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WHY THE DEATH PENALTY IS WRONG
In most countries there are still people who believe in the death penalty. They believe that it will reduce the number of murders and allow justice to be done, a punishment to fit the crime. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. This document details why the death penalty is a failure, and why it should never be used under any circumstances.
1. THE DEATH PENALTY IS HYPOCRITICAL
Killing is wrong. No one has the right to kill another personnot a murderer, not a crime boss, and not the government. It is hypocritical for any society to claim that killing is the most intolerable crime and then carry out state killings. Governments should be upholding the value of life. Everyone should be taught to respect life, and that each person's life is unique and precious. The judicial system says that neither vengeance nor retribution are valid reasons for murderyet these are the principal reasons for executions. The state should support the sanctity of life, not set precedents for killing.
2. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT INCREASES ACQUITTALS
Some murderers are not convicted because of the death penalty. A study by Johnston found convincing evidence that the death penalty caused juries to acquit murderers through fear of making a mistake that could cause an innocent person to be executed. The effect of the death penalty is to allow the release of people who are in fact guilty of murder. When Victoria abolished the death penalty the number of defendants being acquitted because of insanity dropped by 54% in the following five years.
3. MISTAKES ARE MADE
Unlike other punishments once the death penalty is carried out there is no way to alleviate the results if a mistake is made. There can be no pardon, no compensationnothing can be done to correct an error. This means that the judicial system must make infallible decisions with the lives of others. Yet the evidence is strong in every country where the death penalty is used: mistakes are constantly being made. Making these life and death decisions is beyond the scope of any human court.
If a mistake is made and an innocent person is executed by the state, then this is a horrific failure of justice. The prisoner is executed by the state in the name of all the people. It is a travesty of justice, a crime in itself, and too much of a burden to load on to the judge, jury, and executioner.
4. INNOCENT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN EXECUTED
Timothy Evans was hanged in 1950 for murder, but was posthumously pardoned in 1966 because of the evidence that the murder had been committed by John Christie.
In 1953 Derek Bentley was hanged in Wandsworth prison for a crime that both the police and the community knew he did not commit. The real killer, Christopher Craig, was his 16-year-old accomplice who shot a police officer dead. Since he was too young by law to hang, it was decided that the mentally retarded Derek Bentley should take the blame.
The case provoked public outrage in Britain and was an important argument in the abolition of the death penalty. The actual killer, and one of the police officers involved have now come forward after 38 years to try and clear Derek Bentley's name.
In Queensland Barry Mannix signed a full confession to murderunder police pressurebefore others were finally convicted of the murder of Mannix's father. Kelvin Condren spent seven years behind bars after confessing to a murder he did not commit. He was released in 1990 by the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Ronald Ryan was the last man to be executed in Australia (in 1967) for allegedly shooting a warder while escaping from Pentridge Prison. There were many doubts about the evidence, in particular about the fatal bullet. Nineteen years after the execution, (1986) Doug Pascoe, a warder who was on duty at the number three guard post during the escape, went to channel 7 and confessed to firing at Ryan. He believed that his shot accidentally killed the warder. He did not say anything about it at the time fearing that he might get into trouble. During the trial he remained silent believing that Ronald Ryan would not be executed. Unfortunately he was.
Since 1973, more than 115 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 innocent defendants were released from death row (DP fact sheet).
Another study shows at least 349 people in the USA wrongly convicted of murder, but not executed.
Michael Radelet, a professor of sociology and author of four books on the death penalty, said that between 1972 and 1994 fifty-four people had been released from death row in the USA because they had been found to be innocent. Once a month someone convicted of homicide turns out to be innocent.
The danger of false conviction has clearly been demonstrated with examples such as Randall Adams (USA) who went within one week of being executed during 12 years imprisonment. His appeal judges unanimously found the prosecutors had suppressed evidence and knowingly used perjured testimony to obtain Adams' conviction. One witness, who later admitted to perjury had received reward money ($20,000). Adams was eventually released.
The Miami Herald reported on 13 April 1992 that it cost an average of $3.2 million to execute an inmate. That's five times the cost of keeping a person in prison for life. Because of the possibility of mistakes and the number of innocent people already executed, death penalty cases have more stages of review, more lawyers, more judges, and more court cases that spread over about 10 years. Yet even then there is no certainty that they will not make a mistake. The reviewing courts are not able to consider new evidence that the prisoner is innocent, such as a DNA test. Proof that the prisoner is innocent is of no consequence, what is reviewed is only that the correct process of law has been followed.
