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Death Penalty Use Overlooks Basic Facts

Illustration by Leo Gordon

Week after week, mass shootings hit America. These acts of hate are usually followed by prosecutors seeking the death penalty for the perpetrators. The US justice system uses the death penalty as punishment for its most heinous crimes, without acknowledging its immorality. 

If an individual commits an act of terrorism such as the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, where a man walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire, killing 11 people, they deserve to spend the rest of their life in prison, rather than being put to death. 

Across the country, opinions differ on the validity of the death penalty. In 30 US states, including California, it’s legal. The primary reason states use for making the death penalty illegal is its unconstitutionality. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the death penalty “inherently violates” many aspects of the constitution. They argue that it is cruel and unusual punishment, and violates the constitutional rights of a defendant.

Domestic terrorists deserve consequences for their actions. However, receiving the death penalty is too easy of an out. A lifetime in prison is actually a much harsher punishment. It will force them to confront what they’ve done. By killing criminals, the government is stooping to their level, taking an eye for an eye, instead of attempting to prevent further violence.

Proponents of the death penalty argue that it sends a message that such acts will not be tolerated. They say that the punishment fits the crime, and it is simply a facilitation of justice. However, it’s important to keep in mind the faults of the death penalty. 

Setting aside morals, the death penalty is a financially ignorant policy. It is more expensive to put an offender to death than to sentence them to life in prison. This is due to the expense of the numerous appeals defendants can make, which creates astronomical legal fees. In addition, in order to facilitate the death penalty humanely, very expensive drugs are needed. A 2011 study calculated that if the Governor of California, “commuted the sentences of those remaining on death row to life without parole, it would result in an immediate savings of $170 million per year, with a savings of $5 billion over the next 20 years.”  

The large sums of money spent on this barbaric practice should instead be placed towards preventative measures such as education.

One must also keep in mind the social implications of using the death penalty. It sends a message to citizens that wrongs can be righted through killing; this is an especially concerning message for children to be given. The fact is, if American society is to be considered truly civilized it cannot endorse killings by the state. By banning the use of the death penalty, the justice system could transition to becoming more humane.

The death penalty creates dilemma after dilemma. Instead of death, domestic terrorists should receive sentences of life in prison. At the end of the day, it is an immoral practice which doesn’t help society recover from the heinous acts it intends to prevent. As two members from the Dor Hadash congregation of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh put it, “Haven’t we seen enough death?”

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