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

The US should abolish capital punishment

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Voting Style: Open with Elo Restrictions Point System: Select Winner
Started: 5/28/2016 Category: Politics
Updated: 4 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 805 times Debate No: 91941
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (27)
Votes (3)




This debate is about the following resolution:

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

Clarifications about the resolution follow --

1. The actor in this resolution is "the United States," which refers to the passing of a law by the legislative and executive branches of government.

2. The term "should" designates that this is a debate of policy, as opposed to a debate as to whether the United States will abolish capital punishment. This also implies a net benefits framework, where we'll be debating the merits of our respective cases.

3. 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."

Round Structure

R1: Acceptance only (the Contender must simply post "I accept" or "thank you for the debate")
R2: Pro provides their case, Con provides their case and responds to Pro's case
R3: Rebuttal and counter-rebuttal from both sides
R4: Rebuttal, counter-rebuttal and final focus from both sides. No new arguments may be presented here.


1) There is a minimum Elo restriction of 3500
2) BOP is shared; both sides are expected to provide offense
3) My opponent accepts all definitions and waives their right to add resolutional definitions
4) No trolling or abusive semantics
5) No "kritiks" of the topic (i.e. arguments that challenge an assumption in the resolution)
6) My burden is to show that capital punishment is, on balance, a net harm to the United States, while Con's burden is to show that capital punishment is, on balance, a net benefit to the United States; judges should not deviate from this BOP in analysis
Debate Round No. 1


Per Saint Augustine, "An unjust law is no law at all." It is my agreement with this quote that causes me to affirm today's resolution.

[ Observations ]

O1) Rules 2 and 6 clearly clarify the burden of persuasion on both sides. My burden is simply to show that abolishing capital punishment would be beneficial to the interests of American society, while Con's is to show that the existence of the death penalty is beneficial to the people of the United States. Arguments that distract from this burden are irrelevant.

O2) Presume Pro, because there exists a universal right to life. It is against the interest of people on death row – who are also a part of American society – to take their lives. Killing people, even criminals, for no reason whatsoever goes against both utilitarianism (since it causes years of suffering on death row) and judging based on the values of society (since it negates a right to life).

[ My Case ]

I believe that capital punishment should be abolished because (1) it causes psychological harms, (2) it is extremely inhumane, and (3) innocents are executed and face that inhumanity.

Contention 1: Capital punishment causes psychological harms

Subpoint A: Judicial executioners

Executions require actual people to oversee them, and to flip the switch that results in the death of the convict. But the experience of killing another human being is incredibly traumatic. Empirical evidence proves that executioners face psychological trauma, including permanent clinical depression and paranoia, from carrying out the task of the death penalty [1]. The team of executioners present during each execution watch the convict say their final words, and possibly struggle for their last breaths – a gut-wrenching experience. The lives of executioners are often completely damaged as a result.

Jerry Givens, a former executioner who killed 62 people, explains, "I performed the execution. So you might suffer a little. I'm going to suffer a lot, because I performed the job." [2] To Givens, it was his livelihood – so the government merely exploits people into psychological harms.

Subpoint B: Family

The family of the executed suffer psychological trauma from realizing that their loved ones have been executed, judged unworthy to live by a government they can no longer trust. Children whose parents have been executed face significant harms to their mental health and are socially stigmatized [3]. A report by Robert Cushing and Susannah Sheffer found that the majority of family of executed inmates faced post-traumatic stress disorder or other severe psychological disorders [4]. Robert Meeropol's parents were executed – on realizing their death, at the mere age of 6, he faced severe anxiety and required the support of a local community to become better. The government didn't do anything about it.

Contention 2: The death penalty is inhumane

First, being on death row – in what is called "death row syndrome" – causes psychological distress to inmates. Being on death row can fuel depression, delusions and suicidal tendencies [5].

Second, methods of execution are often grossly inhumane and torturous. There are usually two methods of execution followed in the United States: lethal injection and electrocution. Lethal injection uses an anesthetic (usually sodium thiopental), a drug that induces cardiac arrest, and a drug that causes the heart to stop [6]. But the anesthetic wears off after around 6 minutes [7]. This means -- during the execution -- the victim is awake but paralyzed by the cardiac arrest-inducing drug, so they experience intense pain without being able to express it [7]. The second method of execution, electrocution, is even worse. Justice William Brennan explains:

"[T]he prisoner's eyeballs sometimes pop out and rest on [his] cheeks. The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool. The body turns bright red as its temperature rises, and the prisoner's flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking. Sometimes the prisoner catches fire . . . [w]itnesses hear a loud and sustained sound like bacon frying, and the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh permeates the chamber." [8]

Third, in multiple cases, there are botched executions, because administration of sodium thiopental and similar anesthetic drugs is often not even by a person with a medical degree. There have been 43 botched executions since 1982 [9]. The execution of Allen Lee Davis, for instance, was a botched one of excruciating pain. Indeed, "[b]efore he was pronounced dead … the blood from his mouth had poured onto the collar of his white shirt, and the blood on his chest had spread to about the size of a dinner plate, even oozing through the buckle holes on the leather chest strap holding him to the chair." [10] And even Davis's case sounds kind when compared to Joseph Wood's two hours of gasping and choking [11], since botched lethal injections are worse than electrocution and hanging [12].

