Column: Capital Punishment

Lauren Alison, Copy Editor

The “Death Penalty” has been around for thousands of years. It was the infamous Anne Boleyn, once wife to king Henry VIII, that was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death for a crime she didn’t commit. It was Marie Antoinette and her husband, King Louis XVI of France who were killed by guillotine, a device which was made to specifically make executions efficient, for their “crimes against the Republic of France.” Once thought of as normal and commonplace, capital punishment is now a deeply contested topic in the U.S.

Capital punishment is bluntly defined as the legally authorized killing of someone as punishment for a crime. Throughout history, there have been numerous ways in which death penalties had been administered. Long ago, those who were executed were killed in ways such as drowning, burning alive, crucifixion, beating to death and impalement. Today, the death penalty is much tamer as executions are carried out through lethal injection.

People who are against the death penalty argue a number of things. One major point that is argued is the cost of capital punishment cases. There have been several studies in which it is proved that death penalty cases cost significantly more than average crime cases. According to, in 2003, an audit in Kansas found that the estimated cost of capital punishment cases was 70% more than comparable non-death penalty cases. That is just one of many state studies that show a major increase in cost with death penalty cases. The cost of these cases has led to numerous outcomes, including reduced resources available for crime prevention, education and rehabilitation, and mental health treatment. The list goes on and on for the places that funds are diverted from just for these cases. Another argument against capital punishment is the lethal injection itself. Lethal injection is not as cut and dry as it sounds. Since 1982, when the first lethal injection execution was carried out, there have been more than 1,000 people executed by lethal injection. During this time, there have been a number of botched executions. There have been executions which last anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour. During these extended periods, these prisoners have been seen gasping for air, grimacing and convulsing, which doesn’t seem so humane.

In addition to these arguments against capital punishment, here is also always the chance that someone could be innocent. Since 1973, there have been around 150 people in the U.S. who have been released from death row due to evidence proving them innocent. The criminal justice system is not perfect and will never be perfect. Average, everyday flawed people make up that system and make mistakes. Should it really be okay for there to ever be a chance that someone innocent could be executed? There is also that fact that most death row inmates cannot afford their own attorney and are then appointed public defenders. Court appointed attorneys often have a lack of experience when it comes to capital cases and are usually underpaid and overworked. This leaves an even greater chance that a person could be innocently sentenced to death for misrepresentation.

On the opposite side are people who are for the death penalty. One of their arguments includes constitutionality. Throughout history in the U.S., there have been several Supreme Court cases in which upheld the death penalty, but set up restrictions regarding who can actually be a candidate for a capital punishment trial. The eighth amendment strictly prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, while leaving the grounds for “cruel and unusual” up to interpretation.. Late Justice Scalia was once quoted saying, “Not once in the history of the American Republic has this Court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible. The reason is obvious: It is impossible to hold unconstitutional that which the Constitution explicitly contemplates,” in his concurring opinion of Glossip v. Gross, a case in which contemplated whether or not a certain drug that was to be used in Oklahoma executions was cruel and/or unusual. Another argument for capital punishment is deterrent of crime. Many people who support capital punishment say that capital punishment deters people from committing crimes. Many people who believe this cite studies that look as though there is a connection between states with the death penalty and states that don’t have the death penalty and their murder rates.

Between these arguments there are many problems. It has been a long time since the Bill of Rights was created. Times change and people evolve. Just because the Constitution doesn’t explicitly say that capital punishment is not permitted does not mean that it should be allowed. The Bill of Rights is something that can be amended and is not set in stone. The people who created the Constitution came from a completely different time and had a completely different way of thinking. The Constitution should be able to change with the times and reflect more of the view of people in this age. There is also the problem of deterrence. In April 2012, The National Research Council found that studies which found that capital punishment deters crime were “fundamentally flawed”. These studies were flawed because they didn’t consider non-death penalty punishments in deterrence and used “incomplete or implausible models”. Just think about the probability of a criminal contemplating the possibility of being sentenced to death before committing a murder. It seems highly unlikely.

Recently, with the case of Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, capital punishment has been brought to the forefront of the media once again. On Jan. 10, Roof was sentenced to death for the murder of nine Charleston church goers. All of the aspects of this case come together to create the perfect capital punishment case. It is indisputable that Roof killed these people. He killed multiple people. What he did was a hate crime. He doesn’t in the least regret any of it. He was even once quoted asking the jurors in his sentencing trial “to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good that would do.” This person, who has no remorse and would actually repeat his actions if he could, deserves a horrible punishment. But is death too easy for him? There are going to be people who could deserve the death penalty, but dying is easy; being locked away in solitary confinement for the rest of one’s life is definitely not.

The idea of capital punishment will probably be argued for a long time. The point is not that some people don’t deserve to live anymore, it is that there are too many cases of capital punishment, and it needs to be a lot more strict. The person should have shown no remorse throughout the trial. The crimes that should be considered for the death penalty should only include cases which have more than one person murdered. Lastly, there has to be no doubt that this person committed the crime, as there was in Roof’s case. Reform is needed, because people are dying, and death is irreversible.

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