The Instigator
Con (against)
7 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
7 Points

The US should abolish capital punishment

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Voting Style: Open with Elo Restrictions Point System: Select Winner
Started: 1/3/2016 Category: Politics
Updated: 9 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,741 times Debate No: 84146
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (53)
Votes (3)




This debate is for the Winter Tournament, hosted by TheProphett, and is between Hayd and myself. I thank Proph for hosting the tournament, and thank Hayd for what will be, I have no doubts, an outstanding debate!

We've come to an agreement on a topic after taking ages, but at least we got there. The full resolution is as follows:

The United States should abolish all capital punishment used by the state and federal governments.

I'll provide the necessary definitions this round.

United States: The United States refers to both federal and state governments; what Pro should advocate for is the federal government enacting a ban of capital punishment at both federal and state levels, i.e. the Pro position must advocate for complete abolition of any legal death penalty in the status quo of the United States. To clarify, this involves the legislature passing the bill and the President signing it.

Should: I'm just going to take whiteflame's definition of this - "This simply designates that we are engaged in a policy debate, and therefore what should happen. This is distinguished from 'could,' as what we are discussing is whether abolition should or should not happen, rather than whether it could given current impediments in Congress and elsewhere. This also implies a net benefits framework, where we'll be debating the merits of our respective cases."

Abolish: To abolish is to formally put an end to something.

Capital punishment: Capital punishment, also known as "the death penalty," is punishment by death. To clarify, it means a judicial body, as is in the system of the United States, agreeing to pass a sentence to a convicted criminal accused of a certain crime, and that sentence being execution. In other words, capital punishment is "execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offense." [] Currently, it is present in 31 states and the federal civilian and military legal systems.

If my opponent has any disagreement with any of these definitions, they should be expressed in a message or in the comments section, and the definitions altered to make them more amenable.

Pro should present their arguments in Round 1 and leave the last round blank (except to post "no round as agreed"); we each have 3 total rounds of argumentation. No new arguments in the last round of argumentation (which is Round 3 for Pro and Round 4 for Con). Any arguments given in this round should be disregarded by all voters.

This debate follows the new "opt-in" voting standards system, expanded on here. [] On acceptance, the Contender consents to these standards, as do I. By voting on this debate, you agree to meet these requirements for your RFDs.

Finally, the rules, definitions, structure and standards specified in the R1 set-up cannot be challenged, and are considered final upon acceptance.

I hope for a good debate!


This is the Round 2 debate for the Official DDO Winter Regular Tournament, graciously and selflessly hosted by the breathtakingly beautiful and sensual; TheProphett.

My opponent is tejretics, someone I respect greatly, and after the long Winter break that I spent eating gingerbread cookies, watching the Michael Jackson films that my grandmother insisted that I watch, helping my grandpa learn how to use his computer, and go on long and glorious nature walks for hours throughout the roaming forests of the great state of Oregon, I am ready to debate.

We will be debating the issue of the death penalty in the United States. My job, as Pro, is to convince the judges, and anybody else reading this that the United States should abolish the capital punishment. My reasons for why this is true will be my case, and I look forward to discussing this with Tej.

This debate will be on the current death penalty, meaning that I will be arguing that the death penalty, as it exists now should be abolished. Not as it will exist ten or twenty years from now, only the current system.

I accept the opt-in voting standards and all definitions.

I will not go overboard with my case, I know what it's like to vote on a long debate, I will try to spare the judges of this as much as possible.

C1) The Right to Life
The purpose of a government is to protect its citizens’ rights. This is especially true for the United States as it was founded solely on this principle, outlined in our Declaration of Independence. It reads,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

This text tells us two things:

1) That Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness are unalienable rights, meaning they cannot be taken away from the citizens.

2) The purpose of a government’s existence is to secure these unalienable rights, and it is therefore their duty to make sure these rights are secured.

This is further demonstrated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document created by the United Nations General Assembly. It is an outline for the common standard of achievements for all people and nations [1]. This means that the articles contained therein are principles that every nation should strive to follow. In Article 3, it states,

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."

If the United States wants to be a successful nation, they should follow the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document they supported by signing.

Capital Punishment violates the right to life. This is a fact that is irrefutable. As long as the criminal that is being executed is a citizen of the United States, the United States has an obligation to protect their rights, regardless of crimes they committed (hence “unalienable”).

The United States should abolish the death penalty because it is their duty (the purpose of their existence) to do so, as well as a means to become a successful nation (UDHR).

C2) Cost
People will commit crimes, some of the crimes will be very severe and therefore will require the most severe of punishments. In Con’s world this would be the death penalty, in my world it would be life imprisonment. Here I will show that life imprisonment would cost less than a death penalty, and therefore abolishing the death penalty will be a net economic benefit.

Seattle University studied the costs of the death penalty and found that each death penalty case in Washington cost $1 million more than than cases where death penalty was not sought [2]. The average cost of defending a trial in a federal death case is $620,932, about 8 times that of a federal murder case in which the death penalty is not sought [3]. Judge Arthur Alarcon and Professor Paula Mitchell calculated that if California commuted all those remaining on death row to life without parole, it would result in an immediate savings of 170 million per year, with a savings of 5 billion over the next 20 years. Considering that California has a debt of 778 billion dollars [4], abolishing the death penalty could help significantly. The study estimates that the average cost to Maryland taxpayers for reaching a single death sentence is $3 million - $1.9 million more than the cost of a non-death penalty case. (This includes investigation, trial, appeals, and incarceration costs.) The study examined 162 capital cases that were prosecuted between 1978 and 1999 and found that those cases will cost $186 million more than what those cases would have cost had the death penalty not existed as a punishment. At every phase of a case, according to the study, capital murder cases cost more than non-capital murder cases [5].

As empirical evidence shows, the death penalty is significantly more costly than life imprisonment.