Contention 3: Innocents are executed

According to the National Academy of Sciences, 4.1% of death penalty convicts are innocent of their crimes [13]. And 0.5% of all people executed have been innocent [14]. That's crazy. America, land of the free and home of the brave, is also the place where – to fulfill some arbitrary sense of justice – innocent people are killed by its government in excruciatingly painful processes. It makes life imprisonment for sock theft sound the nicest part of the criminal justice system.

Not convinced by mere statistics? Then you should be convinced by the torturous electrocution of Jesse Tasero [15] – an innocent man executed for a crime he didn't commit. He was just at the wrong place in the wrong time – and any of us could be too. Because for living in a country where a person is "innocent until proven guilty," a surprising number of innocents are killed. And before you jump in and say life-without-parole is worse, cross-apply C2: death row syndrome and eyeballs that literally pop out aren't pleasant. And the fact that our deeply flawed, broken criminal justice system is given the power to kill innocent civilians isn't comforting at all. It's scary.

And it isn't just people who didn't commit crimes who are wrongfully executed. Mentally ill people – who committed crimes, but weren't truly guilty since they don't fulfill a mens rea requirement – are also executed often. Our retributive model doesn't work because mental illnesses are treatable. Prisoners can be treated like people. And crime rates will reduce [16]. John Ferguson didn't deserve his execution, when his crime wasn't his direct fault, but this flawed criminal justice system gave it to him anyway [17]. Because who cares if a person is innocent: it still grants "closure," right?

In Con's world, innocents face torturous electrocutions and lethal injections, and the government exploits people to face psychological damage in exchange for meager payment – capitalism prevails! Unless Con proves this world is the best one to live in, vote Pro, because an unjust law is no law at all.

[8] Craig Brandon, "The Electric Chair," p. 205



The resolution should be judged by the effect on lives, and economy should come second. Since morality has not tangible effect on the people, we do not evaluate this as an argument in today’s debate. Remember, if I am to show that the effect of the death penalty is beneficial to the American people, then the judge should be comfortable with voting on the negative side.

Contention 1: Deterrent effect

Deterrence of crime is an obvious effect of capital punishment nationwide. If we were to observe the findings of an Emory University study in 2001, we would be able to see that in the status quo, we deter on average 14 murders per execution of capital punishments.
This is corroborated by Dr. Zimmerman in 2004 when he states that the following:
“Specifically, it is estimated that each state execution deters somewhere between 4 and 25 murders per year…”
What we end up seeing is the fact that criminals think like we do when we make decisions. They measure the pros and cons of every action before coming to a conclusion about what they should do. This is referred to as econometrics, which is where one applies an economic model to determine what action should be taken. The rest of society does this in everyday affairs when we make fiscal decisions, however, for criminals it is much different. When a criminal is committing murder, they need to weigh the pros and the cons before acting out murder, or theft, or any other crime. When we add on to the harms of committing murder, then we would obviously deter crime. In general, what needs to be brought to light is the fact that we would be saving lives in the status quo by keeping the death penalty. This is important because lives are going to be the most important factor in this debate. Remember, we can always achieve economic gain, but we must protect the lives of the American people.

Contention 2: No other alternative

In the status quo, we see no alternative that would keep American lives from being jeopardized besides the Death Penalty. This is due to many reasons, so I will break thin contention in half.

  1. A. Prison escapes

There is no way to guarantee that the prison systems are secure enough for convicted criminals to stay in. If we were to observe the Business Insider in 2016, we can see an example of the system failing. Specifically, three men escaped a maximum security prison by cutting through the bars of the prison and making a run for it.
Regardless of the likeliness of these escapes, we need to see that an escaped murderer is an inherent risk to all involved, and the general population. This has happened before and will happen again.

  1. B. Mental health

My opponent may ask for treatment as opposed to incarceration, however this is flawed more a few reasons. One, in the status quo, we do not see that mental health is considered a priority for the American government. We can see this when we turn toward a recent article from the Institute of Policy Studies which shows that there is no mandate stating that states have to spend at all on mental health, leaving 4 million children without help despite a diagnosis.

This leads to my point, there would be no federal support for more health spending to care for all of the people on death row to get help. If we looked at Death Penalty Focus, we would see that nearly all people on death row have some sort of mental illness or disease due to trauma or sexual abuse.
Coupled with the fact that the current mental health system is underfunded, any type of action to ban the death penalty would either mean putting people with mental health problems behind bars, or overextending our mental health resources to account for the people on death row, which is not likely at all to happen given the fact that we won’t even cover people who are innocent and congress will see this fact as well.

