Death Penalty Research Paper

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As such, it is unlikely to change in light of knowledge or information about the death penalty and its administration" (Vollum & Buffington-Vollum, p. 30). Furthermore, "those who scored higher on value-expressive attitudes were less accepting of information critical of the death penalty and, in turn, less likely to change their views in light of the information presented." Thus, the widespread support of the death penalty in the face of ample evidence suggesting both its functional inefficacy and unjust application is explained by the fact that much support for the death penalty is shaped by values and beliefs wholly separate from evidence or data, and as such those beliefs are largely immutable in the face of such evidence.

Thus far the death penalty has only been considered in general as it relates to people's support for it. As has been shown, not only does the death penalty lack any kind of deterrent effect, but its supporters are uniquely attributed in such a way that this lack is utterly incapable of dissuading them from their beliefs. In effect, the main support for the death penalty has been shown inadequate, and the main supporters have been shown to be, if not acting in bad-faith, then at least acting in such a way that no amount of evidence would be enough to dissuade them from the belief that the death penalty is useful and just. Thus, as support for the death penalty has been shown to be both indefensible, and where it remains despite this fact, unreasonable, it will be possible to move on to those arguments in opposition to the death penalty. Granted, a lack of evidence in support of the death penalty should be enough to preclude the authorized killing of individuals on the part of the state, but just to be overwhelmingly clear, there are numerous arguments against the death penalty in addition to its inefficacy, and one of them (perhaps the most damaging) will be considered here.

As has been previously mentioned, the death penalty has been applied unequally when it comes to blacks and whites, with blacks far more likely to receive the death penalty than whites, especially when the victim is white. (This corresponds to a much higher opposition to the death penalty among blacks.) This alone should be enough to discourage the use of the death penalty, because even if there death penalty brought a resultant deterrent effect, the injustice of its actual application would suggest something fundamentally wrong with its use in society (as evidenced by the fact that death penalty support is largely value-expressive, and so reflects the prejudices of its supporters). However, this injustice has not been enough to abolish the death penalty, and neither has the argument that the death penalty represents cruel and unusual punishment, in opposition to the 8th amendment to the United States Constitution. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty is constitutional as long the phases of the trial concerning guilt or innocence and the ultimate consideration of the sentence if guilty are separate, and so this point is where the most successful argument against the death penalty will be found. An important study by Lynch and Haney (2000) "links two previously unrelated lines of research: the lack of comprehension of capital penalty-phase jury instructions and discriminatory death sentencing" (Lynch & Haney, p. 337). The researchers found that "the picture of capital jury decision-making that emerges from this experimental study is complex and disturbing," with "strong indications that the defendant's racial characteristics influenced how these predominantly white participants interpreted the evidence that was presented to them," to the point that "the differential use of mitigating evidence helped account for the imposition of over 20% more death sentences on black than white defendants" (Lynch & Haney, p. 353). These results were only exacerbated the more confused the jury was in regards to its instructions for the sentencing phase.

As mentioned before, the racial inequality demonstrated by the death penalty in America is not a new observation. However, that this racial inequality presents itself at this level, specifically in regards to jury decisions in the sentencing phase, demonstrates the complete and utter injustice of the death penalty, because the problems with its application are rampant throughout. If the huge statistical disproportion in regards to the sentencing of whites and blacks were only a result of higher arrests among blacks, or other socially and institutionally fomented inequalities, then continued support could be justified by claiming that death penalty misapplications are a result of problems elsewhere, and do not stem from the punishment itself. However, because these racial inequalities arose specifically in the sentencing phase as a result of jury's misuse or misinterpretation of evidence, the entire system of death penalty sentencing and application is shown to be invalid. Because supporters of the death penalty are least likely to be swayed by evidence (as demonstrated earlier), then it stands to reason that these same supporters will be least likely to objectively assess evidence during a death penalty case should they be part of a jury. Thus, the problem is not just that the death penalty is shown to be unethical and unjust in practice, but that the death penalty is considered in such a way that any evidence against it may be happily disregarded by its supporters. Therefore, reasons for abolishing the death penalty exist on two levels. Firstly, the death penalty is unjust and has been applied without the proper regard for accountability and evidence, and second, because the debate regarding the death penalty is twisted by its supporters so that no evidence is sufficient to prove its inefficacy, it should be abolished for the same reason creationism is not taught in public schools: when one side of a debate can only maintain its argument through a concerted abrogation of facts, then its argument is rendered invalid, and as such should not be taken seriously. In short, all evidence supports the abolition of the death penalty, and any arguments in favor of the death penalty rely specifically on the willful ignoring of said evidence.

That the debate over the death penalty has continued for so long is a testament to death penalty supporters' ability to put forward arguments almost entirely devoid of data, evidence, or objective support. Instead, the death penalty remains legal in the United States through a combination of ignorance and systemic failures. The central argument in support of the death penalty, that it brings some kind of deterrent effect, is categorically false, and yet the death penalty remains widely supported because it is informed by the self-conscious expression of underlying values and beliefs which are not supported by any evidence themselves. Thus, the debate is not between two equally-valid but opposing sides, but rather between evidence of and opposition to injustice and support for or acquiescence to injustice as a result of unsubstantiated beliefs. That the death penalty is unethical, unjust, and applied in a systematically, if not intentionally, racist manner is indisputable. These are objective facts, based on any reasonable interpretation of the terms. Sadly, these facts are not enough to preclude the execution of individuals on the part of the state, and in fact have little to no bearing on the level of support for the death penalty. Thus, not only is there no reasonable argument in favor of the death penalty, but all evidence suggests that the only reasonable option is the immediate abolition of the death penalty.

Works Cited

Choe, J. (2010). Another look at the deterrent effect of death penalty. Journal of Advanced

Research in Law and Economics, 1(1), 12-15.

Miller, MK, & Miller, DR. (2008). Religious characteristics and the death penalty. Law and Human Behavior, 32(2), 113-23.

Lynch, M, & Haney, C. (2004). Discrimination and instructional comprehension: guided discretion, racial bias, and the death penalty. Law and Human Behavior, 24(3), 337-351.

Vollum, S, & Buffington-Vollum, J. (2010). An examination of social-psychological factors and support for the death penalty:…[continue]

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