6. RECENT COST STUDIES
A 2003 legislative audit in Kansas found that the estimated cost of a death penalty case was 70% more than the cost of a comparable non-death penalty case. Death penalty case costs were counted through to execution (median cost $1.26 million). Non-death penalty case costs were counted through to the end of incarceration (median cost $740,000). (December 2003 Survey by the Kansas Legislative Post Audit)
The estimated costs for the death penalty in New York since 1995 (when it was reinstated): $160 million, or approximately $23 million for each person sentenced to death. To date, no executions have been carried out. (The Times Union, Sept. 22, 2003)
In Tennessee, death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment. (2004 Report from Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Office of Research) (DP Factsheet)
7. NO DETERRENT EFFECT
It has been shown repeatedly, world wide, that the death penalty does not act as a better deterrent to murder than a long prison term. Most murders are committed in acts of violent rage, the murderer not thinking of what punishment might happen to them in future. Many murders are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs, with the murderer not concerned about any punishment. A further 14% of murderers (in Australia) either commit suicide immediately or attempt to commit suicide. The death penalty would not deter these crimes.
America (in 1981-82) had a murder rate of 9.4 per 100,000 people, with a majority of states having the death penalty. England (in the same year) had a murder rate of 0.8 per 100,000. That is England had a murder rate approximately one tenth of the USA rate without the use of the death penalty. The murder rate in the USA is similar in states side-by-side, one with the death penalty and one without the death penalty. The death penalty makes little difference either way. America has murder rates far higher than all the European countries, yet none of the Western European countries use the death penalty. It is not the death penalty that lowers crime, but other social and economic factors.
In recent years murder and crime rates have dropped in the Western world. The cause of this is quite clear: the population in these countries is aging, and those who commit murder and robbery are in an age bracket that is becoming smaller each year, as birth rates drop.
In some countries the number of homicides actually declined after the death penalty was ended. In Canada the murder rate in 1975 was 3.02 murders per 100,000 people. In 1976 the death penalty was abolished, and by 1993 the murder rate had fallen to 2.19 per 100,000 people.
A September 2000 New York Times survey found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in USA states with the death penalty, has been 48 to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty.
8. EXECUTIONS DEGRADE SOCIETY
It is often argued that those who kill should be treated the same way by the state as the murderers treated their victims. To do this would not only be copying the very crime that society condemns, but allowing murderers and criminals to set the standard for the whole of society. Thus executions carried out by the government would lower the moral standard for the whole nation to that of the murderer. Society must uphold the sanctity of life, not imitate the most vile, bloodthirsty crimes.
Lord Chancellor Gardiner said during the 1965 debate on the abolition of the death penalty in the British parliament: "When we abolished the punishment for treason that you should be hanged and then cut down while still alive, then disembowelled while still alive, then quartered [ripping the body into four pieces with horses], we did not abolish that punishment because we sympathised with traitors, but because we took the view that this punishment was no longer consistent with our self respect."
It is not sympathy for the murderer that drives those who oppose the death penalty, but the fact that killing another person, any person, is wrong. State killings drag our society down to the lowest level, to that of the killer.
In England it was found almost impossible to draw up a law so that the death penalty could be applied equally for all cases. There were always anomalies and special circumstances in each murder case that prevented a executions from being applied evenhandedly.
For example, if the government provided the death penalty for child murder, it would be used unevenly as most children who are murdered, are killed by their parentsoften by their distressed mothers, and rarely by strangers.
It has never been a case of executing everyone who committed a murder, but a case of deciding which people to execute for which crimes, under which particular circumstances. In the USA Doyle Skillen sat in a car, while his partner committed a shooting murder. Although both were found equally guilty, Doyle Skillen who sat in the car was executed, while the man who did the actual killing was released on parole. This was due to complexities of the legal process.
While there can be inequities in cases where people are sent to prisonthe difference with the death penalty is the difference between life and death. This is the greatest inequity of all.
In the USA, approximately 2 percent of those convicted of crimes that make them eligible for the death penalty actually receive a death sentence. (USA AI DP FactSheets)
Along with the argument that some people "deserve to die" is the proposition that the state is capable of determining exactly who it should kill. The reality of the death penalty is that no criminal justice system is capable of deciding fairly, consistently, and infallibly who should live and who should die.
Some advocates of the death penalty say that it should only be used where the murderer has confessed. But who would confess knowing it would mean death? People confess now because it usually means a lighter sentence, not a harsher one. Executing those who confess would lead to few confessions, and probably less convictions.
Nor is a confession a sure sign of guilt. People under great stress or mental confusion confessparticularly the mentally ill, even when they are completely innocent.
In Queensland, Barry Mannix and Kelvin Condren both confessed to separate murders, under police pressurealthough they were both innocent. In the USA, when Charles Lindbergh's child was kidnapped and murdered 200 people confessed to the crime, even though it was a death penalty case. Confession can be caused by mental instability or intimidation as well as guilt.
Worse still, when police rely heavily on confession, as in Japan and China, the investigation of the case is considered less important than gaining a confession. In fact, it is probably easier to make someone confess than it is to gather evidence and find the real criminal. Unfortunately, as we see in Japan and China, it is assumed that if there is a confession, then that person must be guilty, no matter how the confession was obtained.