Contention 3: Innocent people not executed

I am sure since we are valuing lives into today’s debate that my opponent will bring up whether or not innocents are executed. This is a false premise. First, we need to look toward advancing technology completely nullifying this argument. We now have DNA evidence, which according to the National Academy of Sciences has no reason to be doubted. Not only this, but the entire process is costly because of the fact that evidence has to be certain. Not only this, but the lengthy appeals process means that there are plenty of opportunities for people to get off of death row if there was a faulty sentence given. Not only this, but according to, there is a six to ten-year gap usually where those convicted are able to get appeals. These appeals are very widespread throughout the prison system and lead to more innocent people being exonerated for their crimes. Not only this, but guilty bargains, according to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in 2009, actually result in long prison sentences and no death penalty or not. Usually the person in question committed the crime, but there was an error in court procedure leading to a different sentence. What is shown with the previous evidence and the fact that According to the Death Penalty Information Center shows a chart that displays the fact that in the last few years there have been less exonerations all point toward a more advanced and precise system. Thus, given the fact that my opponent has nothing to stand on for the most important point, lives, we must negate.

Contention 4: Economic cost not as large as supposed

If we were to look at the Yale Law Journal in 1989, we would see that the death penalty results in the rate of plea bargains being larger in states with the death penalty.

Not only this, but plea bargains are also known to lower cost of the death penalty, which I am sure my opponent will bring up. This is because the plea bargains result in the nuanced cycle of appeal courts, and the nuanced system in general, being abandoned. This is because of the incentive of a lesser sentence and avoiding the death penalty. Remember, econometrics dictates that we see our decisions through economic models, weighing the pro and cons of every decision before making one, which is how the criminal will judge what the criminal will do. However, we need to see that regardless of the economics of capital punishment, the death penalty is a necessary expense due to the deterrent effect on crime. This single impact means the lives of many will be saved, and whether we save money is not as important as if we protect people. Nevertheless, we do see that the economic cost of the death penalty is not as high as many think, due to the savings from the plea bargain. Because of this, negate.

OBV 1: Framework

My opponent has used a net benefit framework to the American people. However, we need to see that regardless of whether we affirm or negate, people will be harmed. Ergo, we need to look under a utilitarian framework that benefits the most people.

Rebuttal 1: Psychological harms

This is true, but remember we are looking at the whole of American people. Since I have proven the fact that the death penalty deters crime, we need to see that the benefit of less crime results in a better American society. Also, families will be harmed, but there are always mental health facilities for people who suffer from psychological trauma. My opponent may remember the fact that the mental health system is underfunded, however, we see that the few executions in the status quo means less stress on the system.

Rebuttal 2: Inhumane

Indeed, one may claim this, but it matters very little in this debate. Remember, we are looking toward net benefits to society, and while the process may be inhumane, we still need to see that the deterrent to crime outweighs this as it applies to most people, especially those who are not murderers.

Rebuttal 3: Innocence

I have already shown you that in the status quo this does not happen due to increased technology in forensics as well as the availability of plea bargains leading to exonerations. There are ore exonerations in the status quo while there are less people being given the death penalty. Also, allow me to show why the study provided ultimately is not valid. The link below shows the actual study, and let us see what they use to back up their findings.

We examine exonerations among defendants sentenced to death from the beginning of the “modern” death penalty in the United States in 1973, after the Supreme Court invalidated all prior death sentencing laws (11), through the end of 2004.”

This is not the status quo, so this is outdated. This is because the average wait on death row is 10 years as referenced before, meaning that the exonerations easily come from the 90s, hich was different in comparison.


We see that capital punishment has net benefits to the American people through lives saved. Since this is the metric we are viewing this debate through, the obvious answer is a negative vote.

Debate Round No. 2


== Rebuttal ==

(1) Deterrent effect

The argument that the death penalty deters homicides relies on an econometric model called rational action theory, which states that humans -- including potential murderers -- perform an analysis of costs and benefits before committing any action. Con provides absolutely no evidence to believe in this model. Crimes aren't committed by foreseen rational thought. Dr. Jonathan Groner explains, "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]

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the majority of murders are committed under the influence of drugs/alcohol or in the heat of passion. [2] Rational action theory is indefensible for exactly that reason: people don't consider *long term* consequences, only short term ones. It's for the same reason that people often eat food considered unhealthy. The immediate pleasure, in the minds of most people, outweighs any long-term harm from eating the food. Apply that to murder rates, where the heat of passion causes no consideration of long-term consequences.

