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Argument: Capital punishment does not deter crime

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Supporting quotations

Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ring v. Arizona (01-488), said on June 24th, 2002. - I note the continued difficulty of justifying capital punishment in terms of its ability to deter crime, to incapacitate offenders, or to rehabilitate criminals. Studies of deterrence are, at most, inconclusive.[1]


Abner Mikva, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. October 2002. - It is very hard to find any empirical evidence that our societal security is strengthened by the use of capital punishment. States that have wielded the death penalty with vigor have crime rates as high or higher than states that have never authorized the death penalty. Despite many efforts to do so, it has proven almost impossible to quantify the efficacy of capital punishment. ... The main function of the death penalty is to vent societal spleen against those who commit certain heinous crimes.[2]


Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia Law Professor. "Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Critical Review of the New Evidence", Testimony to the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Codes and other committees on the Future of Capital Punishment in the State of New York. 21 Jan. 2005 - "These new studies [that claim a new evidence supports the conclusion that capital punishment has a positive deterrent effect] are fraught with technical and conceptual errors: inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, failures to consider all the relevant factors that drive murder rates, missing data on key variables in key states, the tyranny of a few outlier states and years, and the absence of any direct test of deterrence. These studies fail to reach the demanding standards of social science to make such strong claims, standards such as replication and basic comparisons with other scenarios. Some simple examples and contrasts, including a careful analysis of the experience in New York State compared to others, lead to a rejection of the idea that either death sentences or executions deter murder.


John Cochran (U of O), Mitchell Chamlin, and Mark Seth. "Deterrence or Brutalization? An Impact Assessment of Oklahoma's Return to Capital Punishment". 1994 - "no evidence of a deterrent or a brutalization effect is found for criminal homicides in general. Similarly, the predicted deterrent effect of the execution on the level of felony murders is not observed."


Jon Sorenson, Victoria Brewer, and James Marquart. "Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Examining the Effect of Executions on Murder in Texas". 1999 - "This study tested the deterrence hypothesis in Texas, the most active execution jurisdiction during the modern era. Using monthly observations during 1984 through 1997, both the general relationship between executions and murder rates and the specific relationship between executions and felony murder rates were examined. An initial bivariate relationship between executions and murder rates proved to be spurious when appropriate control variables were included in regression models. Within a context so ideally suited for finding any potential deterrent effects, this study confirmed the results of previous ones that failed to find any evidence of deterrence resulting from capital punishment."


William J. Bowers, Glenn L. Pierce. "The Illusion of Deterrence in Isaac Ehrlich's Research on Capital Punishment". 1975


US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, 2002[3] - "I note the continued difficulty of justifying capital punishment in terms of its ability to deter crime...Studies of deterrence are, at most, inconclusive"


Henry Ford[4] - "Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty."


American public: A 2004 Gallup Poll found that 6/10 Americans believed that the death penalty "does not act as a deterrent to murder".[5]


Hugo Adam Bedau. "The Case Against The Death Penalty". 1992 - "The death penalty fails as a deterrent for several reasons. Any punishment can be an effective deterrent only if it is consistently and promptly employed. Capital punishment cannot be administered to meet these conditions. Only a small proportion of first-degree murderers is sentenced to death, and even fewer are executed. Although death sentences since 1980 have increased in number to about 250 per year,(1) this is still only 1 per cent of all homicides known to the police.(2) Of all those convicted on a charge of criminal homicide, only 2 percent -- about 1 in 50 -- are eventually sentenced to death.(3) The possibility of increasing the number of convicted murderers sentenced to death and executed by enacting mandatory death penalty laws was ruled unconstitutional in 1976 (Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280).


Hugo Adam Bedau, Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and writing for the ACLU. "The Case Against the Death Penalty". 1992 - "Persons who commit murder and other crimes of personal violence either premeditate them or they do not. If the crime is premeditated, the criminal ordinarily concentrates on escaping detection, arrest, and conviction. The threat of even the severest punishment will not deter those who expect to escape detection and arrest...Gangland killings, air piracy, drive-by shootings, and kidnapping for ransom are among the graver felonies that continue to be committed because some individuals think they are too clever to get caught."


Hugo Adam Bedau, Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and writing for the ACLU. "The Case Against the Death Penalty". (1992) - If the crime is not premeditated, then it is impossible to imagine how the threat of any punishment could deter it. Most capital crimes are committed during moments of great emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when logical thinking has been suspended. Impulsive or expressive violence is inflicted by persons heedless of the consequences to themselves as well as to others.


Hugo Adam Bedau, Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and writing for the ACLU. "The Case Against the Death Penalty". 1992 - Political terrorism is usually committed in the name of an ideology that honors its martyrs; trying to cope with it by threatening death for terrorists is futile.


Hugo Adam Bedau, Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and writing for the ACLU. "The Case Against the Death Penalty". 1992 - The attempt to reduce murders in the illegal drug trade by the threat of severe punishment ignores this fact: Anyone trafficking in illegal drugs is already betting his life in violent competition with other dealers. It is irrational to think that the death penalty--a remote threat at best -- will deter murders committed in drug turf wars or by street-level dealers.


Rudolph W. Giuliani (R), former U.S. Attorney of New York, former Mayor of New York. - It's a phony issue. To pretend the death penalty is going to end crime in the United States is to fool people, to promote public ignorance.[6]


Thomas J. Miller, Iowa Attorney General, in a letter to the members of the General Assembly. 2 Feb. 1998. - Reinstating capital punishment will not keep our citizens safer. The death penalty will not prevent murders.[7]


Robert M. Morgenthau, District Attorney. 2004 - Take it from someone who has spent a career in Federal and state law enforcement, enacting the death penalty ... would be a grave mistake. Prosecutors must reveal the dirty little secret they too often share only among themselves: The death penalty actually hinders the fight against crime.» «[The death penalty] exacts a terrible price in dollars, lives and human decency. Rather than tamping down the flames of violence, it fuels them while draining millions of dollars from more promising efforts to restore safety to our lives.» «[C]apital punishment merely allows proponents to convince themselves that they have done something to fight crime. It is a mirage that distracts society from more fruitful, less facile answers.[8]


James B. Eldridge, Massachussetts State Representative, opposing Gov. Romney's plan to reinstate the death penalty in Massachussetts, Neponset Valley Daily News, 5/4/2004. - There's no proof that the death penalty deters crime. It's a strange philosophy that the state should kill to encourage people not to kill.

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