Warning: This is a long essay!

Although capital punishment received a three-year hiatus in 1973, it was right back on the books by 1976.

Since then, the United States executed more than 1,000 prisoners placing it in the limelight with those sparkling jewels of democracy (10 China, (2) Iran, (3) North Korea, (4) Yemen), (5) The United States, (6) Saudi Arabia, (7) Libya, (8).Syria, (9) Bangladesh and (10) Somalia[1]. Instead of being considered as the shining beacon on the hill, perhaps we tie to the old proverb that, “You are judged by the company you keep.”

Capital punishment or the death penalty is a legal process whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime. The judicial decree that someone be punished in this manner is a death sentence, while the actual enforcement is an execution. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offenses. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally "regarding the head" (referring to execution by beheading).[2]

Once, there was much talk of rehabilitation concerning the US justice system, but there is little to none of it in the United States. In order rehabilitate, it is necessary to understand the word habilitate, which rarely if ever is heard in US society. To habilitate means, “To make fit or capable (as for functioning in society). Other meanings include to clothe, dress or one’s self.[3] Looking at the requirements for habilitation presents an immediate problem. To rehabilitate implies that the individual had been habilitated in the first place.

Meanwhile, more than 100 industrialized countries abolished the death penalty many include our allies also. The following is a list of countries no longer sanctioning capital punishment:

Albania, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote D'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome And Principe, Senegal, Serbia (including Kosovo), Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu and Venezuela.[4]

A Deterrent?

Americans seem to support the death penalty although its use as a crime deterrent of miniscule effectiveness or none at all. While some research in the 1970s claimed to find deterrent effects in the death penalty, the studies received exhaustive criticism and ultimately discredited. A panel set up by the National Academy of Sciences and chaired by Nobel Laureate Lawrence R. Klein also examined the studies.

The panel concluded “the available studies provide no useful evidence on the deterrent effect of capital punishment” and “research on the deterrent effects of capital sanctions is not likely to provide results that will or should have much influence on policy makers.[5]

Findings by researchers Michael L. Radelet and Traci L. Lacock demonstrate an overwhelming consensus among criminologists that empirical research conducted on the deterrence question strongly supports the conclusion that the death penalty does not add deterrent effects to those already achieved by long imprisonment.[6]

Until a decade ago, there was widespread consensus among criminologists that the death penalty could not be justified on deterrence grounds. In November 1989, the American Society of Criminology passed a resolution condemning the death penalty, one of only two public policy positions the organization has ever taken.

“Be it resolved that because social science research has demonstrated the death penalty to be racist in application and social science research has found no consistent evidence of crime deterrence through execution, The American Society of Criminology publicly condemns this form of punishment, and urges its members to use their professional skills in legislatures and courts to seek a speedy abolition of this form of punishment.”[7]

In 1996, Radelet and Ronald Akers surveyed sixty-seven leading American criminologists regarding their opinion about the empirical research on deterrence and found that the overwhelming majority of the experts agreed that the death penalty never has been and never could be superior to long prison sentences as a deterrent to criminal violence.[8] The results indicated that only a small minority of top criminologists—10 percent or less, depending on how the question is phrased—believes that the weight of empirical research studies supports the deterrence justification for the death penalty.[9]

In a 1985 Gallup Poll, 62 percent of the respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Do you feel that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to the commitment of murder, that it lowers the murder rate, or not?” By 2004, the proportion of respondents who stated that the death penalty was not a deterrent doubled from 31% to 62%.[10] In 2013, the number of Americans approving death penalty numbered 60% in favor and 35% against. In addition, that same year, the number of US citizens believing the death penalty acted as a deterrent remained nearly the same, according to the most recent Gallup Poll.

Similarly, a 1995 national survey of nearly 400 police chiefs and county sheriffs found that two-thirds did not believe the death penalty significantly lowered the number of murders.[11] In 2008, researchers found that only 2.6 percent of respondents agreed that executing people deters others from committing murder, while 89.6 percent of the experts disagreed. The message is clear: few of America’s top criminologists, police chiefs or county sheriffs believe the threat or use of the death penalty can reduce homicide rates any more than long-term imprisonment.[12]

“The view that the death penalty deters is still the product of belief, not evidence. The reason for this is simple: over the past half century the U.S. has not experimented enough with capital punishment policy to permit strong conclusions . . . In light of this evidence, is it wise to spend millions on a process with no demonstrated value that creates at least some risk of executing innocents when other proven crime-fighting measures exist?” [13]

The research indicates that the justice system must continue to improve its investigative methods to reduce the number of convictions of innocent people, Gross says. The study focused on three common causes of false convictions: misidentifications, false confessions and perjury.