The studies Con cites are also unreliable. Con first cites a study by Dezhbakhsh, Rubin and Shepherd from the Emory University, and then research from FCC economist Paul Zimmerman. The methodology of both these studies was poor, and both these studies -- among other studies that showed deterrence -- were criticized by the National Research Council's report on studies on the subject of deterrence. The NRC specifically criticizes the methodology of Zimmerman, 2004, and Dezhbakhsh, Rubin and Shepherd, 2003, for using instrumental variables. The report summarizes, "The idea behind an instrument is to separate out the part of any observed relationship between the death penalty and homicide that is spurious (i.e., resulting from the relationship of both to other factors) from the part of the relationship between the death penalty and homicide that is causal." [3] But those two studies rely on the assumption that the instrument itself doesn't influence the homicide rate, without proof for that. [3] Finding a variable that allows for the measure of the death penalty's effect on homicide rates without influencing homicide rates itself is very tough, and neither of those studies succeeded in doing that.

In fact, almost every pro-deterrence study runs into three problems. First, they fail to take into account the deterrent effect of other forms of punishment. Second, they all rely on the notion that potential murderers fear the death penalty more than other forms of punishment, and that they are actually deterred by it. In other words, the studies don't even establish a causal link, only a correlation. But rational action theory is indefensible and I've explained why above. Even under rational action theory, studies need to find a correct measure of potential risk. For instance, only 15% of those sentenced to death have been executed so far. Third, the assumptions of these statistical models (e.g. instrumental variables) are often not justified or credible. [4]

Conclusion. Claiming that capital punishment has a significant deterrent on homicides relies on fundamental assumptions that are unjustified or even indefensible.

(2) Recidivism

Con first argues that people break out of high-security prisons occasionally, and that, as such, life imprisonment can't prevent recidivism. But Con fails to adequately provide an impact to this, because Con's burden here is to provide an example where they committed another murder *after* breaking out of prison. Committing another murder after breaking out of prison is dangerous for them, because then there's a risk of sending them back to prison. Furthermore, they could break out of death row too. The average death row waiting period is approx. 16 years, before execution (the source has multiple figures, the sum being 190 and the number of samples being 12, so 190 divided by 12 is 15.83). [5] People could break out of death row too. It doesn't make a significant difference.

Con then argues that the system of rehabilitation doesn't work. Con's reason is that the government today doesn't spend money into rehabilitation, and will not in the future. But the resolution is a "should" not an "is." That means such objections fall under what is called "fiat" -- regardless of what *will* happen, we're discussing what *should* happen. More government focus should be placed on efforts to rehabilitate criminals. Thus, the counterplan is to add more funding to the mental health system and rehabilitation. Rehabilitation will work. Research from Texas finds that those who participated in rehabilitation programs, in the vast majority of cases, did not reoffend -- a far greater number than those who didn't participate in similar programs. [6] In Maryland, rehabilitation of drug offenders worked much better than punishment, and the same model -- if applied to other states -- would work. [7] There's no reason to think this doesn't apply to capital punishment, especially since so many people on death row are mentally ill (Rd. 2, sources 16 and 17).

(3) Cost

The argument from cost isn't offensive. The only conclusion Con gains from plea bargains is that "death penalty costs aren't as high as we think." But I didn't even *argue* costs, so this doesn't provide offense. It's completely irrelevant to the debate. In different states, costs of capital punishment differ based on the way it is applied, so it is neither more expensive nor cheaper than life without parole. It can't act as offense, and I'm sure, based on the text of their argument, Con agrees.

(4) Innocent execution

First, Con completely ignores my argument that 10 or so years on death row is terrible (note: average death row wait is 16 years as per most calculations, not 10), even if you're released in the end. It causes severe psychological harms to the prisoner and makes it extremely uncomfortable to live life after that. Some states don't even offer a compensation for that, which is absolutely outrageous. "Death row syndrome" and similar conditions start to set in. Take the example of Nick Yarris, an innocent man who spent horrendous parts of his life on death row. [8] The trauma of conviction and threat of death cause severe psychological harms and even suicides, which is a major impact.

Next, DNA evidence isn't always present. That argument is complete garbage for that exact reason. Con might offer a counterplan to execute *only* when there's DNA evidence, but such few executions means fear of execution is wiped out, and the "deterrence" argument doesn't stand at all; at that point, neither does Con's incapacitation argument due to the number of murderers who would be in life imprisonment if such a scenario were to arise. Death-qualified juries are more likely to trust every word of a cop's or jailhouse snitch's mouth and less likely to *remember the evidence* presented at trial. [9]

Third, correction of evidence on appeal has become very rare, and that's not just because of improvement in evidence. The election of pro-capital punishment federal judges, for instance, has ensured that appellate review of death penalty cases has gone down significantly. And this isn't just DNA evidence, this includes trusting often involuntary confessions and circumstantial evidence which is often flawed. That's exactly what happened to Jesse Tafero. [10] So all Con has managed to do is slightly mitigate the impact, without any numbers as to what extent that is the case, because appellate review of death penalty cases is rare and death-qualified juries are far more likely to convict, less likely to remember the evidence presented at trial and more likely to trust non-DNA evidence.