CAREFUL USE OF EXECUTIONS
It is pointless to talk about using the death penalty with caution, and only for certain crimes. Human rights abuses cannot be dealt out fairly. There has never been any fairness in how the death penalty is applied. It has always been directed at the poor and minority groups. For example, in South Africa between 1947 and 1966 of the 121 men sentenced to death for rape, 100 percent were black.
In the American state of Virginia 55% of those imprisoned for rape were black, but between 1908 and 1962 only blacks were executed for rape.
Other advocates of the death penalty have asked for it to only be used in cases of violent death. But that can be very unjust: a person who stabs someone on the spur of the moment faces the death penalty, but another murderer who systematically plans, and poisons the victim over months does not face execution.
Others want the death penalty for cases of rape. That would only be likely to increase the number of murders, since by killing the victim there would be less chance of identification and the penalty is the same. Since rape is often a difficult crime to prove conclusively, and with death as the penalty, juries would be more likely to acquit the prisoner rather than make a horrific mistake.
A LIFE FOR A LIFE?
All murders carry anomalies that make it very difficult to prescribe the death penalty for a particular class of crime. For example some people want the death penalty for child murder. But most children are murdered by their parents, most often by their distressed mothers, and rarely by strangers. (11*) Executing mentally disturbed mothers is not going to reduce crime, or improve society.
It is sometimes claimed that relatives of the victim should have a life taken for a life, as if the life of the murderer is equal to the life of their daughter, son or wife. Lives are not equal. Killing another person cannot in any way compensate the family for the life that has been taken from them. To say that executing the murderer, can compensate for the life of the victim, is insulting to the family.
An execution cannot restore life or lessen the loss for the victim's family. Executions often draw attention away from the victim and focus it on the person killed by the state, increasing the feelings of rejection often experienced by victims' relatives.
Society has now recognised the plight of victims of crime. Victims suffer in many different ways: emotional trauma, physical injuries, psychosomatic illnesses, financially, and quite often feelings of guilt. Victims of crimes of violence need community support and care. But society must not in its desire for vengeance create another set of victims. Killing a murderer will not in any way bring the murdered person back to life, but it will most definitely create another family of innocent victims. The person being executed has parents, and possibly a wife and children. The result for both families will be similar: death in their family.
VICTIMS AND REVENGE
Many people admit that the only reason that they support the death penalty is to get vengeance. They accept that executions do not help the victims, and they do not reduce future murders. Contemporary standards of justice have rejected the notion that justice can be done by repeating the crimes which society condemns. Vengeance is an emotional reaction, not a well-thought out plan of justice. Killing is wrong no matter who is doing the killing.
A murderer will kill for money, for sex, in anger, jealousy, malice, or revenge. These are not acceptable reasons for killing another person. Yet those who argue for the death penalty often say they want it out of revenge, to punish, to strike back, to try and hurt the prisoner as much as the victims and relatives have been hurt. This is an understandable emotion, but going down that path will lead to disappointment, hatred, and putting lives on hold. Many of those who commit murder have a masochistic, self-destructive attitude to life, and to try to hurt them equally is a futile task, a bitter, hateful task that will not help the victims' relatives.
Killing is the problem, not the solution.
Many people who support the death penalty claim that murderers are not human. They say this quite openly. They have to, because it makes no sense to carry out a cold-blooded state killing to show that killing is wrong. These people find it difficult to justify killing another human beingbut have no problem killing an animal/ beast/ maggot. This same argument was used by the Nazis; Jews were subhuman, and it didn't matter what you did to them. Iran branded people they wanted killed as CIA agents, this eased consciences so that people could accept the killing of another human.
A person may carry out an evil act, but that does not mean they are not human. They may forfeit their right to live in an open society, but human rights belong to every person no matter what crime they may have committed.
THOSE WHO KILL
Many people who are horrified at a brutal killingclaim they would love to kill the murdererrepeating the act that disgusted them; they want more killing. Nor are those who argue for the death penalty above carrying out murder. In England, Harold Green, an uncle of one of the children murdered by Brady and Hindley, organised a petition for the restoration of hanging. Shortly afterwards he was convicted of child murder himself.
Thomas Ley, the NSW Minister for Justice believed in the death penalty. In 1924 he ordered two hangings in NSW. In March 1947, he was sentenced to death for a brutal murder.
To kill someone to show that killing is wrong does not make sense. The moment the state gets involved in killing it establishes that killing is right, and sets a precedent.
A number of people believe it is more humane to kill people than to keep them in prison for a long time. It's hypocritical to say that we care about a prisoner's welfare and because he's in a poor environment we'll kill him for his own good. If we care about treating prisoners more humanely, we should improve prisons, not kill prisoners.
HOW WOULD YOU FEEL ...
Supporters of the death penalty often ask those who are opposed to executions: 'How would you feel if one of your close relatives were murdered? Wouldn't you want the death penalty for the killer?'
Perhaps, but another person who strongly believed in the death penalty, might change their mind and oppose it if they discovered their son or daughter was on death row.