Considering the US ranking of number five in the world as an executioner, it may be time to reconsider the death penalty, especially as many of our staunchest allies and friends have wasted little time or courtesy in letting the country know how they feel about our continued use of the death penalty. Although, it has been done before, the torture death of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma brings the death penalty into question once again.

Around the World

As an active and vocal supporter of human rights, the world is totally aware of the country’s double-speak. Out of all of North America and Europe, only Belarus and Kazakhstan still have laws allowing executions. U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico both abolished the practice, in 1976 and 2005 respectively. The European Union holds the official position that "the death penalty is cruel and inhuman, and has not been shown in any way to act as a deterrent to crime." Europe goes as far as to make abolition a pre-requisite for membership, as well as banning the export of drugs that could be used in executions.[14]

Robert Badinter, a former minister of justice who was instrumental in banning the death penalty in France in 1981, denounced “methods that are even more barbaric than ordinary barbarism.” Both Britain and France issued official statements condemning the execution in Oklahoma and urging the abolition of the death penalty. The British Foreign Office said it opposed the death penalty “in all circumstances as a matter of principle,” asserting that “its use undermines human dignity” and that “there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value.” [15]

The criticism spanned Europe’s ideological divide, outraging conservatives and liberals. Alice Arnold, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, a right-leaning newspaper in Britain, wrote that “America is missing the point,” which is about “the very concept of killing in cold blood” and not about the method. [16]

“I am proud to be British today, proud that I live in a country where this barbarism does not exist, but we must remember this atrocity occurred not in some far-off, third-world dictatorship,” Ms. Arnold wrote. “It happened in America, land of the free.” [17]

Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, a member of Spain’s Parliament from the governing, conservative Popular Party, said that “botched or not, unnecessarily gruesome or technically flawless, executions are unacceptable.” [18]

Mario Marazziti, who coordinates a global campaign for a moratorium on the death penalty for the Sant’Egidio Community of lay Roman Catholics, called lethal injection “unusually cruel and inhuman.” Despite the claims, he said, “it is never a ‘clean’ procedure,” but it represents what he termed “the moral and scientific bankruptcy of ‘clean’ capital punishment.”[19]

Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and a member of the European Parliament, has been pressing European drug companies not to supply executioners in the United States. “As a very sincere friend, I think this is unworthy of the United States of America,” she said. “The response to the E.U. ban on the export of certain drugs for execution should not be to scrape the moral barrel.” Javier Garvich, making a comment on the Spanish website of El País, wrote that “if this happened in Cuba or North Korea, the United Nations would seek international sanctions.” [20]

Other Reactions

Courts in countries such as Canada and Mexico, and throughout Europe, have begun to consistently refuse extradition as long as the death penalty is a possibility in the U.S. And, on the issue of the execution of juvenile offenders, every country of the world, with the possible exception of Somalia, has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child forbidding such executions. [21]

“The increasing use of the death penalty in the United States and in a number of other states is a matter of serious concern and runs counter to the international community's expressed desire for the abolition of the death penalty.” Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. [22]

Western Europe abolished the death penalty; Russia commuted the death sentences of all 700 of its condemned prisoners to life;[23] and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights has called for a moratorium on all executions. The number of countries that have stopped implementing the death penalty has grown to an all-time high of 105. In addition, some of the world's most respected leaders have also called for an end to the death penalty, including Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. But the U.S. ignores these appeals and even the more moderate steps called for by the international human rights community. The U.S. has further distanced itself by expanding capital punishment to broader classes of crimes, and applying it against society's most vulnerable offenders.[24]

Racial Bias and the Arbitrary Application of the Death Penalty

The U.N.'s Special Rapporteur and the International Commission of Jurists, following their visits to the U.S. in 1997 and 1996 respectively, decried the evident racial bias in the use of the death penalty. The Jurists particularly singled out the racial disparities and due process violations evident in the use of the death penalty in the U.S.:

