The United States justice system is flawed. Period. Show me someone who truly believes that no one in this country has ever been wrongfully convicted and I will show you someone with no concept of reality.
Wrongful convictions happen all too frequently. Witnesses are confused. Prosecutors withhold evidence. Defense counsel is inadequate. The jury doesn’t understand the law. This happens in this country and it happens too frequently.
Why, then, would we think it just and desirable to continue to utilize the ultimate punishment when we all know our justice system is flawed and creates wrongful convictions? How in the world can we possibly be content with capital punishment when we know our system is flawed?
Eighty percent of criminologists surveyed no longer believe capital punishment provides any deterrence. Interestingly, studies actually show an instigation effect where violent crime spikes following a highly publicized execution.
The death penalty has racial disparity. When the victim is white, those convicted are up to eleven times more likely receive a sentence of death. Just over 78% of victims that result in a sentence of death are white.
There have been more than 140 death row exonerations since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Let’s also remember that it is much more expensive to execute someone than sentence them to life in prison. But, money should not be a reason to forego capital punishment.
My favorite quote on capital punishment from Lord Chancellor Gardiner:
When we abolished the punishment for treason that you should be hanged, and then cut down while still alive, and then disemboweled while still alive, and then quartered, we did not abolish that punishment because we sympathised with traitors, but because we took the view that it was a punishment no longer consistent with our own self-respect.
“A punishment no longer consistent with our own self-respect.” I fail to see how we can claim any moral superiority when we murder our own citizens. Disagree with me all you want but capital punishment is, in no uncertain terms, state sanctioned and state performed murder. Arthur Koestler, in his book, Reflections on Hanging, said well:
The division is not between rich and poor, highbrow and lowbrow, Christians and atheists: it is between those who have charity and those who have not. . . . The test of one’s humanity is whether one is able to accept this fact — not as lip service, but with the shuddering recognition of a kinship: here but for the grace of God, drop I.
Until we see each other as individuals, as members of the same community, we will not hold that kinship. And, until we hold that kinship, I fear there will always be capital punishment in this country, a country whose flawed justice system allows and encourages the use of the ultimate punishment.
For a full, complete, exhaustive and in depth look at capital punishment in the United States and many reasons why it should not be a sentence we use, read my 2010 article, Death Qualification of Juries: Does the Process Really Create a Biased Jury?