No one could know with certainty how they would react under either of those circumstances. But society has recognised that victims of crime should be the last people to decide the penalty because of their strong emotional reaction to the crime. It is essential for the judge to be impartial and fair in sentencing, and to separate justice from revenge.
It is understandable that a relative of someone murdered, or perhaps killed through drunken driving, would want the death penalty. But that would not make it rightit would probably be an emotional response, not an impartial judgement.
There are many cases of people who were opposed to the death penalty and retained this belief after loved ones were killed. In the USA there is a group of these people opposing executions.
Kerry Kennedy (the daughter of Robert Kennedy): "I was eight years old when my father was murdered, and I remember praying, 'Please God, please don't let them kill the man who killed my father.' I didn't want another personany personto die. And I didn't want another familyany familyto experience the grief that my family was experiencing."
There are many other cases of people not wanting revenge, but one remarkable case is about a woman who desperately wanted revenge.
Dorothy Morefield's son Nick was 19 when he was brutally murdered in cold blood. When they arrested Nick's killerDorothy Morefield felt tremendous physical pain of grief. The pain turned into pure, white hatred and frightened her because it was unnatural. "I had not felt hatred like this before and it was truly a sense of being burnt up.
"At that time I wanted to hurt the killer as he had hurt me; I would have liked him dead and I didn't care how or where. My feelings at that time would have certainly permitted the death penalty. They could have marched him out and shot him at high noon and I would have cheered."
A few months after Nick's death she woke up one morning consumed with rage, with burning hatred, her first thoughts were not of her family, but of the murderer. "It was unbearable. My son was gone, my husband and I were hanging together by a thread, each living with our own anguish, unable to find a place to help one another. My other five children were suffering dreadfully over Nick and needed my comfort, but all my emotions, my energy, my feelings were going into the rage I felt towards the killer. That morning, when he was the first thing to enter my mind, I thought: 'My Lord, what is happening. I am thinking more about the murderer than about Nick. He has taken my son from me and now he is taking my sanity.
"The day I realised the killer was filling more of my thoughts than Nick was, the day I saw that I could not put anything into my life with a husband I love, with my remaining children who are also very, very precious, the day I felt I could easily live for the rest of my time full of hate, were the days I knew the death penalty which encourages us to seek a very primitive revenge, to reduce ourselves to the level of killers too, was not the right way. I cannot feel compassion for Nick's killer; I don't think I shall ever forgive him, but I also know that his death will not alter any part of the loss I feel for my son.
"The bottom line argument for execution has always been that society owes it to the victims. But my experience and that of many, many others I have counselled, is that the belief we may be able, on a very personal one to one basis, to have the person who has hurt us hurt equally, keeps us locked into a desperately destructive, bitterly painful situation.
You can spend years waiting for somebody to be executed, years spent with all your emotional energy directed towards the murderer rather than rebuilding life."
Concern for the victims of crime must not be used to justify the deliberate taking of a prisoner's life by the state. The government should be concerning itself with caring for the victims, rather than offering to take another life in return. The execution of a murderer will not replace the life of the loved one they have lost.
Murderers rarely think of any punishment. Most murders are committed in acts of rage, the murderer certainly not thinking of what punishment might happen to him in a years time. Many other murders are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the murderer totally unconcerned about any punishment. Wallace's study (NSW 1988) revealed that: Homicide is a spontaneous rather than a premeditated crime. Fourteen percent of murderers (in Australia) either commit suicide immediately or attempt to commit suicide.
A small number of murderers plan their murders carefully, or hire someone else to do the job, these murderers do not believe they will ever be caught for their crime. If they thought they would be caught they would not carry it out, no matter what the penalty. The greatest deterrent is the fear of being caught.
CRIME AND JUSTICE BULLETIN,
NSW ATTORNEY GENERAL'S DEPT. (EXTRACT)
"RATES OF HOMICIDE COMPARED WITH OTHER FORMS OF VIOLENT DEATH
In order to place the extent of homicide in NSW in some perspective, Wallace (1986) presented data relating to other forms of violent death. She found that in 1981, while the homicide rate was 2.2 per 100,000; the rate for those killed in traffic accidents was 24.9, the rate for suicide was 10.6, and deaths due to industrial accidents 5.
"Thus eleven times as many people were killed on the roads as became victims of homicide, five times as many people killed themselves and more than twice the number were killed in accidents while at work than those killed in homicide incidents. The homicide rate is relatively low when compared with these other violent deaths." (Wallace, 1986:17)
Almost one quarter of all cleared homicides in NSW during the study period were spouse killings, and the majority of these (73%) were committed by men. Alcohol was involved in almost half of spouse killings, but was by no means a prerequisite for marital violence. Guns were even more prevalent as the method of killing in spouse homicides than in other forms of homicide40.9% of all spouse homicide victims were shot, with stabbing the next most common method.
