The immorality of state-funded capital punishment

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In the last 7 months there have been 7 people exonerated from death row who had been incarcerated for at least 25 years.

  • In September 2014, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, brothers, were freed after 30 years because of evidence uncovered by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. the Death Penalty Information Center reports, “both men are intellectually disabled – McCollum has an IQ in the 60s and Brown has scored as low as 49 on IQ tests. They have maintained their innocence since their trial, saying they were unaware they were signing a confession.”
  • In November 2014, Ricky Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman, and Kwame Ajamu were exonerated 39 years after their convictions, after the lone witness in their case recanted and said that he did not in fact witness the crime; there was no other evidence linking the three men to the murder.
  • In March 2015, Debra Milke had all charges from her 1990 conviction dismissed as a result of “egregious” police and prosecutorial misconduct.
  • In April 2015, Anthony Hinton had the charges against him for 2 murders committed in 1985 dismissed after experts said they could not link the bullets to a gun found in his home when he was arrested.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there have been 152 people exonerated from death row since 1973. Twenty of those individuals were exonerated because of DNA evidence, meaning the other 132 people to be exonerated from death row had been convicted because of false confessions, unreliable witnesses, police misconduct, faulty evidence, etc. This alone should raise some questions not only about the use of the death penalty as a means of punishment, but about the accuracy of the entire justice system. But I digress. Considering that 1,404 people have been executed since 1973, and 152 people have been exonerated in that same time period, it is probable that innocent people have been executed in the name of justice. If only 1 innocent person has been executed for a crime they did not commit, that is enough to oppose state-funded executions; because state-funded executions use tax-payer dollars to carry out a punishment that some find objectionable.

However, is it really justice to carry out a punishment years after an offense was committed? One maxim of common law is “justice delayed is justice denied.” I contend that such delayed punishment, as we see in cases of those on death row, is in fact cruel and unusual punishment, and I dare say: torture. It forces the person, who may or may not have committed the crime, to wonder “is today the day I find out when I die?” Just as it would be considered cruel and unusual to punish a 35 year old man for an offense he committed when he was 5 years old, it should be equally cruel and unusual to withhold punishment for some length of time after a conviction. If justice is the goal of capital punishment, then a delayed punishment can not be construed to be justice! Again, I point to the likelihood of innocent people being executed, the Death Penalty Information Center lists 25 people as either executed but possibly innocent or as having been posthumously pardoned, in one case the pardon came 94 years after execution. It is statistically probable that other innocent people have been executed, and that makes state-funded capital punishment immoral!