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The Contender
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Resolved: In the United States, capital punishment should be outlawed.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/1/2015 Category: Politics
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 559 times Debate No: 76051
Debate Rounds (4)
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Round 1: Acceptance
Round 2: Opening Arguments
Round 3: Rebuttals
Round 4: Closing Arguments

Time to Argue: 24 hours
Argument Max: 10,000 characters
Voting Period: 3 days

In this debate, I as the PRO debater will be defending the resolution Resolved: In the United States, capital punishment should be outlawed. I will do so using both moral and empirical/statistical arguments. I look forward to a fair and civil debate.


I accept JohnnyDoe's challenge and will argue as the Con of this debate.

To clarify, I will be arguing against the Pro's resolution,

that In the United States, capital punishment should not be outlawed, but rather, continued.

For more clarification,
the definition of Capital Punishment--
  1. the legally authorized killing of someone as punishment for a crime.

I, too, look forward to a fair, civil, and overall good debate.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you to CentristX for choosing to debate against me for this topic, and I hope also that we do have a good debate here today. I will be accepting the Con's definition for capital punishment.

Contention 1: Capital Punishment is Unjust

In a perfectly just legal system, there would be no one wrongfully convicted of a crime that they did not commit. However, because we live in an inherent imperfect society and live underneath an inherently imperfect legal system, there will still be those who are wrongfully convicted of crime. Despite this, we should still seek justice as much as possible. In many cases, as the Con may be prone to point out, the conviction can be appealed, especially if the inmate is on death row.

However, there are still many who are wrongfully executed by the government. Time Magazine (1) reports that in the United States, 4.1% of those executed are innocent, underneath an conservative estimate. This means that every 120 out of 3000 are innocent, yet are executed anyway. It is obvious that is unjust for one to be killed for a crime they did not commit, especially as forensic evidence (like DNA) grows in amount and quality as new technologies enter the field of criminal law to prove that the innocent did not commit the crime.

Because capital punishment obviously cannot be taken back or repealed, there is no way to right the wrongs that have been made against these innocent men. Therefore, capital punishment is one of the penultimate forms of injustice because it claims to be a just practice of the law.

One of these 4.1% in Pueblo, Colorado was a man named Joe Arridy, who was executed in 1939 (2). Arridy had an intellectual disability. Three Colorado state psychiatrists told the court at his trial that his IQ score was somewhere in the 40s. Yet, he was still convicted because when taken to the police station, the police told him that he had committed the crime of the rape and murder of a schoolgirl in Pueblo and he confessed to it, even though he hadn't done it at all. All of the psychiatrists even agreed that Arridy would not be able to distinguish right from wrong in the first place. Arridy still was sent to death row.

For three years he remained on death row, apparently unaware of where exactly he was. The warden gave him a toy train the first day he was there, and Arridy was always seen with this train until he was brought to the electric chair, where he gave the train to a fellow inmate. The warden called Arridy "the happiest man on death row."

Arridy for his last meal requested a bowl of ice cream. He was posthumously exonerated from his crime by Colorado state governor Bill Ritter in 2011.

Because we live under an imperfect legal system, there will always be mistakes made, either accidentally or purposefully (in the case of Joe Arridy). The 4.1% who have been wrongfully executed have faced the cruelest injustice, capital punishment, and it is the responsibility of the United States government to outlaw this act.

Contention 2: Members of the criminal field and the legal system do not believe that capital punishment deters crime

A) 88.2% of polled criminologists do not believe that capital punishment deters violent crime

In 2009, the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology (3) at Northwestern University polled criminologists who were members of the American Society of Criminology on whether or not they believed that capital punishment deters violent crime. The response they found was this: "Here, 88.2% of the polled criminologists do not believe that the death penalty is a deterrent, up slightly from 83.6% in 1996."

Even the overwhelming majority of criminologists, leaders in the study of crime statistics, now believe that capital punishment is a deterrent.