The second largest category of killings within the family involved the killing of the offspring of the suspect (27% of family killings and 11.5% overall). The vast majority of child victims were killed by people known to them (96%), mostly by parents, stepparent or other loco-parental status. Few children were killed by strangers. In fact, there were only eight killings by strangers over the 19-year period.
HOMICIDES OUTSIDE THE FAMILY
Homicides outside the family most commonly occurred as a result of interpersonal disputes. The largest categories of non-domestic homicides involved violence around pubs, clubs, or other places of entertainment (14.3%), or in special circumstances such as institutions, between criminal associates or rivals, or between professionals and clients (14.6%). Other such homicides involve neighbours or workmates (9.3%) and, lovers or sexual rivals (10.2%).
The research findings challenge the notion of homicide as premeditated, coldly calculated, and committed by deranged offenders on unsuspecting victims. On the contrary, homicide in NSW is typically a result of interpersonal conflict, usually between people known to each other, and commonly between members of the same family. In many such cases there is evidence of previous violence.
ISN'T THE DEATH PENALTY NEEDED TO STOP THE
EVER INCREASING MURDER RATE?
According to a report released in April 1996 by the Australian Institute of Criminology, the homicide rate in Australia decreased by 9.5% between 1983-4 and 1993-4.
Although there have been more than 20 studies done into the effectiveness of the death penalty they simply show that executions do not reduce the murder rate.
In Queensland, in the decade before abolition of the death penalty, there were 131 murders. In the decade after the abolition there was 129, although the population had increased.
EXECUTING MURDERERS IS MAKING THE PENALTY FIT THE CRIME
Executing murderers is COPYING the crime. No one has the right to kill another person, not a murderer, and not the government.
MURDERERS DON'T SERVE LONG SENTENCES, THEY GET OUT IN A FEW YEARS AND COMMIT THE SAME CRIME AGAIN
If murderers do not serve long enough terms then the judges should be convinced of the need to hand down longer sentences. Murderers serve longer sentences than many people believe. In Australia the average sentence served is 13 years. Many people who oppose the use of death penalty support longer prison sentences for murder.
It would be much easier to introduce the option of life in prison without the possibility of parole, or fifty year sentences rather than reintroduce the death penalty.
Murderers very rarely commit murder again. An American study of 2,646 murderers released in 12 U.S. states from 1900 to 1976 showed that only 0.6% were returned for conviction of a subsequent criminal homicide.
Murderers have the lowest number of repeat offence of all criminals. In a study of Michigan USA, a state without the death penalty, over 400 inmates serving life sentences for murder were released on parole between 1938 and 1972, after serving an average of 22 years in prison. Not one had committed another murder by 1976.
Prisoners who escape from jail sometimes carry out vicious crimes, but the majority of these criminals were not in jail for murder in the first place, but for other crimes. The death penalty would not solve that problem. The problem is one of jail security for all prisoners.
IF THEY SERVE ONLY A SHORT PRISON TERM IT IS NOT FAIR ON THE RELATIVES AND FRIENDS WHO WILL SUFFER ALL THEIR LIVES
It would be much easier to change the law so that prisoners serve longer sentences, or term-of-life sentences, rather than bring in execution laws.
Unfortunately, the relatives and friends will suffer all their lives whether or not the murderer is executed. They will suffer because the victims cannot be restored to life no matter what punishment is metered out. If a pedestrian is killed in a car accident, executing the driver of the car will not compensate for the person killed, nor will it return anyone to life, it will just create another family of victims.
IF THEY ARE NOT EXECUTED THEN THEY WILL BE GETTING OFF, LIVING A LIFE OF LUXURY AT THE TAXPAYERS' EXPENSE
Conditions in prison are not nearly as wonderful as the media usually depict. In most jails there is overcrowding, simmering violence, homosexual rape, bashing, anger, frustration, fear, and boredom. But no matter how wonderful conditions are if you are confined for thirteen years you will not be getting off lightly. If the prison system was run more effectively, the prisoners would be able to earn their keep by working in prison. It would even be possible for them to contribute money to a victim aid fund.
EVERYONE WHO TAKES A LIFE SHOULD LOSE THEIRS: AN EYE FOR AN EYE
But that means everyone who takes a life should be executed. And this is something that no one seems to want, when it gets down to it. Most cases of murder are of family members killing each other. For example: a girl is sexually abused and regularly bashed by her father. One night she stabs him to death while he is a sleepshould she also be executed because she has taken a life? An eye for an eye, a life for a life. Most people who want the death penalty do not want that situation.
SHOULDN'T WE EXECUTE WHEN WE ARE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN OF GUILT?
Even when there is no doubt about guiltand there is usually some doubtit can never be right for the government to kill people. The government should not hold the power of life and death over its citizens, like a Roman Caesar. No one has the right to kill another person. It is hypocritical for the state to copy the crime of killing that society condemns as the most evil. There is also the problem of inequality. Which circumstances will make one murder a death penalty case, and another murder a long prison term? Who will live and who will die? There is the problem of people either willingly, or forcibly making false confessions. There is the problem of juries not wanting to make a mistake and so acquitting people who are in fact guilty of murder.