"The Mission is of the opinion that . . . the administration of capital punishment in the United States continues to be discriminatory and unjust -- and hence 'arbitrary' --, and thus not in consonance with Articles 6 and 14 of the Political Covenant (ICCPR) and Article 2(c) of the Race Convention."[25]

As those numbers suggest, support varies widely among racial groups. In 1996, 56 percent of black people supported the death penalty, while 36 percent do now. Forty percent of Hispanics support it. Twice as many white Americans support the death penalty (63 percent) than oppose it. But even among whites, support has decreased significantly 1996, when a startling majority—81 percent—of whites favored the death penalty. Not surprisingly, there is a political divide, too: 71 percent of Republicans support the death penalty, while only 47 percent of Democrats do. [26]

Evidence suggests that the death penalty continues to be plagued by racial disparities, which may explain differences in support among the country's racial groups. Since 1977, defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death in the U.S. if the murder victim is white, and African-Americans are treated more harshly as defendants, according to Amnesty International. A 2007 study from Yale University School of Life also found that African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in the cases where victims are white. [27]

The size of the American popular majority supporting the death penalty changes with the intensity of the public's fear of crime. The more violent the state, the more likely it is to employ the death penalty. Shamefully, it is also shorthand for attitudes about race relations, an issue that Europe is only now beginning to confront. The death penalty is most used in the American South, and is disproportionately applied to those who kill whites.[28]

Support for the death penalty is still strong among religious whites and Republicans. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 55 percent of adults support the death penalty for convicted murderers, while 37 percent oppose it. Whites remain the only racial group in the United States where a majority support the death penalty.[29]

Death penalty is unchristian

After a vivid account of the hanging, he says with an ironic twang: "All this is carefully arranged and planned by learned and enlightened people." He notes that the government who commits this killing is involved in the process "from the lowest hangman to the highest official—all support religion and Christianity, which is altogether incompatible with the deed they commit."[30]

But several recent cases concerning secrecy around lethal injection drugs point to greater consideration for death row prisoners. In Texas,  a judge ordered state prison officials to disclose where they bought their last batch of lethal injection drugs from, NBC News reports. A similar case was ruled in Louisiana, and in Oklahoma, a judge said that secrecy about the drugs is unconstitutional.[31]

Both the highest number of Christians and the most execution in the United States are in the South. Florida and Texas account for nearly half of the executions in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Across the nation's religious groups, support and opposition varies dramatically. [32]

67 percent of white evangelical Protestants favor the death penalty.

64 percent of white mainline Protestants do.

58 percent of black Protestants oppose the death penalty, making them the group most strongly opposed to it (33 percent support it).  

54 percent of Hispanic Catholics oppose it, while 37 percent support it.


[1] Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions, Amnesty International Ltd, Peter Benenson House, 2011

[2] Michael Kronenwetter, Capital Punishment: A Reference Handbook, ABC-CLEO, Inc., 2001, p. 202

[5] Michael L. Radelet & Traci L. Lacock, Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates?: The Views Of Leading Criminologists, The Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology, Vol. 99, No. 2,2009

[6] ibid

[7] Official policy position of the American Society of Criminology with respect to the death penalty, American Society of Criminology, Adopted in November 1989, http://www.asc41.com/policies/policyPositions.html

[8] Michael L. Radelet and Ronald L. Akers, Deterrence and the Death Penalty, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminality, Vol. 87, No. 1

[9] ibid

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12] ibid

[13] John J. Donohue and Justin Wolfers, The Death Penalty: No Evidence for Deterrence, Economists’ Voice, April, 2006, www.bepress.com/ev

[14] Associated Press, theguardian.com, May 3, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/03/botched-execution-deep...

[21] Associated Press, Yeltsin Signs Death Sentence Decree, June 3, 1999

[22] Associated Press, Yeltsin Signs Death Sentence Decree, June 3, 1999

[23] Associated Press, Yeltsin Signs Death Sentence Decree, June 3, 1999

[24] International Perspectives on the Death Penalty: A Costly Isolation for the U.S., Richard C. Dieter, Death Penalty Information Center, October 1999, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/node/984

[25] . International Commission of Jurists, note 27, at 68, § vi

[26] Pew Research Center, March 28, 2014, “Shrinking Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty”

[27] Pew Research Center, March 28, 2014, “Shrinking Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty”

[29] Pew Research Center, March 28, 2014, “Shrinking Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty”

[30] Death penalty is unchristian, Jay Parini, May 6, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/05/opinion/parini-capital-punishment/

[31] W. Schabas, The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law 295 (1997).