B) Police chiefs do not believe capital punishment deters crime

According to statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report, those regions of the country where capital punishment IS administered are actually the MOST dangerous for police officers. 69% of police officers polled believed that capital punishment was just a way of politicians showing that they were "tough on crime," while only 24% of police chiefs believed that murderers actually thought about the death penalty before committing crime. (4)

Contention 3: Studies' results on capital punishment's deterrence effect are inconclusive and divisive

A) Previous deterrence studies' results are erroneous or miscalculated

In this same study by the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Jeffery Fagan showed how a famous deterrence study, the Mocan-Gittings study, which found that each execution resulted in five less homicides, had a simple calculation error that created their erroneous results:

"A second reexamination of the Mocan-Gittings study was conducted by Jeffrey Fagan. Fagan"s work is the most comprehensive review of the theoretical and methodological shortcomings of deterrence studies published after 2000. He first improved Mocan"s measure of deterrence, which is the number of executions in a given state divided by the number of death sentences imposed six years earlier. Because of the impossibility of computing this measure if the denominator is zero, Mocan and Gittings coded years with no death sentences as .99. Fagan reanalyzed the data using .01 (which is closer to zero) in the denominator rather than .99. That simple improvement made all the deterrent effects found by Mocan and
Gittings disappear."

B) There are no studies informative enough to prove deterrence works

The National Research Council in their report titled "Deterrence and the Death Penalty" (5), concluded that most studies are not informative enough to deduce whether or not executions actually deter or exacerbate crime. They wrote that "the committee concludes that research to date is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates."

Because research on deterrence is inconclusive, both because many studies have erroneous results or miscalculations and because research has been determined to be not informative enough to conclude that there is any significant deterrence effect, in this debate we should not be looking at the numbers alone. Instead we should seek the opinions of those who are familiar with crime and punishment, such as criminologists and police chiefs. Both of these groups' majorities, as I have shown, do not believe that capital punishment actually does deter crime. Because of the potential for moral injustice, through the wrongful execution of the innocent, we should not allow the practice of capital punishment to go on and we must outlaw it.

I look forward to my opponent's arguments.



I want to briefly thank the Con for his arguments, I will post my opening arguments with no rebuttals this round.

To clarify even further beyond the defintion I provided for capital punishment, I am arguing in favor of capital punishment only in the specific circumstances that it is proportional and necessary, and should be reserved only for those cases.

Argument 1: Would-be criminals fear the death penalty.

Studies upon studies show that the death penalty really does deter people from committing murder in situations where the death penalty would be brought upon the perpetrator. Studies in New Jersey show that between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer, with some exceptions. [1]

Those exceptions, of course, would be the mentally ill that ultimately commit those heinous crimes anyways. Examples of those people range from people like Jefferey Dahmer to the perpetrators involved in school shootings. However, even in those situations where the killer is apprehended and taken into custody, as the death penalty lingers in their future, they still show definite signs of fear of the death penalty.

For example, Ted Bundy, clearly showed that he feared dying, after waiting nine years in prison. On several occasions, Ted Bundy said things to try to prove his innocence by blaming what he did on pornography, and admitting where he hid several dead bodies. The L.A. Times even had an article talking about how Bundy was weeping and praying the day of his death, which was an obvious sign that capital punishment was a deterrent to him. [2]

Bundy among many others have shown that capital punishment is a deterrent to would be criminals and even to those who have already comitted the crime.

Argument 2: It provides closure to victims or their families.

When someone is murdered, in most cases, the person that was murdered has family that cares for them, and will be affected by the murder or harm of their loved one. There are many cases in which the victim of a murder (being the family), actually seek justice to be returned to the perpetrator.

As a matter of fact, it's not just closure that families look for in the death penalty, but rather justice, retribution, and closure. Certain cases, like the ones found here [3]. show the variety of people who found solace in the death penalty for whatever reasons. Mostly, closure is provided to the victims knowing that the person who murdered their loved one will no longer live to commit that same crime again.

Even in the situation found here, [4] the family claims that they found no closure in the killer of their loved one, but they found peace mostly in the fact that justice was served. Which leads to the next brief argument.

Argument 3: Capital punishment is justice.

We live in a country where our just system tries it's best to match the crime with the penalty. Petty theft, running a red light, and rape don't all have the same penalty, and for good reasons. However, as hard as our justice system tries, it has yet to provide a proportional punishment for premeditated murder, as in some states, it holds the same penalty for non-lethal violence towards a person-- life without parole.

As shown in the article found at [4], the victim who witnessed the death of the man who killed his sister, recognizes the death penalty to be an equal punishment for murder in a fair justice system.

