Capital punishment has been around for longer than we think, going as far back as the 18th century. In the U.S., however, the death penalty began as early as 1608, brought about by European settlers. At the time, the laws surrounding this punishment varied from colony to colony, from petty crimes such as stealing grapes to denying the “true God.”
Today, capital punishment, or the death penalty, still exists. However, the laws have changed. Only capital offenses, including murder, terrorism, war crimes, and the like, are punishable by death. While, on paper, some may find this punishment, there are many flaws in this system that often result in an innocent person’s wrongful death.
In most countries, the death penalty has been abolished. Unfortunately, it continues to exist in countries with large populations and those in authoritarian rule. The United States is one of the countries that still apply the death penalty, and in 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had allowed the federal government to resume the death penalty for the first time in almost two decades.
This resulted in five federal inmates’ executions, which eventually climbed up to 17 death row inmates executed in 2020. While this is one of the lowest execution numbers the country has seen since 1991, the system continues to be a concern for many.
Before looking at a system’s flaws and its effects on the justice system, one needs to know how it works. The capital punishment system begins with the DOJ, which consults with local U.S. attorneys and reviews federal death-eligible cases. During this process, a committee consults with defense attorneys about why a case should not require the death penalty. Afterward, local U.S. attorneys must seek the attorney general’s advice, who has the final say whether to charge the defendant with the death penalty.
Once the decision has been made, those indicted are assigned, two defense attorneys. U.S. attorneys then prosecute the defendant, and if someone gets convicted and sentenced to death, they are allowed to appeal once. Unlike other smaller crimes, defendants are generally not allowed to post bond unless they can prove that they’re innocent.
It’s no surprise that this system is a topic of heated debate between those who support capital punishment and those who are against it. The former group believes that the death penalty discourages people commit more crimes and that people who commit such horrible offenses no longer deserve the right to live. On the other hand, the latter believe that no one has the right to take another person’s life and that the flaws in the system are those of bias and error.
These flaws can cause severe mistakes that can’t be undone. Organizations against the death penalty, such as the Innocence Project and Amnesty International, believe that this system is an expensive and ineffective way to deter crimes.
Among 8,700 people sentenced to death row since 1976, more than 180 were released after proving their innocence. This begs many to question the judgment of those involved in the capital punishment process, leaving them to wonder how many people have been wrongfully executed. Many believe that this system targets the vulnerable people in society who can’t defend themselves due to prejudice surrounding their race, their attorney’s lack of skill, or even the lack of resources.
The Effects of the Death Penalty on the Criminal Justice System
Contrary to what those who support the death penalty believe, there is no credible evidence that this system prevents more crimes from being committed. The death penalty laws allow the government to show that they take the proper measures against crimes and other offenses. However, these laws do nothing more than provide a false sense of security to its citizens. To organizations against the death penalty, the difference between the death penalty and imprisonment when it comes to deterring crime is slim to none.
Another issue is that people make mistakes, and as long as the death penalty is still in place, there will always be the risk of executing an innocent person. And the problem with that is that these mistakes can’t be undone.
This system affects society as a whole. Not only does it affect the innocent people who are wrongfully sentenced and executed, but it affects their families who have to go through this tedious and painful process without even a fighting chance.
How Can We Fix This Flawed System?
The U.S. may be far from turning its back on the death penalty. Still, as more people continue to become educated about this system’s effects on society, those against the system get one step closer to seeing this system abolished.
If you want to help, you can get in touch with organizations like Amnesty International and the Innocence Project and lend a hand to the cause by signing petitions, donating, volunteering, or even becoming a member of the organization. While most of those sentenced to the death penalty may be guilty, the lives of innocent people are not worth this sacrifice.