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Should The Death Penalty Be Banned?

Updated on September 30, 2015
Death Row Convict Kelly Gissendaner, who was executed on Wednesday, September 30, 2015.
Death Row Convict Kelly Gissendaner, who was executed on Wednesday, September 30, 2015. | Source

Earlier this morning, Wednesday, September 30, the State of Georgia's penal system executed Kelly Gissendaner, a 47-year-old woman who was put on death row for hiring her lover to kill her husband in 1997. She is Georgia's first female convict to be executed in 70 years.

Multiple attempts were made by friends and family to stop the execution, including a letter from the Pope, but to no avail. Apparently, Gissendaner had underwent a spiritual reformation while in prison, receiving a degree in theology and working to help other inmates. The evidence of her transformation was fairly compelling, but not enough to change the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.

In her final statement, she apologized for her actions, then hummed "Amazing Grace" as she was put to death.

Her case has been all over the news, highlighting both sides of the death penalty issue. Here are some of the points being discussed.

Lady Justice.
Lady Justice. | Source

Arguments For The Death Penalty

  1. One of the main consistent arguments for the death penalty is the justice it provides for the victim of the crime and arguably more importantly, the victim's family. In the case of Kelly Gissendaner, her victim Doug Gissendaner's family gave the following statements while the appeals for her life were being made. "Kelly planned and executed Doug's murder. She targeted him and his death was intentional. Kelly chose to have her day in court and after hearing the facts of this case, a jury of her peers sentenced her to death. As the murderer, she's been given more rights and opportunity over the last 18 years than she ever afforded to Doug, who, again, is the victim here," it said. "She had no mercy, gave him no rights, no choices, nor the opportunity to live his life. His life was not hers to take."
  2. A deterrent for murder. The ideal situation is that the death penalty will deter future criminals from carrying out their crimes for fear of receiving the death penalty. A strong argument for the death penalty is that without that ultimate consequence, more heinous crimes would take place. There are some criminals, including Ted Bundy, that only seemed to be afraid of the death penalty, but not life in prison. Only when faced with death did Bundy seem remotely remorseful for the crimes he had committed.
  3. The legal system is designed to require more hard evidence in cases involving the death penalty, therefore leaving the risk of executing an innocent very slim. Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who is a well-known advocate for making the death penalty illegal, has claimed she believes that several of the death row convicts she has gotten to know are innocent. But in order for someone to be put on death row, the legal system requires their crime to fall under what qualifies for capital punishment, which means murder, treason and espionage; aggravating and mitigating circumstances are taken into account; a jury must decide to give the death penalty; and the sentence must fit the crime. In Gissendaner's case, the fact that she paid money to have her husband killed is what landed her on death row. It was a calculated, intentional murder.
  4. It costs taxpayers less to execute prisoners who have been deemed to deserve it, rather than pay for all the criminals to have life in prison. Though it costs more up front to execute a prisoner, about 2 million dollars, the criminal justice reform organization Justice For All found that Life Without Parole Prisoners cost about 1.2-3.6 million dollars more than the execution cost.
  5. It is humane. With lethal injection, three drugs are administered to the convict. The first one is an anesthetic. The second one is a paralytic to stop the convict from flailing around and the third one stops their heart. It is supposed to be quick and relatively painless, due to the anesthetic.

Are You For or Against The Death Penalty?

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Arguments Against The Death Penalty

  1. It is inhumane. One of the main arguments against the death penalty is that no matter how it is carried out, it is inhumane. From hangings, to the electric chair, firing squads and now lethal injections, mistakes have happened and convicts have suffered more than they were intended to. Just recently, the United States has had to change the anesthetic drug it uses in the first stage of lethal injection because the manufacturer of the one they were using refused to sell it anymore. The U.S. went to Europe manufacturers and asked to do business with them, but those manufacturers refused to sell it for the purpose of lethal injection. The new drug that has been used has caused some problems such as delayed death and instances of gasping, choking and even speaking during the process. People are claiming these instances fall under the 8th amendment's statute for cruel and unusual punishment.
  2. Innocent people will end up being executed. No justice system can be 100% accurate and therefore, the reality is that some innocent people will slip through the cracks and be unjustly executed. People believe this is itself is horrific enough to ban the death penalty.
  3. The justice system unjustly depends on how much money someone has, the skill of their attorney, their race and the place the crime took place. Statistics show that more death row inmates are black and their victims, white. No one can disagree that people with less money can only afford cheaper lawyers with lower winning records.
  4. Capital punishment does not deter crime. Many studies have shown that the death penalty does not equal lower crime rates. In fact, some have shown that there are still high rates of murder in states that issue the death penalty.
  5. Mentally ill people have been executed. According to Amnesty International, 1 out of every 10 death row convicts who have been executed in the United States since 1977 have been mentally ill. Many of these criminals have been unable to participate in their own trials and had to be medicated to be competent enough for execution.

