The Death Penalty & Deterrent Factor

Those who support the death penalty do so on the basis of the belief that it acts as a strong deterrent to crimes similar to those committed by the condemned. The facts and figures, however, tell a different story. In the United States, the south accounts for 80% of the total executions, yet it has the highest murder rate. However, the northeast, which has less than 1% of all executions, also has the lowest murder rate (Death Penalty Information Centre).

The figures lend themselves to very straight forward interpretations: either the death penalty is failing miserably to act as a deterrent in the south or it has to be accepted that the citizenry of the south is inherently more murderous in nature or is simply more susceptible to murder. There are other figures that corroborate the fact that the death penalty does not actually result in a decrease in murder rates. In Canada, the death penalty was abolished in 1976. The homicide rate in the country started declining since 1975, and in 1999 the homicide rate was the lowest since 1967.

An analysis by the New York Times in 2000 found that the homicide rates in the US states with the death penalty have been 48% to 101% higher than in states without the death penalty (John Howard Society of Ontario). An overwhelming 84% of the top criminologists of the United States have rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder (Radelet & Akers). The Amnesty International has also failed to find conclusive evidence that the death penalty has any unique capacity to deter others from committing similar crimes.

In its survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates conducted in 1998 and updated in 2002, it concluded that it was “not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment. ” (Hood 230) If deterrence implies that the condemned is rendered unable to repeat the crime and claim more victim, then it will also have to imply that the condemned would have repeated the crime if allowed to escape the death penalty.

That can however be an assumption and an assumption only. And even if we assume that the condemned person would have indeed tried to repeat the crime, it would be possible only if the person is allowed the liberty and the opportunity to do so. Life imprisonment without parole would be a preferred alternative to the death penalty in such a case. Critics would however be quick to point out the financial implications of life imprisonment. Alternative means to incapacitate In practice, however, numerous studies have found that the cost of implementing a death penalty is much higher than the cost of maintaining a prisoner for life.

There are many reasons why the death penalty is more expensive than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (Capital Punishment Project): i. A much higher percentage of cases go to trial in case of death penalties. ii. Murder trials generally take longer when the death penalty is at issue. A capital murder trial lasts over 3. 5 time longer than non-capital murder trials (Cook & Slawson). Certain constitutional safeguards have to be taken in the case of death penalty trials leading to greater time requirement. The Jury selection procedure is also more complex and tedious and takes more time.

iii. Death penalty trials require more intense pretrial preparations and more elaborate proceedings. The sentencing phase almost amounts to a second trial. All litigation costs, more often than not, have to be borne by the tax payer. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee of the California Legislature has concluded that “elimination of the death penalty would result in a net savings to the state of at least several tens of millions of dollars annually, and a net savings to local governments in the millions to tens of millions of dollars on a statewide basis. ” (Budget Committee)