Skip to main content

8 Reasons to Be Against the Death Penalty

This author researches and writes about controversial topics, including school uniforms, the death penalty, and Hitler.

8 Arguments Against the Death Penalty

8 Arguments Against the Death Penalty

1. The Death Penalty Doesn't Work

Statistics show that the death penalty does not protect people. Rates of homicide and violent crime don't go down when you have the death penalty—in fact, there is some evidence that crime rates actually go up in places that use death as corporal punishment. States that don't have a death penalty share lower crime rates, and the homicide rate in states with the death penalty is 48% to 101% higher than it is in states without it.

Violent offenders generally don't stop to consider the consequences of their actions, and this is why the death penalty doesn't work as a deterrent. Deterrents only work when you are dealing with rational people who consider the consequences of their actions, which violent criminals don't generally do.

Every sentence should attempt to meet the aims of sentencing (which are retribution, rehabilitation, protection, and prevention). Supporters of the death penalty argue that it successfully fulfills the goal of retribution, but in general, Western legal systems no longer consider retribution a primary factor when sentencing because "the eye for an eye" mentality is no longer seen as relevant or helpful.

Western prisons are as capable of keeping violent criminals off the streets as the death penalty is. If parole is given too lightly or prisons aren't secure enough, then that is simply an argument for fixing those things, but it is not one of the better arguments for the death penalty.

The reason the death penalty doesn't rehabilitate is probably fairly self-evident. Whilst it is true that many violent offenders probably have no hope of rehabilitation, there are a few who do, and so sentencing some young people to death means that two lives are completely wasted instead of just one.

2. The Death Penalty Is Morally Wrong

By having the death penalty, we are effectively sinking to the same level as those we are trying to punish. While people disagree on ethics and moral codes, most people agree that killing is fundamentally wrong. Even if killing murderers, it is still morally wrong to kill. Mercy is objectively a good thing, while retribution isn't. This doesn't mean that we should put violent criminals on the streets, but we needn't sink to their level and kill them just like they killed their victims.

3. Violence Begets More Violence

One of the best arguments against the death penalty is that if we really want to promote a nonviolent society, our legal system needs to lead by example. If we want people to be less violent, then we need our judicial system to be nonviolent. If we, as a society, say that killing people is an acceptable method for dealing with a problem, then anyone might take that as a green light for using murder to solve problems. The only real way to stop violence is to promote the sanctity of life and send a clear message to all that killing isn't okay under any circumstances. It's impossible to promote nonviolence while also killing people.

4. There Is a Risk of Killing an Innocent Person

Many people have been killed by the state for crimes they did not commit. It commonly occurs that another case is discovered where someone was executed for a crime of which they were later found innocent. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973, in the US, at least 190 people have been exonerated from wrongful convictions and death sentences. Today, more than 4% of those on death row may be innocent, according to recent analyses of death row data.

This is one of the better arguments against the death penalty because it appeals to people's sense of natural justice. We should prioritize the rights of the innocent ahead of the need to execute criminals. While an innocent person can be released from jail, nothing can bring them back to life. The death penalty is permanent. Anyone who advocates for the death penalty must be prepared to say how many innocent people they are prepared to have killed in order to keep the death penalty in place.

Nearly all major studies have concluded that the death penalty is, in fact, more expensive than life imprisonment.

Nearly all major studies have concluded that the death penalty is, in fact, more expensive than life imprisonment.

5. The Death Penalty Is More Expensive

Many believe that the death penalty is cheaper than keeping a criminal alive indefinitely imprisoned. However, they are wrong. Nearly all major studies have concluded that the death penalty is, in fact, more expensive than life imprisonment because of the extensive appeals process which is associated with the death penalty.

When you add up legal costs, pre-trial costs, jury selection, the trial itself, incarceration, and appeals, studies consistently show that the death penalty is more expensive than alternative punishment. In fact, it is almost ten times cheaper to imprison someone for life than to execute them.

According to Amnesty USA, California's current penal system costs about $140 million annually. But without the death penalty, it would cost just $11.5 million. This holds true in nearly every state that uses capital punishment.

Death penalty trials cost more. Pursuing the death penalty in a federal case, on average, costs about $620,932, which is about eight times what it costs for a federal murder case that doesn't pursue the death penalty.

When the death penalty is being pursued, there are many more legal avenues and tactics to make, which all cost the state thousands of dollars each day. It is cheaper to simply lock people up and throw away the key than it is to go through that extensive legal process.

6. The Death Penalty Is Cruel and Unusual

While many might say that this is one of the weaker arguments against the death penalty, it's still true that locking someone up in a cell and telling them are going to be killed on this date could be considered a form of torture. It is a sadistic punishment, one that could be worse than what some criminals subjected their victims to.

7. Eye for an Eye Doesn't Work: Justice Is Not Proportional

Those who argue for the death penalty say that killers "deserve" to be killed and, while this might make sense on a simple level, it is not how justice operates. We do not rob from robbers, rape rapists, or violently assault those who violently assaulted. Justice is more complicated than that. We have moved beyond that old-fashioned, oversimplistic, eye-for-an-eye style of thinking.

8. The Death Penalty Cannot Be Enforced Humanely

There is simply no method currently in use that can kill people humanely. Hanging people can go horribly wrong if the measurements aren't right and the rope fails. Firing squads can fail to kill instantly and instead leave someone slowly bleeding out. The electric chair can leave someone with severe burns but not dead. Even a lethal injection might not be lethal but instead may only cause severe pain. Even when the lethal injection does kill someone, it is not painless, and they do feel pain.