The Death Penalty In The United States

  • There are 31 states with the death penalty and 19 without. The states without the death penalty include Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
  • There have been 1,391 executions since 1976, the majority by far taking place in Texas at 524, with the next highest being Oklahoma at 112. More than 14,000 executions have taken place in the United States since 1800. The death penalty was briefly suspended from 1972 to 1976 due to arguments of its constitutionality.
  • 56% of the executed convicts have been white, and 34% of them have been black. 8% were Hispanic and 2% were other races.
  • China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia the United States and Yemen are the leading six countries in executions.
  • This year, a Louisiana man was declared innocent and set free after 30 years on death row.

My Thoughts

To be honest, I am torn about the death penalty. Because I am a Christian, I believe it is morally wrong, due to Jesus' teaching to turn the other cheek. But I do feel that the arguments for the death penalty are pretty strong. I understand both sides of the issue and just feel it is a hard thing. Whenever someone is executed and I am aware of it, like Kelly Gissendaner, I feel horrified by it. It feels wrong. But when I think about the victim, what she did to him, and his family, anything less seems unjust. Doug's family is right. His chance to live the past 18 years was taken away from him by his wife. The fact that she has lived these past 18 years almost seems unfair. In 2007 one of my college professors was raped and murdered in her home and my immediate gut reaction was revenge. I remembered feeling that the man who did it to her should die in the same way he killed her. In time, I felt differently but I certainly cannot condemn any family that feels the same way about the person who killed their loved one. I'm interested to hear what people think about this issue. Please vote on the issue and leave your comments below.


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    • no body profile image

      Robert E Smith 2 years ago from Rochester, New York

      I believe in the death penalty for the same reason that you are inclined to not believe it. Jesus said to turn the other cheek but He was not referring to whether or not someone was dead because of the infraction of the law. The Bible He read included, "If man sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. The "turn the other cheek" principle is not possible because the person wronged is dead. The family of the victim should find a way to forgive the murdered in order to move on and not have hatred eat them up inside, in my opinion. Great article. I clicked the invisible thumbs up. Bob.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      The problem with the death penalty is that in many states the appeal process is very long and expensive, and the prisoner has more a chance to die of natural causes than from the state.

      The unequal application of the death penalty across the states is just wrong. Doing an act in one state that has the death penalty, as opposed to doing that same act in another state that doesn't have the death penalty just doesn't seem right.

      The prison system in this country needs a major reform, and the scant cases involving the death penalty are not that significant in comparison to the totality of the problem.

      Circumstantial evidence is great evidence but it doesn't warrant being used for the death penalty. Circumstantial evidence is a story told to the jury on how the prosecutions Thinks that the defendant committed the crime. And if the defendant's attorney doesn't have a better story than the defendant Dies.

      The Legal System is not the same as the Justice System.

      For example, a person is detained then arrested because he looked like the suspect that committed the crime. At trial, the defendant is found not guilty.

      Once a person become a person of interest by the police, innocence flies away, to never return.

      In the example, people will still think that the person is guilty, but got away with it. It wouldn't matter, that if at any stage of the process from the detainment on, if the real criminal was found. The shadow of guilt will follow the innocent person, but to the rest of the world that person will be guilty.

      No Death Penalty, it is cheaper to keep them in jail that go through the numerous appeals processes. Waiting a number of years or even decades to execute someone doesn't serve a purpose that is valid.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      Thank you for working to look at both sides of this topic. The issue has always been complicated. There are no simple answers to all of the situations the accused, the victims, and the legal system face in these situations. However, in cases like this one, where there is unequivocal clarity leaving no question of whether she instigated the murder, the death penalty is justice for all of the victims (meaning that the murdered man was just one of the victims). Consequences do have a restraining effect on other people.

    • RJ Schwartz profile image

      Ralph Schwartz 2 years ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

      The death penalty needs to be used more. The best way to deter crime is to have a consequence that is too steep for many to take the risk. When I was young, crimes like murder and rape were lifetime sentences and not too common, now rape might only get you a few years. Less time makes it worth taking the risk for more people and the rape rate has grown. Also crimes against children that are too heinous to discuss should all be punished with the death penalty - no offender has ever been reformed so why do we bother - society as a whole would benefit from their permanent removal.