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Death Penalty in Iowa

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/12/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 818 times Debate No: 66872
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Jared J
12 December 2014

Dead Wrong About the Death Penalty

The Death Penalty, the ultimate punishment. But is it worth it? The death penalty was outlawed in Iowa in 1965. Now people think we should bring it back. Iowa should continue to not have the death penalty and use the alternative, life in prison. This is because it has some major flaws.

First and foremost death penalty states have higher murder rates. In 2013 the average death penalty state murder rate was a 4.4. While non-death penalty states murder rates where a 3.4. (DIPC 1). Since Iowa has a murder rate of only 1.4 there is no reason to switch. Also death penalty states make up 75% of the top 25 highest murder rates in the country. Thus proving the death penalty does not lower murder rates. Murder rates are not the only thing the death penalty rises, court cases are also affected.

Court cases that seek the death penalty cost more than those who do not. A Death Penalty Advisory Committee study shows that death penalty seeking cases cost on average $395,792 to the defense. While only $98,963 for non-death penalty seeking cases. Their fore death penalty seeking cases cost 4 times more than non-death penalty seeking cases. Definitely not worth the money. Overpriced court cases are not the only problem in the courtroom innocent lives are also at stake.

The number of innocent lives put on death row is too high to be worth it. Since reinstatement in 1973 "at least 121 people have been released from death row". At the same time "over 982 people have been executed" Thus an 8 to 1 innocence rate. If your car broke down 1 of every 8 times you drove it you would no longer trust it and have it fixed. The death penalty needs fixing some may say that no executed person has ever been executed. But we have come to close in the past to let this happen in the future.(Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab 1)

Iowa should continue to not have the death penalty. It does not lower murder rates; it raises court costs, and has a high chance of convicting innocent lives. The risks are not worth it let the death penalty stay dead.

Work cited

DPIC. "Murder Rates Nationally and By State." DPIC. N.p., 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. .m.

"Innocence (In Support of the Death Penalty)." Innocence (In Support of the Death Penalty). Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab, 2004. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Report of the Judicial Council Death Penalty Advisory Committee (n.d.): n. pag. Report of the Judicial Council Death Penalty Advisory Committee. Judicial Council, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. .


I thank my opponent for instigating this debate.


a) Cross-sectional evidence

My opponent’s evidence is entirely cross-sectional. Cross-sectional evidence means that you simply compare two 'things' and base your conclusion on the comparison. There are many issues with this basic comparison.

The main issue is that cross-sectional evidence suffers from the endogeneity problem. For example, say the state with the death penalty had higher crime before another state abolished its laws. After the state abolished the death penalty, the state which still executes has higher crime. We cannot conclude, then, that the disparity is due to the existence of the death penalty. This issue is resolved in panel data, where the endogenity problem is significantly reduced.

This is exactly the case with the death penalty! As economist John Lott argues, “states without the death penalty . . . have long enjoyed relatively low murder rates, something that might well have more to do with other factors than the death penalty” [1].

The differences in homicide rates between the states is not because of the death penalty, but other unrelated factors.

b) Panel studies

Panel studies will more accurately tell us whether or not the death penalty will reduce crime. They will measure trends over time and better account for variables unrelated to capital punishment. Therefore, to get an accurate picture of the death penalty’s effect on crime, panel studies must be referred to.

Criminals criminals are rational actors. They make choices based on the costs and benefits of a certain actions. Economists are well aware of this, as they must understand human behavior in order to predict economic activity in relation to what occurs in the market. I generally consider economists, with their knowledge on human actions, just as qualified to speak on this issue as any other social scientist. Crime decreases as punishment becomes stiffer. An argument often given by the opposition (often criminologists) claim that criminals are not rational actors. However, teenagers, who are likely ‘less’ rational than the average adults, are affected by stiffer penalties [2].

Consensus amongst the research has strengthened over time. In the 1960s, research indicated that criminals were, on average, rational human beings. From this research, it was hypothesized that punishment (like the death penalty, DP) would reduce crime [3]. Isaac Ehrlich was the first economist to really research the issue. Before him, criminologist studies using models would assume that criminals were not rational actors. Using models based on previous work and empirical evidence, he found that the death penalty would reduce crime and saved, on average, 3 lives per execution [4].