C3) Prejudice
The death penalty unfairly targets and discriminates based on ethnicity. In Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence were 97% higher for those whose victim was white than for those whose victim was black [6].

In Oklahoma and Missouri, black Americans are overrepresented on death row by nearly a factor of four [7].

The death penalty is a broken system, it punishes not based on the crime, but on your ethnicity, your wealth, and the quality of your lawyer.

“Nationally, during the 23-year study period, the overall rate of prejudicial error in the American capital punishment system was 68%. In other words, courts found serious, reversible error in nearly 7 of every 10 of the thousands of capital sentences that were fully reviewed during the period.” [8]

“26 Death Row inmates…have received a new trial or sentencing because their attorneys' incompetence rendered the verdict or sentence unfair, court records show…33 defendants sentenced to death were represented at trial by an attorney who had been, or was later, disbarred or suspended--disciplinary sanctions reserved for conduct so incompetent, unethical or even criminal that the state believes an attorney's license should be taken away.” [9]

Criminals are not sentenced by the heinous of their crime, but rather by the quality of their representation.

"Poor people are also far more likely to be death sentenced than those who can afford the high costs of private investigators, psychiatrists, and expert criminal lawyers." [10]

This demonstrates more than everything that the death penalty is a broken system, and it would be unethical to continue it.

C4) Innocents
Since we can never know with 100% certainty whether someone is actually guilty, mistakes are bound to happen. This is an inevitable fact, and a discomforting one. But when the punishment is an irreversible such as death, mistakes are irreversible.

“You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can’t release him from the grave.”
-Freddie Lee Pitts, a man exonerated from death row for a crime he did not commit.

Between 1973 and 2015, 148 innocent citizens were exonerated and released from death-row [11]. 4.1% of those executed are innocent [12].

The fact that there is a possibility at all that an innocent person could be executed is reason enough to abolish the death penalty as a faulty system.

Debate Round No. 1


Most people would agree that brutal murder is unjust. Imagine looking upon the corpse of your loved one; the rage, the sadness, the depression it brings makes it utterly immoral. You question the justice of the murderer’s actions. How is it fair and moral to bring on depression? To destroy all empathy within you? In the criminal justice system, one values justice. And justice is decided on utilitarian grounds. That’s because justice inherently is about whether an action is desirable or not. It seeks to ensure a moral ground. In fact, justice -- by definition -- is fairness and morality in decision making. Therefore, what justice results in is what is desirable. The murder isn’t desirable, and that’s exactly why it is unjust. What is not desirable to a large population is unjust.

My argument is simple: the death penalty’s abolition would be unjust, because it would destroy utilitarianism and tends to minimize utility. St. Augustine said, “An unjust law is no law at all.” Seeing as I agree with him, I negate.

Government policy ought to be decided on the basis of utilitarian cost/benefit analysis. The purpose of government is the prevention of harm to its citizens. The government often can infringe upon individual liberty, and people often disagree with government policies. Then, on what basis can people accept the legitimacy of a government? The answer lies in John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle,” which theorizes that the fundamental purpose of government is the reduction or prevention of harm to its citizens. Nobody has any right to infringe on what a person chooses to do, unless the aim is to prevent greater harm. Government legitimacy is lost, and anarchy is justified, if a government fails to follow the harm principle. Therefore, the grounds for deciding this debate should be on the basis of cost/benefit analysis. If Pro proves that the death penalty causes greater harm than benefit, vote Pro. If I show that capital punishment causes greater benefit than harm, vote Con.

What is my advocacy? Retain the death penalty. My advocacy is to retain capital punishment in the United States. As Kennedy v. Louisiana established, that means the application of the death penalty to those convicted of first-degree homicide or worse crimes only, with the sentence decided by a court of law. My advocacy differs only in one bit to the status quo, in that the application of the death penalty is only by means of nitrogen asphyxiation, and that the US shall not execute extradited criminals, to ensure that countries in places like the EU do extradite criminals to the US.

Now let’s see why the death penalty is just, and shouldn’t be abolished, under utilitarian grounds.


Rational action theory, an economic theory, suggests that all mentally stable humans perform a cost/benefit analysis prior to committing any action. Recently, economists have extended the same theory to criminology, and the results have been startling -- they’ve found that the death penalty has a significant effect on homicide reduction. It deters homicides.

Among the most reliable of the studies in the economic literature relating to capital punishment’s deterrence of homicides is one by Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Paul H. Rubin. It uses state-level data to prove that a single execution in the United States, on balance, deters 18 homicides. The study has hardly been contested, and remains a reliable and strong one. In fact, multiple other studies have backed the data found by Dezhbakhsh and Rubin, so much so that the numbers are stunningly close. Of course, correlation does not imply causation, but there is quite a major causation link to suggest deterrence. The study is linked below.

Another strong empirical study that I like is a case study of the death penalty by Naci Mocan and Kaj Gittings to illustrate the impact of incentives on human behavior (Naci Mocan and Kaj Gittings, “The Impact of Incentives on Human Behavior: Can We Make It Disappear?”, The Economics of Crime, p. 379 - 418, edited by Rafael Di Tella, Sebastian Edwards, and Ernesto Schargrodsky, University of Chicago Press, July 2010). They found a lot of empirical data in the states of the United States to demonstrate that the death penalty causes a significant drop in homicide rates. According to the study, when New York State, New Hampshire and Kansas adopted the death penalty, there was a significant crime drop. When New Jersey and Massachusetts abolished capital punishment, the homicide rate rose. Specifically, the study also provided a refutation of the claim made by Donohue and Wolfers that when New Hampshire and Kansas legalized the death penalty, the crime rate rose. The study is another reason to believe that the death penalty deters crime.

