According to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018, 2.3 million people in the U.S. are in the prison system (Prison Policy Initiative, 2018). The criminal justice system is an expensive, inadequate government program that fails to provide equal justice, especially to the poor and people of color. Equally difficult, knowing there are innocent people accused of crimes they did not commit, individuals who are intellectually and developmentally disabled or have behavioral health issues sentenced to death. Capital punishment is a topic that has been deliberated for decades among those who are in favor or against it. This paper will discuss the stance against the death penalty referencing applicable case law, the efficacy of it, public support to eliminate it and finally of eliminating it, and finally a personal perspective.
In the case of Jackson v. City of Cleveland (2016) eighteen-year-old, Ricky Jackson, was tried and convicted of the murder of Harold Frank, a businessman in Cleveland Ohio. Ricky was sentenced to death however, in 1978 it was reduced to life in prison. The authorities based their case solely on the statement of twelve-year-old Edward Vernon who identified Jackson as one of the perpetrators. Vernon would later confess to his pastor that he was threatened and coerced by detectives and prosecutors into testifying falsely against Jackson. Vernon retracted his testimony at an evidentiary hearing in state court and Ricky Jackson was exonerated on November 21, 2014 after 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
In the case of DeLuna v. Lynaugh (1989), Carlos DeLuna was convicted for the murder of Wanda Lopez, a gas station employee in Corpus Christi, Texas that occurred on February 4th, 1983. Carlos was sentenced to death and on December 7, 1989, was executed. An independent investigation completed by researchers at Columbia University Law School found Carlos DeLuna innocent. In their investigation they determined another man by the name of Carlos Hernandez was also in the vicinity where the crime was committed. It was an eyewitness who claimed to have seen Carlos DeLuna at the murder scene, these statements were later recanted after DeLuna’s death, and no corroborating forensic evidence was ever found to support this.
Wanda Lopez’s killer was Carlos Hernandez who bears a striking resemblance to DeLuna so much so that his own family members mistook a photograph of the two Carlos’s together. Although DeLuna had a criminal record he never committed a violent crime, but Hernandez had a criminal history that included crimes similar to how Wanda was killed and admitted to his friends he committed the crime. It was later found that Hernandez was a police informant and despite DeLuna’s claims that Hernandez committed the crime, he was never interviewed. Examples of others who have been executed who were innocent or new evidence has been presented that may prove their innocence: Ruben Cant, Larry Griffin and Lester Bower (Death Penalty Information Center, 2018). There will likely be others who will be sent to prison for crimes they did not commit, sentenced to life in prison or worse, the death penalty. It is important to remember, once someone is executed there is no going back.
Ineffectiveness and Opposition of the Death Penalty
There are some individuals who support the death penalty that have a common misperception about its effectiveness, they believe that it is a deterrent to crime. This is a great fallacy of the death penalty (Kovandzic, Vieraitis & Boots, 2009) however, there is literature that masquerades as legal analysis that would state otherwise. After the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972, Furman v. Georgia, there was an influx of studies to prove its deterrent effect but no substantial data that would prove this theory.
Those who commit violent crimes, that warrant the death penalty, expose themselves to serious risks and the likelihood of being executed would not have an influence on their behavior. In the article “Does the Death Penalty Save Lives”, economists use econometric methods and 30 years of state data to examine the death penalty’s impact on deterrence of homicide. The results of their research found there was “no empirical support for the argument that the existence or application of the death penalty deters prospective offenders from committing homicide (Kovandzic, Vieraitis & Boots, 2009). Furthermore, their research determined homicide rates “are not influenced by the various death penalty measures (Kovandzic, Vieraitis & Boots, 2009).
Numerous polls have been used to capture the public’s opinion of the death penalty and for the most part reflect that many Americans are in favor of capital punishment. This support may be the catalyst used to justify the legal and legislative support it receives (Unnever, Cullen & Roberts, 2005). Public support for capital punishment has declined in recent years due to the recent findings of those serving life sentences, on death row or have been executed based on crimes they did not commit. Individuals who are freed from prison are typically not freed because of new DNA evidence rather it’s because of the misconduct of those who sit within the judicial and legal system. Many of these officials are elected or under qualified and likely overworked. There have been instances where evidence was destroyed or tampered with and individual’s confessions are coerced.
Personal Rationale Against the Death Penalty
Based on personal beliefs, there is no justification for the death penalty and taking the life of another unless it is in self-defense. Vengeance is not mine, it is God’s and he is the final judge. Individuals who commit crimes, that would warrant the death penalty, should be psychologically evaluated and based on the assessment should receive life in prison or the help they need if they are intellectually and developmentally disabled or suffer from a mental disorder. Returning hate with hate is not productive, killing someone will not bring a lost life back. The death penalty does not bring permanent solace, it is only temporary and replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This will allow us to release those who are incarcerated by mistake, an innocent person like Ricky Jackson or Carlos DeLuna.
A legal system run by a group of humans, people like us, making important decisions about the lives of others will likely make mistakes. There will be the overzealous and incompetent prosecutors, crooked cops and judges which warrants some type of safety net for everyone, just in case. Research shows the death penalty has no deterrent effect on crime therefore, the legal and legislative branches of our government should refrain from using this as justification for it. The death penalty will likely continue to be debated but only until we are a victim of the system and are wrongfully accused and face the same fate will we understand.
- CARLOS DeLUNA, Petitioner-Appellant, v. JAMES A. LYNAUGH, Director, Texas Department of Corrections, Respondent-Appellee, 890 F.2d 720, 1989 U.S. App. LEXIS 18402 (United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit December 5, 1989 ). Retrieved from https://advance-lexis-com.csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/api/document?collection=cases&id=urn:contentItem:3S4X-87D0-003B-50YS-00000-00&context=1516831.
- Executed But Possibly Innocent. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent
- Johnson, K. (2012, May 16). Study finds no evidence death penalty deters crime.The Christian Century, 129, 17. Retrieved from https://csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/docview/1016777552?accountid=38569
- RICKY JACKSON, Plaintiff, vs. CITY OF CLEVELAND, et al., Defendants., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85314, 2016 WL 3547834 (United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division June 30, 2016, Filed). Retrieved from https://advance-lexis-com.csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/api/document?collection=cases&id=urn:contentItem:5K4G-SHY1-F04F-11WW-00000-00&context=1516831.
- Unnever, J. D., Cullen, F. T., & Roberts, J. V. (2005). NOT EVERYONE STRONGLY SUPPORTS THE DEATH PENALTY: Assessing weakly-held attitudes about capital punishmentdagger]. American Journal of Criminal Justice : AJCJ, 29(2), 187-VII. Retrieved from https://csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/docview/203529570?accountid=38569
- Wagner, P., & Sawyer, W. (n.d.). Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018. Retrieved from https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2018.html