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

This house would abolish the death peanlty in the United States

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/2/2016 Category: Politics
Updated: 1 week ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 245 times Debate No: 95809
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
Votes (0)




I'd like to thank BenJWasson for agreeing to debate this topic with me. Seeing that his last debate on this topic was taken by a troll, I hope to provide a decent challenge for him.


This house would abolish the death peanlty in the United States.


R1. Acceptance only
R2. Opening arguments
R3. Rebuttals
R4. Rebuttals and Crystallization


Death Penalty: "a government sanctioned practice whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime." (

Abolished: to terminate the legal effect of some provision or doctrine. ( In this case, we will be terminating any future use of the death penalty.


1. No forfeits
2. Citations should be provided in the text of the debate
3. No new arguments in the final speeches
4. Observe good sportsmanship and act civilly/decorously in the debate
5. No trolling
6. No "kritiks" of the topic (challenging assumptions in the resolution)
7. My opponent accepts all definitions and waives his/her right to add resolutional definitions
8. The BOP is evenly shared
9. Follow the structure of the debate properly
11. Rebuttals of new points raised in an adversary's immediately preceding speech may be permissible at the judges' discretion even in the final round (debaters may debate such rebuttals' appropriateness)
12. Violation of any of these rules, or of any of the R1 set-up, merits a loss

Time: The time limit between replies is 72 hours. If special circumstances arise, one side may ask the other to wait out his or her remaining time. If one side explicitly concedes or violates any of these terms, then all seven points will be awarded to the other. By accepting this challenge, you agree to these terms.

I wish you the best of luck.


I am assuming "peanlty" in the resolution is just a misspell of penalty, and accept the debate with this assumption.
Debate Round No. 1


Once again, I'd like to thankBenJWasson for accepting this debate. I do apologize for the typo in the title.

Note that for here on, the death penalty will simply be abbreviated as "DP." With that, let's begin.

C1: Risk of executing the innocent

Humans are imperfect and so is the criminal justice system. Consequently, there will always be risk of executing an innocent person. Since 1973, 138 pepole have been exonerated from DP to to evidence of their wrongful conviction. During this same time period, more than 1,000 people were executed (1). We must pause and ask ourselves, of those 1,000 people who were executed, how many of them were innocent?

In fact, since 1978, we do know of at least 2 people who were executed, and then found to be innocent: Cameron Todd Willingham, and Carlos DeLuna.

Cameron Todd was executed in 2004 by Texas for setting a fire that killed his three young daughters at their home. It was found that the prosecutors purposefully hid evidence from the defense in order to get a guilty verdict. The Texas Bar eventually charged the prosecutors with misconduct (2). Unfortunately we are unable to bring an innocent man back from the dead.

In the second case, Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 for a shooting in Corpus Cristi, Texas. A publication in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review found more evidence of wrong doing by the prosecution and noted, "No one cared enough about the defendant or the victim to make sure they caught the right guy. Everything that could go wrong in a death penalty case did go wrong for DeLuna.” (3)

Andrew Cohen writes of this case: "No one can ever say again with a straight face that America doesn't execute innocent men. No one." (4)

I can cite far more than just these two, but for purposes of the debate, this will be sufficient to prove my point. We have, in fact, executed innocent citizens. In each of these tragic cases, a mis-carriage of justice cost at least 2 innocent people their lives. Unlike live in prison, the DP is an irreversable mistake.

I'd like to conclude this contention using the Blackstone's formulation: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." Unfortunately, the DP makes it almost far too certain that we will put to death an innocent man and make the innocent suffer.

C2: Cost of the DP

Counter intuitively, the cost of administering the DP is far greater than keeping that person alive in prison. With the cost of litigation and appeals, which can take decades, the overall cost of the execution. A recent study published in August of 2016 found that "if the Governor commuted the sentences of 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." (5)

Some may argue that we can reduce cost by limiting appeals and litigation. This, however, would be unwise for the reasons mentioned in contention 1. Without appeals and litigation, it is far more likely that an innocent person will be put to death.

C3: The DP does lttle to deter crime

One of the main contentions to support the death penalty is crime deterrence; however, there is very little evidence to support the proposition that the DP deters crime. Over 88% of criminologists do not believe the DP is effective at deterring crime (6) and for good reason.

In 2009, Radelet and Lacock published their research in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology and found that the DP does not add any deterrent effects to those that are already achieved by long imprisonment. (7)

Furthermore, as Amnesty International notes, "The threat of execution at some future date is unlikely to enter the minds of those acting under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, those who are in the grip of fear or rage, those who are panicking while committing another crime (such as a robbery), or those who suffer from mental illness or mental retardation and do not fully understand the gravity of their crime." (8)

There are far more effective ways to reduce and deter crime. The DP is not one of them.

