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Argument: Capital punishment does not deter crime

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Extended arguments and supporting evidence

The main body of studies that have concluded that the death penalty deters future criminal acts is frought with technical and conceptual failures

Studies concluding that capital punishment does not have a deterrent effect

  • [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

Other sources citing a disconnect between capital punishment and deterrence

  • US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, 2002[1] - "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[2] - "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".[3]

The death penalty fails as a deterrent because it is inconsistently and very infrequently applied to murder and other crimes

  • 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).

Pre-meditating criminals plan on escaping detection, and that they therefore don't consider being caught, and that they subsequently don't fear receiving capital punishment and aren't deterred:

Many heinous crimes are not pre-meditated, that they are emotionally-charged and potentially irrational, and therefore that the threat of capital punishment could not have a deterrent effect in these criminals calculations

Terrorists can't be deterred

Murderers in the illegal drug trafficking trade are already taking risks with their lives, and therefore that their consideration of their own lives prior to committing a crime is small

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