Newer research confirms these findings. According to the Heritage Foundation, “the recent studies using panel data techniques have confirmed what we learned decades ago: Capital punishment does, in fact, save lives. Each additional execution appears to deter between three and 18 murders. While opponents of capital punishment allege that it is unfairly used against African-Americans, each additional execution deters the murder of 1.5 African-Americans. Further moratoria, commuted sentences, and death row removals appear to increase the incidence of murder” [5].

Research by criminologists generally find no effect, which is why debate still rages in academia. Economists have found many issues with their research. For example, criminologists do not put in lagged effects when calculating their models. Death penalty cases are publicized before and after the execution, meaning the deterrent effect begins early, decreases as it loses publicity, and then deterrence again increases after the execution occurs. Criminologists do not account for this, economists do. Criminologists also rely on cross-sectional data. We already know the problems with that. Economists researching the issue almost always find a deterrent effect from the death penalty [6]. This evidence also supports the notion that decreasing the amount of time on death row further decreases homicide rates.

Congressional testimony by economist Paul Rubin argues that evidence which claims to show little effect of the DP on homicide rates are often published in non-refereed journals and “have not been scientifically evaluated”, and argues that modern evidence “have exploited better data and more sophisticated statistical techniques”, the modern evidence has “consistently shown that capital punishment has a strong deterrent effect” [7]. Other testimony from economist Joanna Shepherd also reaches the same conclusion, and even states that the DP can even deter crimes of passion. Shepherd also argues the best evidence points to a strong deterrent effect, “each execution deterring between 3 and 18 murders” [8].


Most people exonerated for innocence are not actually innocent, but rather there is *some* doubt as to their guild. Overall, the only exonerations I would argue are true innocence would be those exonerated by DNA evidence. 34 people convicted of any type of murder have been exonerated, of those, 18 sentence to death. In that same time, 260,000 Americans have been convicted of murder. The error rate for the DP is only about 0.3%, but is likely lower than that as many of the convictions which led to the error rate occurred before 1989. As DNA evidence becomes more widespread and accurate, the amount of innocents executed will decrease even lower [9].

Joshua Marquis has found a rightful conviction rate of 99.72% [10]. The risks of executing an innocent are miniscule when compared to the amount of rightful convictions. And remember, most of that .28% likely come from cases before DNA evidence was commonly used. Realistically, the wrongful conviction rate amongst modern executions are nearing zero.


Most cost estimates ignore the effect of plea bargains, which reduce the cost of the death penalty significantly. One report noted, “significantly more defendants plea bargain to a life in states where the death penalty is available” [11]. A plea bargain often makes the costs of a trial almost zero. Therefore, when this effect is controlled for, the costs of the death penalty will decrease significantly.

Two neutral academics have reviewed the literature related to the DP and its costs, and concludes, “the evidence suggests that the costs associated with the death penalty are similar to those associated with life sentences” [12].

The argument that the DP costs more than life without parole is not convincing. The cost argument is also not an argument against the DP per se, rather a reform of the system. Reforms could be instituted which would reduce costs significantly, but would not abolish it entirely (e.g. shortening waiting times, reducing the amount of appeals, etc.)


The evidence suggests that the DP reduced crime and saves lives. Arguments against the DP are based on weak evidence. Overall, the DP should continue to exist and, if anything, be expanded.




4. Ehrlich, Isaac. “The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 65, No. 3. (1975), pp. 397-417.


6. Shepherd, Joanna M. “Murders of Passion, Execution Delays, and the Deterrence of Capital Punishment,” Clemson University Working Paper, (2003).


8. (use the wayback machine)




12. Sorensen, John and Rocky Lean Pilgrim. Lethal Injection: Capital Punishment in Texas during the modern era. University of Texas Press, 2006.

Debate Round No. 1


ironheadjj forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


ironheadjj forfeited this round.


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Debate Round No. 3
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Reasons for voting decision: Forfeiture