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5 Reasons It's Impossible to Defend the Death Penalty in the US

United States Activism
by Amanda Machado Jun 2, 2015

1. It’s actually cheaper to keep a murderer in prison for life than to execute them.

So many proponents of the death penalty argue that they don’t want their tax dollars supporting the life of a murderer. But though the death penalty seems like the cheapest option, it’s actually the opposite. The cost of supporting one inmate in the prison system for life is actually less than the cost of all the processing procedures needed to enact the death penalty: trial fees, appeals, state and federal habeas corpus petitions, plus the actual cost of the time spent by a prisoner on death row.

The result? In Maryland, according to the Urban Institute, between 1978 and 1999, taxpayers have paid around $186 million for the processing of death penalty cases, which have culminated in only five executions. In Florida, according to the Palm Beach Post, the death penalty costs $51 million more a year than it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison. And in Texas, a 1992 report by the Dallas Morning News found that every death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million to the State, three times more than it would cost to hold a prisoner in a high security single cell for forty years.

2. Most experts agree that having the death penalty does not in any way deter crime.

A recent study by the University of Colorado found that 88% of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime and 90% said it had little effect deterring people from committing murder. Experts also agreed that this had nothing to do with the slow process of enacting a death sentence: over 85% agreed that speeding up the process of executions wouldn’t make it any more effective in discouraging others from committing crime.

3.Though our constitution states that we all have a right to a fair trial, many people on death row have anything but.

Often, the public defenders in charge of many death sentence cases are overworked, inexperienced or otherwise inadequate for representing the defendant fairly during trial. A 2002 study by the Texas Defender Service found that “death row inmates today face a one-in-three chance of being executed without having the case properly investigated by a competent attorney.” One 2001 report by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that in Washington state, around 20% of prisoners who faced execution in the past twenty years were represented by lawyers who were eventually disbarred, suspended, or arrested. Even the United Nations, after an official visit to investigate the use of the death penalty in Alabama and Texas,  agreed that many death row inmates never received adequate representation.

4. The racial identity of the murder victim and defendant are some of the leading factors in determining who receives a death sentence in America.

A few disturbing facts:

In North Carolina, the ACLU reported that defendants were 3.5 more likely to receive the death sentence if the victim was white. In Alabama, though 65% of murders involve black victims, 80% of death sentences involve white victims.

According to the New York Times, though Texas is responsible for more than a third of the nation’s executions, out of the 470 total executions carried out by the state, only ONE involved a white murderer and a black a victim.

According to an article in Think Progress, in Florida, “though the state has executed 84 people since 1976, no white person has ever been executed for killing an African American in the state. In Louisiana, a death sentence is 97 percent more likely in murder cases where the victim is white.” Across the nation, “only 20 white people have been executed since 1976 for killing a black person. By contrast, 269 black defendants were executed for killing someone who is white.”

5. By continuing the practice, the United States is in the minority around the world.

Only 58 countries across the globe still enact the death penalty, while over 130 have abolished it. Countries more progressive than the States in this area? Mexico, Rwanda, Venezuela, Honduras, Cambodia, South Africa, even Uzbekistan. The company we keep by executing criminals? Saudia Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Egypt, Pakistan, and Sudan, to name a few. 

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