In the 1990’s, the United States experienced a major drop in crime. After predictions by various economists that crime would constantly rise, there was a sudden standstill in homicide and crime rates. According to economist John R. Lott, capital punishment was responsible for 12 - 14% of the crime drop in the 1990’s (John R. Lott, Freedomnomics, p. 135, Regnery Publishing, June 2007). He also supports a number of 15 murders deterred per execution. FCC economist Paul Zimmerman calculates about 14 murders deterred per execution.


There have been many instances in the American justice system when criminals have reoffended. A study from the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed that of prisoners released in 1994, 1.2% of those convicted of homicide were arrested for another homicide within three years of release. In 2009, 8.6% of those on death row had a prior homicide conviction, and over 5% of those on death row committed their capital crime while in custody or during an escape.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, recidivism rates for homicides are actually fairly high, despite journalistic claims to the contrary. 12.5% of those whose greatest offense was homicide were arrested in 6 months, and, over 5 years, 51.2% had been arrested again. Of those whose only offense was homicide, the rate was 0.9%.

So the worst criminals have extremely high recidivism rates, of up to 51.2%, while those who only murder have a recidivism rate of 0.9%. While the latter number may seem small, it is fairly significant because of the number of murders. Therefore, the death penalty saves more lives sheerly due to preventing recidivism.


I’ll now rebut Pro’s points:

(1) Pro seeks to first interpret the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. But it’s not up to Pro to interpret either. The Supreme Court is the body charged with the interpretation of the Constitution. What the Supreme Court says the Constitution says is what the Constitution says. While the Supreme Court may not be inherently infallible, we must treat it as such. As Justice Jackson remarked, the Supreme Court is not final because it is infallible, it is infallible because it is final. The final interpreter of the Constitution cannot be challenged in its duty, for the sake of order. It’s not up to Pro to interpret the Constitution. Furthermore, the right to life is not absolute. In case of war, the government can cause mandatory conscription. Abortion is legal in the United States as well.

(2) There’s no weighing mechanism to analyze cost. Lives outweigh costs, since the government’s legislation is to prevent harm to others. There’s no impact to the costs arguments. Furthermore, the cost of one murder to society is $17 million. Based on Lott’s calculation of deterrence, this means the death penalty saves a lot more money than it uses.

(3) Racism exists in the criminal justice system, regardless of what the punishment is. Application of life without parole and other forms of imprisonment would also be racist. Abolishing the death penalty won’t prevent racism. Unless Pro advocates abolishing all punishment in the United States, racism isn’t going to be solved by the plan. Don’t abolish the death penalty just because of racism, since the death penalty will deter crime anyway. Racism doesn’t cause innocent death -- abolition does.

(4) High exonerations allows for the prevention of innocent death. There are, as Pro observes, large amounts of DP exonerations, which reduces the possibility of innocent death. Current data suggests that the rightful conviction rate for the DP is actually 99.72%. And this is excluding exonerations. The actual number of innocents executed would be very less. This is completely offset by the deterrent effect of capital punishment--the death penalty, on average, saves more innocent lives than it takes. As such, the DP saves more lives, so this argument can be discredited under impact calculus.

I’ve proven that the government should legislate on the basis of utilitarianism, and, therefore, it is utilitarian calculations that decide what the government should do. I’ve proven that the death penalty saves lives, and upholds utilitarianism. Therefore, it is unjust to abolish the death penalty.



Con says that the death penalty deters homicides, citing a study done by Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Paul H. Rubin, showing that for every execution, 18 homicides were deterred. This study, as well as all studies on the DP’s effect on murder rates, are neither credible, nor informative, and contain fundamental issues.

The National Research Council of the National Academies did a review of three decades worth of studies claiming a deterrent effect on murder rates based on the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. And what joy, both of Con’s cited statistics are on there, Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Paul H. Rubin (2010), and Naci Mocan and Kaj Gittings (2010) [4]. The National Research Council concluded,

“The committee concludes that research to date is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates. Therefore, these studies should not be used to inform deliberations requiring judgments about the effect of the death penalty on homicide. Claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the homicide rate or has no effect on it should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment.” [3]

This is because all of the studies on the possible effects of capital punishment on homicide rates suffer from three fundamental flaws which make them uninformative as a basis for policy consideration:

(paraphrased from [3])

1) The studies do not factor in the effects of noncapital punishments that may also be imposed.

The question in the debate is whether the death penalty is more effective in deterring murders than its alternative, life imprisonment. None of the existing studies considers the other punishments that states impose, and their effect on homicide rates.

2) The studies use incomplete or implausible models of potential murderers’ perceptions of and response to the use of capital punishment.

The research assumes that potential murderers respond to the objective risk of execution. But determining the exact potential risk is extremely difficult, difficult for most researchers to do, let alone potential murderers. For example, only 15% of those actually sentenced to death have actually been put to death. None of the studies used the correct measure of risk that corresponds to the objective risk of execution, and since deterrent effects are extremely sensitive to the measure of risk used, the studies do not accurately determine deterrence.

It is also skeptical to whether the potential murderer can possibly estimate objective risk, and there is good reason to believe that the murderer’s perceived risk is drastically different than the objective risk. Thus, there is no basis for judging which, if any, of the studies’ estimates might be informative about the effect of the death penalty on homicide rates.

3) Estimates of the effect of capital punishment are based on statistical models that make assumptions that are not credible.

The studies assume that the effect of DP on homicide rates is the same across states and the years. As a result of such assumptions, the results lack any credibility.

The entire study paper can be found here

This successfully negates Con’s entire argument. But, as I will show, the death penalty actually seems to increase crime.



As you can see, the death penalty seems to have an opposite effect, it increases crime.

If anything, Con’s entire deterrence argument is negated, and, as I have shown their seems to be an opposite correlation, the death penalty increases crime.


Con argues that the worst of criminals have high recidivism rates, and thus the death penalty would prevent recidivism.

