Full Resolution: The Death Penalty should remain a sentencing option in the United States of America.
First Round will be for Acceptance.
Thank you for accepting Phantom. I should have mentioned above for anyone unaware; this is a Top Tier Debate in Mikal's Debate Tournament. Onwards!
The one fact that could unite both sides of this debate in support of the continuation of the Death Penalty is that the Death Penalty saves lives. Obviously the life of the person executed is not saved, but, according to an irrefutable 26 year study, each execution prevents an average of 74 murders the following year. I believe most of us can see the value in trading one life (the life of a murderer at that) to save 74 more. Some people like to say that you can't put a price/value on life, but that sentiment would hardly console the families of the 74 whose murders are not deterred.
Of course there may be some doubts as to the legitimacy of this study. Couldn't this just be coincidence? In the grand scheme of things 74 is a small number, after all. This possibility was taken into account, and linear analysis was done, finding that the association with the 74 year after statistic was significant at the .00003 level. Another way to put that is that there is over a 34,000 to 1 chance that this is not a coincidence.
To clarify, linear analysis is essentially this.
That graph is not from the study, it is merely a graphic example of how the calculations of coincidence were done. Basically, the homicide rates deviated so little from the average of 74 that the association was .00003. This is essential to understand. It's not like the homicide rate was all over the place and the numbers ended up averaging out to 74. Each year following an execution the number of homicides reduced was extremely close to 74.
GROWING FOCUS ON PROPER JUSTICE
Before I begin my case for the shrinking possibility of innocent execution, I would like to bring to everyone's attention to the fact that only 2.82% of executions have had doubt as to their legal legitimacy. And while each of those supposed wrongful executions are something most of us wouldn't want, remember that each of those executions (39) brought about a significant reduction in the homicide rate, so there is some good to weigh in when considering the moral implications of murdering an innocent. Additionally, the US Supreme Court has placed a ban on the execution of the mentally retarded, and has defended against attempts to sidestep the ban.
"The National Registry of Exonerations says 87 people falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated last year..."
This is a record high, and it follows the general trend. The National Registry of Exonerations has recorded a 22.2% rise in exonerations from 1989 to 2013.
Note that even though there are some ups and downs in the past decade, the dips are far higher than any year before 2000.
Backing off of the general view, we can see that exonerations are also rising for those on death row, from 3 per year (1973-1999) to 5 per year (2000-2011).
All the above information is great for the people released, but is it good for my argument? After all, one could argue that this isn't indicative of a greater focus on locating the wrongly convicted, but rather a lack of focus in the trial process. For that I have a two part rebuttal.
First, the average exonerated person spends 13 years in prison. So, if it were the case that there was some kind of institutional issue with wrongful convictions, those institutional problems were in the past. High exoneration rates don't necessarily mean we've been doing a bad job, but they most definitely don't mean we're doing a bad job today.
But how do we know that these institutional problems do not still persist, and will not show their fruits 13 years down the line? Because of the actions being taken today. According to National Registry of Exonerations' representative Samuel Gross (Michigan Law Professor), "Police and prosecutors have become more attentive and concerned about the danger of false conviction... ...We are working harder to identify the mistakes we made years ago, and we are catching more of them."
His words are not unsupported, evidenced by the significant interest of police officers and prosecutors in reviving old cases. Last year, 40% of exonerations were initiated by officers or prosecutors. The year before, the number was 50%. The fact that the people who put the wrongly convicted behind bars are interested in correcting their mistakes should indicate to us that any institutional problems that may have been present years ago are here no longer, or at least now exist in a much smaller percentage.
Further, "District attorneys in the counties containing Dallas, Chicago, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Santa Clara, Calif., are among those to recently create "conviction integrity" units. The International Association of Chiefs of Police also is pushing to reduce wrongful convictions, joined by the U.S. Justice Department and The Innocence Project, an advocacy group that seeks to overturn wrongful convictions. The association's recommendations to local departments include new guidelines for conducting photo lineups and witness interviews to reduce false confessions."
