Some of the most concerning legal cases we can see in the history of the United States are those where convictions are later overturned by DNA evidence. While this may lead to the release of someone who is in prison, it naturally leads people to question the accuracy of the system. And, when considering that accuracy, it’s hard not to think about the death penalty and the consequences of a wrongful conviction.
The finality of it is just staggering. If we know that mistakes lead to false convictions, and we know that DNA evidence has overturned cases, it stands to reason that at least some capital punishments have been carried out in error. In fact, this is one reason that many people are opposed to the death penalty.
With that in mind, what do you think are the major justifications for the death penalty? If you said “deterrence”, then you’ve nailed it. This is one of the main reasons people cite for continuing to use capital punishment. They claim that those who may commit serious violent crimes will be deterred from doing so if they know they could be sentenced to death for those actions, whereas they may still do it if they just know they’ll go to jail. It’s, therefore, possible to look at the death penalty not as taking a life, but as saving a future life.
Does this actually work, though? That’s a problem, in that no one can say for sure. There isn’t any specific evidence to show that it does or does not deter others, or that it’s more effective than jail time. Plus, those who commit such crimes due to mental disorders may not have been deterred by anything, rendering the process useless in those cases.
Regardless, the death penalty continues to be used, and these potential problems with the system show why all those who are accused must know their legal rights.