.. certain arbitrarily chosen defendants of first-degree murder (Berger 353). An argument against the death penalty which to sensible and decent persons should seem undeniable is the fact that innocent people have been murdered by the state in the past and in all probability more will follow. The wrongful execution of an innocent person is such an awful injustice that in any civilized society could never be justified, yet this is the message that the United States is willing to pronounce. Simply put by Professor Nathanson, to maintain the death penalty is to be willing to risk innocent lives.
In 1987, a study conducted by Hugo Bedau and Michael Radelet appeared in the Standford Law Review concerning the execution of innocent people. The study concluded that in the period between 1900 to 1980, about 350 people were wrongfully convicted of capital offenses, 139 of the 350 were sentenced to death, and 23 were actually executed (Nathanson 344). Over this eighty year period, this figure averages out to the death of an innocent person about every 3.4 years. This fact is extremely disturbing and rightfully so, yet death penalty advocates blatantly disregard the information or attempt to justify it in some way. Those who support capital punishment claim that such cases of innocent people being executed have never occurred.
For instance, Edward Koch quotes Hugo Bedau in support of his claim that such cases are not true, saying it is false sentimentality to argue that the death penalty should be abolished because of the abstract possibility that an innocent person might be executed. Koch, in an attempt to gain political support, acted quite unethically by quoting Bedau out of context and implying that such cases have not occurred. According to David Bruck, a prominent lawyer for South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense, All Bedau was saying was that doubts concerning executed prisoners’ guilt are almost never resolved. Koch also failed to relate in his essay that Bedau, who had not yet released the 1987 study, had already comprised a list of murder convictions since 1900 in which the state eventually admitted error in about 400 hundred cases. Another response to the fact that innocent people have been executed is that the small number of innocents executed outweighs the number of lives that will be saved, since the possibility of being executed will deter others from committing a murder, and that lives will be saved since that murderer cannot kill again. However,scientific studies have failed to prove that executions deter other people from committing crime.
According to Dr. Ernest van den Haag, a well-known scholar in favor of the death penalty, one cannot claim that it has been proved statistically that the death penalty does deter more than alternative penalties (Haag 338). Haag supports his stand on the death penalty by stating that when they have the choice between life and death, 99 percent of all prisoners under sentence of death prefer life in prison. This statistic proves nothing but the fact that man has an innate desire for survival. Those asked the question have already committed the crime and thus do not reflect the sentiment of those considering a crime.
Also, people often kill when under great emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol – times when they are not thinking of the consequences (Death Penalty Focus). Career criminals and those that plan a crime do not expect to get caught, thus making the consequences an invalid issue. In response to the fact that an executed murderer will never kill again, society must ask itself whether it is morally and ethically acceptable to risk killing an innocent person when an alternative such as life imprisonment without possibility of parole exists. In California since 1978, more than 1,000 people have received this alternate sentence which includes no appeals process. The public can be assured that those who commit heinous murders and receive this sentence will never be free again.
According to Death Penalty Focus, A recent Field Poll showed support for the death penalty plummeted when alternative sentencing is available. Just 29 percent favored death over life without parole plus requiring the defendant to work in prison and give part of his earnings as restitution to the families of his victims. The use of capital punishment has endured throughout the ages, yet its use today in a civilized society should no longer be acceptable to morally and ethically conscious individuals. The vast majority of countries in Western Europe and North and South America, more than 80 nations worldwide have abandoned capital punishment. Yet, the United States remains an avid supporter in company with countries such as Iran, Iraq, and China as one of the major users of capital punishment (Death Penalty Focus). The use of the death penalty in its discriminatory and arbitrary methods only magnifies inequalities of race that persist in the criminal justice system and in American society generally (Berger 355).
Even with the death of a guilty man, innocence is lost, even Edward Koch admits, The death of anyone even a convicted killer diminishes us all. But it is a sad commentary on the state of this country when we are willing to accept the avoidable death of an innocent person and allow the death penalty to continue to create and perpetuate injustice. Works Cited Berger, Vivian, (1988.) Rolling the dice to decide who dies. New York State Bar Journal, October Bruck, David, (1985.) The Death Penalty, The New Republic, May 20, ———- Death Penalty Focus (DPF), Koch, Edward, Myths and Facts about California’s Death Penalty, pamphlet — Death and Justice, How Capital Punishment Affirms Life Nathanson, Stephen, (1985.) The New Republic, April 15 — What If the Death Penalty Did Save Lives? Palmer, Donald, (1987.) An Eye for an Eye? The Morality of Punishing by Death, —Does the Center Hold? Van den Haag, Ernest, (1996) An Introduction to Western Philosophy, Mayfield Publishing Company, London. — The Death Penalty Pro and Con: A Debate, (1983.) Bibliography Berger, Vivian, (1988.) Rolling the Dice to Decide Who Dies, New York State Bar Journal October Bruck, David, (1985.) The Death Penalty, The New Republic, May 20, — Death Penalty Focus (DPF), Koch, Edward Myths and Facts about California’s Death Penalty, pamphlet — Death and Justice How Capital Punishment Affirms Life Nathanson, Stephen, (1985.) The New Republic, April 15, What If the Death Penalty Did Save Lives? Palmer, Donald, (1987) An Eye for an Eye? The Morality of Punishing by Death, Does the Center Hold? Van den Haag,Ernest, (1996) An Introduction to Western Philosophy, Mayfield Publishing Company, London — The Death Penalty Pro and Con: A Debate, 1983. Legal Issues Essays.