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Death Penalty – Criminal Law Essay

This essay opposes the use of the death penalty as deterrence against homicides. Abrahams argues that the death penalty is an ineffective deterrence from homicides because it has failed to bring down the number of homicides, but has proved to be very expensive compared with long term imprisonment (1).

A report by Radelet and Lacock shows that the death penalty is prone to the identity problem, which is why the justice system has in many occasions wrongly convicted and executed a significant number of people (6).

That has not only failed to bring down the number of homicides committed in many states but has increased the cost incurred by the criminal justice system to administer justice, prompting a lot of people to campaign for a paradigm shift for long term imprisonment (Nagourney 1).

The death penalty was widely accepted as an effective form of capital punishment for many years to deter criminals from homicides.

A survey conducted in 1996 to determine people’s attitudes towards the death penalty showed that 62% of the respondents regarded the death penalty as effective deterrence from homicides. However, later studies conducted in 2000 showed a significant decline in the number of people in favor of the death penalty.


Statistical evidence shows that 88% of the top criminologists of the United States do not regard the death penalty as the best deterrent against homicide (Abrahams 1). Different studies on the subject of executions and murders conducted by leading criminologists to determine the effectiveness of the death penalty against murders have proved the adherents of the death penalty wrong.

In an article which was published in the Washington Post in 2002 titled ‘Murderous Pardons?’ It was shown that for every execution done in the United States between 1977 and 1997, there was an increase in the number of homicides by five.

In the same report, it was shown that for each person removed from the list of the death penalty row, there was only a single act of murder. Other studies on the subject showed that when the death penalty was applied, no corresponding deterrence or homicide was reported, but for each execution, there was an increase in the number of murders.

Recent studies support the findings that the death penalty does not lead to a decrease, but leads to an increase in homicides. Researchers have stated that “there is a wide consensus among America’s top criminologists that scholarly research has demonstrated that the death penalty does, and can do, little to reduce rates of criminal violence” (Nagourney 1).

Research results by top scholars and criminologists show that the death penalty is not a deterrent against homicides, but very expensive for the criminal justice system.

Expensive from an economic perspective

Costs of the death penalty show that instead of the death penalty leading to a decrease in the cost of administering justice, it has led to an increase in the cost incurred when compared with the use of life imprisonment (Death Penalty Information Center 1). Similar findings by Abrahams show that the cost of keeping a prisoner is much lower than the cost of executing a prisoner (1).

Abrahams reported that the state of New Jersey incurred a total of U.S $ 255 million to execute prisoners from 1983 until today (1). When the figures were compared with the figures of keeping prisoners for life, the costs of the death penalty was much higher than the costs of life imprisonment (1).

A typical example is a case for the Court of Colorado. A study of the cost of the death penalty in that court shows that it takes more time and money to preside over a death case than a normal case. According to Abrahams, it takes the court approximately 147 days to preside over a death case (1).

A study conducted in the same setting established that once the death penalty legislation has been passed, more days are required for a person to appeal the judgment. In another study, the cost of a case involving the death penalty in California was 137 million dollars per annum.

In another study to determine the cost of the death penalty in Maryland, it was shown that it costs 3 million dollars, 1.9 million dollars more than the cost of a non-death penalty. Other states have reported similar trends in the cost of the death penalty.

The above figures show that the cost of executing a prisoner is far much higher than the cost of life imprisonment (Nagourney 2). Similar results were published by other researchers on the cost of the death penalty compared with the cost of life imprisonment (Nagourney 2).

The above study shows that prominent criminologists do not support the death penalty and regard it as a costly method of administering justice, which has placed an unnecessary burden on taxpayers. That supports the argument by prominent people, including politicians and criminologists who oppose the public against the death penalty, but support life imprisonment.

The state of California is an example of one of the states considering repealing the death penalty, which is estimated to save the state $1 billion in the next five years. In California, it has been estimated that the cost of the death penalty is six times higher than the cost of other types of trials.

Dieter conducted a study to determine the effect of the current death penalty on the economy of different States (1). The report by Dieter shows that the current financial crisis has made the cost of the death penalty to worsen the financial situation of the States, driving some to the state of bankruptcy (1).

Coupled with the States’ financial obligations and the weighing costs of the death penalties, different States and local governments are feeling the big burden of the financial costs of death penalties. The burden is expressed in the argument that “virtually every major program designed to address the underlying causes of violence and to support the poor, vulnerable, powerless victims of crime is being cut even further to the bone” (Dieter 2).

In another statement, it has been argued that “the cost of our system of capital punishment is so enormous that any benefit that could be obtained from it” (Dieter 2). It has been shown that executions hold no value, and there is no direct relationship between the death penalty and a decrease in the number of homicides.


In another study by Dieter, it was shown that some prisoners were sentenced to death as a result of mistaken identity (1). The worst thing is to execute a prisoner and to discover immediately that it was a case of mistaken identity (Nagourney 2).

There exist examples of cases where people were executed because of mistaken identity. One such example is the case of Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in California for a crime he never committed, only to discover through a forensic investigation conducted by the Texas Forensic Science Commission that the results that implicated him for causing the fire that killed children were wrong.

Statistical evidence shows that over 138 people who were wrongly convicted for murders they did not commit have been exonerated because of the removal of the death penalty as a form of capital punishment. Research shows that homicide cases lack evidence of the DNA data and in some cases are irrelevant, making legal authorities to execute the wrong person (Nagourney 2).

Campaign to stop executions

According to Nagourney, the inability to reduce the number of homicides by executions, the high costs of executing the prisoners and the persistent problem of mistaken identities which lead to wrong executions have prompted strong campaigns against the use of the death penalty (1).

In California, the campaign to ban the death penalty was initiated by Ron Briggs and Mr. Heller, two of the most ardent advocates against the death penalty. Adherents against the death penalty have both political arguments and moral lessons on the demerits of the death penalty and argue that the death penalty is a moral failure (Nagourney 1).


The conclusion from the above study is that the death penalty does not deter homicides, but it is costly, and sometimes the wrong person is executed, prompting a change of mind to abolish it.

Works Cited

Abrahams, Tamar. . 2009. Web.

2013. Web.

Dieter, Richard C. What Politicians Don’t Say About the High Costs of the Death Penalty. n.d. Web.

Nagourney, Adam. The New York Times, . 2012 Web.

Radelet, Michael, Land Traci L. Lacock. “Recent Developments Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists.” The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 99. 2 (2009): 1-20. Print.

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