(5) Other arguments

Con basically drops all my other arguments, only saying that deterrence outweighs the magnitude of those impacts. I've proven that the notion that the death penalty deters homicides, or, at the very least, deters homicides sufficient to outweigh the magnitude of my offense, is completely wrong and based on indefensible econometric models and poor studies. Extend that the death penalty causes psychological harms to people on death row, executioners and to the family/friends of people executed, and extend that capital punishment is extremely inhumane.




My opponent by silence has accepted that a utilitarian framework is best that I have outline in the observation I made before my rebuttals. With this in mind, we still need to see that the Con wins.


I agree to drop the point about cost because it should not be a factor in today’s debate.

Counter-Rebuttal 1: Deterrent effect

My opponent seems to be under the assumption that the rational action theory is false. However, allow me to explain why the premise I presented is true. Remember, the rational action theory states that people act rationally, under the circumstances given. If this is not true, then everybody would have the potential to murder under the right circumstances that make someone have a lapse in judgement. However, this is not the main point. The fact is that homicides of passion usually do not result in the death penalty from being administered. If we were to observe Crime and Consequences in 2012, we would see the following:

“Capital murder generally involves a premeditated killing or a killing in the course of another crime that is premeditated.

This shows that my opponent’s argument falls because it hinges on the assumption that crimes of passion would result in the capital punishment being administered. However, there is good news.

According to a University of Chicago study in 2004, we can clearly see that regardless of the arguments of my opponent, crimes of passion are reduced as well as premeditated murder. Not only this, but life in prison simply does not have the same deterrence effect as the death penalty. This is also explained by the Heritage Foundation where it has stated that

“First, each execution, on average, is associated with three fewer murders. The deterred murders included both crimes of passion and murders by intimates.”

This proves the fact that the econometric model used to show how criminals weigh the pros and cons of an action in accurate.

Counter-Rebuttal 2: Recidivism

My opponent has asked for a specific time in which a prisoner escapes and kills again, and I intend to deliver.

This link gives you a short list of those who have been either admitted out of jail, or escaped, and killed again. Most of them involved a prison break, if not all. This is a harm to people as more murder and crime will result in lives lost, and much more harm than someone who administers drugs to a criminal. Yes, a lot did break out of death row, but as long as we can “fiat” arguments, we can easily reform the death row system to make sure that security is much more tight around death row inmates.

Next, my opponent argues against my mental health point, stating that mental health actually works. This is untrue. If we were to look at the Forensics College, it gives us a list of the most popular disorders from killers. These are Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Antisocial Disorder. I will explain why all three are practically un-curable.

Let us look toward the symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, common symptoms involve lying, manipulating, disregard for right and wrong, hostility, and trouble with the law.

With this in mind, it is quite certain that treatment may be an option, but given the nature of the symptoms, it is nearly impossible to understand whether one is able to be treated in the long term, and may become a danger to society if escaped. The symptoms are quite similar for all of the disorders involved usually in criminals on death row, meaning this does not simply just apply to those with Antisocial Personality Disorder. Yes, my opponent may state that in one model on the state level it might work, but he offers no proof that it would translate to the national level. Remember, the Maryland model was simply that of drug offenders, not murderers.

Counter-Rebuttal 3: Innocence

My opponent states that judges that are tough on crime means that exonerations are not as likely to happen. On the contrary, exonerations have gone up in number despite the fact that executions have gone down.

For reference, the Death Penalty Information Center shows that the rate of executions has gone down while the exonerations are the other link. I can’t post more than one graph for some reason.

What does this tell us? Well, despite my opponent stating that there are judges who are pro death penalty intentionally executing people with no appellate process, there is more exonerations and more people getting off of death row. This is contrary to my opponent’s claim.

Counter Rebuttal 4: Opponent’s arguments

I was running out of space, so I had to make my previous rebuttals brief. However, I believe refuting them as a whole is best. Remember, my opponent now agrees to a utilitarian framework by silence, so we need to see that we need to look toward the majority of people and see why the death penalty serves the majority. Thus, I have provided you with statistics showing that we deter murder at a moderate to high rate, with some variance per study. The most recent one I offer is from the University of Chicago, which states that the death penalty deters three murders per execution. Not only this, but I have also proven that given the lack of alternatives, we put the people at risk by not keeping the death penalty because of the possibility of escape and the fact that mental rehabilitation is not an option. Not only this, but my opponent has targeted only a small percentage of people who are effected. Given the lack of executions in the status quo, the amount of people who do not feel closure, or who suffer psychological damage is limited. We need to see the bigger picture and realize that my opponent’s points do not stand over mine.


We see that my arguments stand while my opponent’s arguments are outweighed and not as important by the lives saved from the deterrence of crime since his own argument relating to innocent people killed does not stand. Thus, one should vote con.

