July 20, 2019 | 78° F

Pro-capital punishment argument significantly flawed, misinformed

Letter to Editor

In the commentary titled, “Capital punishment necessary in US justice system,” published in The Daily Targum on Feb. 28, Michael Denis argues in favor of the death penalty as a punishment for “the most heinous crimes.” He disagrees with “the notion that utilizing the death penalty makes our country look uncivilized.” The General Assembly of the United Nations has adopted four resolutions calling for a moratorium on the death penalty since 2007. According to the U.N.’s website, as of June 2013, about 150 of the U.N.’s 193 Member States “have either abolished the death penalty or no longer practice it.” That puts the U.S. in the roughly 25 percent bracket of Member States that still execute their citizens, putting us in the company of Iran, Iraq and North Korea — George W. Bush’s “axis of evil.” Denis goes on to say “a true civilized society is essentially a utopian society with no crime whatsoever.” But there are tremendous racial disparities in capital sentences. In a 1990 report, the General Accounting Office found that “those who murdered whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.” An article published in the Cornell Law Review in 1998 reports that “the problem of arbitrariness and discrimination in the administration of the death penalty is a matter of continuing concern.” A 2005 study by Glenn Pierce and Michael Radelet published in the Santa Clara Law Review concludes that in California, “the race and ethnicity of homicide victims is associated with the imposition of the death penalty,” with those killing whites more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill persons of color. This hardly seems utopian. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 143 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. One of these inmates, Frank Lee Smith, was incarcerated in 1986 and died in prison in 2000 before the charges against him were dismissed based on DNA evidence. Is this the mark of a “true civilized society?” Some would consider it a heinous crime to deprive someone of his or her freedom because of an invalid trial verdict — at least we can restore that person’s freedom when we discover the truth. We can’t bring back the dead.

John M. Ackroff is an instructor in the Department of Psychology at the University.

BY John M. Ackroff

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