The Instigator
Con (against)
0 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
3 Points

Resolved: The US should abolish capital punishment.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/1/2016 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,246 times Debate No: 90400
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (41)
Votes (1)




Alright, thanks to our opponents iOS6 for debating this with us, and we apologize for the delay on this post.

1) Innocent Life

The National Academy of Sciences in the US reported that 4.1% of all convicted criminal defendants that are sentenced to death are actually innocent of their crimes. [1] This is a massive number of people who are falsely convicted, and while the vast majority of those weren't executed, roughly 0.5% were executed, and roughly 0.16% committed suicide. The bulk of the remainder were still on death row, and many were serving shortened prison sentences. [2]

We will likely spend a lot of this debate talking about numbers of lives lost; there is little doubt that the comparison between those numbers will have some effect on the outcome of this debate. However, while we do feel that the numbers are important, we should not allow those numbers to strip out the importance of every single human life lost. They all matter, and simply comparing the overall number of people lost does nothing but relegate each life to a statistic.

So, when we ask ourselves what matters most in terms of lost lives, we should delve deeper than the numbers. When a country is actively ending the lives of its own people, that is a direct action, one that is clearly being taken against a sizeable number of innocent people. As technology gets better and we move further towards better forensic methods such as using DNA to establish guilt, we can reduce the number of wrong convictions, but human error will always produce some of these. Innocent lives will still be lost, regardless of advancing technologies.

This is the one thing we as a society can control: whether or not the government ends the lives of innocent citizens via the legal justice system. We would argue that any system that is ending the lives of innocents while purporting to follow the axiom of “innocent until proven guilty” is debasing justice. At the point where these lives can be and often are lost as a result of clearly unjust cases, there is no way to rectify these outcomes for those who have perished. Imprisoning people for long periods might not be a great alternative, but it's certainly better for both the justice system and for innocent lives than a system that pushes capital punishment.

2. Injustices of the capital punishment system

A. Systemic bias

Capital punishment ultimately serves as a disease to the poor and low income earners. Normal procedure in the court of law is that the convicted seeks an attorney for his trial date, but quite often, the poor are unable to afford a good attorney and have to rely on an assigned one. A good lawyer means a good defence, and inadequate legal representation characterizes many of the cases where the poor are accused.

In the state of Alabama, 95% of death row convicts are listed as poor. This directly results from the compensation for court-appointed defense attorneys, which is grossly inadequate for the amount of work that would be required to reasonably represent their clients. The lack of post-conviction counsel just compounds the problem, allowing severe miscarriages of justice. Alabama also has a long history of racial bias with the vast majority of black death row prisoners being sentenced for killing a white victim, as well as numerous capital cases that “were reversed upon proof that prosecutors illegally excluded black people from jury service.”

California is “unable to provide attorneys in a timely fashion to people sentenced to death”, resulting in many inmates having “no counsel or habeas corpus proceedings” and limited funds for defense attorneys. The War on Drugs and Three Strikes Law have had particularly egregious consequences for African Americans in California as well.

Similar issues persist in Georgia, Florida, Michigan, New York, and Texas. [3]

These problems are systemic, but they are specifically used to their most grievous effect when it comes to capital punishment. States that continue to allow these practices are committing egregious injustices based chiefly on class and race.

B. Cruel and unusual punishment

The requirement to prevent cruel and unusual punishment of convicted criminals is enshrined in our Bill of Rights, so when it comes to any form of punishment we implement, our goal should be to minimize any form of harm that goes beyond what is absolutely necessary.

As such, there are two major concerns.

First, there is no way to ensure that every single person who is sentenced to deal with die simply and painlessly. We should recognize that there are a lot of unknowns, even when it comes to techniques like lethal injection. Different people do respond differently to the chemicals that are injected, and in cases like Joseph Wood, this puts the convict through two hours of gasping and choking before he succumbed to 15 times the amounts of the chemicals normally used. [4] And while this is rare, it does happen more often than you'd think. 7.1% of lethal injections up to 2010 had been botched – that's over a thousand people who have had to suffer tremendously in their last hours of life, and it's a worse failure rate than gas chambers, hanging and electrocution.[5] This should be unacceptable. Not being able to breath is tremendously torturous – it's the reason we find water boarding so abhorrent. With a failure rate this high, lethal injection should be the least commonly used form of the death penalty, yet it is by far the most common, with most other methods either being blocked entirely or barely used in any state.[6] Even when lethal injection works, there's too much uncertainty. Drugs like pancoronum bromide and sodium thiopental prevent the convict from showing any signs of pain. The former is worse, as it simply paralyzes them rather than rendering them unconscious. They will endure suffocation, and since this has to be injected separately from potassium chloride, they will also have to deal with the intense burning effects of that drug.[7]

