Death: Unavoidable. Terrifying. Indispensable. 

We organisms blessedly cursed with the awareness of our own mortality have to come to terms with that grim end of our reality. As far as we know, we’re the only beings that have to face our ticking timebombs of life. There isn’t a decade, year, month, day, hour, minute, or second that will come that stops us from arriving at our destination. 

It is scary. That’s the whole point. From birth, an immediate motivation is given to survive. An immortal being has no reason to improve or evolve. As far as it’s concerned, it’s perfect with nothing left to do. Any change in behavior could result in the loss of that status. Therefore, it’s stuck in its own biologically ignorant mediocrity. Our comparatively low life expectancy was deemed essential by design. It’s an obligation to do as much as we possibly can in the shortest amount of time possible. Loathing death is natural, but you can’t deny that it’s the only reason we’re still alive as a species. Pain encourages growth; there’s nothing more painful than the inability to feel pain.

May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

The world as we know it operates completely based on the principles of death. Laws state what is fair and what isn’t to give or take away assets in people’s lives. When you infringe upon the growth, quality, or longevity of others, legislation produces an “equivalent” punishment. Violate others’ freedom, and yours shall be violated as well in the form of a fine or incarceration. These methods are put in place to give the victims compensation and to deter repeated offenses. 

Jail time or fees are a good enough penalty for the vast majority of the world. Roughly two-thirds of the world seems to think so. 

That leaves a third that thinks otherwise. 

To them, there are some crimes that shouldn’t offer “an out” if you will. Money can always be reclaimed and prison is built for punishment, not reform. Offer even the slightest chance for a psychopath to re-enter society and they’ll take it without hesitation. Theft and less “brutal” offenses are wrong, but they’re reasonably forgivable. While the more horrific sins like rape and murder cannot be atoned for. Well…there is one way. But you can only pay for it once.

Although the practice has been abolished in the majority of countries, some of the most powerful still maintain some form of legal execution. 27 US states have the death penalty out of 50. The lesser-acknowledged monarchial Saudi Arabia has it too. Even our old pal China heavily implements it as they just happen to have the highest number of death “sentencings.”

Capital punishment is an extensively complex, emotional, political, and undoubtedly controversial topic for many. Dealing with a person’s fate shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s a daunting task that attracts both supporters and detractors. What right do we have to take away another’s’? What crimes in what specific scenarios constitute the death penalty? Is it actually effective or is it a way to satisfy our primal desire for violence? 

The Good

A large part of our psychological programming is the preference for loss prevention over possible gain. The media talks big about “a fate worse than death,” but occurrences that qualify in that criterion are slim to none. For the remaining billions, dying is the ultimate loss. Common sense would dictate that the worst of crimes require the best deterrent, demise. Few outside of the criminally insane would ever want to tempt the acceleration of their expiry.

Plus, state-sanctioned killings are far from their guillotine, firing squad, or noose party forefathers. Oddly enough, the way death row inmates get offed is more objectively humane than what most people would get. It’s not a bloody car crash, shot to the stomach, or writhing pain in an exorbitantly expensive hospital. A single painless injection is the most popular choice followed by electrocution. The latter sounds like it would be agonizing; the actuality is debatable. 

Another factor in capital punishment’s favor is that the legal system constantly evolves to maximize justice. In America and Japan, opportunities are repeatedly given to death row inmates to challenge the court’s ruling. Abuse for the sake of abuse is much rarer thanks to modern forensics like DNA testing and more comprehensive investigation. 

Retribution is defined in the dictionary as an act of vengeance, though it isn’t revenge. The former involves a desire to see the wrongdoer suffer; the latter seeks justice. Many families that have had their loved ones gruesomely murdered or assaulted know of the feeling of an omnipotent darkness that looms over their lives. Life sentences can sometimes feel inadequate to not only those affected but to the general public as well. Do you, as an individual, think that the people that tied up and spun a two-month-old baby on a wheel, dripped boiling candle wax on her, and then took turns raping her deserve a second chance? Sometimes, death is the only way for anyone to find some semblance of closure or appeasement. 

The government also has an incentive to implement the death penalty. Logically, maintaining an inmate for the rest of his or her foreseeable life is outwardly financially exhausting. If we can shorten the time for “justice” to be served, more resources can be allocated to more causes.

The Bad

Since perhaps the beginning of religion, life is described as “sacred” and “God-given.” We’re essentially acting as gods striking down mere mortals with our divine judgment. In a sense, that’s correct. Who are we to say that a person should be killed? If the same end goal as the persecuted is reached, aren’t we the real murderers? No one but ourselves bestowed the power to give and take away a person’s future. Not Jesus, not Allah, and definitely not Zeus. 

Cruel and unusual punishments are widely accepted to e unacceptable. We aren’t the medieval idiots that thought that holding red-hot iron and not reacting was an indicator or honestly. Nor are we the messiah-crucifying Romans in 1st century Judea. The death sentence is reminiscent of old-fashioned and ignorant “solutions” to problems that could be fixed with reform. A compromise in human dignity is all it is. 

Kill, kill, kill. It’s a cycle of violence that never ends unless we kill the system that created killers and the incentive for their demise. We can dress it up, sprinkle sugar on the top, and line it with gold; that doesn’t change the fact that the more we seek blood the more blood we will get. Label it as justice or hatred, two wrongs don’t always make a right.

