There is always a possibility of human error or judgment when dealing with any criminal justice system. A decision may fall short of justice, as once the death sentence has been executed, it is too late to compensate the victim for a miscarriage of justice18. This is illustrated in the case of Timothy Evans, who was hung in 1950 for murders that were consequently found to have been committed by John Christie19. In Australia, with the sentence of life imprisonment currently imposed on those convicted of murder, those wrongly accused have subsequently been released and pardoned20.
Between 1900 and 1985, innocent lives were taken due to 23 fallacious executions taking place21. Although this may not seem like a large number for injustice to be ascertained, it represents a significant number of lives and families destroyed. It has been proposed that capital punishment should not be reintroduced, as the errancy of human judgment is a "self destructive failure of nerve"22. As research suggests, these risks cannot be ignored and safeguards have been imposed in the past in order to diminish the number of unwarranted executions23, however the risk was not eradicated.
Ledewitz expresses, "if the empirical effect of deterrence is uncertain, and the pervasiveness of the mistake unknown, deterrence cannot serve to justify the death penalty"24. Given the notion of irreversibility and the risk of specious conviction, I allege that this sufficiently outweighs the possibility of any deterrence. As a result of the "severity and irreversibility of the death penalty"25, plausible arguments would need to be made in order to justify reintroducing capital punishment as a means of deterring criminal behaviour. Recommendations
Although the death penalty will ultimately disenable those from conducting further criminal activity, it is an excessive form of punishment and there is insufficient evidence to prove deterrence will arise from executions. Although society purports to focus on retribution rather than rehabilitation, a life sentence without parole arguably provides a punishment as severe as the death penalty, discarding the moral costs associated with taking individual lives26. This was confirmed in a recent survey of death-row inmates, where a majority believed that life without parole was a harsher punishment than the death sentence27.
Therefore, execution is not only immoral, but also an unnecessary means of satisfying society's thrift for revenge. Permanently extinguishing the life of criminals by taking away the prospect of release, constitutes another form of death. 28 Life without parole signifies a sufficient punishment, without physically incapacitating criminals. There are two justifications present which encourage a life sentence without parole to be a sufficient means of punishment. Firstly, reoffending may be an issue worth considering.
Murder, being one of the most heinous crimes in society, will be given specific attention to. Acting on information gathered within Australia, the majority of murderers released behaved appropriately and were not likely to misbehave upon their release29. If these corroborated facts are correct, life imprisonment appears to be a sufficient means of deterring criminal minds30. Furthermore, rehabilitation is not achieved through capital punishment. People change with time and this may apply to criminals who can change their attitudes towards crime through an 'ageing process'31.
It seems unjust to deny this chance to those individuals who commit crime, by affording them the death penalty. Instead, prisoners have the opportunity to be released back into society, without posing any risk to the welfare of the community32. Without an informed judgment which considers the costs and benefits of capital punishment, this policy cannot be considered to alleviate the social problem of criminal behaviour. Although some commentators have suggested that this policy may discourage further criminal activity, there is no adherent research determining this deterrent effect.
On the contrary, arguments have been made suggesting that capital punishment may increase crime rates as these acts of execution spur violence. The costs and confrontation that capital punishment advocate are also undesirably high. Not only is there a chance of misapplication, placing innocent lives at risk, but killing is a destructive force that the state should have no such right to. Based on the evidence available, the application of life sentence without parole should suffice society's thrift for revenge without facing any moral dilemma.
Although it stands that those conducting anti-social behaviour should be rightly punished, there are no reasons for this to be carried out through capital punishment. As the death penalty presents a barbaric form of penal measure33, simply creating a chaotic atmosphere accepting of violence, the policy should not be reintroduced. The deterrent effect of this policy cannot be proven, whilst it remains incompatible with human rights in contemporary society.
Australian Institute of Criminology, Capital Punishment: Report 3 in Trends and Issues (February 1987). Bowers, W, Pierce, G, and McDevitt, J, Legal Homicide: Death as Punishment in America (1984), 333. Bruce Ledewitz and Ernest Van den Haag, 'The Morality of Capital Punishment: An Exchange' (1991) 29 Duquesne Law Review 719, 727. Catherine Appleton and Brent Grover, 'The Pros and Cons of Life Without Parole' (2007) 47 British Journal of Criminology 597. Cesare Beccaria, On crimes and Punishments, (Bobbs-Merrill, 1963)