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In Prosecution and Defense of the Death Penalty

Updated on February 19, 2014
krsharp05 profile image

Kristi spent two years working in the Scared Straight program at Lansing Penitentiary. AKA: J.A.I.L. (Juvenile Assistance Intake Liaison)

Old Sparky
Old Sparky | Source

Execution Methods in the US from 1976 to 2012

Lethal Injection
Gas Chamber
Firing Squad

Introduction to the Death Penalty

As of July 1, 2012, it is estimated that 1 in every 10 death row inmates is serving time for crimes they did not commit. Since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 140 convicted felons have been released from prison based on evidence. There are groups who refute this argument however, it's difficult to argue against physical evidence as blatantly clear as DNA.

In order to understand the death penalty it's also important to understand methods of overturning convictions.

  • Clemency: When a crime is forgiven and the sentenced penalty is cancelled.
  • Pardon: When a crime is forgiven and the sentenced penalty is cancelled typically given by a head of state, President or church authority.
  • Commutation: Lessening of the crime without forgiveness of it's existence. The convicted person is still considered guilty of the crime.
  • Reprieve: Temporary postponement of punishment.

In the United States, the death penalty continues to be one of the most highly debated topics. In order to discuss the death penalty, it's important to argue the pros and cons with an attitude of truth and tolerance. Unfortunately, arguments become emotional when issues hit close to home and touch lives. Emotions aside, we will take a look at the specific issues that support and refute the death penalty.

Execution chamber at Utah State Prison
Execution chamber at Utah State Prison | Source

Death Penalty is Justice Served

Statistically, only 33% of the population believes that the death penalty is appropriate as a means of sentencing. The majority of people feel that life without the possibility of parole would better serve the convicted individuals.

Additionally, people who rally in defense of the death penalty argue that it should be mandatory for persons who commit violent crimes, murder and certain types of crimes against persons. The arguments are as follows:

  1. Convicted rapists and murders should be given an automatic death sentence. Thus, the severity of the punishment will deter other miscreants from committing these crimes. In turn, the crime rate would go down.
  2. If a serial killer is imprisoned and then released, he or she will subsequently re-offend. If they are euthanized, there is no chance of re-offending. This will ensure the safety of society.
  3. Some believe that it is less expensive to execute an inmate than it is to incarcerate for a life term.
  4. The "eye for and eye" theory suggests that if a person takes someone's life, they should then be held responsible and lose the right to live.
  5. Death sentences may give relief and a sense of justice to the victim or the family of the deceased.
  6. Death sentences may ensure the safety of inmates and guards.

Public Opinion Census 2010

When asked whether or not the census taker was "in favor" or "against" the death penalty, the following results were established.

39% Life without the possibility of parole + restitution paid to victim

9% Life with the possibility of parole

13% Life without the possibility of parole

33% In favor of the Death Penalty

6% No opinion

Census by Lake Research Partners, 2010.

Death Penalty Cons

There are numerous studies and cases which have shed light on the immoral and negligent use of capital punishment. Since it's reintroduction in 1977, the death penalty has had a dramatic ebb and flow. There seems to be more reasons not to incorporate it's use than to apply it. Nevertheless, it exists.

Those who oppose the death penalty, fervently believe that not only is it immoral, but also that there is a dangerous risk of mistakes and errors. Other arguments include:

  1. Murder is murder, regardless of who passes the judgement.
  2. If a defendant is subject to inexperienced counsel during trial, they may be more likely to receive stricter sentencing.
  3. Every human being should be afforded a second chance in life. Incarceration allows for a convicted person to better their ways and contribute in a positive way.
  4. 1 in every 10 death sentence cases is incorrectly prosecuted. There have been numerous cases where evidence such as DNA has proven people innocent after serving years in prison and unfortunately after having been put to death.
  5. There is no evidence that proves the death penalty is a deterrent for crime. The death penalty is used most in the southern states and subsequently, the highest crime rates exist in the southern states.
  6. It is preferable to have a convicted murder spend his or her days in prison, unable to experience life, living in the desolation and oppression every day for the rest of their life than to be freed by the death penalty.
  7. It is estimated that the cost to put a man to death is around $2.3 million per execution which is about three times more than the cost of keeping a man incarcerated for life at the highest security level for 40 years.

Deterrence and the Death Penalty

  • According to a study of the country's top criminologists, 88% believe that capital punishment does not lower murder rates. (Radelet & Lacock, 2009)
  • In 2010, the southern states had the highest murder rate and accounted for more than 80% of the executions in the United States. This evidence suggests that enforcing the death penalty does not deter people from committing crimes which are punishable by death.
  • Since 1977, there have been 1299 people executed in the United States. Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma currently have the highest rates of execution.

