Con: The death penalty is cruel and unusual


The illustration shows the number of death penalty executions from the past decade, 2010 to 2019, in the United States. States that have already abolished the death penalty are blank.

Aarthika Krishnan, Staff Writer

The death penalty is a topic steeped in controversy and must be repealed by state lawmakers. Many argue that capital punishment, primarily executed through lethal injections, violates the Eighth Amendment for its unconstitutional level of cruelty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), lethal injections have the highest risk of botched executions compared to other methods. From 1890 to 2010, the DPIC estimates that out of 1,054 total executions, 75 were flawed and caused extreme agony to the recipients.

“We know from people undergoing lethal injection that it is often extremely painful,” junior Michael Massingill said. “Regardless of whether the people being executed deserve their punishment, they’re still human beings and don’t deserve to be put through something like that.”

There is much room for error and ambiguity when determining the level of crime that deserves a death sentence. For example, there is always the chance that defendants were coerced into pleading guilty or that prosecutors withheld exculpatory information from the case, which is too high of a risk for an irreversible sentence. 

“People of a society are not capable of fairly judging who deserves the death penalty without bias,” sophomore Grace Kim said. “Everyone holds different values in criminal cases, which sets multiple points of view for judging a death penalty.”

Since 1973, 167 death row inmates have been exonerated of all charges, according to the DPIC. The appeals process is extremely expensive and time-consuming, yet many states continue to impose death sentences without indisputable evidence, which wastes state financial resources and hurts taxpayers in the long run. States should not exhaust their budgets for unjust cases that risk the lives of innocents.

“The purpose of our criminal justice system should be about rehabilitating criminals, not punishing them. Throwing a criminal into a dark hole for years or executing them simply to punish them for their actions is cruel and inhumane,” Massingill said. “Furthermore, it’s extremely expensive. I truly believe that if we spent this money on reforming criminals instead of punishing them, recidivism rates would plummet.”

Instead of forcibly taking lives under the guise of justice, the life sentence is a far cheaper and more humane alternative to the death penalty in every regard. Fox News estimates that the average cost of capital murder cases is $1 million more than life sentences without parole. 

Cost-wise, I believe that life sentences are better,” junior Yatra Karki said. “[The death penalty] wouldn’t benefit society in any way. Yes, we’d have one less killer off the streets, but there will always be more.” 

Additionally, the rate of executions has declined by more than half in the past decade. In the 2020 legislative season, the Catholic News Agency reports a growing momentum of anti-death penalty activists and more repeal bills introduced by state lawmakers. Currently, 21 states and Washington, D.C. have abolished the death penalty, and this number will likely continue to increase over the years as more reform efforts become actualized.

“The death penalty is not effective when serving justice,” Karki said. “While it may bring closure to a few people affected by the crimes, killing another person will change nothing that’s already been done. We can’t expect people to be good if we as a society don’t foster the necessary means for people to do so.”

The death penalty is grossly immoral and diverts precious financial and legal resources from other community needs. With the inherent risk of executing an innocent person, the death penalty fails to serve its intended purpose and remains an unethical fault in the modern justice system. 

“Put simply, the death penalty is a complete violation of human rights,” Massingill said. “I want to live in a society based on second chances, rehabilitation and life, not one founded on punishment, revenge and death.”