Second, it's critical to understand what a death sentence means. It means that a convict is now awaiting death. Ignoring the fact that current methods come with a substantial risk of extreme suffering, these people are suffering psychologically every day that they wait for their execution. It's the reason why Judge Cormac J. Carney argued that the death penalty is a sentence that “no rational jury or legislature could impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.” The uncertainty, and the process of essentially waiting for death, let him to conclude that it “violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibilition against cruel and unusual punishment”, often requiring inmates to wait more than 19 years before execution with regular promises and push backs.[8] It's so bad that there's an actual death row syndrome, one that leads many to “lose their minds... commit suicide... [and] stop using the legal system to appeal their executions.” It's made worse by mock executions, which are also an established method of psychological torture. These people live out what remains of their life in often small, crowded cells blocked off from each other and the outside world with limited time outside of them.[9] Once again, this moves deep into the realm of cruel and unusual, subjecting inmates to unnecessary tortures. There are numerous secondary effects as well. The families of these inmates in particular are constantly awaiting their execution and reappearing repeatedly in court, often enduring blame and ostracism.[10, 11]

3. Justice for All

We need to recognize that the retributive system of capital punishment is neither securing justice nor ensuring a better crime rate. This retributive system is actually rather new, since there was a shift from a more rehabilitative system in the 70s. The experiment... hasn't gone well. "As a result, the United States now has more than 2 million people in prisons or jails--the equivalent of one in every 142 U.S. residents--and another four to five million people on probation or parole. A higher percentage of the population is involved in the criminal justice system in the United States than in any other developed country.”[12]

Now, we can chalk up the various problems we see here to a number of different causes. It's not our goal to show that a more retributive system caused this increase. Rather, this simply shows that retributive justice hasn't addressed the problem.

Rehabilitation shouldn't just be a part of our criminal justice system – it should be its focus. There are plenty of examples of its success, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.[12] With many inmates suffering from a slew of mental illnesses, partly the result of their imprisonment, there's little doubt that the system has turned towards a more retributive model and away from rehabilitation. It's resulted in the tremendous recidivism rates we see in the U.S.[13, 14] Our opponents may argue that we can turn back towards rehabilitation while simultaneously keeping capitol punishment, but the two are fundamentally at odds. Delivering the message that there are some people beyond help that need to be executed not only dooms those specific people without offering any possibility of rehabilitation, but also sends a message to other criminals that there is a line they can cross where the criminal justice system will discard them. Sending the message that the justice system cares more about retribution than rehabilitation relegates these people to a state of permanent suffering where they know that there will be little hope for them becoming upstanding members of society.
















Before we begin, we'd like to note that our opponents have switched sides with us. Thus, they are advocating AGAINST the death penalty (DP) (Pro), and we are advocating for it (Con).

I. Criminals Forfeit Their Rights

In this country, we are all endowed with innumerable rights (that is, rights to not be prohibited from doing things) by virtue of our citizenship in the US. While our founding documents value respect for human rights, they only explicitly grant respect to the rights of US citizens. As all other citizens are also endowed with these rights, we gain a duty to not infringe upon their rights, so as to procure respect for our own. Society must sanction deviance from this model our country is founded upon, or our rights do not truly exist (that is, a right that may be violated at any time is not a right, as rights are inalienable, according to the Declaration of Independence). Thus, those who do not respect the rights of others forfeit their own rights. This is the foundation of the criminal justice system. Unless Pro advocates for no restriction of rights whatsoever (ie no criminal justice system, as detention inherently restricts a person's rights), they must agree to this principle.

Since the DP is thus not immoral in any respect, we must weigh the costs and benefits of it to determine whether it should remain. We will show the greatest good comes from retention of the death penalty--the saving of innocent human life.

II. The DP deters homicide

The DP deters homicides by putting the fear of death into would-be criminals. Rational action theory suggests that all mentally stable humans perform a cost/benefit analysis prior to committing any action. This theory has been applied to criminology, and shows that the DP has a significant deterrent effect on homicides.

