According to some recent stories, it would appear that much of the United States may finally be joining the civilized world by getting rid of archaic death penalty laws in favor of life imprisonment. As it turns out, it is actually more expensive to put prisoners to death in our legal system due to the extensive appeals process. Thus, in order to save a little coin, many state governments are seriously considering doing away with the death penalty or at the very least putting it on hold for the time being.
While this is excellent news, I feel that the states are getting rid of the death penalty for the wrong reasons. Still, its progress nonetheless. Indeed, the United States is the only “Western” nation to still institute the death penalty and one of only three “first world” nations continuing its practice (the other two being Japan and South Korea I believe according to this compiled list via Amnesty International). What really gets me are proponents of the death penalty saying that it acts as a deterrent for criminals. First of all, I think we need look no further than our own death row population to see just how wrong that statement is. Additionally, for the logical among you, here’s another bit of information to consider.
Predominately speaking, there are two types into which most violent crimes (acts that can garner a death penalty verdict) can be placed, crimes of passion (e.g. crimes wherein the perpetrator acts based solely upon emotions without forethought) and premeditated crimes (e.g. crimes planned out prior to their execution). Now look at those two types of crimes again and think about it for a second. Someone who commits a premeditated crime is an individual obviously aware of the consequences of his or her actions (indicated that they have the cognitive ability to plan future events) and yet they remain completely undeterred. In many cases, these individuals think that they can get away with their crime and thus expect not to face any criminal court though they still know the penalties for their actions should they face said court. Occasionally, there those persons who are not only aware of the consequences of their premeditated actions, but also willingly accept them as a price to pay for whatever heinous goal they hope to achieve (e.g. terrorists and that ilk). I think in such cases, the thought of death for the premeditated individual is little or no deterrent to their person.
In regards to crimes of passion, put simply, the thought of death does not even cross the individuals mind until after the action has already been committed, thus there is no deterrent power at all in the death penalty in such cases. Still proponents will more than likely persist with the argument that if the death penalty is abolished, more criminals that may have thought otherwise due to the threat of death will engage in violent crime. To them I respond that while I cannot say for certain, I’m fairly sure that the crime rate in western Europe is equal to if not significantly less than the crime rate here in the United States… and they haven’t had the death penalty for some time.