DON'T RELIGIONS SUPPORT THE DEATH PENALTY?
The traditional Christian Churches in Australia, USA, and Europe oppose the use of the death penalty, and they have done so for quite a long time. Some fundamentalist Churches have advocated the death penalty, along with some Islamic Churches, but in general most religions oppose the death penalty.
In Australia the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, and the Uniting Church, have all strongly opposed the use of the death penalty.
In the USA the leading bodies of at least 20 major religious denominations have passed resolutions opposing the death penalty on religious, moral, humanitarian and social grounds.
Pope John Paul delivered his The Gospel of Life in March 1994. In it the Pope said that human life was a fundamental, sacred value that began with conception and ended with natural death. Although the encyclical was equivocal about the death penalty, the Catholic Church has worked to prevent executions in many countries.
A resolution on capital punishment was adopted unanimously by American Hebrew Congregational Biennial General Assembly, USA 1959: "We believe there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified, and it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods in dealing with crime...
"We believe, further, that the practice of capital punishment serves no practical purpose. Experience in several states and nations had demonstrated that capital punishment is not effective as a deterrent to crime. Moreover, we believe that this practice debases our entire penal system and brutalizes the human spirit."
DOESN'T THE BIBLE SUPPORT THE USE OF THE DEATH PENALTY?
Many people who are not religious begin to quote the Bible when they want the death penalty used, and invariably they quote:
Exodus 21/23: "And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
But why stop there? On the same page we find:
"And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21/17) and in Leviticus 24/16: "And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him ..."
Execution is the punishment for many offences including: profaning the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14), adultery (Leviticus 20:10) and prostitution (Leviticus 21:19). And there is much, much more! There are laws about the treatment of a landowner's slaves. There are also laws about eating foods, laws about animals, marking out land, and hundreds of other things, most of which are irrelevant to life in the 21st century.
None of the people who firmly believe in "an eye for an eye" support the idea of executing those who blaspheme, or curse their parents, or profane the Sabbath. It's a case of selecting one law, which they agree with, out of hundreds which they don't agree with.
But all this is from the Old Testament. Most of the people who like to quote the "eye for an eye, life for a life" are nominally Christian. But what does Jesus say?
"Yea have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also...
"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" (Mathew Chap. 5) Support from the Bible for the use of the death penalty is inconsistent.
ISN'T THE DEATH PENALTY IS NEEDED TO STOP DRUG TRAFFICKING?
The death penalty does not frighten drug traffickers. Why would it concern them when they face death at the hands of their rival drug dealers every daydeath without trial, without a judge, and without warning.
Responding to the drug menace, 24 countries have made drug related offences punishable by death. Malaysia's anti-drug drive made international headlines in the early 1980s when the death penalty was made mandatory for drug trafficking. By June 1990 104 people had been hanged with a further 200 awaiting execution. Yet during the three years after mandatory death sentences the number of registered addicts climbed by 30%.
In June 1990 the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs in Malaysia said that the country's mandatory death penalty for drug addiction had failed to curb either the trade or drug abuse, and that a new approach to the problem was needed.
The deputy director of Malaysia's anti-narcotics force said the mandatory death sentences had not shown signs of fulfilling its role as a deterrent in the six years since its enforcement. Instead the number of people detained for trafficking had increased and those detained were easily replaced by other traffickers within a short time. "Our intelligence shows that people were found to be trafficking in drugs even when a member of their family has been charged and awaiting trial." One effect is that the death penalty makes trafficking more risky, but at the same time increases the prices and profits for the traffickers.
The International Conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (held in 1987) recommended measures such as the prevention and reduction of demand through education and control of drug abuse in the workplace, improved programs for the treatment of addicts, and disruption of major trafficking networks through controls over ships, aircraft and surveillance of borders. The death penalty was not among the many measures proposed to curb the drug trade. The Malaysian Ministry of Health said in 1993 that another 24,000 people became drug addicts during that year, most of them heroin users. It was an 11% increase over the previous year.
DOESN'T THE PUBLIC SUPPORT THE DEATH PENALTY?
A 1988 poll carried out in Florida showed that while the majority of those polled favoured the death penalty, 70% said they would support an alternative to the death penalty that would sentence convicted murderers to life in prison with their earnings going directly to the victims' families or a victims' relief fund.
The Morgan Gallup Poll published in The Bulletin (10 July, 1990) showed that those in favour of the death penalty in Australia had declined 2% during the previous five months; fifty-one percent favoured capital punishment.
But it should be noted that the percentage in favour of the death penalty are much less when the poll gives them other options. For example the Quadrant Research Services' poll, conducted for the NSW department of Corrective Services in 1988, showed that only 35% of people voted for the death penalty, while 47% favoured imprisonment for life.
