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Bumper stickers often portray opinions on some of the toughest issues facing America today. I once read a bumper sticker that questioned "Why do we kill people who kill people, to show that killing people is wrong?" The United States is one of the few countries left in the world to practice the savage and immoral punishment of death. Retentionists argue that the death penalty prevents persons from committing the heinous crime of murder. It is proven that the death penalty does not deter persons from committing murder, nor does it serve as an example of the consequences of capital crimes to society. Furthermore, it is impossible to guarantee that the criminal justice system will not discriminate, or execute the innocent. And above all, the methods of execution are horrifying and barbaric, as well as devaluing of human life. We must realize that the life of a murderer is worth just as much as the life of the victim.
The most widely used argument in support of capital punishment is that the consequence of execution influences criminal behavior more effectively than imprisonment does (Amnesty International). Although the argument may sound reasonable, in reality the death penalty fails as a deterrent. The punishment can only be a useful deterrent if it is rational and immediately used. Capital punishment cannot meet those conditions. The number of first degree murderers who are sentenced to death is small, and of this group an even smaller number of people are eventually executed. The possibility of increasing the number of convicted murderers sentenced to death and executed is declining because mandatory death sentences were declared unconstitutional in 1976 (NCADP). Murder and other crimes of violence are not always premeditated. For example gang violence, drive by shootings, and kidnapping are serious crimes that continue to be committed because the criminal thinks they are too clever to be caught. Most capital crimes are committed in the heat of the moment during times of great emotional trauma or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when logical thinking is in no doubt absent (NCADP). In such cases, persons will commit a crime of violence regardless of the consequences. The majority of the evidence shows that the death penalty is in no way effectively deterring criminals.
Evidence of past use of the death penalty establishes reasonable doubt that the death penalty does not deter murder, and there is no evidence to prove otherwise. In a thorough report on the effects of criminal sanctions on crime rates, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that it is misleading to justify the use of capital punishment on such "fragile" and "uncertain" results (NCADP). Also, there are clinically documented cases that reveal the death penalty actually provoked the capital crimes it was intended to prevent (NCADP). These cases involved the so-called "suicide by execution syndrome" in which a person who wants to die but fears taking their own life will commit murder so the state will execute them. The use of the death penalty obviously guarantees that the criminal will never commit another crime, but there is no evidence that capital punishment deters another individual from committing murder (Glover 139).
An alternative, one that is far less inhumane, is a policy of life imprisonment without the possibility or parole. It is commonly reported that Americans approve of the death penalty. But, more careful analysis of the attitudes of the public shows that Americans prefer alternatives (Smart). In fact, they would oppose the death penalty if convicted murderers were sentenced to life without parole and required to make some form of financial restitution. In a 1993 nationwide survey 77 percent of the public approved of the death penalty, but the poll dropped to 41 percent when the alternative no parole plus restitution was offered (Smart). Only a minority of the American public would favor the death penalty over other alternatives.
By law it is required that the trial and sentencing of the accused must be conducted with the utmost fairness, especially when incorporating the irreversible sanction of the death penalty. It has been noted that courts have sentenced some criminals to prisons while putting others to death, which clearly demonstrates uncertainly, racial prejudices, and extreme unfairness. In his classic American Dilemma (1940) Gunnar Myrdal
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National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Capital punishment, Crime, Murder, Law, Capital punishment in the United States, Capital punishment debate in the United States, Capital punishment in Oregon
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