International Policy Digest

Emerging Voices /10 Aug 2020

The Death Penalty: Should We Really Be Playing God?

Currently, there are 30 states that allow the death penalty. As of 2019, in California alone, there are 729 inmates on death row. Though Governor Newsom instituted a moratorium on executions in 2019, hundreds of convicts are still awaiting their sentences. Still, the United States is not the only country in which criminals receive the greatest punishment.

The United States is only one of fourteen countries where the death penalty is not only legalized but also practiced. The eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution declares that no cruel or unusual punishment may be inflicted upon any criminal. However, shouldn’t an issue of death- the robbing of someone’s life- be considered cruel?

Furthermore, it is important to note that a death sentence can never be undone or compensated for. Fines, imprisonment, community service: nearly all other forms of punishment can be reversed, but no amount of money could be used to replace an innocent life. An innocent life, because in the United States, four percent of death row inmates are proven innocent after execution. While four percent can barely be considered an error in most situations, four percent refers to one out of twenty-five people wrongfully executed. That four percent marks the unwarranted and unjust death of multiple innocent citizens due to what might have been a simple mistake in court.

People love to assert that Americans, now, are less savage, less barbaric, and less unjust. On many levels, that statement is true. The United States has a well-devised criminal justice system that at times can be fair and just. Although it has much to improve in its justice system, it’s important to note that we are not an isolated case. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Somalia, and various other countries have all conducted the execution of juveniles within the past ten years. Though juveniles are capable of committing crimes as violent and dangerous as mature adults, their brains and personalities are far less developed; the likelihood of succumbing to pressure or failing to process thought is certainly greater. The execution of juveniles, as opposed to offering rehabilitation and education, definitely calls morality into question. However, though America’s crimes are fewer, they are no less heinous.

So then, does the death penalty exist as a true punishment, or as a deterrent? If it exists as a punishment, then do citizens really believe that the release of death is more severe than life in prison? Is barely living- confined to life within the walls of a prison cell often with living conditions far below the basic livable standards- truly softer than an execution? Would those people, centuries from now, look upon the death penalty the same way we view public hangings? Perhaps modern-day executions carry the same underlying threat as their ancient counterparts: if you commit the same crime, you will lose everything and more. Our death penalty seeks to convey the same intolerant message as before, only shrouded in nobility and legal support.

There is controversy surrounding whether or not a continuation of the death penalty actually reflects a more tolerant society. But I do believe there to be substance in the claim that legalization of death penalties might simply be an attempt to cover and conceal the same nature that demanded an eye for an eye.