Additionally, although Uniform Crime Reports states that women are responsible for approximately 15% of all criminal homicides, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that they only comprise 1% of all death row inmates. According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, more than 33% of these women were sentenced to death for killing their abusers. Equally disturbing is the fact that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 10% of those convicted in capital cases were could afford to hire their own attorneys. Because of the disparities with which the death penalty is applied, the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association, in a vote of 280 to 117, issued a request for a suspension on all executions because they believed the system in place was “a haphazard maze of unfair practices” (The New York Times, 1997, A 20).
Perhaps the most popular argument in favor of the death penalty is that it is cheaper to execute prisoners than to sustain them throughout their natural lives. However, surprisingly, this goes against the evidence as well. According to Spangenber and Walsh, “the death penalty is not now, nor has it ever been, a more economical alternative to life imprisonment.” When the cost of all litigation is considered, including repeated appeals, capital punishment actually becomes significantly less cost efficient than life in prison. In fact, a recent study placed the total cost of executing a criminal to be 3.6 million dollars. This figure is six times higher than the amount needed to support a sentence of life without parole (Cook and Lawson, 1993, 97-98).
However, the very best argument against the death penalty is not the negation of the arguments in favor of it; it is the simple fact that the justice system is comprised of human beings and is therefore inherently fallible. There are many examples of innocent men and women being convicted in capital cases. For example, Kirk Bloodsworths rape and murder conviction was reversed because evidence was withheld.
He was ultimately exonerated after he was cleared by DNA evidence. Sabrina Butlers conviction for murdering her son was reversed because of technical errors and vacated after a neighbor corroborated her story and the medical examiner admitted to performing a haphazard autopsy. Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were convicted of abducting, raping, and murdering a little girl and spent ten years in prison, despite another convicts confession to the same crime, until they were ultimately exonerated by DNA evidence. In 1988, Walter McMillan was sentenced to death despite the fact that the only evidence against him was an ex-convicts testimony and twelve witnesses testified in support of his alibi. His conviction was ultimately overturned on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, suppression of evidence, and witness perjury.
Although all of the aforementioned cases were ultimately overturned and their convictions vacated, it does not always turn out this way. In 1992, Roger Keith Coleman was put to death, despite the fact that evidence not presented at his trial suggested a different man committed the crime. In 1976, Jesse Tafero and his wife were sentenced to death, based on identical evidence, for killing a police officer. In 1992, his wifes sentence was vacated after it was found that the ex-convicts testimony, which was the basis of the prosecutions case, had been perjured. Unfortunately, Jesse Tafero was unable to benefit from this information because the state had already executed him a year earlier in 1991. These kinds of mistakes are not acceptable when a persons life is at stake, and it is for this reason that the death penalty must be abolished and replaced by life without parole.
Bailey and Peterson, “Police killings and Capital Punishment: The post-Fuman period.
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“Bar Association Leaders Urge Moratorium on Death Penalty,” The New York Times, February
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Bedau, “Recidivism, Parole, and Deterrence.” In Death Penalty in America, edited by Bedau.
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