3-18 homicides are deterred per execution [1]. Furthermore, state-by-state analysis shows that the DP causes a significant drop in homicide rates. When New York State, New Hampshire and Kansas adopted the death penalty, there was a significant crime drop. When New Jersey and Massachusetts abolished it, the homicide rate rose. [2]

Few studies contest the validity of the deterrent effect [3]. These studies are generally unreliable. For example, the study by Levitt, et al. is unreliable because it examines whether the DP deters crime, not homicide rates; however, the DP doesn't have a major effect on non-homicide crimes since it doesn't apply there. The study found that the DP does have an effect on homicide rates and misrepresents its own conclusion.[4]

There are at least 17 highly reliable studies that demonstrate a deterrent effect, according to Lott. He correctly concludes: "Generally, the studies over the last decade that examined how the murder rates in each state changed as they changed their execution rate found that each execution saved the lives of roughly 15 to 18 potential murder victims."[5]

As further evidence of the power of the deterrent effect, let us examine an actual case of where deterrence could have saved a life. Luis Vera burglarized the apartment of Rosa Velez, who was at home at the time. Vera shot her and killed her in a moment of panic. She later confessed: "Yeah, I shot her...and I knew I wouldn't go to the chair."[6] Had the DP existed, Velez likely would still be alive.

In Pro's world, Velez deserved to die. And, on average, in Pro’s world, 448 more people die each year. In the process of saving 28 guilty lives per year, Pro is killing 448 innocents. Don't allow such a horrific world where brutal tragedies take place all the time.

On to rebuttals!

Debate Round No. 1


Thanks to Pro for his opening arguments, in this round I will engage in all of my rebuttals.

R1: Morality of the DP

In this premise, Pro argues that the infringement of rights as punishment is ultimately a necessary means of its preservation. In the argument titled “Criminals Forfeit their Rights”, the excerpt is below:

Thus, those who do not respect the rights of others forfeit their own rights. This is the foundation of the criminal justice system. Unless Pro advocates for no restriction of rights whatsoever (ie no criminal justice system, as detention inherently restricts a person's rights), they must agree to this principle.

However, in order to adhere or uphold the principles of one’s constitutional rights, it would be contradictory, if not; hypocritical to value the principals of constitutional rights yet not hesitate to infringe it upon criminals. The death penalty does such, by condemning the act of murder yet not flinching in committing upon the criminal, would it make the government any better than the criminal who committed the crime? The primary goal of a punishment is to not only deter would be criminals but also to prevent them from committing such a crime in the future, or in other words, to discipline them into not committing the crime again. Nothing is ultimately benefited from such a punishment as the DP, as no one benefits from the death of the criminal just as no one benefits from the death of the victim. To respond to a crime with the retributive mentality that would come with the DP would only perpetuate the cycle of grief and violence as the family of the criminal may struggle to reconcile obedience to the government with having lost a loved one as a result of said government.

The right to live is too great a right and too important of one to be compared with the freedom of mobility that would be restricted by detention. In short, such a comparison would be insufficient.

R2: Failure in Deterrence

A primary pillar in both Con’s argument and in Pro-DP rhetoric in general is the idea of deterrence theory, that the threat of potential execution for heinous crimes would be a sufficient deterrent against committing said crime. As seen in Con’s second argument, deterrence theory takes a primary foundation in this pillar:

The DP deters homicides by putting the fear of death into would-be criminals. Rational action theory suggests that all mentally stable humans perform a cost/benefit analysis prior to committing any action. This theory has been applied to criminology, and shows that the DP has a significant deterrent effect on homicides.

Hence, to disprove the validity of deterrence theory as an incentive for the death penalty would be to sufficiently discredit Con’s argument.

One of the ultimate failures of upholding deterrence theory is in assumption that every crime committed is in a state of foreseen, deliberate or rational thought. In short, as Dr Jonathan Groner of Ohio State College of Medicine and public health would say:

The psychological mind-set of the criminal is such that they are not able to consider consequences at the time of the crime. Most crimes are crimes of passion that are done in situations involving intense excitement or concern. People who commit these crimes are not in a normal state of mind -- they do not consider the consequences in a logical way,” [1]

