Society has always used punishment to discourage would-be criminals from unlawful action. Since society has the highest interest in preventing murder, it should use the strongest punishment available to deter1 murder, and that is the death penalty. If murderers are sentenced to death and executed, potential murderers will think twice before killing for fear of losing their own life.
Disagree The overwhelming2 conclusion from years of deterrence studies is that the death penalty is, at best, no more of a deterrent than a sentence of life in prison. In fact, some criminologists maintain that the death penalty has the opposite effect: that is, society is brutalized by the use of the death penalty, and this increases the likelihood of more murder. States in the United States that do not employ the death penalty generally have lower murder rates than states that do. The U.S., with the death penalty, has a higher murder rate than the countries of Europe or Canada, which do not use the death penalty.
A just society requires the death penalty for the taking of a life. Agree When someone takes a life, the balance of justice is disturbed. Unless that balance is restored, society succumbs to a rule of violence. Only the taking of the murderer's life restores the balance and allows society to show convincingly that murder is an intolerable crime which will be punished in kind. Retribution has its basis in religious values, which have historically maintained that it is proper to take an "eye for an eye" and a life for a life. Offenders deserve the worst punishment under our system of law, and that is the death penalty.
Disagree Retribution is another word for revenge. Although our first instinct may be to inflict immediate pain on someone who wrongs us, the standards of a mature society demand a more measured response. The emotional impulse for revenge is not a sufficient justification for invoking a system of capital punishment. Our laws and criminal justice system should lead us to higher principles that demonstrate a complete respect for life, even the life of a murderer. Encouraging3 our basest motives of revenge, which ends in another killing, extends the chain of violence. The notion of an eye for an eye, or a life for a life, is a simplistic one which our society has never endorsed.
The risk of executing the innocent precludes the use of the death penalty.
The death penalty alone imposes an irrevocable sentence. Once an inmate4is executed, nothing can be done to make amends if a mistake has been made. There is considerable evidence that many mistakes have been made in sentencing people to death. Since 1973, at least 121 people have been released from death row5 after evidence of their innocence emerged. For every eight people executed, we have found one person on death row who never should have been convicted. These statistics represent an intolerable risk of executing the innocent. Our capital punishment system is unreliable: two thirds of all capital trials contained serious errors.
Disagree There is no proof that any innocent person has actually been executed since increased safeguards and appeals were added to our death penalty system in the 1970s. Even if such executions have occurred, they are very rare. Imprisoning innocent people is also wrong, but we cannot empty the prisons because of that minimal risk. If improvements are needed in the system of representation, or in the use of scientific evidence such as DNA testing, then those reforms should be instituted. However, the need for reform is not a reason to abolish the death penalty. Besides, many of the claims of innocence by those who have been released from death row are actually based on legal technicalities.
The death penalty is applied unfairly and should not be used.
In practice, the death penalty does not single out the worst offenders. Rather, it selects an arbitrary group based on such irrational factors as the quality of the defense counsel, the county in which the crime was committed, or the race of the defendant or victim. Almost all defendants facing the death penalty cannot afford their own attorney. Hence, they are dependent on the quality of the lawyers assigned by the state, many of whom lack experience in capital cases or are so underpaid that they fail to investigate the case properly. A poorly represented defendant is much more likely to be convicted and given a death sentence. With respect to race, studies have repeatedly shown that a death sentence is far more likely where a white person is murdered than where a black person is murdered.
Discretion has always been an essential part of our system of justice. No one expects the prosecutor to pursue every possible offense or punishment, nor do we expect the same sentence to be imposed just because two crimes appear similar. Each crime is unique, both because the circumstances of each victim are different and because each defendant is different. The existence of some systemic problems is no reason to abandon the whole death penalty system.