Debate Round No. 3


== Rebuttal ==

(1) Deterrent effect

First, even premeditated murders don't rely on cost-benefit analysis. Con doesn't respond to my argument that long-term consequences of actions are usually not considered at all -- only short-term consequences are even considered by people. Also extend that only 15% of those sentenced to death have been executed, so the potential risk is low; so even under this model, criminals are deterred *more* by life imprisonment. Finally, Con drops that other forms of punishment also have a deterrent effect, which isn't taken into account by Con. I'll also note that the burden is on Con to justify rational action theory. All Con does is address my criticism, without actually justifying this theory, which is *assumed* by all of Con's studies that don't actually establish causation.

Second, Con is incorrect that capital punishment only applies to premeditated murders. His source for this is a *blog* that merely asserts so without justifying it. Aggravated murder, robbery murder, murder involving the rape of the victim, murder of an on-duty police officer *and* premeditated murder allows capital punishment in most states. [1] All of these could have been murders of passion. Con also drops that multiple people on death row are mentally ill, so they aren't deterred (Rd. 2, sources 16 and 17). And if Con proposes a counterplan to only make capital punishment apply to premeditated murders, I'll note two things: (a) premeditated murders are often still based on consideration of short-term consequences only, and (b) that reduces the potential risk of execution and allows people to pretend like it was a murder of passion as well; reduced potential risk means lack of deterrence when compared to other forms of punishment.

Third, Con's studies are still poor. Con drops my criticism of their earlier studies, as well as my broad criticism of death penalty studies in general -- and fails to actually justify the University of Chicago study short of merely re-affirming the results (which were, in themselves, based on *correlation* not *causation*). Con cites a study by Joanna M. Shepherd (who was also among the researchers that produced Con's Dezhbakhsh, Rubin and Shepherd study), which is also criticized by the NRC for those same reasons. Similarly, the study only found correlations (without establishing causation), doesn't take into consideration the deterrent effect of other forms of punishment and assumes rational action theory. I'll also note that there are studies that show other forms of correlation, such as a study from researchers John Donohue and Justin Wolfers, that didn't find a deterrent effect. [2] Murder rates in states that have the death penalty don't display much difference to murder rates in states without the death penalty; in fact, in states without the death penalty, the crime rates appear to be lower. [3] I'll also note that Con has destroyed their own credibility when it comes to studies, so don't trust their word on research.

Con then cites the Heritage Foundation, which itself sources Dezhbakhsh, Rubin and Shepherd (one of Con's R2 studies), and Con's own University of Chicago study, which I've refuted. [4] It also presumes rational action theory, if you read the article, which I've thoroughly refuted. It then cites a study by Gittings and Mocan, which was *covered* by my source #3 from Rd. 3, the NRC report that criticized the methodology of studies. Similar to others, Gittings and Mocan merely establish a correlation which is very dubious (per the methodology used) and assumes rational action theory. The Zimmerman study (Con's own Rd. 2 source), also cited by the Heritage Foundation, has been refuted already. In conclusion, studies that favour deterrence have multiple flaws in their methodology, Con fails to defend rational action theory (which is false) and there are also studies that don't find any correlation between the death penalty and crime rates. Due to the lack of studies that establish causation on either side, there is sufficient uncertainty to negate deterrence on the basis of rational action theory being false.

(2) Recidivism

First, Con entirely *drops* that average death row wait is 16 years, and that prison breaks can easily happen within those 16 years, along with recidivism. There's no solvency from capital punishment as a result. Also, Con offers no evidence of people who killed again after *breaking* out of prison - Con's source only establishes people who killed again after being *released* from prison, which is completely different from breaking out. [5]

Second, Con offers no specific warrants of how those symptoms entirely prevent rehabilitation. Those symptoms aren't necessarily indicators of anything. Con drops that rehabilitation has actually *worked* in the past -- and this doesn't necessarily mean treatment of mental illness. Con doesn't explain how the symptoms means they won't work. Also, my source #6 from Rd. 3 dealt with violent crime going down -- which is directly topical.

(3) Innocent executions

Extend that spending years on death row is horrible and causes severe psychological harms, to innocent people: Con doesn't contest this. Con's source on more exonerations is not on more *death penalty* exonerations -- it is more *exonerations* in general from any prisons. [6] In fact, the number of exonerations from death row has, indeed, reduced. [7] Con also drops my argument that death-qualified juries are more likely to convict, more likely to trust every word of a cop's or snitch's mouth, and less likely to even remember the evidence presented at trial.

[Sidenote: the round structure holds that that there can be no new arguments or new evidence presented in the final round, as I don't have a chance to respond. If such evidence is presented, judges should ignore it.]

== Conclusion ==

I made three arguments in this debate. (1) I showed that capital punishment causes severe psychological harm to executioners, and to friends/family of the executed. This was dropped by Con entirely. (2) I've shown that the application of the death penalty is very inhumane and causes intense pain. Con drops this as well. (3) Finally, I've shown that innocents are forced to spend years on death row with psychological harms associated, and are executed in those inhumane ways. Con drops this argument as well.

