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This page aims to discuss capital punishment as rationally as possible. I propose to present information which may help people make up their minds about whether or not capital punishment keeps them safe, makes economic sense, or provides a satisfactory "closure" for the victims of homicide. How, if at all, this information affects your response, either emotional or political, to capital punishment remains entirely up to you. The questions of fact concerning capital punishment fall into three general areas: does capital punishment, freeing social resources for better purposes than warehousing and feeding murders, or does it actually cost more, consuming resources that could go into preventing crime?
Does capital punishment strike fear into offenders, saving innocent lives by would-be killers? And, finally, the courts make mistakes; what does capital punishment mean to an innocent These questions fit together to define a complex problem. If experience showed capital punishment saved lives by deterring offenders, the cost would not matter; a certainty that capital punishment would save innocent lives might even make the risk of wrongful convictions acceptable. If no risk at all existed of an error by the courts, the question of whether capital punishment saves innocent lives by deterring murder might matter less.
And we cannot limit the cost of capital punishment simply to money, since society has limited resources, and can only spend so much on criminal justice. A society that spends money on executions can't spend that money on police officers, courts, or jails; to say nothing of schools, vocational programs, or other measures aimed at preventing crime. If the broader public view of capital punishment does not reflect the reality, how does capital punishment work in the United States? How do alternative systems work in countries such as Canada?
And if of responses to murder, and the effect of those responses, differ from Finally, does no response but reason have any place in the debate over capital punishment? The offences which attract capital statutes and death sentences include the most heinous, appalling, and disgusting acts. Does have no legitimate part to play in this debate? Estimates of the cost of capital punishment will inevitably vary greatly, since estimating the cost of each execution requires multiplying the excess cost of a capital trial by the number of capital trials, and then dividing the result by the number of executions.
I will try to provide a minimum estimate for the cost of an execution. Let us then use the cost figures for Texas provided by Dan Cutter, who quoted estimates made by two Texas counties. These counties estimated the cost of a capital trial at between $ 400, 000 and $ 600, 000. If we subtract the cost of a non-capital murder trial ($ 75, 000) from the median of these estimates, we get about $ 425, 000 to try each capital defendant. If we assume that juries will pass a death sentence in 80 % of all capital trials, and that the appeal courts will continue to invalidate about 30 % of all death sentences, we can assume that about 50 % of all capital trials will result in an actual execution; so the actual cost of each execution (counting only the initial trial costs) comes in at $ 850, 000. Invested productively, at a conservative 5 % rate of return, that sum would yield $ 45, 000 per year; more than enough to support a "lifer" in jail indefinitely, with enough money left over to go some distance toward hiring an additional jail guard or police officer.
No estimate I know of that allows for the cost of spending a large sum of money in a single lump arrives at any conclusion but this; indeed, a Florida study arrived at a total cost (for each execution) of over two million dollars. Capital punishment does cost more than any other penalty exacted by the criminal justice system; even my estimates (which reflect only the cost of the original trials, and not appeals, death row housing, or execution infrastructure costs) come to Capital trials cost more for pretty much the same reason general aviation aircraft cost roughly ten times as much as surface vehicles: the greater consequences of a failure. Defendants sentenced to life can always continue to appeal and work toward new evidence while they serve their sentences; defendants sentenced to death do not have that option. Death sentences also add an issue to the appellate process; the issue of time. The appeals process for a life sentence can go on while the convict serves the sentence; but the defendant can not "serve" a death sentence until the courts have dealt with all the appeals.
This leaves the defence and the prosecution fighting about not only the factual and legal issues, but also about the speed of the process. The nature of capital punishment also makes the determination of culpability complex. Adjudicating punishment which (under the US. constitution) fits only the most heinous of murderers involves complex consideration of motive, state of mind, and other matters a court can never really ascertain. As a substitute for certainty about the facts, the courts can only resort to a hair splitting scrupulousness about the process of determining both guilt and the degree of guilt.
All of this takes both time and money. The Death Penalty Information Center publishes a of various investigations into the high Preventing Murder: Does Capital Punishment Protect the Innocent? The idea that capital punishment "deters" murder rests on a straightforward assumption: fear influences people; most people fear death; therefore, the threat of a judicial sentence will influence people to refrain from murder. Unfortunately, the fear of death does not govern people to the degree this assumes. If it did, neither wars nor extreme sports would happen, people would obey speed limits and wear safety belts, and the tobacco industry wouldn't exist. If you want to cite the rational instinct for self preservation as a reason capital punishment must "work", you have to discount most of history, as well as most contemporary human behaviour.
Nor does the "deterrence" theory account for the most striking homicide statistic: of all forms of homicide, the one that takes place most often, in fact more often than all the others combined, always entails the death of the perpetrator: suicide. People kill themselves more often than they kill anyone else: wives, friends, business associates, even more often than they kill rival drug dealers. Attributing any special power over homicide to the fear of death flies in the face of this simple The mass of the statistical evidence about murder rates and capital punishment backs this up. At the very least, we cannot prove capital punishment prevents murder, so we cannot reasonably base a policy on the assumption it does. Starting with the simplest of statistics, if capital punishment reliably prevented murder, countries with capital punishment should generally have a lower murder rate then countries without. That this does not occur; indeed, the United States, with a highly developed and prosperous society, a factor which generally reduces murder rates, still has a murder rate about three times as high as most other Western industrialized nation.
Within the United States, use of the capital punishment by an individual state does not predict the murder rate. Even a casual examination of the available figures makes it clear that if capital punishment has any effect on the disposition to commit murder, it has less effect than most other social factors. A society with the goal of protecting innocent people has no reason to institute capital punishment before changing many other social and criminal justice policies which have a much greater effect on the murder rate. Whether or not capital punishment "deters" offenders contemplating murder, we cannot doubt it prevents the offender from ever repeating their crime. This section contains sections on the observed effect of capital punishment in the, then a discussion of the of capital punishment, and some discussion of from the data. One Example of the Effects of Capital Punishment Even if social factors other than the use of capital punishment account for the lack of evidence capital punishment prevents murder when comparing different countries, or even different states, if capital punishment "worked", we should expect the murder rate to fall with the introduction of capital punishment, and to increase with abolition; the Canadian experience shows quite clearly that this does not always happen.
The following statistical summary offers fairly strong evidence for the proposition that the presence of capital punishment on the books, its "availability to society" does cause an increase in the murder rate. Under the Canadian conditions which prevailed during the time in question, the mere presence of capital punishment on the books did not reduce (or even arrest the increase in) the murder rate; when Parliament replaced an ineffective capital statute with a uniform and severe sentence for all premeditated murder, the increase in the murder rate stopped abruptly, giving way to a continuing decline. The time series data below begins in 1962, the year before the last actual execution in Canada. The murder rate per 100000 population in Canada rose between 1962 and 1975 by 0. 127 per year. After the abolition of capital punishment in 1976, it declined at the rate of 0. 029 per year. The plot of these rates looks like this: Table of Canadian Murder Rated Before and After the Abolition of Capital Punishment Bibliography:
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