I now turn this debate over to con. I wish him the best of luck in this debate.


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Thank you to the pro for inviting me to debate this. As promised, here are my own contentions.

C1: The death penalty deters crime.
The state has a responsibility to protect the lives of innocent citizens, and enacting the death penalty will save lives by reducing the rate of violent crime.

The reasoning here is simple - fear of execution can play a powerful motivating role in convincing potential murderers not to carry out their acts. While the prospect of life in prison may be frightening, death is a much more daunting prospect. Thus, the risk of execution can change the mind of murderers - to be so that the act is no longer worthwhile for them.
(David Muhlhausen, The Death Penalty Deters Crime and Saves Lives)

Numerous studies support this idea. One study looked at over 3,054 counties over a period of more than two decades, found that murder rates tend to fall as executions rise. Another study conducted in 1985 by Stephen K. Layson at the University of California concluded that just a single execution deters 18 murders. Judge, you don"t need to calculate how many lives that saves, because we have. 1 execution deters 18 murders, based on our previous evidence, and according to information from the Death Penalty Information Center, 28 people died from the death sentence in 2015. If you do some simple math, 28 times 18 is 504. This means that approximately 504 murders were stopped simply because of the death penalty deterring crime in just 2015.

So, to conclude this contention, the death penalty deters crimes and saves hundreds of lives per year.

C2: The DP prevents the accused from committing further crime.
Subpoint A - Recidivism.
Often times, many criminals come back into society, only to kill again. This is called recidivism. An example of this is Andrew Dawson, self proclaimed "Angel of Mercy", who originally went to jail for stabbing 91 year old Henry Walsh in 1982. In 2010 he was released, and within just a couple weeks, he stabbed neighbors John Matthews and Paul Hancock when they were defenseless, leaving their bodies in bathtubs.

Things like this actually happen more than one would think. Statistics from the Bureau of Justice show that despite journalism claims to be the contrary, recidivism rates are actually fairly high, coming in at 51.2% re-arrest rates for people whose greatest crime was murder. The death penalty can stop this, making murderers unable to end more innocent life.

Another example of this is Kenneth McDuff. He had killed 3 young adults with an accomplice. The accomplice had then given up, and confessed. Kenneth was sent to life in prison, but was later released. After being released, he killed 9 more people.

The death penalty ensures a complete 0% rate of recidivism, since it is impossible to commit a crime after death. Thus, the death penalty would prevent this from ever happening.

Subpoint B - Further crimes in prison.
While in prison, it is not uncommon for prisoners to commit homicide, suicide as well as rape or other crimes while in jail, because there is no worse punishment they can receive than something like life in jail. Putting dangerous criminals in jail just endangers the other inmates and the guards who watch them.

The only way to make sure a criminal doesn"t harm any other innocent people is to subject them to the death penalty.

C3: The Death Penalty brings justice to the deserving and keeps communities aware.
When someone takes a life, the balance of justice is disturbed. Unless that balance is restored, society succumbs to a rule of violence. Only the taking of the murderer's life restores the balance and allows society to show convincingly that murder is an intolerable crime which will be punished. If we allow murderers to continue living such as in the case of life without parole, what we are doing is wasting taxpayer money to feed people responsible for the deaths of men, women, and children. J. Budziszewski, Professor of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas, further explains this.

"Society is justly ordered when each person receives what is due to him. Crime disturbs this just order, for the criminal takes from people their lives, peace, liberties, and worldly goods in order to give himself undeserved benefits. Deserved punishment protects society morally by restoring this just order, making the wrongdoer pay a price equivalent to the harm he has done. This is retribution, not to be confused with revenge, which is guided by a different motive. In retribution the spur is the virtue of indignation, which answers injury with injury for public good... Rehabilitation, protection, and deterrence have a lesser status in punishment than retribution."

So, the best way to maintain a fair and just country while also preserving peace and keeping communities aware of the problem that is murder is by using the death penalty.

Good luck to my opponent, thank you!
Debate Round No. 2


Re C1: The death penalty deters crime.

I've already addressed this point in my opening arguments, however, con cited several studies and papers that I feel needs to be addressed.

The first point that he brought up was from David Muhlhausen, who argues that fear of execution can deter potential murderers from carrying out that act. However, as I brought up in contention 3, those who are set on commiting murder, and those who are in the grip of fear and rage, suffer from mental illness or mental retardation don't necessarily understand the gravity of their crimes and may not think of a future execution date. (See source 8, round 2).