Con’s first statistic is of criminals that have been released from prison. This is irrelevant because those sentenced to capital punishment would not be released from prison. Therefore the death penalty does not prevent this.

Con’s second statistic is that some criminals on death row had a prior conviction of homicide. This is irrelevant because the death penalty would not have prevented them from committing the prior homicide, only a future homicide, which life imprisonment successfully does. Therefore the death penalty does not prevent this.

Con’s third statistic is that some of the criminals committed their offense while in custody or during an escape. This would only be relevant if they committed their offense while in life imprisonment or escaping life imprisonment, and if you look at the link, you will see that this is not the case.

Con’s entire first paragraph can be thrown out.

Con’s second paragraph, again, is statistics regarding the releasing of those who committed homicide, similar to the first statistic in paragraph one, and since in my world, those sentenced to death would transfer to life imprisonment, they would not be released. Thus the statistic is worthless. Con’s second paragraph can be thrown out.

Con’s third paragraph is a repetition of the first and second, the same principle applies: the statistic does not apply to life imprisonment, and since they would never be released from life imprisonment, recidivism would not happen.

All of this argument has no impact whatsoever and can be completely thrown out.

C1) Right to Life

Con says that I interpreted the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and then goes on to tell me how I’m not allowed to interpret the Constitution, which is awkward because I never interpreted the Constitution, nor quoted it, nor even mentioned. I quoted the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Con failed to explain why it would be wrong to interpret the Declaration of Human Rights, he mentions it in the beginning but then forgets about it, and he also never mentions the UDHR. Thus, literally my entire argument is dropped until the last three sentences.

Con says that the right to life is not unalienable, as in times of war the government can violate it, like mandatory military service in times of war. 1) Mandatory military service is not a violation of the right to life, as the government is not taking away your life, like directly killing you as is done in DP. A mandatory draft violates other rights such as the 13th Amendment, but that Amendment nor the issue of a mandatory draft is relevant to this debate. 2) The US currently is not in a war that renders the country in a state of emergency wherein the government would be justified in restricting these rights.

Con’s entire rebuttal can be thrown out the window.

C2) Cost

Con says that that lives outweigh costs. Even if we accept lives outweigh cost, the cost argument still has impact. Saving society 5 billion dollars still saves society 5 billion dollars whether or not you decide if lives are more important or not. Abolishing the DP doesn’t suddenly stop saving society money if human lives outweigh it, the argument still has impact if lives outweigh it.

Con then says that the cost of one murder to society is $17 million. I accept this statistic.

But I swing the argument in my favor. The impact of the argument assumes that the DP deters murders, since I have shown that the DP actually increases the amount of murders, the DP would cost society more even more money. Thus Con’s rebuttal is emptied of all impact and swung to my side.

C3) Prejudice

Con concedes the fact that the death penalty is racially biased, but says that this will be found in any form of punishment.

The difference between the DP and any other form of punishment is that you can not repay the mistake. If you order someone to life imprisonment, and the decision was decided on racist ground, you can always release that person, give them compensation money, etc. When the decision to execute someone was based on racist ground, you cannot make up for that mistake.

Con also says that the death penalty would deter crime anyways, this outweighs prejudice. As I have shown, the DP does not have a deterrent effect, and thus is negated.

C4) Innocents

Con says that the high rate of exonerations reduces the amount of innocents executed, but the proof is in the pudding, this does not negate my statistic showing the 4.1% of people executed were innocent.

Con then says that the rightful conviction rate of the DP is 99.72%. This statistic was created by Josh Marquis, which he came up with after studying Samuel Gross’s study of exonerations from around the country. In the end they only found 340 inmates that were exonerated and freed. Josh then does some calculations and comes up with 99.72% [1]. The thing is that Josh misread the study he cites, and Samuel Gross, the creator of the study, calls him out on it.

“Marquis declared that after an exhaustive study, several students and I were able to document only 340 innocent defendants who were fact, we also discussed hundreds more documented cases in mass exonerations that were not part of our statistical analysis. Our purpose was not to count exonerations, but to use the few false convictions that came to light to learn something about the many we never see.” [2]

Con’s statistic is negated.

Con also says that the statistic excludes exonerations, and thus the actual number of executed innocents would be much less. But, obviously Con did not read the study, if you see above, Sam Gross specifically shows that the study was specifically on exonerations.

Con then says that because of the deterrent effect of the death penalty, DP saves more lives than it takes (by executing innocent people), thus my argument is negated under impact calculus. But as I have shown, the DP has no deterrent effect, thus my argument still stands and the rebuttal is completely negated.





Debate Round No. 2


(1) Saving lives

Pro has two arguments against deterrence: first, all the studies I submitted were critiqued by the National Research Council, and second, the death penalty seems to have a correlation with increased homicide rates, rather than reduced ones.

Pro drops the study by John Lott which I cited. The conclusion of that study was that each execution, on balance, deters 15 murders. It also concluded that the death penalty was responsible for 12 - 14% of the crime drop in the 1990s. The study isn't addressed by the National Research Council. Lott's study does take into consideration the effect of life without parole imprisonment in its calculation. Pro doesn't prove that Lott's study makes non-credible assumptions, because the research isn't even analyzed by the National Research Council. Lott also showed that criminals behave rationally by taking a cost-benefit analysis before crime. [1]

Pro also drops the study by Paul Zimmerman. The NRC report Pro uses to defend against my studies only reviewed a 2004 study by Zimmerman, but the study I referred to was a 2009 study published in the journal "American Law and Economics Review," which was not reviewed by the NRC. It concludes that an execution deters 14 murders. [2] The NRC report ignores half of the studies that support deterrence and gives no clear reason for excluding those studies. It also doesn't adequately criticize the problems with studies that conclude a lack of deterrent effect.

Next, let me address each of the points made by the report.