On the theoretical front, the DP fails in justifying deterrence theory for crimes of passion, especially murder, as such crime still can warrant the death penalty [2]. Statistically speaking, deterrence theory does hold up in justification to the death penalty. Firstly, to address the statistics that Con has given. Con first cites a 2007 article from The Washington Post, the article itself however fails to decisively prove how the death penalty deters crimes. It brings in numbers of “3-18 homocides” yet it doesn’t decisively prove the correlation of such numbers to the perceived cause of the death penalty. In short, the article alongside the argument fail to give reason as to why or how the DP causes such deterrence, it also fails to show how other factors may not be in place such as socio economic conditions or environmental factors. To which studies have shown to yield a much greater influence over one’s likelihood to crime as opposed to simple deterrence [3]

In Conclusion, the Death Penalty fails to act as a sufficient deterrent against heinous crimes. As most criminals either do not care or do not consider the ultimate consequences of their crimes, deterrence theory assumes that the criminal would be in a state where both factors are seriously considered. Yet such is not the case, especially in crimes of passion. Con’s statistics have also failed in sufficiently proving the effectiveness of such a theory in practice.





This concludes our rebuttals, and we much wait for our opponent’s response.



Innocent Lives
The innocent lives argument can extend to criminal justice in general. While there is no consensus on the numbers (as innocence in general criminal cases is not as well-documented as DP cases), there is at least concurrence that innocent people are convicted, to the tune of several thousand (1). Even in Pro's ideal society where justice is rehabilitative, these individuals are still being stripped of their rights by virtue of restriction of movement, privacy, and other rights. The question of what is a "worse" violation of rights is irrelevant; a violation is a violation, and by supporting any system in which a violation occurs, Pro thusly agrees to the principle that innocent people may rightly be deprived of their rights in the criminal justice system. Questions of atonement for wrongful conviction are irrelevant--no amount of money or career training can make up for the losses of time and experiences an innocent person suffers in the legal system. Every year in the system increases the odds of a divorce by an average of 32% (2). Any attempt at atonement is just that--an attempt, and nothing more. That doesn't mean atonement is wrong, but it is obviously insufficient and the government has still done net harm to any individual it wrongly imprisons. Yet, for the legal system to work, we have to allow the risk.
In the US legal system, people ought to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; this is the system that best prevents wrongful conviction. If one truly values stopping wrongful convictions, one should work to provide better public defenders and other resources toward a fair trial. In Florida in 2009, each public defender had an annual caseload of over 2725 cases, and were in some instances only able to spend an hour on each case (3). This is particularly alarming in light of the fact that between sixty and ninety percent of defendants need publicly-funded attorneys, and over ninety percent of those cases are resolved by guilty pleas; in 2007, 40% of public defender offices also had no investigators (4). We should make every effort to ensure that criminals receive a fair trial; we should not eliminate the concept of justice from our lexicon just because some innocents might be executed. It is worth noting that DP cases receive far more scrutiny than other--they have procedures and an appeals process that last for years.
Furthermore, Pro's claim that the ending of innocent lives is contrary to "innocent until proven guilty" is nonsense. Those people go through the same legal system as everyone else, they must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before they are convicted. The US government doesn't execute people it thinks are innocent; it executes those legally proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The point about systemic bias is a credible criticism of the legal system as a whole, not the DP. Simply fixing the public defender system, as noted above, solves for the bias against the poor. Pro does not adequately explain why the DP is racist in itself (or how the present-day legal system is in fact biased; Pro simply lists examples without interpretation)--if we solve for any racial bias in the legal system, we solve for this issue.
Pro does not explain what preventing cruel and unusual punishment entails, making their definition of the term circular--botched injections and psychological stress are cruel and unusual punishment because they're cruel and unusual, in Pro's world. Accidents are not cruel and unusual punishment, because even if they occur during the punishment itself, they are not the punishment, but an unintentional side effect. Regardless, we can solve for all of these issues and still have the DP. Pro kindly noted various execution methods with lower accident rates, a drug to render the subject unconscious, stoppage of mock executions, and better privacy for those who have to testify again as various reforms that would make the punishment presumably not cruel or unusual.

