Argument for the Abolition of the Death Penalty by Jane Shim

How curious it is that the Grim Reaper comes in all shapes and sizes? Death awaits us by some means, whether it be an axe-wielding murderer, a gusty typhoon, or the bite of a venomous serpent. Yet even more curious is another, perhaps more shocking bearer of death: the federal government itself. Capital punishment is an undeniably real phenomenon in our nation, and despite its social sensitivity, the controversy surrounding the death penalty must be engaged with a fair and unbiased approach. One should not be quick to assume that executions are performed cleanly and without bias; the ugly truth lies just beneath the surface.

Although those who have committed heinous crimes may be deserving of capital punishment, the death penalty should ultimately be abolished because in the flawed justice system, innocents are executed and people of color, the poor, and the mentally ill are unfairly tried.

For instance, racial discrimination in the justice system is a heavily biased factor in judges’ decisions that results in many innocent people being executed. According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), George Stinney, Jr., a fourteen-year-old African American boy, was convicted by an all-white jury of murdering two young white girls. No confession was ever made, and although Stinney’s sister claimed that she was with him on the day of the murders–meaning he could not have committed them–she was not called to testify at his trial. The trial lasted just three hours, and the jury deliberated for only ten minutes before sentencing him to death by electrocution. Moreover, according to a study conducted by Professor Baumgartner of the University of North Carolina, the death penalty is far more likely to be used if the murder victim is white rather than black. After examining every U.S. execution from 1976 to 2013, it was found that of the 534 white defendants executed for the murder of a single victim, only nine involved the murder of a black male victim. Hence, the biases of the legal system that delivers capital punishment are a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Above all, capital punishment should be abolished because innocent people have been and will be executed, and killing innocents is morally wrong.

Over the years, many innocent people were wrongfully convicted and executed.

According to a 2014 TIME publication that showcased a new study led by researcher Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan, almost four percent of U.S. capital punishment sentences are wrongful convictions (almost double the number of people set free), meaning around 120 of the roughly 3,000 inmates on death row in America are not guilty! In fact, many judges who give out death penalties to convicted suspects make their decision without substantial evidence such as confessions or DNA evidence. For instance, in the late 20th century, Ellis Wayne Felker was convicted for the murder of a woman and executed. An autopsy would later rule out Felker as a suspect, but it was altered by a technician. After his execution, Felker’s attorney received a box of evidence that was unlawfully withheld by the prosecution, including a confession given by another suspect and DNA evidence. Such cases reflect the injustice of the “justice” system, which leads us to the conclusion that capital punishment should be abolished.

Now, an argument could be made that murderers that have committed horrifying and atrocious murders and have an utter lack of remorse for their crimes, and are therefore deserving of death–painful death. Yet regardless of how deserving a murderer may be of capital punishment, the risk of executing innocents and unfairly executing the poor, the mentally ill, and people of color far outweighs the incomplete comfort that one receives from a criminal’s execution. If you do not take action to argue for the abolition of the death penalty, then yes, the murderer you believe deserves to be executed will indeed be executed. Perhaps you will feel wholly satisfied. Yet because you chose to support capital punishment, a poor and innocent man—one who was innocent but did not have the financial resources to hire a professional lawyer to successfully fight the renowned lawyers hired by the wealthy opposition—may be executed mere hours later. Or perhaps a death row inmate with schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder that results in hallucinations and extremely disordered thinking, is executed the very next day regardless of his mental disability. Thus, you are indirectly responsible for the death of innocents because you have supported the system that has killed these death row inmates who had a right to live. And in this sense, you are killing innocents—just as the murderer you originally believed to be deserving of execution did.

Consequently, although those who have committed murders may indeed be deserving of death, the death penalty should ultimately be abolished because of the risk it poses towards the innocent, poor, mentally ill, and people of color. Capital punishment must be abolished because of the shockingly high number of innocent, poor, mentally ill, and people of color that are unjustly tried and executed in the flawed justice system. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the total number of death row inmates is 2,905. Who knows how many of the 2,905 are innocent or wrongfully convicted?

So, an alternative solution to capital punishment is life imprisonment for the murderer and financial support for the family members of victims. One may argue that it is unreasonable to waste money by keeping a murderer alive through life imprisonment when it is cheaper to execute the prisoner. Yet it is considerably more expensive to execute a criminal. In fact, according to “Executions Cost Texas Millions” from the 1992 Dallas Morning News, each death penalty case in Texas costs taxpayers about $2.3 million, which is about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. By abolishing the death penalty, the leftover money can be contributed to the families of victims and to the poor and underprivileged.

One may argue that avenging victims by killing their killers gives peace to the victims’ loved ones, and that monetary value is by far not enough to compensate for a priceless life. That position, alas, is erroneous. It is true that a life cannot be repaid in full, and it would be cruel to attempt to do so. But although the family members and friends of victims may be haunted and unfulfilled by the thought that the killer is still alive in prison rather than dead by capital punishment, they may be comforted by the knowledge that they were able to save the lives of many innocents. Revenge may offer some satisfaction for the family and friends of victims, but it is impossible for this satisfaction to last forever. If taking a life is wrong, taking a life in return cannot be right. In other words, two wrongs do not make a right. So the next time you weigh the pros and cons of capital punishment, remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.”