On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Nebraska became the 19th state to abolish the death penalty, along with the District of Columbia. It is the first predominantly Republican state to abolish capital punishment in more than 40 years. This is an encouraging trend because the death penalty is costly, immoral, dangerous and ineffective at deterring crime.
According to Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, “More than a dozen states have tried to capture the cost of death penalty cases and found evidence that they are up to 10 times more expensive than other comparable cases. In California, a 2011 study showed death penalty cases are 20 times more expensive. That state has spent over $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978.” From 1980 until 2012, only 13 people were executed in California.
The costs come from a more thorough legal process with more legal actors and safeguards in place because of the possibility of death row. CCADP found that most death penalty trials are eventually found to be significantly flawed and must be redone, sometimes more than once, adding to the total cost. Plus, if the penalty is never imposed, taxpayers are saddled with the cost regardless.
As a consequence of these costs, services like police and highway funding or counseling for homicide survivors are neglected. CCADP cited a case in Jasper County, Texas where they had to raise property taxes by 7 percent just to pay for a single death penalty case.
In addition, a 2009 study done by Michael L. Radelet and Traci L. Lacock found that “the consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment.” Indeed, 88 percent of respondents concluded it is not a deterrent to murder.
Moreover, The Death Penalty Information Center concluded – using murder rates from the FBI’s “Crime in the United States” from 1990 to 2009 – that the murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in states with the death penalty and that the gap has grown since 1990.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the death penalty is the likelihood of innocent people being sentenced to death. The danger will always be the possibility of human error or actual intent to damage a defendant's case.
CCADP reported that “Since 1973, at least 150 people have been freed from death row after evidence of innocence revealed that they had been wrongfully convicted. That’s almost one person exonerated for every ten who’ve been executed.” These developments are mainly due to advancements in DNA analysis or increased use of it in criminal cases.
But even scientific evidence can work against a defendant if crime labs commit fraud, such as in the case of Curtis McCarty in 1986 as reported by Professor Jason Brennan in April for Learn Liberty. McCarty was exonerated in 2007 after it was found that a forensic chemist with the Oklahoma City Police Department either intentionally altered or lost evidence related to the case.
One small mistake, even if committed by unintentional human error, can be deadly.
Last comes the question of morality, since capital punishment cases can be quite emotional for the defendant and victims’ communities and families.
We must ask ourselves, “Should the government kill?” The state’s first role, arguably its only one, is protecting the lives and property of its citizens.
Furthermore, state-sanctioned murder, or the “an eye-for-an-eye” conviction of justice, ignores a more fundamental question. Even if you feel someone deserves to die, should we be trusting the state with such a power as deciding who lives and who dies?
Currently, over 3,000 people await execution in the U.S. Even if we believe some or most of them deserve death, can we really trust the government or fellow humans when they declare all are guilty, or that no mistakes have been made?