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Seven Fallacies Of Capital Punishment

Nov 16, 2007
As a society, the time has come to take a major stand against revenge and hatred. It is time to look at the other side of the card, the side filled with peace and respect. It's time to rethink capital punishment, to recognize that our futures hinge on change and on recognition that life is more precious than death.

To reach such a destination, we might first ask what motivates us to allow America to stand as the only Western democracy to utilize death as a form of punishment. Bringing about another person's violent end does nothing to solve our own problems. It does not resolve the issue of losing a loved one. It does nothing to heal the fabric of divine connectivity that is a part of each one of us. To learn to respect life as being more important than death, we might first want to reconsider seven fallacies that are used to support the death penalty.

1) There are no reasonable alternatives to death.

This is what prisons are built for. Not for non-violent drug offenders, but for convicted killers who can be sentenced to life imprisonment. This is what most states that have already abolished the death penalty do with their convicted killers. They maintain laws that allow life sentences for murder that either limit or eliminate the possibility of parole. Studies have shown that Americans support alternatives to capital punishment. When presented with the facts about crimes for which death is a possible sentence, most people choose life imprisonment without parole as a reasonable alternative to the death penalty. Prosecutors and juries have even gotten into the act by rejecting lethal injection in favor of life without parole. Since 2000, juries have decided against death in two out of every three sentencing trials.

2) Capital punishment deters crime.

There exists no credible proof that the death penalty is a more effective deterrent to potential criminals than other forms of punishment. There is no causal link between use of the death penalty and the murder rate. In fact, studies indicate just the opposite. During the last decade, states without the death penalty fared much better than states with the death penalty in reducing their murder rates. This resulted while the chasm between the murder rate in death penalty states and non-death penalty states grew larger. Since 1976, for example, when the death penalty was reinstated, the state of Texas has executed over 300 individuals, yet Texas appears no safer with regards to crime than any other state, including the thirteen states that do not have capital punishment.

The underlying statistics indicate that most who kill actually give little thought to the possible consequences of their actions. Most homicides result from heat of passion, alcohol or drug use, or were committed by mentally ill people, many of whom had sought treatment before the commission of their crimes but were denied long-term care. On the other hand, those who planned their killings generally intended to avoid punishment altogether. And in so doing, they gave no consideration whatsoever to ending up on death row as a result of their acts.

3) Death is necessary as just retribution for a victim's family.

Bud Welch's daughter, Julie Marie Welch, died in the Oklahoma City bombing. He grieved, as any parent losing a child would grieve, but he took no solace in seeking revenge against her killer. "The death penalty is about revenge and hate, and revenge and hate is why my daughter and those 167 other people are dead today."

Reconciliation means accepting that a family cannot undo the murder; but they can decide how they want to live their lives afterwards. A victim's family's definitions of justice and healing do not necessarily match those of the mass media or the court systems. To think that yet another person would die and another family would suffer is haunting to them. Another death would not equal justice, bring about closure, or promote healing. Many consider capital punishment a disservice to the victims and their families; that it victimizes and re-victimizes everyone involved in the process.

4) Murderers deserve death.

No one deserves to be a victim of state-sanctioned murder. A government that metes out vengeance veiled as justice becomes a complicit partner in killing and devaluing human dignity. We should reject the principle of doing to criminals what they're accused of doing to their victims. If the penalty for rape is not rape, and we don't burn down an arsonist's house, murder should not be punished by murdering the accused.

5) There is no arbitrariness or discrimination in death sentencing.

It is actually just the opposite. Poor people and people of color are far more likely to receive the death sentence than those who can afford the high costs of expert criminal lawyers, psychiatrists, and private investigators. Capital punishment is a privilege of the poor. Studies have proven racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty. Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities' death sentences are wildly disproportionate to their percentages in the general population. According to Justice Department figures, nearly 80 percent of inmates on federal death row are minorities.

People who kill whites are far more likely to receive death than those whose victims were of color. Blacks convicted of killing whites have by far the greatest chance of receiving death. Despite accounting for twelve percent of the population, blacks make up 35% of those who have been executed for their crimes and 42% of all death row inmates.

6) Only the guilty are executed.

Hundreds of people in dozens of states have been released from death row due to their proven innocence. Others have been executed even though they were innocent. A major Stanford Law Review article documents hundreds of cases this century where it was later proven that the alleged killer had not committed the underlying offense. Dozens of those convicts were executed while others spent decades in prison. In nearly every case, the only reason the errors in prosecution and criminal investigation were unveiled was due to the work of third-party individuals and groups investigating the cases, not by the appeals process. A criminal justice system run by human beings cannot be made infallible. Executions of innocent persons will continue so long as the death penalty remains.

7) Executions do not violate human rights.

This simply misstates the truth. Capital punishment is cruel and inhumane and executions violate the convict's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Executions are not painless. The history of capital punishment is filled with examples of painfully botched executions that are terribly degrading.

Petty-thieves are no longer hanged from local street corners for public display for very good reasons. Capital punishment is immoral in principle, barbaric in nature, and uncivilized in practice. The death penalty assures that innocent people will die. It has no purpose and no constructive social impact, and it must be abolished as a way of bringing humanity and compassion back into the forefront of our society.
About the Author
Michael Mehas is a writer, attorney and associate producer of the 2007 film Alpha Dog. His extensive research for the film became the book Stolen Boy, a fictionalized account of the youngest person on the FBI's Most Wanted list. Visit Stolen Boy
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