Problems With Capital Punishment

Although it seems easy to define, either you agree or disagree with the use of capital punishment. There are dilemmas which revolve around using the death penalty as a means of sentencing.

  • There is a tremendous amount of pressure on police and government officials to solve flagrant murders within the community. Because of the continuous scrutiny, police and prosecutors may feel the necessity to indict and prosecute someone in order to "solve" the crime. There are many cases where this has happened and people have spent years in prison or have even been wrongfully executed because the police needed to close the case.
  • When someone is murdered by an unknown person and there is a lack of eyewitness testimony, the case may rely on other types of evidence such as accomplices, jailhouse snitches or pressured confessions. These types of evidence are not as strong but have the ability to sway a jury, even in the case of an innocent defendant.
  • When a case is subject to heightened publicity, it can alter the judgement of jurors. Prior to trial jurors are instructed to ignore all media that pertains to the case however, there are many instances when jurors have been tainted. When that happens, they are unable to ignore doubts of guilt raised by the defense.
  • During jury selection it is to the benefit of the prosecution to select jury members who are able and prepared to return a death sentence. Knowing that they may be asked to enforce a death penalty before the trial begins may inadvertently suggest guilt and jurors will not be fair and impartial, they're prepared to hand out a death sentence.
  • When a defendant is assigned an attorney, they are subject to a capped amount that they can spend on investigating and evidence review. Their legal aid counsel must decide what is most important, how best to divide the funds. Important facts might be overlooked due to lack of money.
  • If the crime committed is particularly violent, the jury might feel the necessity to convict even if there is only probable guilt. There is a feeling of wanting justice for the family or loved ones. This is the purpose for appeal on all capital cases - so that each case will have a close and detailed review.
  • Execution doesn't bring the victim back to life. Focusing on revenge is what many feel drives the implementation of the death sentence.

The Appeal Process

All death sentence cases are allowed an automatic appeal. The purpose for this is to ensure that no mistakes were made, that proper procedures were followed. The protocol for filing an appeal is very specific state to state. The Federal Court of Appeals will only review cases which are arguing violations of constitutional rights as opposed to presenting new evidence which would imply innocence.

Do you believe in the death penalty?

See results


Since the increased number of innocent people on death row and in prison is becoming more apparent, it is clear that the justice system has fundamental breakdowns. These problems cannot be fixed after an execution has been enforced. Currently, there is a push for faster movement through the system, less resources for public defense counsel and more immediate implementation of execution in order to deter crime. If these types of changes are put into place, the execution of innocent people is imminent.


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    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      ahorseback, Two trials, good grief! That's a lot of time spent in a court room. I'm sure you are well-versed on all things legal. I appreciate that you took the time to read and comment about capital punishment. I'm grateful for your kindness and love that you are taking a stand. I hope to see you more often and I look forward to reading more of your work. -K

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 5 years ago

      krsharp, I had always been a supporter of the capital punishment , I Do believe it has a lot to do with our personal experiences with crime . However in the last very few years I have also come to believe our system is flawed , at times terribly ! I even stated that in jury selection this year and they still picked me for two trials !? You always seem to be so concice in your hubs , I love that ! As you mention above .....Yes juries are just as flawed ! Incredibly so ! Awesome hub . Only you could do this !.....:-}

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      galleryofgrace, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I agree with you that there is no such thing as "due process". It's a mathematical and physical impossibility especially because the media has no regulatory parameters. I would love to believe that a jury has the capability to be objective but at the end of the day, they are still humans with subjective opinions and the idea is based more on the hope that 12 people are less likely to be wrong, even if it is subjective. Glad to have your input. -K

    • galleryofgrace profile image

      galleryofgrace 5 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you for bringing this to light! The penal system is so screwed up no one could ever expect to receive proper justice.

      Recently a well known TV prosecutor advertised that she had a 100% conviction rate. Anyone who has a 100% rate should be thoroughly investigated.

      As for the death penalty - it serves no purpose unless there is absolute concrete proof of the guilt. There are thousands of inmates who have been dealt a sentence simply because the prosecutors wanted to look good and the rest of the justice system just didn't want to take the time to find the truth.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Hi teaches, thank you for the excellent comment. It is a touchy subject, I agree, and one that I have great passion for. It's unfortunate that so many mistakes are made but such is human nature. I would hate to think that I was responsible for the finality of an innocent life and oppositely there are murderers who walk the streets because of judicial technicalities. I'm glad I don't have to pass that judgement - I just have to learn to forgive. Boy, that's a toughie...thank you for reading, and for being here. I'm always pleased to see your name. -K

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      This is still a highly contraversial topic, as you stated, today in the US. The ratio of 1 to 10 incorrectly processed is high. This is a good argument in support of restructuring the process, especially with the ability to test for DNA. I still believe in Capital Punishment, but only for those murders that are proven without a doubt. Many would argue on this point alone as they believe society may have lost the benefit of this one life's contribution. Great post, well designed and researched. Voted up.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      John, my husband works for the police department and he is vehemently for the death penalty. It's almost impossible for us to discuss it because of our opposing views.