I believe I have shown that the increased focus on delivering proper justice should give us more confidence in our justice system. High exoneration rates today do not mean we are doing a bad job of delivering justice today, rather it means we may have done a bad job in the past. And if there continues to be high exoneration rates about 13 years down the road, that assuredly does not mean we are doing a bad job today, based on this new concern with wrongful convictions in our justice system.
There are other arguments I could make, but I do not support them, and they are easily refuted. So these stand as my two reasons to support the continuation of the Death Penalty. Each execution saves lives, and as time goes on, we are less and less likely to execute an innocent, an occurrence which was rare to begin with. The Death Penalty is in the interests of the greater good of American safety.
Thanks for reading, yo.
I’d like to thank Pro for starting the debate off with a well thought out and researched case.
Debate Format (Important)
Pro and I have agreed to a certain format this debate in order to eliminate anyone having the last word.
R2: Each of us presents his opening case
R3: We each attack the other’s opening case in R2 (I don’t address Pro’s R3 statements)
R4: We each address the other’s R3 statements (I don’t address Pro’s R4 statements) and conclusion
If this is at all confusing, please PM either me or my opponent for clarification, or post a comment in the comments section.
Burden of Proof
Since my opponent is affirming the resolution, by default, the BoP rests on Pro to prove that the death penalty should remain a sentencing option in the U.S.
Since one of Pro’s arguments is about the possibility of killing innocents, I will leave that argument till the next round.
C1: The Death Penalty Removes the Possibility of Rehabilitation; The Rehabilitation Model Lines up with Science and Psychology
No matter what the crime, and no matter who the perpetrator, rehabilitation is an integral part of the justice system. The rehabilitation model posits that crimes are significantly determined by the environment, social structure, and psychological influences. Grave crimes require perpetrators willing to commit such crimes. There are reasons why persons are willing to rape, kill, or torture--acts most people would feel repulsed in doing. Largely, these persons are the product of factors external to their will. The criminal may have experienced abuse as a child, grown up in economic hardship, fell into the wrong company. He may be sociopathic or suffer from a variety of mental disorders or illnesses. Not every offender matches these circumstances but there is always a source of behavior and grave crimes require out of the ordinary causes which will always enlighten our understanding on why certain people feel compelled to kill.
Criminal law professor Ivana Bacik, argues that offenders are in need of help to change their behavior. The best possible solution would be to remove the social structuralism that produces criminals, but for those already a product of their conditions, sentencing should be tailored to rehabilitative help. Research that Bacik participated in discovered an apparent variation in sentencing depending on disadvantage. Defendants from deprived areas are 49% more likely to be given custodial sentences, than those from less deprived areas,  thus implying a relationship between communal deprivation and crime.
There are numerous facts that provide evidence for a causal determinism in criminal activity. Precursors of criminal behavior can be detected in children as early as elementary school . Genetics, disease, physical trauma, and nutritional factors play large roles in aggressiveness and a proneness to violence . Moreover, "some murderers show significant metabolic abnormalities in as many as six areas of the brain, several of which can suffer damage during gestation or birth".
It is more common for prisoners than the general population to have a history of traumatic brain injury. "In two classic studies of 15 adults and 14 juveniles on death row in the mid-1980s, psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis found all 29 inmates had a history of traumatic brain injury”. Some occurrences completely change the character of the person involved .
Criminologist, Professor, and author, Adrian Raine argues that there’s a biological basis to violent crimes. "Simply put," he says, "if bad brains do cause bad behavior, if brain dysfunction raises the odds that somebody will become a criminal offender — a violent offender — and if the causes of the brain dysfunction come relatively early in life ... should we fully hold that adult individual responsible?" 
This all points to the fact that rehabilitation should be extremely important in our justice system while retribution and revenge have very little place. The death penalty ignores the plight of humans suffering the conditions of the environment they were born into and the uncontrollable issues that affected the way they act. While murder is no doubt heinous, the exact physiological makeup and the history of an offender alleviates much of the condemnation for the perpetrator himself.
