I was about sixteen when I read the book Dead Man Walking (I never watched the movie). It made me ask some tough questions on our legal justice system. When you are a child, you believe adults are good or they are bad. Part of growing up is beginning to see in all those shades of color which really make up people.
So I did some more reading, and some more. I saw a movie about Clarence Earl Gideon who fought for the right to have a public defender. I kept my eyes and ears open and I learned more. I came to have some strong feelings on the subject, and everything led me to one conclusion: the death penalty should be abolished.
There are a variety of reasons, but the three are the ones which I can most defend/argue/use to persuade:
- Innocent people are consistently put to death anyway
- Justice’s scales are tipped by the dollar
- It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars
So breaking these down. Number 1: Over 130 people were exonerated in 2014 – found innocent. 50 of those were exonerated of murder. This is not found “not guilty” in trial – this is post-conviction they were found to be not guilty and had to be released. This number isn’t just death row – but the fact that this many innocent people were convicted and later found innocent… over 15 have been exonerated from death row since 2010. That number is over 150 since 1978. These are the ones where the preponderance evidence became such that a guilty conviction had to be thrown out.
One innocent person being executed is wrong. Just wrong. An average of more than 4 per year… unforgivable. Ben Franklin said, “That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer” – and I can’t imagine an innocent person being condemned to a death which can take over 30 painful minutes as anything less than deplorable.
Number 2: There are no rich men on death row. I remember in high school reading something about how 98% of the people on death row were represented by public defenders, just google “death penalty public defenders” to read some of the horrifying statistics. How just by hiring an attorney, the death penalty is frequently taken off the table by prosecution. Having an attorney who isn’t overworked, underpaid, and unmotivated to win changes your threat level from “possible death” to “life in prison” – or less than life.
There are so many stories (court recorded incidents) of poorly trained, poorly motivated, or worse just BAD attorneys being the ones to represent capital cases. In the famous “sleeping lawyer” case of George McFarland, a Texas court ruled, “the Constitution guarantees the right to an attorney. It doesn’t say the lawyer has to be awake.” At least in my eyes, this means Justice is not being equally applied and until such time as we can guarantee the richest man in the country and the poorest gets an equal trial – we have to remove this most permanent and aggressive form of punishment.
Lastly, Number 3: It’s bad when Judges are making the argument that something should be stopped simply because of the cost, but that is exactly the argument that was made in California by 2 Judges of the 9th Circuit US Appeals Court Judges – “Since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system that has carried out no more than 13 executions.”
Do that math – to get 13 executions carried out the state spent $4 BILLION dollars. A Washington state study published January 2015 showed that the difference between Court, Sheriff/Police and Misc. costs are 4-8 times higher for death penalty cases. That’s JUST those costs; not incarceration, not appeals, not defense or prosecution costs. Basically, there is nothing that is not at least doubling the cost for a death penalty case as any other conviction. Think how far that money could go in SNAP benefits, or DOT, or education… preventing people from committing crimes instead of trying to punish them.
These studies have been done again and again – and the cost differences just keep going up. I don’t see how the anti-spending-party(ies) still support the death penalty… it’s a total waste of taxpayer’s money.
There are other arguments I could make: it’s not a deterrent, waiting decades for a decision or final date is cruel and unusual, but they do have potential counter-arguments. I think each of the arguments I made in full, on their own, make a solid argument for abolishing a broken and expensive system. Combined, I have yet to have someone make an argument in defense of the death penalty that – well frankly, doesn’t sound like the argument a sleeping lawyer would make.