Con has two arguments: (1) deterrence, and (2) incapacitation. I refuted deterrence by (1) showing that Con's studies (Zimmerman, Shepherd, and Dezhbakhsh, Rubin and Shepherd) used poor methodology that has been refuted by panel review before (the NRC), (2) demonstrating that rational action theory is indefensible, and (3) by offering my own sources that offered correlations that contradicted Con's studies, thus offering further uncertainty. I refuted incapacitation by (1) showing that rehabilitation worked much better, and (2) that the harms of the death penalty (e.g. psychological damage to executioners and friends/family of the executed, innocent death) outweighed the impact from this (which isn't quantified).

For these reasons, Vote Pro.



Counter-Rebuttal 1: Deterrent effect

I have already proved this, but I will respond to my opponent’s points.

  1. a. Studies

My opponent has tried to invalidate my studies, however, this is entirely wrong. My opponent has already conceded that there is some correlation between the death penalty and murder rates, yet he asks me to establish causation. However, I have brought up a new study which he has yet to refute effectively that shows specifically that regardless of my opponent’s arguments there is a decrease in “homicides of passion” with the death penalty still enacted.
How does his argument fail? Simply put, his own argument involves the study not taking into account rational action theory. This is untrue if we were to look at the argument in itself.

“Furthermore, even an offender who does not premeditate a murder, like a crime-of-passion murder, has an instant to weigh the pros and cons of that murder.”

This is directly attacking my opponent’s premise. Yes, my opponent may be right that crimes of passion are more widespread, but the fact that this is addressed in the study nullifies this point. After reading my opponent’s study, there was no statistic that shows why the rational action theory does not work anyways. However, my opponent may ask for why this occurs, so allow me to explain informal deterrence.

“Without taking into account the other contingencies surrounding the behavior, fear of punishment by itself will be unrelated or weakly related to criminal acts. Since these other measures include punishing reactions (actual or perceived), they have sometimes been referred to as "informal deterrence." However, they are more than measures of informal deterrence; they are measures of an overall balance of perceived costs and rewards.”

Informal deterrence stems from things such as shame and other non-tangible feelings that convince people to not do things. Even if my opponent were to say that rational decision making is cut off during crimes of passion, know that informal deterrence still plays a large role, because shame and guilt as well as other feelings deter crime as well, explaining my studies, and the fact that my opponent’s studies have not brought this up at all. I have reached my BOP for this argument as I have shown that rational action theory works, just not necessarily always through formal deterrence as the studies cited by my opponent do not take into account.

  1. b. Where the death penalty applies

Even if you don’t buy my blog, let us look toward the fact that second degree murder is necessarily going to result in the death penalty as a possible sentence. Even if my opponent were to claim this, there are still thing to factor in such as what weapon was used and other facts of a case that may result in simply manslaughter, which is most certainly not going to result in the death penalty being administered.

Counter-Rebuttal 2: Recidivism

The very basis that people that are released kill again still justifies my point that there are no alternatives, regardless I will refute the points made. Nevertheless, my opponent must have forgotten the fat that in the list I have shown there were a lot of people who did escape and murder again. I will compile a list here from my previous Wesely citation. Edward Kennedy, Viva Nash, Winford Stokes, Randolph Dial, James Prestridge are only a few people. Yes, people can escape while on death row but I gave you a counter plan to bolster security while prisoners housed death row inmates which has not been addressed by my opponent.

The symptoms are a problem because they are severe. My opponent has cited the fact that therapy has worked in the past for drug problems, but he has not directly linked them to schizophrenia and other severe mental ailments which result in people who manipulate others and those who are practically un-curable. Conventional medicine simply does not have the power to allow those with no feelings or remorse for crimes to act in a humane way who have murdered and killed people already. Violent crime may have gone down with the statistic my opponent has shown, but this is because the therapy was directly administered to those with drug problems, again, not those with severe mental problems which would obviously take longer and not yield the same results.

Counter-Rebuttal 3: Innocent executions

Since we have clashing statistics, for the benefit of the doubt we will look toward my opponent’s statistic. Sure, the exonerations are not as high as in 2012, but that is not the point I have made. Let us look toward the specifics and see why this ultimately fails. I have already shown you that the death penalty sentence has gone down exponentially, however, over the past few years the exonerations have grown using the graph that my opponent used. Thus, proportionately speaking, the exonerations have gone up proportional to the death penalty.


The judges may choose to ignore this, but keep in mind the rules at the start say only no new arguments may be presented, not new evidence. I believe I am justified in responding to my opponent saying that I did not reach my BOP by doing so, but if that violates the rules than feel free to not count the rebuttal involving informal deterrence.


I have fulfilled my BOP and I have shown that there is a net benefit to the people by keeping the death penalty. My opponent has consistently fallen with his points starting with the rebuttal of my first contention as well as the fact that every single one of his points do not matter if I prove the fact that under the utilitarian framework, more lives are saved. I have shown lives saved through the deterrent effect and I have shown that my opponent’s points do not stand where lives are concerned. Thus, vote con.

Debate Round No. 4
27 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by tejretics 4 months ago
Yeah, some basic feedback.