Back to the idea of deterrance, the death penalty, if set as the universal punishment for premeditated murder, would prevent those would-be criminals from realizing that there was no difference between the penalties for non-lethal violence and premeditated murder.

I would like to say that I briefly looked over the Con's opening arguments, and I do realize that he started off mainly arguing against deterrance. This round, however, I mainly focused on my opening arguments, and will use the next round for rebuttals.

I thank the Con once again for the debate, and look forward to his rebuttals.





Debate Round No. 2


Thank you for your arguments. I'll now begin my rebuttals:

My opponent's first argument is "would-be criminals fear the death penalty", that is to say, the death penalty deters crime. However, as I have already shown in my second contention, many studies are simply erroneous in their results or flawed in their methodology. In my opponent's own citation, if you turn to the second page of the article, you will find this very interesting paragraph about an economist from the Wharton School of Business, named Justin Wolfers:

"last year [Wolfers] co-authored a sweeping critique of several studies, and said they were 'flimsy' and appeared in 'second-tier journals.'"

So, within even my own opponent's citations, the large amount of criticism of these studies' methodology cannot be ignored. I have already proved through my case that several landmark studies such as the Mocan-Gittings study have made errors as simple as a single miscalculation. The facts are, the current studies are poorly developed and their results are poorly analyzed. The National Research Council says that research to date is NOT informative enough about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates. We cannot rely on faulty studies.

My opponent's second argument is that the execution of a murderer provides closure to their victim's families. First, I would like to propose a counterargument. Have you considered what the family of an innocent who has been executed might think? They are certainly not receiving closure as they go to watch their innocent relatives fry in an electric chair or die slowly by a lethal injection. They have been dealt one of the ultimate injustices. What of those families?

Second, is life in prison not retribution enough? Spending the rest of your life in a cold, concrete cell with no creature comforts and no way to leave until your body is brought out in a coffin to the graveyard? Is spending twenty, thirty, forty years or even fifty years with little contact with your family, fifty years without any companionship not enough? I would think that spending the rest of my life in prison is a far more punishing sentence then being fried by an electric chair.

The final argument my opponent brings is that capital punishment is just. My opponent says that if there is no distinction in punishment between premeditated murder and manslaughter, and no capital punishment for such violent acts, then what would a premeditated murderer have to worry about? Well, there is always life in prison. As I have already detailed, years upon years, decades upon decades of living in a cold cell, living a solitary existence, with no way to leave until you die, is plenty cruel enough. Deterrence is inconclusive, however. There is a vast variety of reported results, and many of the studies conducted are flawed. We cannot consider, therefore, deterrence in this debate.

Even though even non-lethal violence towards a person might mean life in prison without parole, that does not mean it is more just to kill murderers. When you think about it, there is no such concept as "more" just. Justice is black and white. You are either just, or you are unjust in your actions. It is an injustice to the four percent of men executed who are innocent, or the many like Joe Arridy who were mentally disabled or otherwise handicapped and could not account for their own actions. These men have been dealt an injustice. If you want to uphold justice, you must totally prohibit capital punishment, for the safety of all innocent men. Just because even the guilty wouldn't be going to the chair does not mean they wouldn't be punished for their actions. I will say this one more time- life without parole is the harshest punishment, even worse then a quick fry from the chair. Many spend decades in prison, waiting for their bodies to finally fail them, and finally grant them peace. Is that not enough?

Capital punishment can never be taken back. You can never commute an execution. You can, of course, posthumously exonerate a convicted man, but the damage has already been done. He has been killed, his family has grieved for him. His friends miss him. Because of the simple fact that it can never be appealed, that you can never take it back, we cannot allow it to continue. 120 out of every 3000 men killed are innocent. They will never come back. They have been executed against their own will, ripped from their own life and ambitions. This is the cruelest injustice, and it cannot stand if we want a just legal system.

Thank you.


Thanks to JohnnyDoe for his rebuttals. Now, I will provide my rebuttals for his contentions from Round 2.


If I could sum up half of the Pro's arguments in one contention, it would be that of the one he mentioned as "Contention 3,"

"Studies' results on capital punishment's deterrence effect are inconclusive and divisive."

The first contention, that "capital punishment is unjust", does not fit into this category.

However, the second contention is summarized along with contention 3 also.

The definition of "study", according to, is as follows;

"a detailed investigation and analysis of a subject or situation."