Pro claims that the studies in question don't take into account the possible deterrent effect of noncapital punishments such as life without parole. That is objectively false. The research presented actually documents a drop in crime as a result of the death penalty. It doesn't just study the causation link, and the psychology of criminals. The studies I presented also discuss the correlation between the death penalty and the drop in crime. According to the study by Mocan and Gittings, when New York State, New Hampshire and Kansas adopted the death penalty, there was a significant drop in the murder rate. When New Jersey and Massachusetts abolished capital punishment, the homicide rate rose. Note that life without parole existed in these states throughout, which means the studies do take into account the effect of noncapital punishment.

The murderer doesn't need to estimate the objective risk of his gaining capital punishment. The mere possibility is sufficient to deter. Furthermore, this point also fails to account for the statistical evidence that my research brings in. Empirical research doesn't necessarily need to analyze motivations, as long as most people do act in a way that seems "rational," and that would explain the correlation best.

Pro says that the deterrence studies make non-credible assumptions. What are those assumptions? I agree that the effect of capital punishment isn't the same across states and years, but there is a steady rate of crime drop in states that introduce capital punishment from each starting point of capital punishment. A study that maps that correlation doesn't necessarily make any "non-credible assumptions."

The idea that the death penalty increases crime rates is nonsense. Merely because the crime rates in states without the death penalty doesn’t imply anything, because there’s no evidence to document that those rates have anything to do with the death penalty. There are multiple factors that influence crime rates. But my research shows causation as well because it shows a drop in crime on introduction of capital punishment; these merely show overall crime rates regardless of capital punishment. I have research from actual peer-reviewed papers that show that states such as New York, New Hampshire, and Kansas experienced homicide drops when they adopted the death penalty. Pro’s first graph is based on a calculation by Joshua Kamin, that was never published in a peer-reviewed journal. The second graph doesn’t prove anything, because of the years when California didn’t have the death penalty - the 1990s, when America experienced a major drop in crime throughout the nation as result of multiple factors.

Capital punishment prevents recidivism. The first statistic is still valid, because capital punishment would also apply to some of those released from a prison sentence. It proves that there’s a high recidivism rate, whether or not the person is released from prison, and the chance of a death sentence means the chance of preventing further murders. As for the third statistic, the mere fact that there have been in-prison murders means the murders could have also been committed under life imprisonment, and that life imprisonment wouldn’t prevent the in-prison murders from happening.

Take the case of Christopher Scarver. He committed two in-prison murders after being sentenced to life imprisonment. The mere fact that such murders happens means the government is obligated to prevent them and prevent cost loss. Christopher Scarver is living proof that in-prison murders occur even in life imprisonment.

(2) Right to life

The death penalty doesn’t directly violate the right to life. I drop the Constitution arguments. First, the right to life isn’t absolute. Pro claims that military conscription isn’t a valid example because the person isn’t directly put to death, and that conscription is only in the case of emergency. So what if the person isn’t directly put to death? It still causes severe risk of death, and is often virtually a death sentence. Furthermore, the state of emergency is declared to save lives. The death penalty saves lives. So the right to life can be violated to save lives. Second, there’s no reason to even believe that the right to life trumps the death penalty’s benefits. What about the right to life of those murdered in prison, and of those whose deaths would have been prevented by a death penalty? I’ve shown that capital punishment deters homicides, and that trumps the individual right to life.

(3) Economic harms

Costs are irrelevant, and are actually in favor of my position. There’s no actual means to weigh this. Pro doesn’t provide a weighing mechanism for this argument at all. Even if the government saves money, the government should put saving lives over money. Therefore, the argument is irrelevant in the face of deterrence, because the government should save lives instead of saving money, since it should seek to reduce net negative mental states, which are increased due to death. Under the framework of rule utilitarianism I established, that Pro conceded, government legislation is to prevent harm.

Nonetheless, costs are also saved by deterrence. The cost of a murder to society is $17 million. I’ve defended my sources regarding deterrence, which, hence, prove that life imprisonment is more expensive than the death penalty.

(4) Racism

There are multiple points to address under the prejudice argument. First, life imprisonment causes more net suffering to the criminal than the death penalty. My proposed nitrogen asphyxiation is entirely painless, and is a swift death. Life imprisonment results in very little enjoyment and lots of suffering. My proposal also involves reducing the wait on death row, thus reducing net suffering. As such, in a racist system, life imprisonment is worse. Pro claims death is too final, but death does not result in much harm, as opposed to pain. Finality doesn’t worsen punishment. Second, the claims of prejudice have been disputed. In fact, 44% of the current death row is made of whites, and 41% of blacks, which makes perfect sense when looking at the white-to-black population ratio. As for killing whites vs blacks, that has been disputed by John Lott, who says it isn’t inherently racist.

Finally, there’s no reason to believe that racism outweighs the lives saved. Lives outweigh mere moral ideals that aren’t Constitutional. Regardless of whether a person killed a black or a white, he or she still killed a person, so still will allow deterrence.

(5) Innocents

I concede Marquis’ calculation. Regardless, deterrence outweighs innocence: the number of homicides deterred is far greater than the number of people actually killed. And the high rate of exonerations is a good thing, since it causes less innocents to be executed. My proposal would reform the system such that cases where there’s hardcore evidence for the murder alone would qualify for the death penalty.

In conclusion, deterrence and preventing recidivism outweigh everything that Pro says. None of Pro’s harms or significance outweigh mine. There were 28 executions in 2015, and each execution deters 14 murders. Therefore, that’s 395 lives saved annually. That’s a huge impact. 395 lives saved is a lot. Pro is going to kill 395 people with their proposal. Save those lives. Also, save $6.713 billion (17 million x 395, minus the difference between DP costs and non-DP costs). Vote Con.


1. John R. Lott, "Freedomnomics"



No constructive arguments, are allowed this round, thus mine will be purely defense and rebuttals.