Pro may bring up examples that he may believe refutes my argument. For example, can a well-off woman killing her husband and heirs for his estate and riches really be given the same leniancy as those born into abusive families or are suffering brain damage? I would first argue that these types of cases are a minority, as shown. But more importantly, as with other crimes, all actions have a causal basis. There's no mental illness we can apply to the lady, but she's just as much as everyone else a result of factors external to her will--upbringing, genes, physiological setup, environment, and social and everyday influences.
C2: The Death Penalty is more Costly
Cases involving the death penalty are more costly than others due to murder trials being much more lengthy with the death penalty, litigation costs, extra security, and housing. The average cost of a federal trial in which the death penalty is being sought is $620,932 which is about 8 times that of a federal murder case not involving the death penalty.
The death penalty requires more tax dollars than life without parole in every state. For example, California could save $1billion over five years if they replaced capital punishment with life without parole.
Though cost in dollars is of much less importance than a person’s right to life, the costliness of the death penalty brings into question just how practical it is. Significant sums of taxpayers money are going to time-wasting trials centered on the killing of persons, and we have to ask how it’s worth the costs.
C3: The Death Penalty is Unjust
In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty violated the 8th amendment by carrying out cruel and unusual punishment . In 1976, state governments pressured it back into use, but the reasoning still holds and the facts remain. The state has no legitimate authority to execute its citizens, no matter what the nature of their act. The death penalty is state-sanctioned murder. In certain situations, it is justifiable to kill, but never in the case of the sentencing someone to death. With the death penalty, there is always a choice--the criminal is safely in the hands of the state--the state has no necessary motive to kill, such as self-defence or preemptive strike. They can easily let the criminal live while also protecting society from him through life without parole, yet they choose to take away his ultimate position, his ultimate right.
Moreover, the death penalty is not merely cruel because it executes people; the anticipatory suffering of the criminal is agonizing and tortuous. Albert Camus and Fyodor Dostoevsky both argued that the anticipatory suffering of the criminal probably outweighs that of the victim so that the death penalty’s claim to retributive justice does not hold . Criminals sentenced to death in the United States have to wait an average of 12 years, sometimes up to 30. Death row inmates typically wait years for their deaths almost entirely in their cells in solitary confinement. Healthy inmates often become mentally ill and those already sick experience severe deterioration in their condition . This is easily cruel and unusual punishment and is, thus, unconstitutional via the 8th amendment.
The state has a duty to act in the least harmful way possible--yet it gratuitously takes the life of those under its jurisdiction. A society that deliberately kills human-beings without need unequivocally does not respect life.
A fourth argument revolves around the killing of innocents, but since that is one of my opponent’s contentions, I will leave it till the next round.
Thanks for the response phantom.
REBUTTAL, CAUSAL DETERMINISM
In my opponent's first argument, he takes the position that criminals, thanks to the various factors that influenced them in their committing of the crime, should not be held directly responsible for their crimes, and instead of vengeful justice they deserve rehabilitation.
Well to start, I'd like to agree with my opponent on certain parts of this contention. As a believer in determinism, I agree that crimes belong to factors, not criminals, and that responsibility is not really on the people themselves in the conventional sense. However, I disagree with my opponent on what to do with this information.
The mindset of 'people are ultimately not responsible for their actions', which comes from a deterministic outlook, can be dangerous for society as whole. I say this because having this outlook would change the way we reprimand people. Generally, people get reprimanded if they do something bad that's 'their fault'. Thinking and operating under the assumption that people aren't responsible for their actions would lead us to punish less harshly.
The punishing less harshly because of a deterministic outlook is an issue because of the attitude it would give potential criminals. Much of Con's argument for causal determinism and rehabilitative justice talks about factors and influences on criminals. One very important factor to keep in mind are the factors of fear of punishment, and a sense of right and wrong, which go with each other and compliment each other. If we take these factors away, criminals will feel much more justified in their actions. Seeing a law system that doesn't condemn them as bad people, that doesn't punish them as bad people, leaves them thinking they are not, and thus makes them more prone to crime. Taking a deterministic outlook towards crime will eventually lead to a total loss of feelings of accountability.
So while I agree that criminals are not truly responsible for the actions they have taken, it would not be in humanity's better interests to act upon this style of thought, as it would lead to a lack of accountability.
