There’s no better way to ruin a perfectly fine dinner with friends than to bring up what their thoughts on capital punishment. You’ll find that there is virtually no other issue more polarizing than putting people to death in the name of justice.
Sure, there will be always the deterrence argument, which if it was true would mean that the U.S. would have the lowest crime rate in the western world. With 14,168 murders in 2012, according to the FBI, the States is on the contrary one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
Next somebody will go for the vendetta argument. This is where things usually spiral totally out of control and whatever rationality could have been used in the discussion goes right out the window: “What if someone broke into your house and raped and murdered your family!? Would you still be against the death penalty?”
Well, yes. The immediate reaction to the vendetta argument has nothing to do with the judiciary system. Any bastard who tried to force themselves on any of my family members would be lucky to live to see trial, but this is a totally different story altogether.
Let’s go back to the deterrence argument again since it’s the only real argument, even if in the end it’s completely vapid. In 2012 there were a total of 42 inmates on death row who were executed. Compare this number to the more than 14,000 murders that year and all of a sudden it appears that capital punishment doesn’t seem to scare anyone, really.
Playing with numbers will ultimately not mean much. Statistics can be used to prove almost anything you want it to. So let’s look at something more basic. Why do people kill? Different psychologists will offer different explanations, but the list of reasons can often be reduced to three for simplicity: passion, profit, compulsion.
Obviously this doesn’t include acts of terrorism or genocide as these crimes are conditioned by very different, external factors. Still, most murders investigated by regular police officers will ultimately lead to one of the three aforementioned motives in one way or another.
Only one of the three would possibly fall in under a category where the death penalty would be deterring – profit. Crimes of passion usually happen in the heat of the moment with little thought of consequences and compulsive killers don’t give a damn about anything other than satisfying their “need” to act out.
It should be quite clear by now that deterrence is not a good argument for the death penalty. Unfortunately it’s the only one. There are those who will argue for the execution of “particularly dangerous criminals” or “violent repeat offenders,” but this is a slippery slope as legal definitions are interpreted differently by prosecutors, attorneys, and judges.
So why should we abolish the death penalty? For several reasons, but they can easily be narrowed down to two. Firstly, it’s irreversible. An innocent person executed cannot be brought back to life, and secondly comes the paradox: If you support the death penalty and a single innocent person is killed, then you become a murderer, and murderers deserve the death penalty to be killed. So far, at least 18 inmates have been wrongfully executed in the U.S.
What does that make you?