I want to first make it known that I am not going to enter a battle of political correctness or definitions, however the definition of the word 'study' is important here. In Contention 2 of the Pro's arguments, he gives evidence supporting his argument that even criminologists and people working in the police force don't believe the death penalty to be a deterrent.

My point is, the people that expressed their opinions in this subject weren't exactly taking part in immense studies of their own; but from their own experience, they were able to investigate and analyze the subject to come to a personal conclusion. Therefore, Contention 2 of the Pro's arguments merge with Contention 3, combining evidences against whether deterrence actually exists when the death penalty is involved. Contention 1 stands alone.

Contention 1, from the Pro's argument reads,
"Capital Punishment is Unjust"
and in his arguments, the Pro mainly talks about the innocence rate of those executed in the federal justice system, and provides evidence to back it up.

And if anyone were to simply do the research on their own, they could easily find in just a few moments, countless stories of people that were wrongly executed by the death penalty. The completely honest truth is, there are innocent people that have been wrongly accused of a crime, and have either already been executed or are on death row.

According to many resources, including the one the Pro mentioned at [1], the approximated percentage of people executed by the death penalty that are innocent, is about 4.1%. Last year, in 2014, there were 35 people that were subject to capital punishment. [2] Out of 35, that 4.1% comes out to 1.435. or realistically, just one person. Studies have shown that probably one out of 35 people executed in a year are innocent of the crimes charged against them.

The justice system in our country is not perfect, but it has improved.

In the link found here [3], there is an article by the Huffington Post that talks about the "Shocking Number of Innocent People Sentenced to the Death Penalty"; but that it beside my point right now. Towards the end of the article, any reader could find the slideshow of pictures provided by the Huffington Post of "Wrongfully Accused" people to back up that article posted above.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love the Huffington Post, and have nothing against them. However, after reading the stories of people wrongfully accused in that slide show, very few of them were actually sentenced to the death penalty.

Those that were wrongfully sentenced to death row were either:

A) Sentenced and exonerated in the 1990's [4]
or B) Were actually guilty of a crime, although not the one they were convicted of. [5]

In a broader sense, people sentenced the death penalty today are apart of cases that were contemplated carefully, to ensure that 4.1% of people executed are not innocent and have a chance to be proven innocent. This means that today, there is insufficent evidence to eliminate the death penalty, as it is reserved for criminals with proven guilt.

Contention 3 (and actually 2, as I talked about), says,
"Studies' results on capital punishment's deterrence effect are inconclusive and divisive."
and in this argument, the Pro literally talks about how studies that prove deterrence are not 100% true, and can be faulty.

This argument is also true. As a matter of fact, all studies on deterrence are wavered.

In a quote by Supreme Court Justice Stewart, in the case Gregg v. Georgia, it states,

"Although some of the studies suggest that the death penalty may not function as a significantly greater deterrent than lesser penalties, there is no convincing empirical evidence supporting or refuting this view.

We may nevertheless assume safely there are murders, such as those who act in passion, for whom the threat of death has little or no deterrent effect. But for many others, the death penalty undoubtedly, is a significant deterrent.

There are carefully contemplated murders, such as murder for hire, where the possible penalty of death may well enter the cold calculus that precedes the decision to act." [6]

This quote is mostly self-explanatory, but there are still points that I would like to point out.

Obviously, those who act in the midst of passion, for example, those convicted with voluntary manslaughter, do not consider the death penalty to be a deterrent.
Yet, contemplated and premeditated murders are more than likely going to be deterred by the idea of a future penalty involving capital punishment.

It is simple probability and common sense to assume that if the threat of the death penalty decreases, the rate of murders will increase-- and if the threat had increased, the homicide rate may decrease.


So, as I have provided my evidence refuting the Pro's opening arguments from Round 2, I have given counter-arguments against his contentions, and await his rebuttals for my own. Once again, I have only provided rebuttals for Round 2, and will refute his rebuttals against mine the next round.

I also want to apologize to JohnnyDoe for referring to him as the Con in my arguments from Round 2.


Debate Round No. 3


JohnnyDoe forfeited this round.


The Pro has forfeited Round 4. I have given my rebuttals for his introductory arguments and found that they also cover the rebuttals the Pro gave in Round 3, therefore I have nothing to counter-argue against this round.

Vote Con!
Debate Round No. 4
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