You’re sitting in a courtroom watching a man or woman dressed in orange testify about how he or she killed a member of your family. Maybe it was your mother or father, or a wife or husband. Maybe it was one of your kids; all you know is you can’t imagine why someone would commit such a heinous act. The person on the stand has either pleaded guilty or been found guilty by a jury of his or her peers. Now, justice will be served, or so you hope.
The death penalty in most states is a form of justice on the table for those who murder others. However, until you or I find ourselves in such an emotional situation where we must cope with the loss of a loved one at the hands of another, we can only speculate as to our reaction. In my case I know I’d want them to meet the ultimate form of justice and once proven guilty, be put on death row. I realize some people may not feel this way, and I hope they never have to go through a situation that forces them to cope with such a subject personally.
Aside from the emotional struggle, we also worry about the innocence of those on death row who have pleaded not-guilty. This shows our society is caring and actually takes the feelings of those who have been convicted guilty of committing horrible acts against humanity into consideration. This is well meaning, but a misplaced sense of consciousness. Our judicial system is not flawless, but it has many systems of checks and balances. It also has ways to appeal sentences and verdicts; it’s arguably one of the best judicial systems in the world. However, the fact still stands that some people who are convicted of a crime are indeed innocent.
Since the death penalty was reinstated, 142 people on death row have been exonerated out the thousands of criminals that have been sentenced to death. I think any innocent life lost is a waste, and I hate to break human lives down into numbers, but it’s a negligible number when compared to the number of convicted murderers overall. The knee-jerk reaction that comes from the consciousness associated with the placement of innocent lives on death row tells us to throw out the death penalty. Sadly, people only see it as detrimental to society in a very emotional sense, but within the last 10 years, significant evidence has surfaced supporting that the death penalty curbs murder and acts as a deterrent. The studies are based on scientific and statistical analysis, and have come to conclusions even some of the most adamant anti-death penalty advocates struggle to argue with.
The studies by scholars from colleges such as Emory University, University of Houston, and the University of Colorado demonstrate that the death penalty deters homicides. Between four different studies, it has been shown that for each murderer put to death, between 3 and 18 homicides are prevented. This is a significant number, and one we as Americans must look at logically. A convicted killer who has admitted to the crime deserve no rights because they have taken away another’s right to life. So, if killing a convicted murderer prevents homicides, then we are socially obligated to use the death penalty.
Naci Mocan, a professor at the University of Colorado, co-authored a 2003 study on the effects of the death penalty, and re-examined the evidence in 2006. He is an opponent of the death penalty, but his analysis of the death penalty shows there is a deterrence effect. He knows he can’t argue with the data, and he has even re-examined it for accuracy. This study by an anti-death penalty advocate shows the death penalty does deter future homicides. He does state, however, that the death penalty has many significant issues surrounding it. Essentially, statistical analysis is not the only variable involved. Many will refute Mocan’s findings and others like it because they simply do not agree with the results. I urge them to truly contemplate these findings without bias or emotion. Proving statistical analysis wrong is one thing, but to refute a conclusion based on emotion doesn’t give one a valid argument.
Another study by Michael Summers, a doctoral professor of management science at Pepperdine University, shows capital punishment deters crime. His studies examined the relationship between the number of executions and the number of murders committed in the U.S. over a 26 year period from 1979 to 2004. For every one execution the following year, there were 74 less murders. Although correlation does not equal causation, it is still a strong and consistent indication.
These studies address a simple idea expressed by many people. When the price of something becomes too high no one will buy an item. In reference to the death penalty, if it’s often used then future criminals will be less likely to murder because the price that comes from being caught is too high. Without the death penalty, convicts may not view the consequences as detrimental. A simple theory examined, and applied to a polarizing topic makes it easy for even the most stubborn anti-death penalty advocate to understand that the death penalty is really a benefit of our judicial system.
Emotional arguments aside, the death penalty as a deterrent has been supported by scholars from many colleges to prevent homicides. It is time for all of us to sit down, and read the statistics ourselves and evaluate our stance on the death penalty through a scientific lens.
Through this lens I ask you to truly consider how you would react if your mother or father were murdered. I would bet that it isn’t with an open and forgiving heart. However, with all emotion aside, the death penalty is not a form of revenge, but a form of justice. At the end of it all, it’s our responsibility to use the death penalty on convicted killers, because if we don’t, then we will fail to deter future murders.
Zach Nold is a senior English major. Reach him at email@example.com
This is a part of the Daily Nebraskan’s point/counterpoint, featured once a week. To see the other side, read María Antonia García de la Torre’s article about why the death penalty should be abolished.