Justice for All
The DP ought to be separated from retributive justice as a whole. The overall retributive justice system suffers from several issues--its criminalization of offenses that are not wrong (drug use, for instance), and ineffectual treatment of those serving time, leading to recidivism rates of over 75% (5). The DP does neither of those things--it is in effect for wrong deeds (murder), and it has a recidivism rate of 0% (dead men commit no crimes). Its deterrence rate has been demonstrated (and we shall defend it here as well). Connecting the DP with the War on Drugs and other failures of the legal system is simply wrong--we are examining the effects of the DP itself, not arguing about whether the status quo of the US justice system is good (it isn't).
The criticism that attempts to tie the DP fundamentally to the current system is flawed--the fact that it "sends a message to other criminals that there is a line [that, when crossed], the criminal justice system will [kill] them," is exactly the point, no matter what treatment of other crimes is. That's what deterrence is. We can have a society that is rehabilitative to an extent, but still possesses a line in the sand to deter the worst of crimes. Saying that the USFG "dooms" rapists and murderers with the DP is an exercise in melodrama--those criminals forfeited their rights by committing a crime, and we have a social duty to prevent those crimes from reoccuring in the future. The DP is the best way to do that.

DP Morality
Pro's argument against the morality of the DP fails for several reasons:
1. The USFG is not committing "murder" in an execution--murder is the wrongful taking of another's life, while executions are justified by the undertaking and severity of the crime
2. People do benefit from the DP--those whose lives are saved by deterred murders.
3. Pro never disputes the point that criminals do not have rights adequately--their claim that the comparison is unequal is irrelevant. To adopt the mindset that all rights are inalienable, but that some are more inalienable than others is to undermine the very foundation of constitutional rights. Thus, Pro must concur that criminals sacrifice their rights by committing a crime.

Pro attempts to discredit deterrence by providing a theoretical argument for why it should fail with regards to crimes of passion. There is in fact still reason to accept the rational choice theory:
"Economic agents are subject to social pressure and emotions: This is, in fact rational because the behavior is performed as self-protection. Larrick (1993) has characterized numerous sources of human motivation that stem from both physical and psychological sources. One example of such an influence can be seen in close athletic competitions where the consequences of a referee’s decisions may have heated outcomes. Referees that govern such competitions have previously been victims to threats and murders, so the instinct to protect their safety is natural and definitely rational. A preoccupation for self-protection may subsequently influence the decisions that are made throughout the competition. From the latter, needs for self-protection and affiliation are considered common and can be considered a rational source of motivation. Although various behaviors like self-control, helping others in need, and dietary selection are likely to be respectively influenced by social and emotional states such Research in Business and Economics Journal - Special Edition Florida Economic Symposium 6 as temptation, empathy, and hunger (e.g. Eisenberg & Fabes, 1990; Laeng, Berridge, & Butter, 1993; Turner & Oakes, 2011;), all of these are factors are also affected by self-serving utility (e.g., Turner & Oaks, 2011; Mattes, 1994) . Utility theory can never explain why an economic agent derives utility from a choice, as it can only predict how the agent will behave rationally with respect to a choice. Thus, any individual agent behavior is assumed to be ultimately determined by the perceived benefits/concerns of the individual rather than direct concern for ambient social and emotional circumstances" (6).
Empirically, this is also proven. Shepherd shows that the DP does in fact deter crimes of passion, while also controlling for economic variables (7).
Pro also ignored our Luis Vera example, so we have proven grounds for a murderer to be deterred by the DP, and as our statistics are reliable (Pro did not contest the number itself, only its causal nature) have this theoretically solid backing, the relationship between the DP and deterrence is proven.

Don't vote for a world that lets the innocent die so that the guilty may live.

7. (page 29)
Debate Round No. 2


Innocent lives:

Con claims that there is no difference between violations of rights, but this is absurd. All rights violations are bad, but the gravity of a rights violation matters, particularly when comparing the tortures one faces on death row and absolute loss that results from death to an increased likelihood of divorce after serving a sentence. This isn’t irrelevant.

Con argues that a better public defense will solve. They’ve given no means by which this could be done. This vague solution has no solvency, and unless Con means to force more and better law students to become public defenders, the problems they cited will persist. No solution will be absolute. Nothing will solve for the bias and human error resulting from legal counsel, justices, and politicians who craft prejudiced policy. This is the system that many are entirely dependent upon to survive in Con’s world - any risk is too much.

Con makes the claim (w/o evidence) that the DP raises scrutiny. Innocent lives are still lost. “Scrutiny” only manifests as extensive delays on executions, which cause the severe psychological harms we’ve cited. Con also drops that these harms are substantial enough lead to suicides among innocent people. The trauma of conviction, combined with the ever looming threat of death, causes lasting harms that Con ignores.