Now I know all the above was pretty general, focusing broadly on criminals, but what was expressed above can be translated to the more specific cases of the Death Penalty.
If we were to apply this 'it's not really your fault' attitude to the act of murder, what do you think that would do to the rate of occurrence of murder? We can logically infer that it would raise it. As I said before, the criminal's actions are influenced by various factors around him/her. If one of those factors is the widely expressed mentality of 'you are responsible for your actions', a potential murderer could be guilted out of the act. If we removed that factor (which I believe is the predominant line of thought today, though a shrinking one) and replaced it with the deterministic view, they would feel less pressure to act in accordance with what is considered good, seeing as the thought is being impressed upon them that they are not inherently responsible for their actions.
And after all that is said and done, refer back to the study that proves strong deterrence. Even if the one to die is not responsible from a deterministic view, from a logical view we can see that the death should not be forgone when forgoing that would lead to the death of roughly 74 people.
My opponent brings up the fact the Death Penalty costs more money than it does to simply give someone life without parole.
The first to mention is deterrence, of course. If 74 people are saved by the execution of man, should we really be getting worked up over a $620,000 case? It is a slippery slope to travel down when we start prioritizing dollars over lives.
Aside from that though, I'd like to talk about the two statistics my opponent used. While I won't be refuting that the Death Penalty costs more, I will be showing that these two statistics are out of context, and overall not representative of the costs of the Death Penalty.
The worst example is the state of California's system. If you follow the link my opponent used, you'll see that each Death Penalty case costs roughly $10.9 million in California. This cost is far, far away from the usual Death Penalty costs, and speaks more to a reform of their own system, than a need for complete abolition of the Death Penalty. The following are percentages comparing California's Death Penalty case costs to other states'.
Kansas, 3.6%(Kansas Cost/Cali Cost, x100, and same process for the rest below)
Federal Government, 5.7%
As for the second statistic regarding the Feds' extra spending on the Death Penalty, I'd like to put things in perspective by looking at their yearly spending.
The latest fiscal plan is to spend $3.9 trillion, leaving the cost of a Federal Death Penalty trial at .00001% of the Federal Budget. Though the Death Penalty trial may cost 6 times more than the life without parole trial, we can see that in the long run, it's like a grain of sand on a beach, and doesn't really matter.
While we're on the 'big picture' theme, let's look at some other examples. Indiana's Death Penalty cost is .003% of their state spending. Nevada, .0025%. Texas, .001%. Note that Texas was one of the states closer to California in trial costs. I could go on but I think my point has been made clear. I am not arguing that the Death Penalty isn't more expensive, I'm simply showing that the increased price of the Death Penalty is minuscule compared to state and federal budgets, and is an incredibly small issue to take with the use of the Death Penalty.
REBUTTAL, DEATH PENALTY IS UNJUST
In the first paragraph of this argument, my opponent makes the case that the state has no right to take a life. His reasoning:
"...there is always a choice--the criminal is safely in the hands of the state--the state has no necessary motive to kill, such as self-defence or preemptive strike. They can easily let the criminal live while also protecting society from him through life without parole, yet they choose to take away his ultimate position, his ultimate right."
I would agree with my opponent, if it were not for the fact that the state does have necessary motive to kill, that motive being the strong deterrent effect of execution. He says they can easily let the criminal live while protecting society, but that is not true, at least, there is a 34,000 to 1 chance that is not true.
Next my opponent turns to the 'torturous' experience of a death row inmate, claiming that due to the manner of living on death row, it is not as bad being among the murdered, saying that this destroys claims to retributive justice. As I am not interested in nor have made arguments for retributive justice, I'll keep my rebuttal to the people who would die thanks to the lack of implementation of the Death Penalty.
So on one hand we've got 12 years on death row, in a constant state of anxiety, fixated on the day of your death. On the other hand we've got potentially 74 lives, and, something that Albert Camus and Fyodor Dostoevsky neglected to mention, the families and friends of the 74. For the families and friends, there will be no swift end to the suffering of losing a loved one. One would be hard pressed to say that the suffering of one man is worse than the unprevented deaths of many more, and the suffering of each of the murdered family and friends.
