The most important reason for the death penalty to be in place is to deter and prevent murderous crimes from happening. However, most states are not utilizing this option, and the inmates on death row are costing these states millions of dollars.
For instance, California has 678 people on death row, the largest population in the country, and they have not executed anyone since 2006. And yet, California spends $130 million a year on its capital punishment. It is estimated by the Death Penalty Information Center that the death penalty can cost a state $10 million, which costs more than a life sentence. This is partly due to an elongated appellate system that has kept some inmates on death row for more than thirty years.
However, it would certainly be favorable for the states where the death penalty is inefficient to either abolish the capital punishment system or make the current structure more effective. For example, the death penalty cannot be used as a bargaining chip in plea bargain negotiations if the defendant and his or her lawyer know that it is going take a substantial amount of time for the punishment to be implemented if the defendant is found guilty. This inefficiency creates a loophole in the system that convicted murderers can utilize.
Critics have argued that the states have added unnecessary delays to the capital punishment process and that eliminating those delays will cause the death penalty to become more cost-feasible. If the states try to do away with too many of those delays, a state could end up with the recent situation happening in Texas, where it is alleged that an innocent man was executed. The allegations surfaced around Cameron Todd Willingham, a man who was convicted of setting fire in a house that killed his wife and twin daughters. New forensic evidence has suggested the fire was not a result of arson and Willingham may have been innocent. The investigation is ongoing.
This situation represents the worst-case scenario for states: executing an innocent man. Eliminating those delays does have its consequences, and states should take every precaution to confirm that the person they are executing is truly guilty, which takes time. There are numerous cases where capital punishment has fulfilled its duties, but all of the proper executions in the history of the United States are not worth the life of one innocent person.
The death penalty’s primary use should be as “leverage” in plea bargain negotiations to try to force a guilty plea with a life attached to it and to avoid the expenses of a trial and the endless appeals after the verdict. Capital punishment can be used as a last resort to punish the most heinous offenders.
Chris Varano is a freshman film-TV-digital media major from Suffern, N.Y.