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Pros & Cons of the Death Penalty

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Pros & Cons of the Death Penalty

Photo taken on June 29, 2009 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Arguments For

Arguments commonly made for supporting the death penalty are:
  • To serve as example to other would-be criminals, to deter them from committing murder or terrorist acts.
  • To punish the criminal for his/her act.
  • To obtain retribution on behalf of the victims.
Countries that Retain the Death Penalty As of 2008 per Amnesty International, 58 countries, representing about one-third of all countries worldwide, retain the death penalty for ordinary capital crimes, including the United States, plus:

Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Chad, China, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States Of America, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

The United States is the only westernized democracy, and one of the few democracies worldwide, to not have abolished the death penalty.

Arguments Against

Arguments commonly made to abolish the death penalty are:

  • Death constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment," which is prohibited by the 8th amendment to the US Constitution. Also, the various means used by the state to kill a criminal are cruel.

  • The death penalty is used disproportionately against the poor, who cannot afford expensive legal counsel, as well as against racial, ethnic and religious minorities.

  • The death penalty is applied arbitrarily and inconsistently.

  • Wrongly convicted, innocent people have received death penalty sentences, and tragically, were killed by the state.

  • A rehabilitated criminal can make a morally valuable contribution to society.

  • Killing human life is morally wrong under all circumstances. Some faith groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, oppose the death penalty as not being "pro-life."
Countries that Abolished the Death Penalty

As of 2008 per Amnesty International, 139 countries, representing two-thirds of all countries worldwide, have abolished the death penalty on moral grounds including:

Albania, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote D'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome And Principe, Senegal, Serbia (including Kosovo), Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela.

Where It Stands

In 2009, a growing chorus of leading voices spoke out about the immorality of the death penalty. The New York Times opined on June 1, 2009:

"There is no abuse of government power more egregious than executing an innocent man. But that is exactly what may happen if the United States Supreme Court fails to intervene on behalf of Troy Davis."

Troy Davis was an African-American sports coach who was convicted of the 1991 killing of a Georgia police officer. Several years later, seven of nine eyewitnesses who had linked Davis to the crime changed or entirely recanted their original testimony, claiming police coercion.

Mr,. Davis filed innumerable appeals for new evidence of innocence to be examined in Court, to little avail. His appeals were vociferously supported with more than 4,000 letters from the likes of Nobel Peace Prize recipients former President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Vatican.

On August 17, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered new hearings for Troy Davis. The first hearing is set for November 2009. Mr. Davis remains on Georgia's death row.

Exorbitant Cost on States of Capital Punishment

The New York Times also penned in its September 28, 2009 op-ed High Cost of Death Row:

"To the many excellent reasons to abolish the death penalty — it’s immoral, does not deter murder and affects minorities disproportionately — we can add one more. It’s an economic drain on governments with already badly depleted budgets.

"It is far from a national trend, but some legislators have begun to have second thoughts about the high cost of death row."

For instance, the Los Angeles Times reported in March 2009:

"In California, legislators are wrestling with the cost of maintaining the nation's largest death row even though the state has executed only 13 inmates since 1976. Officials are also debating construction of a new $395-million death row prison that many lawmakers say the state cannot afford."

The New York Times reported in September 2009 about California:

"Perhaps the most extreme example is California, whose death row costs taxpayers $114 million a year beyond the cost of imprisoning convicts for life. The state has executed 13 people since 1976 for a total of about $250 million per execution."

Death-penalty ban bills based on costs were introduced in 2009, but failed to pass, in New Hampshire, Maryland, Montana, Maryland, Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado. New Mexico passed death penalty ban legislation on March 18, 2009.

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