Additionally, the fact that death row inmates have a rough go of it in solitary does not necessarily mean the Death Penalty needs to be abolished. It could just as easily point to reform. Instead of making these dead men walking sit alone with their thoughts for 12 years, they could be allowed a little more free-reign, and activities with which to distract themselves. This would also help to address the unconstitutionality of the Death Penalty.
On that note, I'd like to ask, what is more important, preventing rare breaks with the constitution, or saving 74 times as many lives per break in our constitution? Laws are designed to keep as many people as possible safe. When they start getting in the way of that, it would be a good idea to reconsider our actions, and our laws.
Thanks for reading.
[Response to R2]
Thanks, Pro, again for the response.
“According to an irrefutable 26 year study, each execution prevents an average of 74 murders the following year”
This is entirely false. Deterrence is a dubious point at best and most scholars disagree that the death penalty deters any more than long-term imprisonment.
Pro’s study ignores other crime patterns and non-DP states
Adler and Summers' claim is that when executions increase, murders decrease, and vice versa. One major problem with their study is that crime rates, during the period that drives the results according to Professor Ronald Allen , were falling dramatically across the nation and not just for homicide. This means 1) crime was falling for states that didn't use the death penalty, which completely destroys the theory that crime was falling because of the death penalty, and 2) the correlation could also be applied to burglary, robbery, assault, and other crimes that the death penalty could not, with any plausibility, have a deterrent effect on.
In the a criminology journal, Michael Radelet, calls this an “astonishingly simple study” . The authors based their conclusion solely on the observation between homicides and executions. No additional control variables were used and major factors such as drug use, possession of firearms, alternative punishment, or arrest rates for homicides were not considered. They also did not study whether states that execute prisoners had more or less murders compared to states that which do not (it wouldn't have supported their agenda).
The study is based on statistics misuse and flawed methodology
Gebhard Kirchgassner, a professor of economics, writes an article that exposes the statistical maneuvering employed in the study Pro presents . He demonstrates that the OLS regression, that Pro mentioned, is insufficient “according to any standard of conventional econometric techniques”. In recent years, intense debate has gone on regarding the issue of econometric methodology and its appropriate applications in regards to the death penalty argument. The WSJ study is one such violation of this methodology.
Kirchgassner takes the data and methodology that they used and demonstrates “how easy it is to produce contradictory results”. The equation they use seems to indicate a high estimated correlation between residuals. However, "further examination of the residuals indicates second order autocorrelation. Thus, even if the true relation would be a simple bivariate one, the significance of the estimated parameters would be highly dubious". Taking this into account, a second order Cochrane-Orcutt transformation can be performed (depicted in the article).
The second equation is far more reliable "according to all statistical criteria"..."However, the estimated coefficient of the number of executions is much smaller and no longer statistically significant at any conventional significance level”. In other words, the “74 lives saved” figure completely disappears.
Kirchgassner was even able to produce a negative exponent (meaning an increase in homicide) using their data and methodology. Moreover, he discovered sub periods where the same approach would have proved a positive correlation between executions and homicide rates--as high as 82 additional homicides.
The author produces numerous examples. “Thus, we find again the situation that, taking the autocorrelation of the residuals into account, we get two rather different results with equally plausible specifications which are hardly distinguishable according to statistical criteria.”
In 2008, a survey was conducted on members of the prestigious Fellow in the American Society of Criminology. 88.2% of the experts do not believe that the death penalty is a deterrent. 74.7% say that research refutes the claim that death-penalty states have lower homicide rates than neighboring states without the death-penalty. In fact, death-penalty states had 42% higher homicide rates than non-death penalty states in 2007.
Also, in a 1995 national survey, two-thirds of nearly 400 police chiefs and county sheriffs responded that they did not believe the death penalty significantly lowered the number of murders .
“Overall, it is clear that however measured, fewer than 10% of the polled experts believe the deterrence effect of the death penalty is stronger than that of long-term imprisonment”
A study was conducted a few years ago (more recent than Pro’s study) by the prestigious (and less bias as the Wall Street Journal) National Research Council of the National Academies .