Con points out that I dropped the study done by John Lott and the study done by Zimmerman, my bad, I was limited by character space, I will address them now.

Firstly, the John Lott “study” is not a study, it is actually a book, which neither I, nor the judges can access unless we pay $20 dollars. Since neither I, nor the judges can access the source, there is no reason to believe that the context supports the conclusion. My case on deterrence goes sourced, and thus my case should be prefered by logical analysis.

Second, Con says that the study done by Zimmerman, which Con thankfully finally cites as the 2009 study published in “American Law and Economics Review”, was not included in the report. If you look at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation list [1], you will see Paul R. Zimmerman “Statistical Variability and the Deterrent Effect of the Death Penalty” American Law and Economics Review (2009) as the 4th one down.

Con also says that the NRC ignores half of the studies done that support deterrence. Con doesn’t show any sources that are ignored, and thus we have no reason to believe that there are any sources ignored.

Con also says that the report does not adequately criticize the problems with the studies, but does not explain. Again, this is a warrantless claim. Next, Con attacks defends the 3 major flaws in the study.

1) Con claims that the studies he presents discuss the correlation between the death penalty and drop in crime. He justifies this by saying that according to Mocan & Gittings (2010), when the death penalty was imposed in a some states, the crime rate dropped, but when it was abolished, the crime rate rose.

Sadly, Con misunderstands what the report meant.

The problem with the studies that Con cites is that they don’t take into account how aggressively the states states apply the death penalty. Among the states that have a death penalty, the frequency in which it is used varies greatly. For example, since 1976, three states: Florida, Texas, and Virginia have accounted for more than half of all executions carried out in the United States, even though 40 states and the federal government enforced a death penalty during this period.

The legal status of the death penalty is also important because numerous differences across states in the types of offenses that are capital eligible and the administrative processes related to the imposition and appeal of the death sentences are relevant in defining aspects of the sanction regime (the way an authority administers a penalty) that have the potential to influence deterrence [2]. The studies that Con uses ignore both of these factors, as well as many others, which makes the results contaminated from capital and noncapital penalties.

Even if, we ignore the above, the increased crime rate in those states could be the result of any number of things, such as such as how much law enforcement gets payed, the effectiveness of law enforcement, education level, state culture, population density, urbanization degree, religious characteristics, policies of the criminal justice system, youth concentration, modes of transportation, poverty levels, environment, organized crime, tourism, job availability, etc.

Either way, the the studies aren’t credible, and this point still stands.

2) Con says that the murderer doesn’t need to evaluate objective risk, the mere possibility is enough to deter and that studies don’t need to analyze motivations, as long as people act rationally, the correlation is explained.

They do. Con is claiming that when a potential murderer is deciding whether to commit a homicide or not, the fact that a death penalty exists is going to deter them from committing the crime. If this is true, the criminal (being rational as Con claims), will do a cost-benefit analysis, and the risk involved with being convicted factors into that cost part. If the risk of being sentenced with a death penalty is low, or the risk of a being sentenced with a death penalty is high, factors into the cost part differently. What Con is saying, is the risk of being sentenced with a death penalty is low, or high, factors into the cost part equally.

Second, causation is what Con is after to prove his case. If the death penalty merely correlates with decreased homicide rates, then there is no reason to not abolish the death penalty, as it is not the cause of decreased homicide rates. The deterrence argument only stands if credible causation is proven, thus even if

3) In this point, Con asks what is an example of assumptions that are not credible, and studies that map the correlation between crime rates and the introduction of the DP isn’t a non-credible assumption.

The report lists 4 non-credible assumptions [3]:

(1) that the death penalty measures are independent of the unobserved factors influencing homicide
(2) that certain observed covariates, called instrumental variables, are correlated with the death penalty but not with the unobserved factors that influence homicide
(3) that the effect of the death penalty is the same for all states and years
(4) that the sanction regimes of adjacent states do not have any bearing on the effect of the death penalty in a particular state.

A deeper analysis of (3), can be found in the report if you wish.

Next Con attacks my graphs. Con first says that the graphs don’t show any relationship between crime and the death penalty, they do, states with death penalty have higher crime than states without death penalty, that is a relationship.

Con also says that my graphs are a result of external factors. If my graphs are negated by external factors, so are all of Con’s on deterrence because the drop of homicide rates in New York, New Hampshire, and Kansas could have been a result of thousands of factors as well.

Con tries to maintain the first statistic. This makes zero sense. The only difference between the world I’m proposing, and the world Con is proposing is the existence of the DP. Therefore, the only difference in the criminal justice system would be those currently on death row would be transferred to life imprisonment with no chance of parole, and any crime worthy of a DP, would instead be life imprisonment with no chance of parole. Thus, people who are released from prison, has relevance to these worlds, since it would be the same across them. Con does not explain why this is still relevant, merely just say that it is. Even if there is a high recidivism rate, it has no impact on whether there should be a DP unless it relates to people that would have had a death sentence, but instead got life imprisonment.

Con then says that life imprisonment won’t stop in-prison murders from happening. I never said it would. But it only matters if, again, if DP would prevent it, and it won’t, as explained above.

The case of Christopher Carver would only have an impact if he did that while in death row. If not, that same thing will happen whether there’s a DP or not. And since Con only said it happened in life imprisonment, it doesn’t matter.

Right to Life
Con says that a mandatory conscription indirectly causes death. Even if this is the case, it only happens in a state of emergency, but even then, the Right to Life cannot be violated.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [4] describes what rights and laws can be derogated. In Article 4, it says that no laws from articles articles 6, 7, 8, 11, 15, 16 and 18 can be derogated in a state of emergency. Guess what article 6 is,

“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

I win this argument, because the right to life is entirely absolute.

