Why We Need to Abolish the Death Penalty

Op-ed

On December 23, two days before Christmas in 1991, Todd Willingham awoke from a nap to see his entire house bellowing in smoke and fire. His first thoughts went to his three baby girls, who were sleeping in another room. Though he was coughing, unable to see, and feeling faint, he aimed to surpass the fire and smoke so he could save his baby daughters. An unemployed car mechanic, his girls were his beacons of hope: he needed to find them. He was unable to locate them amidst the fully blackening house, and he barely managed to get out of the house himself. He aimed to break into the house through another way to get inside and save his babies, but it was too late. The entire house was up in flames, and Willingham found himself outside, without his precious baby girls. Willingham was later convicted for capital punishment in the state of Texas for the murder of his three baby girls. Later, after his execution in 2004, forensic experts from the Texas Forensic Science Commission came to discover that the evidence that was presented in his case, was deeply flawed and that Willingham, was most probably innocent. A father who had dealt with the incomprehensible loss of three daughters was put on death row and killed for a crime he did not commit.

This one case, as heartwrenching and cruel as it may seem, is not isolated. According to the Innocence Project, for every twenty-five death row convicts, at least one is innocent. There is a multitude of reasons we should abolish the death penalty, here is a summarized primary four reasons you can use:

1. Not Effective

Capital punishment is fundamentally not successful in creating safer societies. In itself, the death penalty is not a deterrent for crime; criminology experts, researchers, and the majority of law enforcement professionals reaffirm that capital punishment does not deter or lessen violent crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has found that states that have the death penalty, concurrently have higher crime rates than states without the death penalty.

2. Violates The Constitution

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution fundamentally states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The death penalty violates both the Eighth Amendment and the affirmations of due process under equal protection under the law. What could be more "cruel and unusual" than taking the life out of a human being through an injection, electrocution, or in some states, hanging?

3. Targets Certain Community

Though created as a means to ensure justice, capital punishment claims the lives of many innocent and wrongfully convicted - especially of those belonging to socioeconomically marginalized communities. Furthermore, studies show that one in twenty-five sentenced to the death penalty is later proven innocent (source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Capital punishment also unfairly benefits those who are socioeconomically privileged, resulting in certain individuals getting invested lawyers, fair trials/courtrooms, the accuracy of evidence, while others are deprived of these necessities that ensure justice.

4. Waste Of Resources and Money

The death penalty is an explicit waste of taxpayer funds. Funds for the death penalty (including legal costs, jury selection, trial, incarceration, appeals, etc.) place a burden on taxpayers, as significant funds to support each case comes from the pockets of taxpayers. For example, each death penalty case in Texas costs taxpayers $2.3 million which is over three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for over forty years. In the United States overall, capital cases burden county budgets to the extent that counties must manage high costs by decreasing funding for highways and police and by increasing the tax, placing a burden on the common taxpayer (source: National Bureau of Economic Research).

Several organizations are working to aid innocent individuals who've been convicted, especially on death row. Two of the most prominent ones include Equal Justice Initiative, spearheaded by lawyer Bryan Stevenson, and the Innocence Project. If you'd like to support these organizations directly, you can donate! Otherwise, another great option is to support small businesses that aid these organizations. Art By Elaine Co., apparel, prints, and stickers business, donates 10% of all proceeds to EJI, and Mantra and Co., a small jewelry business, donates all proceeds to charities, one being the Innocence Project.

If we must uphold the statement, “liberty and justice for all,” we must also ensure that the institutions we have in place to maintain justice are sustaining that. As clearly delineated above, the death penalty is a practice that is fundamentally flawed and simply put, does not retain public safety. Thus, by abolishing the death penalty, it is expected that crime rates will, in fact, reduce in states that currently allow capital punishment, alleviate those that are marginalized and wrongfully convicted from the burden of a death sentence, and fiscally relieve taxpayers from having to pay for death penalties.

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Nrithi Subramanian
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Nrithi Subramanian is a senior in high school from Dallas, TX. She finds great happiness in writing but is also an entrepreneur (started the company Mantra and Co.), an Indian Classical Dancer, and a public speaker. Nrithi enjoys spending her free time reading, with friends/family, and painting.