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Crime and the Death Penalty


For most crimes committed in the United States a fine, 
sentence of time in jail or execution is the punishment. However, the 
death penalty is the most questionable punishment. Is it morally 
right? Is it effective in deterring crime, primarily murders? Weather 
or not you agree if it is moral or not, one issue remains. The death 
penalty is not an effective way to deter crime.

 The death penalty has existed as long as humans have 
existed. The quote "an eye for an eye" is found in the Bible. In the 
middle ages fines, public humiliation and imprisonment were 
appropriate punishments for all crimes, and death penalty for all 
murders. Today, Federal law states that the death penalty is to be 
enforced with convicted criminals for: treason; deserting armed 
forces during wartime; murder committed by a soldier; kidnapping and 
murder that involves crossing state lines; murder committed during an 
airplane hijacking; and of course, homicide. The death penalty is 
also called for punishment of for: attempting to kill anyone 
investigating or prosecuting his or her activities; advising, 
directing, authorizing or assisting in the murder of someone. Also, 
The Anti-Drug abuse act of 1988 calls for the death penalty for all 
drug related killings. Along with that, The bill amending sec. 848 
to controlled substances act calls for the death penalty or life 
imprisonment for certain drug offences possession of 10 or more kg of 
heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine or analogue. Added to that, The drug 
kingpin act sates the use of death penalty for convicted major drug 
dealers caught with huge quantities of drugs, over 66 lbs. of heroin 
and 330 lbs. of cocaine. Even though there are these federal laws 
requiring the use of the death penalty for the crimes, State laws only 
consider one crime, murder, to be a capital offense. 

 In the United States alone there have been 4047 executions 
since 1930, and 188 were from 1977-1996. In 1996, there were a total 
of 15,168,100 arrests; 33,050 for forcible rape; 1,506,200 involving 
drug violations and 19,020 for murder and non-negligent manslaughter. 
The death penalty was enforced 45 times. The death penalty is an 
expensive punishment, since 1976 the united states have spent 700 
million dollars in it. Methods of the death penalty include lethal 
injection, gas chamber, electric chair, hanging and fire squad. In a 
1986 poll 70% of Americans favored the death penalty as a punishment 
for murder.

 There have been many comparisons of crime rates of death 
penalty states to non- death penalty states. These clearly show that 
the death penalty has no effect on the deteration of crime. The 
homicide rates in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois rise and fall along with 
Wisconsin. Michigan, Ohio and Illinois all have the death penalty. 
Wisconsin does not. In 1994, the average murder rate in a death 
penalty state of a population of 100,00 was 8.0, for a non-death 
penalty state, 4.4. In Canada the homicide rate per 100,000 people 
was 3.09 in 1975, this was when they had the death penalty. In 1976 
Canada got rid of the death penalty. In 1986 the crime rate decreased 
to 2.19 per 100,000 people, the lowest in 15 years. Isn't it odd that 
the crime rates were high with the death penalty and low without? 
Clearly this shows that the presence of the death penalty has no 
effect on the increase or decrease of crime rates. Even with the 
death penalty, crime rates continue to rise and fall in the United 
States. The number of people on death row in 1967 were in 1972: 200 
and in 1997 3,100. Crimes will be committed weather or not death 
penalty is a method of punishment.

 Many people believe that the death penalty isn't an 
effective way to deter crime. "The proposed drug death penalty is not 
only barbaric but also foolish: a temper tantrum masquerading as an 
act of government. It holds no promise for suppressing the drug 
trade, and may even be counterproductive" (Franklin E. Zimny) Time 
magazine, 1997 said 52% of Americans do not believe the death penalty 
deters people from committing crime. In a recent poll of police 
chiefs, 2/3 said they don't believe the death penalty deters crime 
but it is used as a political football by politicians. Some people 
aren't afraid of dying, either. They have realized that everyone must 
die, so they have no fear of dying at any moment of time. This fact 
also forbids the death penalty from being 100% effective. In Britain, 
167 people were one death row. 164 of them said they witnessed at 
least one execution before the committed their crime. They committed 
the crime even though they had seen an execution before and that 
didn't scare them.

 Since the death penalty has no effect on the deteration of 
crime, what does? New York lowered crime rates by putting more police 
officers on the street, not by longer jail terms or death penalty. 
This was effective because if one thinks about it, if one was to rob 
a store, first he would look around about see if any police officers 
were around, and if he sees one ridding around the block and another 
patrolling the streets, he would think twice about it. Of course, 
hiring more police officers will cost a lot of money, but that will 
only be temporary. Criminals held in prison for long sentences means 
money now and money later, too. Also, the availability of handguns 
plays a major role in murder rates. It is a lot easier to kill someone 
by putting one bullet in his head then beating him, stabbing or 
strangling (there are chances they can live) if we decrease the 
availability of handguns by increasing the price or banning the sale, 
then there will be less murders. Another thought is slavery should be 
used as a punishment for crimes. If all the miserable moments of a 
slave's life were put together it would be more painful then any kind 
of punishment. In 1995 Hart Research Associated Poll asked law 
enforcement officers what they thought would help the deteration of 
crime. 31% said reduce drug abuse; 17% said better economy and jobs; 
16% simplify court rules; 15% longer prison sentence; 10% more police 
officers; 3% reducing guns; and 1% expand death penalty.

 There is some evidence, however that the death penalty is 
effective in the deteration of crime. "If all those caught producing 
addictive drugs, plus all of those caught selling addictive drugs in 
our country were confronted with capital punishment administered 
without recourse, by local authorities throughout our 50 states-then 
gradually this intolerable situation would be ameliorated and 
eventually conquered." (W.H. Long) in 1988, Arthur Bishop was 
executed. During that year there were 47 murders. Before the date of 
the execution there were 26 murders executed and after that there 
were 21. (19% difference). In 1960, 56 there were 56 executions and 
9,410 murders. In 1964 there were 15 executions and 9,250 murders. In 
1969 to 1975 there were no executions and 35,100 murders. This 
clearly shows that the number of murders rise and the number of 
executions decrease. Also, Isaac Ehrlich concluded from his research 
that every execution prevented 8 murders.

 The death penalty is not an effective way to deter crime. The 
only way to deter crime is to prevent it from happening, rather then 
enforce harsh punishment to "scare" off potential crimes. Studies 
show that there is no relation between crime rates with death penalty 
states and crimes rates without. 

 Even though the death penalty seems like a favorable 
punishment for people who have committed crimes, it has no effect on 
the deteration of crimes. Statistics show that there is no 
relationship between the number of crimes committed in death penalty 
states and the number of crimes committed in non-death penalty states. 
While a majority of people believes the death penalty is a good 
punishment for crimes, they do not believe it helps get rid of and 
prevent crime. Other methods such as increased police officers and a 
decrease on the availability of handguns are 2 of many alternatives in 
prevention crimes. Enforcing a harsh punishment for committing a crime 
is not an effective way to prevent it from happening. Preventing 
crimes from happening is the most effective way to deter crime.


"Crimes, Politics and Race" Harvard Journal of law and Public Policy
Winter 1997: pg. 405

"Death Penalty Information Center", 1997
http://www.esential.org/dpic/dpic.html (8 Feb. 1998)

Nardo, Don Death Penalty San Diego: Lucent Books Inc, 1992

Wekesser, Carol The Death Penalty: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: 
Greenhaven Press, 1991

World Almanac and Book of Facts 1998 Mahwah, NJ: world Almanac and 
Book of Facts, 1997



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