The world may operate around death, but most legal systems work under the freedom of the innocent rather than the punishment of evil. How many cases do you see publicized where a man was wrongfully strapped into death row? Just recently, Ledell Lee’s execution was rushed despite DNA evidence that presented the implausibility of his involvement in a murder. How many more people living their normal lives get accused of a crime they did not commit and pay for the wrongdoings of a complete stranger? Thrust into this situation, how would you feel?

The death penalty, cost-effective? Really? Have you seen how much legal processes cost? Especially with cases as severe as these, slow and steady is the only ethical option. A single court case already costs thousands, how much more would a triple-decade legal limbo tax you or me? Ask Raymond Riles, the longest-serving death row inmate at 35 years for the murder of John Thomas Henry. So what were those 35 years for? The waste of millions that could have been spent in more productive ways?

China is a prime example of what happens when the death penalty becomes legal murder. They singlehandedly are the aforementioned title holders of the highest number of capital punishments. You can call it conspiracy bs, but come on. A nation that’s most notoriously known for its obsession with citizen control and censorship isn’t “silencing” its detractors? Thousands of years have passed since the Qin dynasty that introduced perished. Yet, death as a tool for government control is still in wide usage to this day. Frankly, it’s astonishing how little light is shone upon this hidden aspect of China’s governing.

The Truth

Let’s address the four main arguments in capital punishment: A deterrent of crime; Punishment of the worst crimes; Cost-effectiveness; The possibility of wrongful sentencing.

Instinctually, we do prefer not to lose what we have even if there is something to gain. To put it simply, we do not fully grasp the consequences of death. Therefore, emotions in the heat of the moment or even premeditated assault can occasionally overpower fear. You try to avoid losing a limb in day-to-day life, but only amputees know the severity of the void of that presence. Theoretically, that’s the same reasoning for the confidence in committing felonies. It’s for that reason which makes the death penalty ineffective and sometimes causes more problems than they solve. 

All studies that compare states with and without the biological damnation show no difference in murder assault, rape, violence, and homicide rates. In fact, states with the death penalty often have higher crime rates. Meaning, capital punishment is not an effective way to avert misdeeds. 

As for whether it’s fair or not, there isn’t a right or wrong answer. All morals and morality are subjective. You may think something is alright, but I believe in the alternative. “Fates worse than death” are rare but you can say that a life sentence is worse than death. One thing that movies don’t show you is that prison isn’t really all fighting and escape plans. The reality is that it’s just really boring. This alone can drive most people insane. Isn’t turning someone (debatably) sane into an animal fit for Arkham Asylum a crueler end than death? We can’t tell. As long as there’s variation in humans, an objective answer cannot be given. 

The cost of prison has many facets that are harder to explore the deeper you get into it. Median execution costs are around $1.2 million, while life imprisonment costs about $130,000 per inmate. Judging by these isolated figures, short deaths require more money than long deaths. 

However, it doesn’t take into consideration that there are much fewer people on death row than there are on long-term death row. Add the costs including the number of prisoners per prison and the results vary. 

However, since there are significantly more sentenced to life, they gain the advantage of economies of scale. More needs mean less cost per individual need. 

However, legal tug-o-war as long as Raymond Riles’ are exceptionally non-existent. The normal process is normally isn’t rushed but quick nonetheless. 

So basically… it depends. It depends on the associated costs in the specific area; It depends on the number of prisoners; it depends on the specific circumstances surrounding the crime. Sometimes they cost more, other times they cost less. 

Lastly, the possibility that we may accidentally kill someone that didn’t do anything wrong. This ties into the “fairness debate” once again. Are the deaths of the guilty worth the suffering of the innocent? You may think so, but the justice system does not. Its main priority will always be protecting the innocent no matter what the cost. 4% is the number of people that are wrongfully sentenced to death according to a study. Out of 1,000 killed, 40 will statistically be unworthy of that fate. Under the law, these figures are unacceptable.

The End

In conclusion, the argument of whether we have the right and should we have the right to take away a person’s life is rather polarizing. Unquestionable errors and successes come from both sides.  

But as we’ve seen from most countries and courts nowadays, the trend is skewed towards removing all forms of capital punishment as justice prefers the innocent more than the guilty. 

Unless a superpower like China takes over the world, the vast majority of us are never going to witness what it’s like to pay for our sins in blood.

-Juan Sixto

References:

https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/
https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/news/raymond-riles-the-nations-longest-serving-death-row-prisoner-is-resentenced-to-life
https://courses2.cit.cornell.edu/sociallaw/topics/DeathPenalty.html
https://www.rappler.com/voices/thought-leaders/death-penalty-unnecessary-anti-poor-error-prone
https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/facts-and-research/murder-rates/murder-rate-of-death-penalty-states-compared-to-non-death-penalty-states
https://www.amnestyusa.org/issues/death-penalty/death-penalty-facts/the-death-penalty-and-deterrence/
https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights/human-rights-act
https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/76th2011/ExhibitDocument/OpenExhibitDocument?exhibitId=17686&fileDownloadName=h041211ab501_pescetta.pdf
https://www.thebalance.com/comparing-the-costs-of-death-penalty-vs-life-in-prison-4689874
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/28/death-penalty-study-4-percent-defendants-innocent
https://www.pnas.org/content/111/20/7230