(1) Defend your studies and their credibility. When I attacked your studies, you moved on to a different one. Read the sources, defend their methodology. With a topic like deterrence, the argument is inevitably going to become a source war, so you should be prepared to handle it. I would refer you to debates from bluesteel and 16kadams.

(2) Don't run defensive arguments. I'm sure you probably already know the distinction between offense and defense, since you're a formal debater, but I'll explain just to be thorough. "Offense" is an argument that affirmatively advances the burden. "Defense" is something that preempts a possible argument your opponent makes (e.g. your "costs" and "innocents" arguments). Costs was irrelevant. You had two *different* headers for "innocence," that just made your evidence confusing. Defensive arguments generally distract from offense and are irritating to read.

(3) You should research basic assumptions made by your argument. You needed to prove rational action theory early in the debate - so defend it. Successfully defending rational action theory, like 16k does, usually wins the debate for you on deterrence (see 16k's debate with Mikal, where he brought up examples of gun control and juvenile offenders generally). All arguments should fall under a structure of claim, warrant, impact. Make a claim, justify it, explain the link to the resolution and the scope of the link (impact). The justification of the claim should be *thorough.*

I'll come up with some more feedback later.
Posted by blamonkey 4 months ago
Thats Fi e take your time. It can wait.
Posted by tejretics 4 months ago
I haven't forgotten the review - I'll do it soon - I'm just busy because the first year of high school just started.
Posted by tejretics 4 months ago
Thanks for voting, Lannan. I approve the vote because the purpose of Elo restriction is to exclude bad RFD's - this was, overall, a strong RFD.

Whiteflame - since both debaters have agreed on retaining this vote, let it stay in case someone reports it.
Posted by TUF 4 months ago
Thanks for the vote lannan!
Posted by lannan13 4 months ago
RFD Part 5: Conclusion.

With the 3 major arguments having been won by Pro, I have no choice, but to award the debate to Pro.

This vote has been been a Voter's Union Vote.
Posted by lannan13 4 months ago
RFD Part 3: Innocents (Cont.)

The decreasing can be accounted for instances where there are pro-DP judges and these jurries are more likely to take other's words instead of the evidence provided, argues Pro. Con counter this by saying that pardonings have been increasing as executions have been decreasing. Pro points out, though, that these studdies are generalized and not specific to only DP related cases and thus, this can be negated.

With that, Pro wins this argument.
Posted by lannan13 4 months ago
RFD Part 3: Innocents

For the last argument, I will also be combining this with Pro's Psych argument. Pro brings into play about how the aspects of the Death Penalty affects people. People on Death row suffer from Psychologial disorders and some of the people on Death Row even get released. Pro points this out in R3 where some of the people here get released , have these issues, and get no help from the Federal Government. This leads to suicides. Pro also brings up an issue in R2 where he showed that children of people who were executed, guilty or not, tend to suffer from psychological disorders and have to rely on government assistance in order to help them out. Pro also brings up how 4.1% of people senteced to death are actually innocent while 0.5% who are executed are innocent. Con counters by saying that a lot of these things are mitigated as people now have new aged technology and DNA helps convict people of crime. These are things that help people solve these crimes and put the right people away. He pointed out that these numbers provided by Pro are minescule. He also brings up the barganing system and a few other systems that help give everyone a chance to get out of the death penalty to even if they are guilty. They would still be at large for saving themselves with things like life in prison or a reduced sentence. Pro counters by saying that a lot of these things may be useful by DNA technology isn't perfect, otherwise we still wouldn't have innocent people being put away and others being executed for crimes that they didn't commit. He also showed how the chance of these cases where appeals occur are decreasing.
Posted by lannan13 4 months ago
RFD Part 2: Recidivism

Here in R2, Con brings up how those in prison may break out and kill again. The issue that this comes down to is Con never really proves this. Much of it is hypthetical and when asked to provide evidence, he provided a link, but the issue here was that is was of people released, not of those who actually escaped. Pro goes and states that people who escape prison, especially death row, wouldn't want to commit another crime to prevent them from being caught and having to go back to jail. Pro brings up how people wait 10 years on death row before execution and would have plenty of time to escape, this number later becomes 16, but the Con drops this argument which shows that it is unlikely that this is as much of an issue that Con leads us to believe. Pro also brings up how only 15% of people on Death Row actually get executed and this is something that Con, once again, drops.

With that I have to flow this argument over to Pro's side.
Posted by blamonkey 4 months ago
Thank you for the RFD Lannan! It helps me realize what I need to work on for actual tournaments.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by kasmic 4 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: This vote is for the VU.
Vote Placed by Ragnar 4 months ago
Who won the debate:--
Reasons for voting decision: test...
Vote Placed by TUF 4 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: This is a vote from lannan, who does not meet the Elo requirements to vote, but provided an RFD in the comments sections. If anyone has a problem with me adding points for him, let me know and I'll remove this vote.