      I worked at a prison for two years and I know exactly what it's like to be locked down. That's the nightmare I want for my mother's killer. Not freedom. Thanks again for being here. -K

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      sean, me too. I love your reasoning, simple and poignant. Well said, my friend. -K

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Simone, my cup runneth over :) Thank you for reading and for the wonderful compliment. You made my day. It's always great to have good feedback from the boss. -K

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      lindacee, thank you for reading and commenting. I'm happy that you found this topic interesting! It's not always easy to discuss such a difficult issue - it's a toughie. I appreciate your input. -K

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      spartucus, thank you for reading and replying. I'm in league with you that it's too much of a risk to take a life based on the sheer number of blatant mistakes that have been made. I don't believe that humans can make an unbiased decision or be totally objective. It's a mathematical certainty that somewhere along the line, subjectivity will creep in and innocent people will die. Glad to have your opinion. -K

    • John Holden profile image

      John Holden 5 years ago

      Krsharp, a very close friend of mine was murdered about 30 years ago. One of the detectives leading the case said to me that he bet this changed my attitude to the death penalty.

      I told him no, that I hoped the murderer would live a very long life and that long life should be full of regret for the life he took.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      John, Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I'm not familiar with cases where DNA was mistaken. I can understand that argument if an error were made within the lab however if it's performed correctly and without any type of corruption, DNA is absolutely factual proof.

      I agree that the death penalty is wrong.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      kschang, thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate your input.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Meloncauli, thank you for reading and commenting. The death penalty makes for an extremely segregated society in the US and you're right, it's important for families to have closure however, taking the life of another person hardly seems to be closure. It will never bring back what was lost. Closure happens over time and with healing. My mother was murdered when I was 17 and I never wanted him to be put to death. I always felt that he should live with his guilt for the rest of his life and in the worst possible conditions imaginable. I knew that I would find my peace eventually. Glad to have your input. -K

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      What a fantastic, useful explanation of the Death Penalty. Your Hubs are the best, krsharp05!

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      Great insight into both sides of the issue. The information is well presented and definitely captured and held my interest. I liked your formatting with a variety of capsules to balance and break up the text. Voted up and very interesting!

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 5 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very balanced approach to a very difficult subject. We don't have the death penalty in Canada, but occasionally in the case of really notorious criminals there have been those that have tried to argue in favour of the death penalty.

      I am mostly against it because of the possibility of killing someone who is wrongly accused. I also feel that not all violent criminals all created equal and there may be other circumstances that may need to be taken into the equation. Because we as humans are flawed in our ability to judge I am generally uncomfortable with the idea of the death sentence.

    • John Holden profile image

      John Holden 5 years ago

      There have been two cases local to me, not involving murder, but where DNA has appeared to place the accused in a guilty position. The DNA evidence has later turned out to be false.

      DNA is not a universal panacea, it should never be relied on in isolation either as proof of guilt or innocence.

      The death penalty is sick.

    • kschang profile image

      kschang 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      Penn & Teller's Bullsh__! has an episode specifically on this particular issue. :) Covers most of the same grounds.

    • meloncauli profile image

      meloncauli 5 years ago from UK

      What an interesting subject! It's a tough call but awful to think some may be dying as innocent people. Then you have the families that want closure and it must be frustrating for them to be told someone is guilty only to be told they have been pardoned etc. That said, don't we all only want the guilty to be punished. I sit on the fence I think re pro or against but that's easier for me as we don't have the death penalty in the uk. Voted up.

    • sean kinn profile image

      sean kinn 5 years ago from Key West and Budapest

      I think I'm actually against the death penalty, mostly due to the Golden Rule. Hard to explain, highly political. :-)

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      sean, I take it that means you are PRO death penalty? That's okay, let your flag fly, just be ready for the war, right? Thanks for reading. I appreciate your input. Let me know when you have your hub out. I'll be watching for it as well. -K

    • sean kinn profile image

      sean kinn 5 years ago from Key West and Budapest

      Great comprehensive death penalty Hub. I'm working on a similar Hub, but a lot shorter. I'll probably have to pen-name it, and release through an article marketing service that will steer people away from retaliating on me, but it should still be fun. :-)


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