Con says that lives outweigh cost, I agree. But this still has impact. Since I have defeated all of Con’s sources on deterrence, I win the argument, thus the death penalty costs more than life imprisonment.

Con suggests new ways of execution, this is a change in the current system, and since Con is defending the current system, this is irrelevant.

Con’s argument makes no sense. We are talking about sentencing someone to death because of racial discrimination, and Con is proposing we execute them instead of life imprisonment, to reduce suffering.

If someone is wrongly convicted because of their race, executing them would give us no chance to make up for it. I’m sure that the person would like to be released from life imprisonment with compensation money than be dead. As long as that statement holds true, my argument holds true as well.

Con then says that 44% of the death row population is white, and 41% is black. Con says this correctly represents the general population. Considering the general population is 53% white, and 2.5% black, then the death row population should have 21 times more white people than black, by Con’s statistics, it most definitely does not.

Con then just says that John Lott says that the death penalty isn’t inherently racist. We know it isn’t inherently racist, but it is racist currently. Even if we were to accept it wasn’t currently racist, this isn’t really evidence for it, more an Appeal to Authority.

Con drops my lawyer quality argument.

Con says that the innocent lives saved by deterrence outweighs the innocents executed, but since I won deterrent argument, I win this one as well.

Con then proposes some kind of reform, which isn’t allowed since we are debating the current system.

Debate Round No. 3



We're debating policy, and policy debate allows for reform. I'm saying the US should not “abolish” the death penalty. That doesn't mean I defend the status quo. I can defend anything as long as the death penalty is applied to some extent in my counterplan. The counterplan would significantly reduce the amount of innocents killed, so it solves one of Pro's harms. I agree that harms apply to the status quo, but a CP would reduce -- or offset -- those harms, and there's no rule prohibiting the usage of counterplans.

1. Capital punishment deters homicide rates

John Lott's study was a study. The source involves empirical research done by Lott, regarding the deterrent effect of the death penalty. Even if it wasn't a study, it was empirical research that proved my point, which was entirely dropped. Furthermore, Pro tries to argue that a book cannot be a source. But a source does not need to be directly accessible as long as what was said was mentioned in the book. For instance, in formal debate, there's no direct access to sources. But sources still count as long as they're not miscounted. It wasn’t in peer-review, but it was still there. Lott had another peer-reviewed study with almost identical results as well, published in another book. [3. John R. Lott, More Guns, Less Crime] That study was actually passed through peer-review, and wasn’t in the NRC report. [4.]

I concede that Zimmerman’s 2009 study was included in the report. But the 2004 study was not. I mixed up the sources last round accidentally. So I’ll present the data of Zimmerman’s other studies, not included in the report. In those two studies, Zimmerman uses state data. State-level data is better than county-level ones, since it presents a larger statistical base, allowing for more precise calculation. He published two studies using state-level data, one with data from 1978 to 1997 [5.], and one with data extended till 2000. [6.] Both found a deterrent effect of 14 murders deterred per execution.

The NRC report doesn’t have the most accurate data. There are many reasons to think so. The NRC has no reason for ignoring so many studies. There’s no criticism of multiple studies. These include the study by Zimmerman, Cloninger and Marchesini, etc. The study by Cloninger and Marchesini, which found a deterrent effect, is sourced here. [7.] The NRC report did ignore most studies that found a deterrent effect. Therefore, there’s no reason to believe they run into those problems.

Now, let me address each of the report’s claims:

a) I’m not saying the death penalty is the only reason for the crime rate changes. I’m saying it is a major reason. And there are multiple reasons to think so. The main one is that criminals do behave rationally, and multiple correlations document this. Juveniles, who were once considered undeterrable, have actually been found to respond to arrest rates. For example, with a rise in teenage unemployment rates, they commit more thefts or other crimes. When violent crime arrests increase, juvenile violent crime rates drop. [8.] Lott says, “Criminals as a group tend to behave rationally--when crime becomes more difficult, less crime is committed.” [3] It’s been proven that criminals respond to arrest rates. Many studies not addressed by the NRC report also document correlations regarding the death penalty, such as Lott’s and Zimmerman’s. Lott’s study, in particular, shows that criminal response to the death penalty is greater than criminal response to LWOP and other non-capital punishment. [3]

b) As seen above, there is a good reason to believe criminals do respond to the death penalty. Lott concluded that the death penalty is responsible for more crime drop than the LWOP, and results in a significant reduction of homicide rates. His study confirms that criminals respond to the risk of death much more than they do to other arrest rates. They weigh the chance of death to the benefits to the crime, and the chance of death on many first-degree murders is high. They respond. Lott also found that certain kinds of application also give greater responses. Ultimately, the cause is the death penalty. [3]

c) All the supposed false assumptions made by the studies aren’t really made by the studies. First, I never claimed that the death penalty was the sole cause of the correlation. I’ve already addressed the first assumption in point (b). The second point is virtually the same as the first one -- and the observed correlation is also analyzed with other factors by Lott’s studies [1, 3], and the death penalty has been proven to significanlty influence homicide rates. I agree that the effects of the death penalty aren’t the same for all states and years, but that merely is because of the amount of applications and changes in the criminals’ way of thinking. It doesn’t prove my point wrong. The fourth point also is about factors that influence the correlation, and that’s also addressed by Lott’s study.

I’m winning deterrence for multiple reasons. Lott’s study is dropped, and both of his studies have similar results: the death penalty is responsible for multiple correlations found. I’ve proven that criminals are inherently rational and respond to incentives -- and that means the death penalty should affect them. Third, Pro concedes the *correlation* established by the Gittings and Mocan study, and only disputes causation; since I’ve addressed causation, presume Con on the correlation research too. I also have many studies not addressed by the NRC report. The NRC report, Pro’s main line of defense against this contention, is seriously flawed because it doesn’t address multiple studies on the issue. The Lott study guarantees both correlation and causation.

