Death Penalty Discriminatory, Costly, Ineffective

Aaron Pressman, Contributing Writer

There once was a man named Troy Davis. Davis was convicted of murdering a police officer and was sentenced to death in 1991. After 20 years of imprisonment and awaiting death, Davis was finally executed in 2011. Prior to his execution, seven of the nine eyewitnesses used to convict him recanted their testimonies, jeopardizing their credibility and admitting that they lied under oath. They did this in hopes that it would save the life of an innocent man. This, coupled with numerous new pieces of evidence pointing to Davis’s innocence, prompted former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and over one million American citizens to ask the state of Georgia not to execute Davis without further hearings. Neither Georgia nor the Supreme Court would listen. They strapped a likely innocent man in a chair and took his life.

This is not an isolated case. Since 1973, when the death penalty was reinstated, 143 people have been exonerated from death row with new evidence of their innocence. There are also at least 17 recorded instances in which a convict has been exonerated after being executed. Killing innocent people in the process of seeking vengeance for killing innocent people is unacceptable. The death penalty needs to go.

One major problem with capital punishment is that it is incredibly costly. For one, death penalty trials generally last around four times as long as a trial where the death penalty is not an option. Legal costs are also increased through additional pretrial procedures, appeals, a longer voir dire process and an increased number of attorneys. In addition, many states place death row inmates in solitary confinement, which requires more cells and security at the taxpayers’ expense. One of the most costly states for the death penalty is California. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice estimates that the death penalty has cost the state of California over four and a half billion dollars since it was rein- stated in 1978. This accounts for one billion dollars of extra incarceration costs, $1.94 billion of extra trial costs, $925 million of state appeals and $775 million of federal appeals. There are currently only 731 inmates on death row, and there have only been 13 actual executions, bringing the total average cost of each execution to over 350 million dollars. To put this in context, the amount of money spent on each execution is the same amount of money that 7,000 workers make in a year if they each make an average annual salary of $50,000.

The opposite extreme, in which executions are comparatively very cheap, is Texas. In Texas, the cost to execute a prisoner is approximately $2.3 million. Yet, the cost to imprison someone in maximum security for life, even in a single cell, is only a third of this. Even in the state that grants the fewest appeals and executes prisoners the quickest, the death penalty is still way more expensive than life in prison.

The death penalty has also been shown to be very racist. The Michigan State Law Review reports that participants in a recent study were more likely to sentence an African-American defendant to death, especially if the victim was white. Statistics in the state of Alabama also show that nearly 65 percent of all murders involve black victims, yet 80 percent of the people currently awaiting execution in Alabama were convicted of crimes in which the victims were white. Further, only 6 percent of all murders in Alabama involve black defendants and white victims, but over 60 percent of black death row prisoners have been sentenced for killing someone who was white.

The benefits of the death penalty are very limited. There is little to no evidence that it serves as a crime deterrent, with many death penalty advocates even agreeing that it is not used to deter crime. In fact, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, states with the death penalty have 46 percent more murders than states without.

This leaves the main motivation for the death penalty to be revenge. However, if one really wants to seek revenge, they should not punish themselves and all the other innocent taxpayers by wasting tax money; nor should they wish death upon someone else who could potentially be innocent. Instead, the United States should follow the example of other Western na- tions and abolish the death penalty once and for all.