[32] Pew Research Center, March 28, 2014, “Shrinking Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty”

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Comment by Luara on May 30, 2014 at 3:45pm

There's one thing in favor of the death penalty - that's that prosecutors use the threat of the death penalty as a bargaining tool.  In exchange for not seeking the death penalty, they get murderers to show them where the body(s) are, etc. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 15, 2014 at 11:44am

Idaho--As a reported I covered a story that went much worse for the perpetrator. Long story short--man tries to rob 7-11 with the old finger in the jacket trick. The man behind the counter had a .357. Robber literally gets shot in the butt. Limping from the store he runs into a police car. Not finished. Police open cash sack and it has a sandwich and Snicker's bar. I won an AP prize for story of the week for that one.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 15, 2014 at 11:39am

Luara--Yes we can do something. Rather than talk to each other, we can talk to those cowards in Washington. If they get enough people going against it they will change their vote and the death penalty will be banned again. I am a butt man, meaning when something disturbs me, I get off my butt and do something. Whether or not it works I don't know, but when I do it, others have a way of joining in. I've been an activist for years. Been jailed a few times because of it. Did I accomplish anthing? Who knows, but I was a sit-in veteran and war protester even when I was a soldier.

Comment by Idaho Spud on May 14, 2014 at 10:10am

Don, I love the Golden Gloves story.

Comment by Luara on May 14, 2014 at 10:02am


Yes, I don't think murderers are liable to be deterred.  They're people in a bad marriage who suddenly snap.  Or abusive narcissists who feel invulnerable.  Or professional hit men, who get away with many murders before they're caught. 

I can see that you're trying to propagate this point of view - which seems useful since many atheists need to rethink capital punishment and other issues after they quit religion.  

But I've also been wondering as you post these things - well we agree, but so what?  What can any of us do about it?  I have no voice in whether someone is executed.

In fact as someone who doesn't like the death penalty, I wouldn't even be qualified to be on the jury in a capital murder case!  Thus people opposed to the death penalty are deprived even of that power. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 13, 2014 at 11:37pm

Luara--I recall that murders often happened near the police station Chicago. The death penalty is a deterrent only when the prisoner is walking the "green mile." The death penalty is like heavenly punishment. A prisoner can sit on death row for years and even decades before the penalty is carried out. Heavenly punishment doesn't happen until you die. So many people say "What the hell, I'll repent when I get a little closer to dying.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 13, 2014 at 11:25pm

Michael--My first job as a reported found me covering the"cop shop." The beat. I went their , looked at the blotter and made up my if there was anything readers want to know. Doing that job, I learned that approximately 20% of criminals commit 80% of the crime. Yes, crooks get away with many crimes. That they get away is the path to their downfall. They become overconfident and sloppy, but even more than that, the law of averages catches up with them. They may get away with 8  of 10 crimes, but eventually they will be nabbed and crime will go down. In one way or another your luck will run out and sometimes with unpleasant consequences. My favorite story came from Jet Magazine years ago. In this case, a burglar found himself wishing he could get to the phone so he could call the police. It seems the burglar had broken into an apartment that was not empty. There was only one man in it. Unfortunately for the burglar it was the Chicago area heavy weight champion of Golden Gloves.

Comment by Luara on May 13, 2014 at 12:56pm

Capital punishment might have been a deterent to crimes like murder 200 years ago.

Probably not.  I read in Arthur Koestler's Reflections on Hanging that pickpockets were active in the crowds that were watching hangings - at a time when picking pockets was punishable by hanging.

Comment by Michael Penn on May 13, 2014 at 11:04am

I agree with you, Don, on how criminals think. Modern forensic technology shows that none of them think too well or they would not be doing the crime. A single person planning a crime is very likely to be caught and this chance is increased as he brings more people into the plan.

My grandsons each thought they were smarter too. They were thug punk kids who thought their drug and crime world is the real world while the rest of us live phoney lives. Both of the boys were sentenced to state prison recently, and this finally happened because they becme of age.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 13, 2014 at 10:48am

Amen Michael. It takes one away, BUT--there are plenty more that don't know it yet who will be killers. Also, every criminal thinks he's smarter that others and the cops. He or she won't be caught!



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