2. Recidivism rates are reduced by the death penalty

It’s impossible to at least dispute that recidivism rates would increase if the death penalty were abolished. Take the case of Darryl Kemp, who was released from death row into life imprisonment with parole, and subsequently raped and murdered another woman, before moving back into death row. [9.] This is proof that there are people who would repeat murdering if they weren’t sentenced to death. If some people aren’t executed, they will murder again. Pro misses the point of the argument.

The reason I brought up those statistics is that if there is a high recidivism rate in LWOP inmates themselves, then there naturally would be a high recidivism in death row inmates if they were put into LWOP. Those on death row were often put on death row because of recidivism. That means that there are those who would keep repeating in-prison murders if they’re not put on death row. My previous examples also work, because if Christopher Carver had not got a death sentence, he would have murdered again. The death penalty will prevent that.

3. The right to life is outweighed by the deterrent effect

The right to life is outweighed by deterrence. I proved in R2 that govt. legislation is based on util, and that means more lives saved is better. Pro drops that even those whose murders would be prevented by a DP have a right to life. The right to life isn’t absolute, because “absolute rights” don’t exist under util, and the appeal to the UDHR is an appeal to authority. My framework means this point is refuted.

4. Racism can be reduced by the CP, barely exists, and is outweighed by deterrence

Pro says I can’t run CP’s. But I can - debate theory dictates that a CP can be run, and the resolution and the rules don’t say I must defend the current system anywhere. The CP I proposed would significantly reduce racism.

My death row population argument was actually irrelevant, since Pro doesn’t argue related to that so much as related to who was killed. I misquoted Lott when I used the word “inherently;” I meant the system isn’t inherently racist. That means the death penalty is largely not racist. [10.]

Pro drops that deterrence outweighs this. Pro doesn’t even have an impact to weigh in from “racism,” because those allegedly put on death row because of racism are still usually murderers, people who would be convicted and put on death row by the law anyway. That’s compared to the huge impact on deterrence on both costs and number of lives saved.

Costs/innocence are outweighed by deterrence.


I’m winning deterrence. I’ve proven that criminals are inherently rational and respond to incentives, and that the correlation and causation are factored in by Lott’s study. The NRC report doesn’t address many study’s, especially my first line of defense: Lott. That would mean 14 lives saved per execution, which adds up to 395 people annually, plus $6.713 billion earned annually. I’m winning recidivism, because there’s at least some potential repetition of murder prevented.

Winning these two points outweighs all other contentions on both probability and magnitude. Costs is outweighed because lives outweigh costs, and costs is also turned on account of the deterrence impact. Innocent death is outweighed because of the number of lives saved. The right to life should be sacrificed for deterrence, since I’ve proven that government legislation is based on utilitarianism. There’s no magnitude to weigh on racism, as opposed to the huge magnitude on deterrence. Vote Con.

Conclusion. I have poked numerous holes in Pro’s case, and Pro fails to substantially refute deterrence. Deterrence offsets *all* of their offense, so prefer Con on probability as well as magnitude. Pro had the full burden of proof, and has failed to fulfill it. For all these reasons, vote Con. Pro must waive the next round.



This was a great debate. Thank you.
Debate Round No. 4
53 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by whiteflame 9 months ago
YYW, I respect you, but I disagree with your views on the topic of there being an objectively correct outcome in every debate. You're perfectly free to present what you perceive as problematic with my RFD if you wish, but I have neither the time nor the will to engage in a discussion of the differences between our views of this debate. We've had our disagreements on plenty of other decisions, and I have no doubt we will disagree in the future.
Posted by YYW 9 months ago
Well, that's not how I go about it, because, as you will notice, a theme of my activities regarding voting is "instructional." The "instructional" theme exists for a purpose. The purpose is to show voters, and potential voters, and debaters as well, what an RFD ought to look like. There are other possible ways, for example, of structuring an RFD, so long as the reasoning and conclusion are sound, but, with pretty much every debate, there is an objectively right and an objectively wrong answer. In this case, the objectively right answer was a win for Hayd for the reasons I said. It, of course though, has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that *I* said it. I am not some special debate whisperer or something. I just read and understand the debate, and that's it.
Posted by whiteflame 9 months ago
I know it's not personal, but it's still antagonistic. It's something I commonly hear from you, and I know it's a part of how you view the voting process: "there is one answer, and that answer is mine." I read your RFD, I disagree with your RFD. I'm happy leaving it at that.
Posted by YYW 9 months ago
It's not personal, dude. It's never personal. I just want people to read and correctly understand debates. I would refer you to my RFD for a correct analysis, and, in particular, the specific reasons why only a win for Hayd was the correct outcome in this debate.
Posted by whiteflame 9 months ago
...Always nice talking to you, YYW.
Posted by YYW 9 months ago
Whiteflame's vote is totally wrong.
Posted by tejretics 9 months ago
Thanks for the extensive RFD, FT.
Posted by FourTrouble 9 months ago
Alright, dudes. I wrote up an RFD:

Hayd won. Sorry Tej. Trust me when I say I tried to be as objective as possible. Apologies if I screwed anything up. Feel free to ask me any questions.

For the record, this was a fun debate to read. Better than most of the debates I've judged on the site.
Posted by Jerry947 9 months ago
This was a really good debate. Although...I am surprised Con never brought up the 5th amendment which states that the right to life can be taken away with due process of law.
Posted by Hayd 9 months ago
Sounds good
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by famousdebater 9 months ago
Who won the debate:--
Reasons for voting decision: I was just about to start typing out my RFD when I realized that there are 6 minutes left. Sorry guys.
Vote Placed by whiteflame 9 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Given here: Just to clarify, this is a vote given on behalf of the Voter's Union.
Vote Placed by YYW 9 months ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision: Good debate. Both of you have come a long way.