If it was found that the public supported torture in prisons, would the government then allow it? And if they did, would that make it proper to use torture? Opinion polls only show what is popular, not what is correct.
The death penalty focuses people's attention on the symptoms of violence, not the causes of it. There are many causes, especially social-economic factors; illicit drugs, availability of guns, and alcohol are a large factor in many murders. Another aspect could be the glorification of violence and violent killings on videos. We must seek the causes of violent crime and try to eradicate them, not simply use the death penalty as revenge. Executions are symbols of the inability or unwillingness of governments to tackle root causes of crime, such as poverty and drugs.
ISN'T THE USE OF THE DEATH PENALTY ACCEPTED WORLD WIDE?
The United States is the only industrialised Western country still carrying out executions. And even here the death penalty is banned in 12 states. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 80% of all executions have taken place in the Southern USA. The Northeast accounts for less than 1% of executions in the USA.
The United Nations has endorsed the goal of worldwide abolition of the death penalty. * 85 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes; * 11 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes;
* 24 countries can be considered abolitionists in practice: they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions, making a total of 120 countries which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
* 76 other countries and territories retain and use the death penalty, but the number of countries which actually execute prisoners in any one year is much smaller.
* 110 countries still provide for the death penalty for at least some offences.
PROGRESS TOWARDS WORLDWIDE ABOLITION
Over 40 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990. They include countries in Africa (recent examples include Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal), the Americas (Canada, Paraguay, Mexico), Asia and the Pacific (Bhutan, Samoa, Turkmenistan) and Europe and the South Caucasus (Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey).
MOVES TO REINTRODUCE THE DEATH PENALTY
Once abolished, the death penalty is seldom reintroduced. Since 1985, over 50 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or, having previously abolished it for ordinary crimes, have gone on to abolish it for all crimes. During the same period only four abolitionist countries reintroduced the death penalty. One of them - Nepal - has since abolished the death penalty again; one, the Philippines, resumed executions but later stopped. There have been no executions in the other two (Gambia, Papua New Guinea).
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
Having the death penalty for murderas it is in many states of the USAallows other countries an excuse to use it for a range of nonviolent crimes. For example Saudi Arabia has the death penalty for apostasy (changing one's religion) and Pakistan has it for blasphemy, while China has the death penalty for a number of political "crimes". These countries justify their use of the death penalty by pointing to the USA which uses it for murder. Pakistan and Iran would insist that blasphemy against God is a worse crime than murder and therefore they have the right to execute, just as the Americans do.
Those who want to see executions carried out usually complain that judges are too lenient, releasing prisoners too early. Yet they expect these same judges to carry out the most harsh sentence of all, and one which also requires 100% proof. A judge who executes an innocent person will have the mistake on his conscience for the rest of his life.
Juries are more reluctant to convict when they know the prisoner will be executed. There is evidence that juries bring in an acquittal verdict, or accept an insanity plea rather than risk the possibility of an innocent person being executed.
In the USA, death penalty cases are appealed through to the Supreme Court in a process that generally takes at least 10 years, and costs more than keeping the prisoner in jail for life. This process chokes up the legal system, yet shortcutting this process would result in even more innocent people being executed.
The death penalty is generally disappointing for the relatives who want to see a prisoner executed. This is because they are led to believe that they can gain vengeance and comfort by another killing. Yet the truth is only about 1% of those convicted of murder in the USA are sentenced to death. Relatives who do not get a death sentence, may feel that their loved one was not important enough. While those relatives who do see a death sentence passed, must often wait for 10 years, watching the case go through court after court with most executions being abandoned along the way. This can be a long depressing, emotional drain on the relatives who get caught up in waiting for something to happen. With a life sentence, the penalty is settled, the issue is finalised.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES TO THE DEATH PENALTY?
Amnesty International does not advocate alternative punishments, this is left up to society and the courts. One alternative is a life sentence without the possibility of parole, or a 99-year sentence. The death penalty has many opponents, including most Churches, the Law Council of Australia, politicians from all parties, Greens, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
A life sentence without possibility of parole has much wider support, including support from many people who are opposed to the death penalty.
THE DEATH PENALTY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Amnesty International's work is based on principles set forth in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The rights proclaimed by the declaration apply to all people (no matter what crime they may have committed). Amnesty International's position is quite clear: Amnesty opposes torture in all cases, regardless of what the person may have done. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases, regardless of what the person may have done. We are all part of humanity, and we all have human rights, they are not awarded to us by governments, society, or judges, nor can they be legitimately taken from us.