Given that bias is pervasive, should a biased legal system be allowed to both imprison AND end lives? We've argued that there's a huge difference between the two, one that Con has essentially ignored. A clearly racist system should not be allowed the means to end lives and torture people. Other sentences are transient or offer more time for reversal. They provide more opportunities for justice to be served. This is the warrant we gave, which Con dropped, for why the DP debases “innocent until proven guilty”: it inherently limits the opportunity for innocence to be established. Execution limits it. In a system where defendants are often unable to present their full case due to bias and/or the lack of competent legal counsel, trials are slanted against them and in favor of guilt. A biased system may be a constant, but its capacity to end lives should not be.

Nor should it be allowed to subject people to unnecessary, drawn out physical and psychological tortures that go well beyond the sentence. Torture is objectively both cruel and unusual. Con drops the high rate of botched lethal injections and the extreme psychological suffering that accompanies constantly pushing back executions, utterly ignoring mental instability and suicide rates. It is not the slightest bit circular to say that these are cruel and unusual when we've justified how they cause excessive harm.

Con seems to think that all they have to do is blip out other means of solving a given problem and it's as good as solved, but every suggestion they’ve made is so incredibly vague and nebulous that none of them could function as meaningful policy. Con offers no drug to “render the subject unconscious” prior to execution. Con doesn’t explain how they can bypass state-by-state decision-making to mandate such a change.[1] “Better privacy” isn't a policy and isn't even solving for any clear harm. Without a clear, implementable alternative, Con must defend the status quo.

Justice for All:

We've explained how the DP contributes to mental illness in prisons, increasing the danger that prisoners pose to themselves and others. We've examined how the DP is fundamentally at odds with the concept of rehabilitation, as it treats many as beyond saving, relegating them to a permanent state of suffering. Con dropped all of this. It doesn't matter if other aspects of our justice system reinforce retribution – the DP entrenches retributive justice uniquely. When you send the message to all criminals that many of them are beyond rehabilitating, it shoves back any perception that criminals can re-integrate into and become upstanding members of society, leading to recidivism.

When the justice system as a whole is problematic, we should work to correct it. That requires re-examining cases and making a concerted effort to determine if there was wrongdoing in the process of conviction. That's no longer an option for someone who has been executed. Their name can be cleared, but they can no longer receive any benefit from that process. Con wishes to subvert their basic justice – their actual lives – for correlative effects that the DP has on the minds of a disparate number of potential criminals. But if you're choosing to throw out justice, then you must not ignore our argument regarding how the DP alters mindsets of actual criminals to increase recidivism, which we've shown to be dramatically reduced in a more rehabilitative system. It's a similar correlation, with the reverse outcome. Voters, if you're going to buy into the mindset that we can alter criminal behavior solely by threatening with the DP, then recognize that that door swings both ways, but that the effects of reducing recidivism are far more pronounced.

DP Morality:

Our case examines the immorality of the DP, particularly with regards to justice and loss of innocent life. Con’s attempts to dismiss that on the basis that there is morality in punishing criminals is ridiculous - it does not justify the DP. So justice and immorality do have a place in this debate, and saving more innocent lives is not the sole impact that should be evaluated. There are several others to consider:

All of life has value, no matter its perceived innocence or guilt. If we’re going to do a by-the-numbers comparison of life lost, then those numbers should include all lives.
If innocent life does matter more, it is because of the unjustness of their sentencing. So if we consider these lives to be more important, then we need to consider all injustices, and the focus of this debate should be on the justness of the DP.
The justice system being used to end an innocent life is not just another number - it represents an utter failure of that system, one that metes out death to individuals who are innocent. Meanwhile, if at some point in the future someone might decide to risk LWOP and carry out a homicide, that action reflects on that individual, not on the system as a whole. Their lives are innocent, but it is not the justice system ending them. The value difference is the means by which those lives were lost, and these have more weight because they affect the overall justness of the system.


Most capital crimes are committed in the heat of the moment, whether under emotional stress or under the influence of drugs.[2] Even among those who plan out their crimes, the majority have a history of mood or psychotic disorders that impair their ability to think rationally.[3] None of these are deterred by rationality. Even the effect on rational people is not so clear-cut. The author of the paper cited in Con's R1 [1] that gives the 18 person deterrent effect also wrote another paper, which explained that effect appears to only happen in states where there have been more than 9 executions in the past 20 years.[4] That means most states have 0 effect, as they haven’t executed that many since 1976, let alone in the last 20 years.[5]

The DP may be correlated with deterring some murders, but it also correlates with increased in-prison homicide. The vast majority of in-prison murders that occur are in states that have the DP, and inmate assaults on prison staff are overwhelmingly more common in these states as well.[6] Taken together, local jails and state and federal prisons deal with as much as 150 prisoner deaths per year, the vast majority of which take place in states with the DP.[7] This is a small wonder given the mental health problems the DP causes. There is no reason why those lives should be treated as less important.

