15 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty

by Nathaniel Batchelder

#1. Every western democracy and industrialized nation except the U.S. has abolished the death penalty. Till recently, only the U.S., South Africa, and the USSR among industrialized nations still used the death penalty. South Africa has renounced the death penalty. The USSR no longer exists.

#2. Murder rates are lower in U.S. states which have abolished the death penalty. Source: 1986F BI Crime Index statistics: States which have abolished the death penalty averaged 4.9 murders per 100,000in population. States till using it averaged 7.4 murders per 100,000.

#3. Canada’s murder rate dropped after abolishing the death penalty. In 1975, the last year capital punishment was legal in Canada, the homicide rate was 3.09 per 100,000 in population. Since abolition, it has never been that high. By 1985, the rate was down to 2.78 per 100,000.

#4. The death penalty costs more than life imprisonment. Adding up all the costs, several states are finding that it costs taxpayers from $2 to\ $5 million per execution, including the special trial and appeals. Life in prison (4O years at $25,000 per year) costs $1 million.

#5. Innocent people get executed. Some say, “Speed up the process,” to save time and money. But two death-row inmates in Texas were found innocent of their crimes, in the last four years, and were released from prison: Randall Dale Adams (“The Thin Blue Line”) and Clarence Brandley, both free today, would be dead without the appeals process. In Oklahoma, Robert Miller was freed from death row when DNA evidence indicated another man had committed “his” crimes. A study of the years from 1900 to 1985, published by the Stanford Iaw Review, found that 350 persons were mistakenly convicted of potentially capital crimes. Of those, 139 were sentenced to death, and 3 were actually executed. Researchers say that there are probably many more cases not yet identified.

#6. The death penalty is a political football, perpetuating violent crime. As a symbol of “being tough on crime,” the death penalty helps politicians get elected. Since it does not reduce violent crime, it wastes money in states which use it. States which have abolished the death penalty can redirect the money saved into programs for reducing violent crime.

#7. Racism #1: Minority defendants are more likely than white defendants to be sentenced to death for the same crimes. Research into sentencing patterns shows that in Georgia, for example, blacks are nearly three times as likely to be sentenced to death as whites charged in similar cases.

#8. Racism #2: The death penalty punishes primarily those who kill whites. Of the more than 100 persons executed in the past twelve years, 86% of the cases involved white victims. An eight-states survey showed that defendants whose victims were white were four to ten times as likely to be sentenced to death as those whose victims were not white.

#9. Primarily the poor get executed. Over 99% of the people on death row are indigent, according to one U.S. Appeals Court judge. Persons of all income levels commit murder, but the low social status and lack of money among the poor make them the primary recipients of the death penalty.

#10. Juvenile offenders are executed. There are over 30 people now on death row for crimes they committed before they were 18 years old. Some were as young as 15. Johnny Garrett, 17 at the time of his crime, was executed in Texas (Feb., ’92) although judged insane by some (“…Mr. Garett believed the spirit of a deceased aunt would protect him from the fluid in the injection…” AP, Dallas Morning News, I-7-92), and his execution was opposed by the Sisters of St. Francis (Garrett murdered a nun there), by the Catholic Archdiocese of Amarillo, and despite a personal appeal to Texas Governor Ann Richards lrom Pope John Paul II.

#11. Mentally ill are executed. The law forbids the execution of those who are mentally ill. However, experience shows that the determination of sanity is generally made after very limited contact with the accused, often by psychiatrists employed by the prosecution. Inevitably, some who are ill are declared “sane,” and fit for execution.

#12. Mentally retarded are executed. Six mentally retarded persons have been executed since l984. It is estimated that perhaps 2O% of those now under sentence of death function at below-average intelligence levels.

#13. Inconsistent sentencing. Approximately 24,000 murders are committed in the U.S. each year. Only one out of 100 people convicted of murder is sentenced to death. Those sentenced to death are not necessarily those whose crimes are the worst….Rather they tend to be the poor, people of color, and those whose victims are white.

#14. A. majority prefer alternatives to “Death.” When offered a range of sentencing options, respondents in several polls have shown a preference for life imprisonment rather than execution. A 1987 U.S. Justice Department poll found life imprisonment favored over the death penalty by a 2-to-l margin as the sentence for first degree murder.

#15. Victims’ families often oppose the death penalty. Coretta Scott King (widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), Kerry Kennedy (daughter of Robert F. Kennedy) and TV star of “Dallas” Patrick Duffy (lost his parents in a robbery/ murder) all publicly oppose the death penalty. A victim’s father said, “It won’t bring back my son – why make two families suffer?” An Oklahoma victim’s mother said, “I never felt peace until I came to accept and forgive.”