31 July 2009

Death Penalty Should be Abolished in NC, Elsewhere

It’s been two years since anyone was executed in North Carolina. However, in the past few weeks, several legislative actions and court decisions point to executions resuming in the Tar Heel State in the near future - although the same issues exist today that prompted the State's self-imposed moratorium two years ago.

What is clear is that our system of capital punishment remains far from perfect. Since the moratorium on executions was put in place, three innocent men were freed from death row in North Carolina. They served a combined 41 years and faced death for crimes they did not commit.

The system is too rife with intractable and intrinsic flaws to be trusted when life and death hangs in the balance. Nationally, since the reinstatement of the modern death penalty, 87 people have been freed from death row because they were later proven innocent - a demonstrated error rate of 1 innocent person for every 7 persons executed, an unconscionable ratio in a civilized society, in my opinion.

A shocking two out of three death penalty convictions have been overturned on appeal because of police and prosecutorial misconduct, as well as serious errors by incompetent court-appointed defense attorneys with little experience in trying capital cases.

In fact, all too often, life or death comes down to whether you can afford competent legal counsel. If you’re rich enough to afford a good attorney, you WILL NOT be sentenced to death.

Perhaps the greatest argument against the death penalty is that it is handed out in a biased, racially disparate manner. Comprehensive studies conclude that race plays a significant role in who gets the death penalty - not only race of the defendant but race of the victim as well. In fact, defendants whose victims are white are 3.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those with non-white victims. No matter how the data is analyzed, race of the victim always emerges as an important factor in who receives the death penalty.

Research also shows that black defendants are almost 4 times more likely to receive the death penalty than non-blacks. These results were obtained after analyzing and controlling for case differences such as the severity of the crime and the background of the defendant. The data were subjected to various forms of analysis, but the conclusion was clear: blacks are being sentenced to death far in excess of other defendants for similar crimes.

American Justice is hardly color blind. Blacks are frequently put to death for murdering whites, but whites are almost never executed for murdering blacks. If you’re black and poor, the odds are stacked against you. Such a system of injustice is not merely unfair and unconstitutional – it tears at the very principles to which this country struggles to adhere.

The arguments in favor of the death penalty are weak. There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than long terms of imprisonment, even though "deterrence" is often sited at the number one reason among its proponents. States that have death penalty laws do not have lower crime rates or murder rates than states without such laws. And states that have abolished capital punishment show no significant changes in either crime or murder rates. Claims that each execution deters a certain number of murders have been thoroughly discredited by social science research.

A recent study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology reported that 88% of the country’s top criminologists surveyed do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide. Eighty-seven percent of them think that the abolition of the death penalty would not have a significant effect on murder rates and 77% believe that “debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems.”

The only compelling argument for capital punishment, for me, comes down to retribution (just another word for revenge). The desire for revenge is one of the lowest human emotions. Although sometimes understandable, it's not a rational response to a critical situation. To kill the person who has killed someone close to you is simply to continue the cycle of violence which ultimately destroys the avenger as well as the offender.

Make no mistake: If someone committed a heinous act against someone I love, all my rhetoric against the death penalty would be out the window; I'd want to cast the first stone. That’s precisely why we have an unbiased, rational, objective, emotionally detached system of justice in place; otherwise vigilantism would work just fine.

Expressing one’s violence simply reinforces the desire to express it. Just as expressing anger simply makes us more angry. It contaminates the otherwise good will which any human being needs to progress in love, understanding, forgiveness and mercy – the higher, more noble human conditions to which a person and a society should aspire.

The bottom line is that the system is broken. Arguments in favor of the death penalty in spite of the system's flaws are inadequate. Therefore, the moratorium on executions should remain in force in North Carolina. Other states should end the practice, as well.


dudleysharp said...

The problem with your esay, is that none of it is true. I seriouls dobt you are being dishonest.

You were, quite simply, taken in.

"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

"Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let's be clear"

The 130 (now 135) death row "innocents" scam

Death Penalty Sentencing: No Systemic Bias

Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock

The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge

Death Penalty Support: Modern Catholic Scholars

TangerineTang said...

I cannot think of a more primitive form of punishment in this day and age than death penalty. It's a contradictory idea based on too many assumptions: that death is an ethically acceptable punishment, that such a punishment prevents future crime, that the death of a criminal somehow "evens out" his/her crime (revenge) & thus justice is served. It leaves us (thinking individuals) with a paradox- if violence & murder are criminal acts- then the death penalty should be a crime. A person who supports capital punishment is basically chasing, (or biting) his/her own tail. It makes no sense to punish murder with murder, or violence with violence.

We humans have to put our vengeful impulses aside and work on prevention and education, practicing only what we preach & support: peace, kindness, non-violence... or maybe rethink our values?

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."- Gandhi

Sara Hicks said...

I agreed with all of it, even the emotional response. I think it is sad that absolutely nothing has changed over the last 20 years including the racial bias used in applying the death penalty. We have a serious problem with how he laws are applied and sentencing in this country. It isn't limited to the death penalty, but what about jailing non-violent drug offenders that need rehab? What about mentally ill patients that are inappropriately jailed? What about people with enough money to get off? It is a broken system full of inequities.

Stephen Raburn, said...

"For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists. Why? Because the instincts that are warring in man are not, as the law claims, constant forces in a state of equilibrium." -Albert Camus

Stephen Raburn, said...

For me, the moral question surrounding capital punishment in America has less to do with whether those convicted of violent crime deserve to die than with whether state and federal governments deserve to kill them. So far, it's proven incompetent to deserve that responsibility.

dudleysharp said...


I have read much of Camus writings and have enjoyed him very much.

However, his death penalty writings are very poor, rationally.

He avoids the logical fact that no deterrent is expected to work 100%. He could have said, incarceration has been trying to hold crime in check, yet crime persists.

That doesn't mean that both the death penalty and incarceration don't save many innocent lives.

It is one of the "dumber" Camus quotes.

I did a deconstruction of Camus' more exhaustive death penalty comments. It was on the net, but I can't find it. If I do, I will try to remeber to come back here.

dudleysharp said...


Please go to the link on no systemic bias.

All human endeavors involve inequities.

That is not a reason to get rid of any of those endeavors. It is, however, a reason to work, every day, to reduce inequity.