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Abolish the Death Penalty

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  • How Policy Abroad Is Relevant to US Death Penalty

    Clip: The American policy on capital punishment does not exist in a vacuum having influenced and been influenced by how nations around the world view the death penalty.

  • Do Some People Deserve to Die?

    Clip: Is deciding whether or not to abolish the death penalty more than a question of public policy? Can it be argued solely based on the intent and real outcomes of capital punishment?

Debate Details

A recent Gallup poll found that Americans are still largely supportive of the death penalty, with 6 in 10 in favor as punishment for murder. Legal in 32 states, it has come under renewed scrutiny in light of several botched executions in 2014. At the heart of the debate are many complicated questions. Within a flawed criminal justice system, is it possible to know every person’s guilt with a sufficient degree of certainty? Does the fear of death reduce crime? Are there race and class biases in sentencing? Are some crimes so heinous in nature that punishment by death is the only appropriate measure, or is capital punishment always immoral? Should we abolish the death penalty?

The Debaters

For the motion

Diann Rust-Tierney

Executive Director, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Diann Rust-Tierney became the executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in 2004. With thirty years of experience in... Read More

Barry Scheck

Co-Director, Innocence Project & Prof., Cardozo Law

Barry Scheck is the co-founder and co-director, with Peter Neufeld, of the Innocence Project and a professor at the Cardozo School of Law. Known for... Read More

Against the motion

Robert Blecker

Professor, New York Law School

Robert Blecker is a professor at New York Law School, a nationally known expert on the death penalty, and author of the book, The Death of Punishment... Read More

Kent Scheidegger

Legal Director, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation

Kent Scheidegger has been the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation since 1986. A nonprofit, public interest law organization, CJLF’s... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • The death penalty violates basic human rights and is a morally reprehensible mechanism of punishment for a civilized society to maintain.
  • The death penalty does not deter crime.
  • The death penalty is many times more costly than sentencing someone to life without parole.
  • Because of flaws in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, there is the possibility that innocent people will be subjected to this irreversible sentence.
  • The death penalty is applied in a disproportionate manner and is more likely to be used against the poor and minorities.
Against The Motion
  • Some crimes are so heinous that life in prison is an insufficient punishment.
  • The death penalty does deter crime and it guarantees that repeat offenders will not engage in criminal activity again.
  • We accept the possibility of mistakes in every other aspect of life—the death penalty should not be an exception.
  • DNA testing and other advances in forensic science can now eliminate almost all uncertainty regarding guilt or innocence.
  • The death penalty provides prosecutors with an important tool when attempting to strike a deal, without taking life without parole off the table.

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The Research

The Research

Capital Punishment

December 31, 1969

This webpage summarizes the movement of prisoners into and out of death sentence status. The data describe offenders' sex, race, Hispanic origin, education, marital status, age at time of arrest for the capital offense, legal status at the time of the offense, and method of removal. The webpage also includes information on executions, trends, and time between imposition of death sentence and execution.

The Myth of Innocence

Joshua Marquis
March 1, 2016

The modern abolition movement is now based on a trio of urban legends: 1) the death penalty is racist, 2) the accused get grossly inadequate representation, 3) a remarkable number of people on death row are innocent.

The Case Against the Death Penalty

December 11, 2012

Capital punishment is an intolerable denial of civil liberties and is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system.

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