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Abolition of the Death Penalty

“The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it”, reads a statement appearing on the website of Amnesty International, one of the international organizations calling for the abolition of the death penalty across the world. The death penalty has for a long period remained a highly controversial topic. It continues to ignite heated arguments pitting proponents against critics. In America, one of the most scathing criticisms comes from lobby groups such as Oregonians for Alternatives for the Death Penalty (OADP). This group opposed the death penalty based on the arguments that it can be replaced with life without parole, death-penalty decisions are being heavily influenced by race and geography, innocent lives are being put at risk, and that the system for implementing it gobbles up millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money. Many other reasons for the criticism are being provided, including its random application, poor quality defense, ineffectiveness in terms of crime deterrence, and the execution of mentally ill people.


On the other hand, its supporters have advanced several arguments and assertions that point out the appropriateness of this type of punishment as a form of retribution for atrocious crimes such as rape, treason, first-degree murder, torture, larceny, and perjury. They state that the death penalty is the best way of meting out justice and deterring crime in any civil society. However, this claim begs the question of whether an ideal justice system is one that is modeled on rehabilitation or retribution. Ideally, all offenders should be rehabilitated in one way or the other by the criminal justice system, and for this reason, the death penalty should be abolished. The five primary reasons as to why this practice should be abolished include degradation of human life, lack of a deterrence effect, the tendency to use it as a basis for discrimination, wastage of resources and its role in acting as a hindrance to exonerations.

            To begin with, implementing the death penalty is an utmost degradation of human life and dignity. It violates offenders’ right to life. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings have the right to life and protection. Thus, it is the responsibility of all justice and legal systems to safeguard this right. This assertion is backed by Article 6 of the International Civil Rights which expressly outlaws the murdering of people regardless of the circumstances. The death penalty itself is centered on terminating the lives of those who commit certain crimes. Thus, it is in violation of this universal rule. Furthermore, it also violates the individual’s right against being subjected to harsh treatment and torture (Schabas, 2002). All the methods being used to execute death row convicts, including lethal injection, electrocution, hanging, gassing and firing squad expose them to torture and excruciating pain, which is inhumane. Moreover, justice systems should not accord themselves the right to terminate the life of a person in the name of executing justice and upholding the law because the implementers in effect become killers themselves (ACLU, 2007). This goes against the moral code of ethics and values that are supposed to be at the core of all democratic systems. Alternative measures should be sought and incorporated to replace this barbaric practice that has marred the American criminal justice system (ACLU, 2007).

            In light of the above explanation, one realizes that the death penalty has no deterrence effect on crime levels. There is no credible and irrefutable first-hand evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than life imprisonment (Garey, 1998). According to the ACLU (2007), it has been established that most states that still use the death penalty as a form of punishment have higher crime and murder rates than those with no such laws in place. A further observation is that those that have abolished this form of punishment have not exhibit any substantial changes in crime and murder rates (Cochran & Chamlin, 2000). This simply means that the death penalty is ineffective in curbing crime and has no deterrence effect. According to Garey (1998), there is only a slight, almost negligible, reduction in the crime level and murder rates in states which have abolished the death penalty. Thus, there is no positive correlation between the death penalty and crime reduction.

Police reports have shown that the death penalty is the most ineffective method for curbing crimes (ACLU, 2007). Other methods such as gun control and longer imprisonment sentences have been ranked more highly in terms of their contribution to crime reduction (ACLU, 2007). This observation indeed goes a long way to show that the death penalty has no place in society since it does not contribute meaningfully towards the purpose of reducing crime. On the contrary, it is being used as a means for enacting retribution and potentially instigating an endless cycle of crime.

            Furthermore, research shows that the death penalty has been widely used as a tool for perpetuating discrimination in society (NAACP, 2007). It is highly likely that the level of discrimination will continue to increase exponentially as long as the death penalty remains in place. For instance, the punishment has traditionally been used to target members of minority groups in America. Discrimination based on race and ethnicity is often regarded as the greatest determinant of the outcomes of majority of death penalty cases.  For instance, up to 50% of all offenders on death row are African-Americans (NAACP, 2007). Furthermore, between 2001 and 2006 nearly 48% of all defendants subjected to the death penalty were African-Americans (NAACP, 2007). These statistics paint a gruesome picture of the justice system’s misuse of the death penalty to punish people from specific racial groups. Further research provides compelling evidence that a death sentence is more likely to be meted out in an event where a white person has been murdered as opposed to one where the murder victim is black (Gross, 2014). This goes to show that the justice system is biased, flawed and racially discordant in the sense that it values lives of people from certain racial backgrounds more than those of the rest of the American population.


Similarly, there is a growing concern that most defendants facing the death penalty are of poor backgrounds, hence, cannot afford a lawyer (Hadij-Ristic, 2008). In turn, this results in them being assigned to inexperienced lawyers and public defenders who have limited resources and predisposition to represent them effectively in court (Petar, 2008). For these reasons, conviction becomes a high possibility. This phenomenon goes a long way to prove that the justice system is entirely flawed and should be reviewed and restructured to abolish the primary source of this menace, which happens to be the death penalty.