But for those who would avoid it, that is the result of the tortures that come with it, not of the sentence itself. If the only goal is to engender fear, then why not employ more egregious tortures? Con seems fine with the suffering of inmates and their families, destroying their inherent humanity, so long as deterrence may occur.


Con has done nothing but provide a by-the-numbers case based solely in utilitarian cost-benefit analysis. On that front, we still outweigh. If the threat of death does deter, LWOP garners some of it as well. Meanwhile, we have explained how the DP has some negative effects on deterrence, how the DP leads to executions and suicides of innocent people, and how the recidivism rate is only held there by the punitive-focused system that the DP upholds. Con cannot solve for this harm. Our side in this debate is the only one that can reduce recidivism, a problem that leads to over 75% of criminals returning to prison for a multitude of crimes. At best, Con's case only marginally reduces the incidence of homicide. We reduce all criminal activity that results from recidivism, including homicide.

We have also shown how we’re winning on a basic justice value. Cost-benefit analysis fails to take into account the fact that we're discussing a means for enforcing justice. That's what the DP, LWOP, and other sentences are there for. That's the reason why we consider them as a means for enforcing justice and not just random, brutal violence against offenders, though that would be effective for deterrence – we care about how even convicts are treated. We’ve demonstrated how the current system is incredibly unjust, to the wrongly accused, other inmates, and their families. We've also shown how a shift to rehabilitation can only occur following abolition of the DP, reducing undue suffering during and beyond the limits of incarceration.

Vote Con.


Much has been said of justice in this debate, and it is a crucial element to this debate. Fortunately, a clear answer has been established--that the DP in principle is perfectly just, and that its consequence is the betterment of our society.

DP Morality and Innocent Lives

Let us reiterate our arguments, while dispelling the mist Pro has created. Our argument for the justice of the DP has been straightforward. We presented a framework for examining the rights of criminals, that "those who do not respect the rights of others forfeit their own rights". Pro's initial response was incoherent--that it would be "hypocritical" to do so because we'd be infringing on criminals' rights. However, we established that criminals had no rights, and Pro never attempted to demonstrate otherwise. Thus, the morality of the DP hinges upon not criminals (who have no rights), but upon innocent lives that may be taken. We thus noted that there must be an assumption that rights of innocent people would be violated in any criminal justice system. The magnitude of such violations is irrelevant, because Pro agrees in principle that they are an unavoidable part of any such system, and yet still considers violations just for the sake of the greater good, and as such, what matters is not the severity of violations of the rights of innocents, but the benefit that increased severity brings to society relative to the harms. We have shown that the benefit of the DP--deterrence, saves many more lives than any wrongful executions destroy (no more than 4% of executions of innocents vs. 3-18 lives saved per execution), and Pro has provided no concrete alternative metric for assessing justice. Thus, you must favor our interpretation.

Injustices and Justice for All

This brings us to the implementation of the DP. We demonstrated that many of Pro's issues with the DP were not about the DP at all; rather, they were about a failed justice system in the US. Our counterplan to the crisis of poor defenses--hiring more public defenders and investigators--should have been obviously implied, given that we spent the entire time mentioning the problem of a lack of defenders and the consequences it caused, but if this is ignored on the basis of implicitness (which would be wrong), we still win on this point. We still win because we don't need solvency to demonstrate that the merits of the DP cannot be addressed through indirect issues not attributable to the DP itself. The DP doesn't cause bias or any of the other problems Pro mentions, and for that reason, they are irrelevant to a discussion of the DP itself. Eliminating the DP would not solve for bias, nor would it reduce the extent to which it exists. We are having a discussion about the a priori merits of the DP in the US, and for this reason, you must reject Pro's assault and give the point to us. This same principle applies to Pro's recidivism argument--the DP has 0% recidivism. Pro's argument that somehow the existence of people "beyond saving" means that we can't rehabilitate others is absurd--they provide no link, and we showed that one can accept Pro's counter-plan of a rehabilatory system and still accept the DP, by executing the worst criminals and rehabilitating the rest. As well, we addressed Pro's torture point in two ways--1) It is irrelevant to what is right because criminals have no rights, and 2) torture isn't torture if it is accidental.