The study covered over three decades of research and concluded that there were three fundamental flaws in current studies on deterrence:
1. “The studies do not factor in the effects of noncapital punishments that may also be imposed.
2. The studies use incomplete or implausible models of potential murderers’ perceptions of and response to the use of capital punishment.
3. Estimates of the effect of capital punishment are based on statistical models that make assumptions that are not credible.”
The conclusion of the study was that research is not informative about the effect of capital punishment on homicide rates and, therefore, should not be used to inform policy judgements.
There have been a vast amount of studies regarding capital punishment and deterrence such as the 10 mentioned between 2004 and 2012 here . The only thing we can gather from all these studies is that the effect of capital punishment on homicide rates can’t be established, as the mentioned article concludes. There are, however, reasons why the death penalty might have very little deterrence or no deterrence at all. The first reason is the consensus of experts against deterrence. The second is presented below.
The mind of the criminal
For the death penalty to deter, criminals need to actively weigh the thought of execution to their potential crime. This is problematic; one, because executions happen so little in America and are applied so arbitrary that no one would believe they had much chance of receiving the death penalty. Also, murders are largely committed in the heat of passion, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or because they are mentally ill--little thought is given to the possible consequences. Those murderers in the minority, who plan the crime in advance, are counting on not being caught; they expect to avoid punishment altogether.
GROWING FOCUS ON PROPER JUSTICE
According to Pro’s own figure, we could be executing nearly 3 innocents out of every 100 based upon known doubts. In other words the figure is already high and would be higher if we knew about other cases, but the case closes after execution so its very difficult to continue old cases. So the figures is likely higher than 3%. Moreover, 144 people sentenced to death have been found innocent and released since 1973 , which further exposes the fallibility in sentencing. While they corrected their mistake, nearly sending 144 people wrongly to their deaths is indefensible.
“The National Registry of Exonerations has recorded a 22.2% rise in exonerations from 1989 to 2013”
Which can be explained largely by the increase of overall incarceration. Much more people are being sent to jail now than in the past. The figure was mostly stable from the 1920s onward, until 1980 when it starting increasing rapidly. The sharpest incline is from roughly 1988-2000 (Pro’s figure is 1989-2013). National population growth cannot explain it as there has been a 500% increase in prison population in the past 30 years from 2012. Pro’s percentage does not take that into account. The chart is based on exonerations per year. It is only natural that, as more people are going to jail more people are getting exonerated.
While incarceration levels dropped in 2010 and exonerations were high last year, this is by no means evidence to support Pro’s case since he would be taking three minor years as evidence that the justice system is on the track towards eliminating the wrongful-execution problem. There are ups in down in the charts and a very strong correlation is needed to prove causation, so Pro can’t use these figures. That would be a more blatant misuse of statistics than was used in the deterrence argument.
“Exonerations are also rising for those on death row”
Same problem: execution rates were higher in the latter period than the former according to Pro’s source. If we changed the number to exonerations per convicted, it would be insignificant.
“Working harder...Catching more mistakes”
A 1 year increase in productivity is not adequate evidence that this will lead to the elimination of the problem of executing innocents. What’s needed is a continued increase in efficiency, which is not established by looking at one year. Moreover, there’s nothing to suggest that this will lapse by next year or a decade from now. Hard work doesn’t run at a constant upwards trend. There are lapses and surges. Who’s to say this isn’t just a temporary surge? No new techniques were presented and Pro’s own source says DNA testing was used even less.
Moreover, the risk is not only that an innocent is executed, but also that the responsibility of the perpetrator is miscalculated. The jury can be correct that the accused is guilty of the crime while at the same time miscalculating his motives and degree of responsibility. Thus, wrongly executing a guilty--but not that guilty--person is still worrisome.
Pro’s arguments are unsound in a number of ways but both are deeply flawed mathematically, thus, it’s virtually unquestionable that they don’t hold up since they’re based on flawed methodology and a misuse of statistics.
Thanks Pro, for forfeiting gracefully. The debate was quite enjoyable while it lasted.
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