Debate over death penalty crime deterrence continues

Daily Sundial

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Whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime is a question that has many seeking to change it or get rid of it completely. Eric Greene, special policies assistant for the American Civil Liberties Union, said he believes the death penalty is a form of cruel and unusual punishment that should be completely abolished. According to Greene, over a hundred death row inmates have been released across the United States after being found innocent, or after having found procedural flaws that raised questions during the suspect’s trial. Some were only minutes away from execution, he said. But Kent Scheidegger, legal assistant for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said the death penalty serves as a deterrent. When you increase the consequences of something, and the risk is much greater, someone capable of committing a crime will be more likely to refrain from doing so. Greene said one of the major controversies surrounding the death penalty is that sentencing seems to be closely correlated with a suspect’s race and financial status. For example, he said that many times the person does not have the funds to hire a skilled lawyer to make sure information presented in the trial is fair and accurate. James Joseph Lynch Jr., an attorney in Sacramento, said he believes the death penalty is wrong for several reasons. Not only does he classify the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, but as a gross waste of the state’s financial resources that has not yet proven to be an effective deterrent. He said it would be much less costly to give death row inmates life in prison. “We can house these people for 10 percent of what we execute them for,” Lynch said. “We’re not getting our money’s worth, so why bother. It (also) drags us down to the level of those killers.” Greene said life in prison without the possibility of parole is a perfectly good alternative, because it still involves taking people off the streets. “There’s a logical and moral contradiction by teaching that killing is wrong by killing,” he added. But Scheidegger said life in prison is not sufficient punishment for some people. It may be a suitable alternative in many cases, but for the worst crimes, the death penalty fits best, he said. Scheidegger said he recalls an incident where someone in prison arranged for another prisoner, whose sentence would be up soon, to murder the witnesses who testified during his trial. It is these people who need to be sentenced to the death penalty, he said. According to Greene, homicide rates are higher in states that utilize the death penalty, which shows that the system is flawed and ineffective for the purpose it is trying to serve. California’s system is among the most flawed, and should be corrected, he said. Studies show that a large percentage of Californians feel the death penalty should be abolished, Greene said, because is not proving to minimize the amount of homicides, and it is wasting money that could be used in other areas. “With any kind of human judgment, there is always room for mistake,” Greene said. “With the death penalty you can’t undo the damage.” Lynch said it has been statistically proven that no one on either side of the corporal punishment debate feels any better after the execution of a criminal. The execution of someone is not going to bring back the victim or take away the grief of losing someone, he said. Jenny Tobias, senior psychology major, said she understands the purpose of the death penalty, but does not agree with it. “I understand that a killer must be punished, but it just doesn’t seem right,” said Tobias.