Death Penalty


Reviewing a topic as controversial as the death penalty can be a difficult. Many facts and opinions can be presented on both sides of the argument that are compelling; however, after reviewing and analyzing the following data and arguments; a clear case can be made for the revamping of the death penalty in America today. This paper concentrates the reasoning to three very distinct aspects of the death penalty, all of which will contribute to its ineffectiveness in the American legal system. These are: the high costs needed to implement the death penalty, the issue of whether capital punishment is able to deter additional crime, and the fact that existing flaws in our legal system allow many innocent people to be executed.
It remains a simple fact that the death penalty is expensive. Death penalty cases are far more expensive than many other criminal cases and cost more than a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. For example, in California, capital trials are six times more costly than other trials (Vila, Bryan, Morris Cynthia, 1997: 275). Many people are of the opinion that simply executing a person is far less expensive than the costs of incarcerating that person; however, that is simply not the case. Many studies have shown that the review of all the capital cases in addition to the numerous appeals filed, it typically costs more to execute a person than it costs to keep that person in prison for life. For example, A New York study recently found that the estimated cost of an execution is three times that of a case of life imprisonment. Another study showed that in Florida, each execution costs the state an estimated $3.2 million, compared to $600,000 for life imprisonment (Amnesty International, 2003).
Another factor influencing the difference in costs between a capital trial and other trials is the structure in which these trials are conducted. The greatest costs of the death penalty occur prior to and during the trial. Death penalty cases have two separate phases to their trials (conviction and sentencing). It is estimated that costs are much higher in death penalty cases because the inevitable appeals and delays cost the taxpayer much more than if the defendant was simply given life imprisonment (Amnesty International, 2003). Many critics also complain that these costs divert funds away from other issues that states must incur. Certain people assert that the costs used to impose the death penalty could be used more effectively to fight crime. While the costs to impose the death penalty have been steadily rising, certain crime fighting strategies have failed to be implemented due to the budget deficits that many states face. John Bailey, Chief State Attorney for Connecticut, stated that, “Every dollar we spend on a capital case is a dollar we can’t spend anywhere else…We have to let the public know what it costs to pursue a capital case” (Death Penalty Information Center, 2003).
Many proponents of the death penalty contend that capital punishment will deter people from committing crimes. Indeed, during the past ten years, the number of executions has increased in the United States while the murder rate has declined. But these numbers can be deceiving. For instance, the murder rates in states that do not impose the death penalty have been lower than the murder rate in states that do impose the death penalty (Death Penalty Information Center, 2003). In 1990, there was a difference of 4% between the states that practice the death penalty and states that do not. By 2000, the murder rate between these two groups had risen from 35% to 37%.


There is strong evidence to support the fact that the death penalty fails to deter crime. The states that warrant the death penalty have twice the murder rates than states without the death penalty. One reason for such disparity could be the fact that states warranting the death penalty have more criminals than states that do not issue the death penalty. Another possible explanation could be that the police within those states fail to implement programs dedicated to the elimination crime.
Many criminologists also believe that the death penalty does not play a substantial impact in deterring crime. According to