1. Johnston, Stanley (1962) CRIMINAL HOMICIDE RATES IN AUSTRALIA.
2. TRENDS AND ISSUES, NO. 3, CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF CRIMINOLOGY.
3. See: THROW AWAY MY WIG, BY PHILIP OPAS . Ronald Ryan was executed in 1967 for allegedly shooting a warder (Hodson ) while escaping from Pentridge Prison in 1965. There were many doubts about the evidence, in particular about the fatal bullet. Nineteen years after the execution, (1986) Doug Pascoe, a warder who was on duty at the number three guard post during the escape, went to channel 7 and confessed to firing at Ryan. He believed that his shot accidentally killed the warder. He did not say anything about it at the time fearing that he might get into trouble. During the trial he remained silent believing that Ronald Ryan would not be executed. Unfortunately he was.
4. See BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT, Gordon Hawkins (published by The Australian Broadcasting Commission).
THROW AWAY MY WIG, BY PHILIP OPAS. At the present time the MS is unpublished, but copies are available in the Library of the Supreme Court of Victoria, and the Victorian Bar.
5. PHIL DONOHUE PROGRAM 15 DEC 1994 (in Australia). MICHAEL RADELET, a professor of sociology and author of four books on the death penalty, said that between 1972 and 1994 fifty four people had been released from death row in the USA because they had been found to be innocent. Once a month someone convicted of homicide turns out to be innocent.
6.UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, The death penalty, The risk of executing the innocent. Amnesty International document: AMR 51/19/89. (Page 9).
An argument commonly used in support of capital punishment is that it acts as a deterrent to violent crime. However, detailed research in the USA and other countries has provided no evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. In some countries, the number of homicides actually declined after abolition. In Canada, for example, the murder rate fell from 3.09 per l00,000 in 1975 (the year before abolition) to 2.74 in 1983. A United Nations study published in 1980 found that: "Despite much more advanced research efforts mounted to determine the deterrent value of the death penalty, no conclusive evidence has been obtained on its efficacy."
US studies have shown that, under past and present death penalty statutes, the murder rate in death penalty states has differed little from that in other states with similar populations and social and economic conditions.
One of the first to conduct research in this field was Thorsten Sellin, who compared homicide rates from 1920 to 1974 in groups of contiguous US abolitionist and retentionist states with similar social and demographic characteristics. He found that most of these states had similar homicide rates. The rates were unaffected by changes such as the abolition or reintroduction of the death penalty in some states.
Amnesty International, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THE DEATH PENALTY. Page 162 (1987) .
8. CRIME AND JUSTICE BULLETIN, HOMICIDE, (April 1988). Issued by the New South Wales Attorney General's Department.
9. World Health Organisation Statistics AnnualVital Statistics and Causes of Death 1981 and 1982.
10. Homicide in Canada 1993, published by authority of Minister responsible for Statistics, Canada, 1994.
11. The 1988 report CRIME AND JUSTICE BULLETIN, HOMICIDE (April 1988). Issued by the New South Wales Attorney General's Department.
This report defines a child as one aged less than 10 years. Forty percent of murdered children were less than one year. "The vast majority of child victims were killed by people known to them (96%), mostly by parents, stepparents or others with locoparental status. Few children were killed by strangers." ... "Female suspects were involved in slightly more than half of all child killings, and were responsible for the deaths of 60% of children under five years..."
"Wallace's study of the period 1968--1981 focused upon the killings of children aged 5 years or less. The largest group of child victims in that age group (36%) could be described as battered babies who died as a result of assaults upon them by one or both parents." A second study is from the paper: MURDER IN QUEENSLAND, Criminal Justice Research Paper No 1. February 1994: "Table 4 below [omitted] shows that over two thirds of children [under the age of 16] were killed by people known to them, and that 61% were killed by a parent." This included defacto parents.
"This pattern is consistent with a British Home Office study which found that almost half the killings of victims under the age of one were committed by the child's mother (Morris& Wilcznski 1993)." If we were then to add on the murders by the father it would certainly be more than 50%.
12. Amnesty International, USA DEATH PENALTY BRIEFING P. 52 (O 86210 115 8) 1987.
13. In a study of 145 convicted murderers conducted from 1955 to 1957, the prison psychiatrist Sadataka Kogi could find no one who remembered having thought before committing the crime that he might be sentenced to death. See: Sadataaka Kogi Etude Criminologique et Psychopathologique de Condamnés a Mort ou aux Travaux Forcés a Perpétuité au Japan> Annales Medicopsychologiques, 117th year, Number 2, part 3 (Oct. 1959).
14. Leaflet, Australian Criminal Justice Statistics at a glance. April 1996.
15. TRENDS AND ISSUES, NO. 3, CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF CRIMINOLOGY.
16. AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THE DEATH PENALTY (1987) Page 169.
17. The AI book UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THE DEATH PENALTY (1987), says the "leading bodies of at least 20 major religious denominations in the USA have passed resolutions expressing opposition to the death penalty on religious, moral, humanitarian and social grounds."
This also includes a statement from the United States Catholic Conference. P 176.
18. See Dead Man Walking, Helen Prejean. Notes, Chapter 3, 20.
Marcus Clark, 1996
revised, Sep 2005