inmates are innocent. This roughly 340 people between 1973 and 2004 is a much larger group than the real life 138 people who were actually exonerated. This 4.1% figure is higher than previous study but still conservative and unclear as data is hard to seek. The conclusion of this study is perhaps more shocking than the numbers: "the great majority of innocent defendants who are convicted of capital murder in the United States are neither executed nor exonerated. They are sentenced, or resentenced to prison for life, and then forgotten." Killing any individual innocent individual for a crime they didn't commit is abhorrent not only to them and their family but also the victims of these crimes as the true guilty party is not sought. Politicians argue in favour of the death penalty that it is protecting electorates from the worst in society. However, what it occurring in reality is the killing of innocent people and leaving individuals to waste away lives in a system that chooses to turn away its eye from convicted criminals even when those individuals may have not been given a fair and just trial. [Guardian, 2014] Also if this is the judicial system in place in the world's leading 'democracy' we have to ask what is occurring in the courts of other countries such as Iraq.

Those who do face the reality of a death penalty conviction can be horrific. In the USA, lethal injection is now used by all states that retain the death penalty. While some argue it is 'too easy' for convicted criminals, lethal injection also has an extremely high rate of failed or botched executions compared to other forms of execution. I will not relay the gruesome detail of some of these occurrences but remind you as a reader that in the 'safest' system used there has been a botched rate higher than 7%. [Sarat, 2014] While America enables public accountability when these cases occur there are less transparent government systems and therefore possibly even more botched or violent executions in other countries that use the death penalty such as China and Iran.

There is evidence also against one of the other strongest arguments used by proponents: it is a deterrent. Research comparing states that use the death penalty versus those that don't, not only fails to prove death penalty a deterrent but often the opposite is seen in data. In a study comparing Hong Kong and Singapore, the former abolishing the death penalty while the latter continues to impose it, found little difference between either nation in their homicide rates. The notion that death penalty deters criminals continues to be disproved by fact checkers and this should not be ignored. [The Washington Post, 2014]

As 2017 begins, it is necessary to uphold the importance of facts as we see a new, previously unseen presidential rule. It is vital not to forget that the UN Declaration of Human Rights, declares the death penalty illegal. While I hope, this article has been interesting and has emphasises the failure by many proponents of the death penalty, I do not want this to be the entire argument. Ultimately this is a human issue and the moral question put aside in the introduction must be considered when deciding future action on this issue. The UK has abolished the death penalty and it is through the continued reminder of this evidence and the moral argument against it that keeps this illogical system out of our judicial system. While President Trump continues to describe fact checkers as fake news it is vital to uphold our relationship with the truth, keeping communication avenues open between different sides of an argument as opposed to ignoring those we perceive as enemies and working to understand solutions together.