We are finally at the point of weighing the costs and benefits of the DP, which, as we have shown, this debate hinges upon. Let us begin with examining deterrence. Pro completely drops our point that even crimes of passion are subject to rationality. This is of massive importance, because even if there are certain people that the DP doesn't deter, it is still proven that it does, in fact, deter to a significant degree. Pro's source provides no information about what percentage of crimes are actually committed by the mentally ill or those under the influence of drugs. A little over 50% of inmates are mentally ill, and according to the BJS, about 80% of drug users in jail were also mentally ill (2). As about 30% of crimes were under the influence of drugs (2), that leaves us with:

50% mentally ill + 30% of crimes under the influence * 20% of drug users not mentally ill, to remove them from being counted a second time = ~56% of criminals are drug users or mentally ill. Pro doesn't explain how they are exempt from our evidence in support of rational choice even in irrational actors, which was not criticized and thus holds, but even if you accept Pro's logic this still leaves significant room for deterrence; indeed, given that Pro has accepted that deterrence exists and is prominent, saving on average 3-18 lives per execution in states where people are actually executed, our point holds. Pro's demonstration that the DP only deters people when there are a few executions proves only that, shockingly, the DP actually has to be used to be effective. Pro's article on in-prison homicide and assault does not demonstrate causation, and thus fails. Homicide rates are already higher in those jurisdictions. This very source mentions that the murder rate in DP jurisdictions was "25-46% higher than states without the [DP]" (3). Those rates, given the evidence of deterrence we provided, would be even higher if not for the death penalty. Furthermore, as our point that criminals have no rights holds, the problem would not be an issue even if it existed, because no violation of rights in in-prison homicides occurs.


This debate hinged on two points: justice and cost-benefit analysis. We showed that the DP is not unjust, as criminals forfeit their rights and harm to innocents is an inevitable part of any justice system. Pro never contested the former point, and provided no reason why the latter had to be minimized. We demonstrated that the DP deters between 3-18 murders in states where people are actually executed, while Pro has little evidence other than psychological stress of criminals, which is already irrelevant by our first point. Don't lose the forest for the trees; we've shown that the DP saves lives and is perfectly just. The innocent should not die to save the lives of the guilty. Thanks to our opponents for this debate.


Debate Round No. 3
41 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Wylted 2 years ago
Sorry I didn't vote. I agreed with Tuf's decision but wanted to wait to come back to this based on the fact I am biased towards Solon's side of the debate and it seemed extremely close. If the debate was not a near toss up, I definitely would have voted quicker.
Posted by TUF 2 years ago
I don't disagree there. It's actually kind of nice to see a debate on DP without the cost argument.
Posted by tejretics 2 years ago
I agree with whiteflame on that. People on DDO paint the argument on the costs of the DP as very black-and-white - and the same is reflected in many other abolitionists (e.g. John Oliver) - but it really isn't like that. Using individual examples like California doesn't show such a high cost of the DP to be certain. For instance, there are studies that suggest that LWOP costs more than capital punishment in Texas. Not much of an impact either, so much as a "default to Pro because..." argument.
Posted by whiteflame 2 years ago
Yep, thanks for voting. For the record, I think the financial argument gets extremely convoluted. I don't tend to like going that route because I don't think it's at all clear, and I've never found it all that persuasive.
Posted by tejretics 2 years ago
Thanks for voting, TUF
Posted by TUF 2 years ago
I was about to point out the sides on this were wrong, but it looks like you are already aware. Confused me a bit at first reading Uther's arguments. I was like "wait why he is arguing the opponents side here?"
Posted by TUF 2 years ago
Working on this now
Posted by UtherPenguin 2 years ago
172days17hours54minutes01 seconds left!!! THE CLOCK IS TICKING!
Posted by whiteflame 2 years ago

Alright, where should I post about it? Just made an addition to the voting thread, but I know that's unlikely to yield fruit.
Posted by Wylted 2 years ago
Okay, I have my decision. I'm going to sleep on it though to make sure I get it right
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by TUF 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: I call Pro and Con by what is in the actual title, despite knowing you guys changed positions. This was so I wouldn't get confused.