            Another solid reason for abolishing this law is that it leads to wastage of resources, specifically taxpayers’ money. Evidence suggests that capital punishment is relatively expensive as compared to alternatives such as Life Without Parole (LWOP). According to Gross (2014), a death penalty case costs between $2 million and $3 million, which arises due to the fact that it requires more resources than a normal trial. These costs arise from lawyer fees, additional experts and attorneys required, extrajudicial measures taken, two lengthy trials – one for guilt and the other for punishment, and incarceration. The resulting net expenses trickles down to the ordinary taxpayers thereby contributing to the tax burden. On the other hand, alternatives such as LWOP cost between $1 million and $ 3.6 million over a span of up to 50 years (Gross, 2014). It can be argued that the money spent on death row cases be invested in pursing and exploiting other alternatives which offer the prospect of cost-effective management of corrections facilities for rehabilitation in the long run. Together with gun control measures, rehabilitation can be a viable way of curbing crimes at their grassroots thereby minimize the increasing incarceration rates in America.

            In addition, the death penalty has been known to hinder exonerations. Over the years, many situations have emerged where cases of where innocent people being convicted and the death penalty effected on them have been unearthed. Upon the reopening and review of their cases, such people become acquitted (Barbara, 1957). Once a convict has been executed, exoneration has no sense because the victim is already dead! The underlying point behind this is argument is that the effects of the death penalty are permanent and cannot be retracted once they are effected. Despite the tireless efforts put in place by most justice systems, unjust sentences are still in common phenomenon. Many innocent victims face the risk of paying for this institutional inefficiency with their lives. In the event that evidence had been tampered with during the early stages of an investigation, post-judicial measures such as appeal trial are rendered useless and ineffectual. The situation is normally worsened by the fact that post-trials after conviction are presided over by different judges who were not present during the initial sentencing. Jerome and Barbara (1957) assert that a judge who was not present during the original case and is currently presiding over the appeal case is highly likely to terminate it because he has no probable reason to question the judgment made by the jury during the original case. Gross (2014) reports that nearly 4% of the defendants on death row are in fact innocent but end up being convicted anyway. This clearly shows that alternative measures ought to be introduced in the place of the death penalty to safeguard innocent people’s lives. In this case, the common-sense step to take is simply to abolish the death penalty altogether.

            Nevertheless, proponents of the death penalty claim that it is a necessary form of punishment that plays a vital role in restoring order by making the offender pay a price that is equivalent for his/her crime. They further advance the view that the death penalty is a form of retribution that gives the families of the victim closure. To some extent, there may be truth in these statements. However, the “an eye-for-an -eye” approach is not the best way of promoting civility in society. It is foolhardy to punish the crime of killing a person with the killing of another person, just as rape cannot be punished by subjecting the offender to rape. The notion that retribution brings closure is just a mere fallacy that has been deeply rooted in society through indoctrination. As Walker (1999) points out, as a form of punishment, the death penalty only instigates an endless cycle of conflict and violence in society. The world needs to move away from this retribution narrative since it is being used to perpetuate masked revenge against convicted criminals.

            To conclude, it is quite evident that the death penalty is a barbaric law that should be expunged from all criminal justice systems. It degrades both morality and dignity of the human life. Rather than playing a rehabilitative role, it results in a cycle of criminal activities in society. Regardless what its supporters affirm, this law be abolished and more sound and apt measures be adopted to effectively deal with atrocious crimes. Failure to do so will lead to increased discrimination, wrongful convictions and moral decadence. No one, including state governments, has the right to deprive one of his/her own life regardless of the circumstances. Abolishing the death penalty will lead to the emergence of a reformed criminal justice system that is founded on the broad, long-term goal of rehabilitating convicts rather than the narrow objective of seeking retribution for victims.


ACLU. (2007). The Death Penalty:Questions and Answers. The American Civil Liberties Union, April 9, 2007. Web.

Barbara, F. J. (1957). Not Guilty. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Cochran, J. K. & Chamlin, M. B. (2000). Deterrence and brutalization: The dual effects of executions. Justice Quarterly17(4), 685-706.

Garey, D. (1998). Defending Everybody: A History of the ACLU. TV Books.

Gross, S. R. (2014). US death row study: 4% of defendants sentenced to die are innocent. Proceedings of the National Assembly of Sciences, 111(20), 7230-7235.

Hadij-Ristic, P. (2008). Crime and Justice: Abolishing the Death Penalty. Washington, DC: Inter Press Service.

NAACP. (2007). NAACP Remains Steadfast in Ending Death Penalty & Fighting Injustice in America’s Justice System. Enviroshop, June 28, 2007, Web.

Schabas, W. A. (2002). The Abolition of the Death Penalty in Internatonal Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Walker, S. (1999). In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

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