We can also provide empirical evidence that the death penalty does not deter crime. States without death penalty have lower crime rates than states with the death penalty (1).

The second argument he brought up was from Stephen K. Layson. Layson's study is deeply flawed for several reasons. For one, he claimed that each execution can prevent up to 18 homicides. However, he "found" these statistics during a time period in which no jurisdictions executed anyone! In fact, his study that covered from 34-77 only found a deterrent effect in the last 15 of those years. When he testified in front of congress, he stated that if he were to exclude all of the post-1960 data, the evidence for the deterrent effect of capital punishment "becomes very weak" or even "nonexistent." (2 and 3)

In summary, the two studies cited by con are deeply flawed and thus their claims should be considered dubious.

Re C2: The DP prevents the accused from committing further crime.

While recidivism is unfortunate, it is surprising to note that murderers and those freed from death row have the lowest rate of recidivism compared to other criminals. According to a 2014 report by the Bureau of Justice, 2/3 of prisoners were arrested with a new crime within three years and 3/4 were arrested within 5 years. The report found that property offenders were far more likely to recide (4).

In commenting on this statistic,"Mullane said she was able to determine that 988 convicted murderers were released from prisons in California over a 20 year period. Out of those 988, she said 1 percent were arrested for new crimes, and 10 percent were arrested for violating parole. She found none of the 988 were rearrested for murder, and none went back to prison over the 20 year period she examined." (5)

Thus using the death penalty to reduce recidivism leads us into an argumentum ad absurdum. If we execute murderers and others for this purpose, why not those who commit property crimes that are far more likely to recide?

In fact, there is a reason why there is a high rate of recidism. Allison Schrager writes (6):

"Prison obliterates your earnings potential. Being a convicted felon disqualifies you from certain jobs, housing, or voting. Mueller-Smith estimates that each year in prison reduces the odds of post-release employment by 24% and increases the odds you’ll live on public assistance. Time in prison also lowers the odds you’ll get or stay married. Being in prison and out of the labor force degrades legitimate skills and exposes you to criminal skills and a criminal network. This makes crime a more attractive alternative upon release, even if you run a high risk of returning to prison."

Thus because prison reduces opportunity and focuses more on punishment than rehabilitation, it makes it more likely that a person would commit more crimes.

Re C3: The Death Penalty brings justice to the deserving and keeps communities aware.

In my opinion, this is con's strongest point. In syllogism form, con argues the following:

P1: It is right and proper for the guilty to be be punished in proportion to their level of wrongdoing.
P2: The proportionate punishment for murder (and perhaps some other offences) is death.
C: Therefore, it is right and proper for those guilty of murder (and perhaps some other offences) to be put to death.

The problem with con's argument begins in P2. Which crimes are deserving of the death penalty and how grave do they have to be? Where exactly do we draw the line? Furthermore, we have a punishment system based upon lex talionis, then should someone who raped be subjugated to that same rape? Thus we can see that going from the need for proportionality to the appropriateness of death does not follow.

The second rebuttal I wish to make to this argument is that the DP does not just effect the condemned. It negatively impacts the executioners, jurors, and justices.

The executioners are affected as they are the ones that have to carry out the sentence. Carrying out the sentence is a difficult and emotional task. Clinical research has found that executioners often face PTSD and at least two executioners committed suicide from carrying out the sentence (7).

Thus we are asking innocent people to potentially harm themselves in the name of justice. This certainly is not just.

Back over to con. Good luck!

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Thank you to ThinkBig for his refutation, so I will now be refuting his 2nd speech arguments throughout my own speech.

First, his Contention 1, in which he states that the DP kills the innocent.
The DP killing innocents argument is completely invalid. There is no factual evidence saying that the death penalty has killed an innocent in decades. To support this is Bob McCulloch, St. Louis County prosecutor. When asked if the death penalty kills innocents, he responded with, "No. There are claims out there about that by those who are against it, but in the modern era of the death penalty, which is since about the mid-70s when it was reinstated and approved by the Supreme Court, there has not been." The truth is, the DP has gone through serious change a couple decades ago, and since then, no innocent deaths have occurred.

More specifically, looking into there evidence, there is no correlation between the suspect being 100% guilty and the suspect being murdered. With Willingham, there is no proof that the evidence hidden by prosecutors had proven him innocent, and the Pro makes no correlation between the hidden evidence and the innocence of Willingham. With DeLuna, the Pro doesn't even specifically say he was innocent. DeLuna was simply executed with less care than preferred, and the Pro knows this, that's why they won't directly say that he was innocent.

Second, his Contention 2, which is about the cost of the DP.
The DP is actually much less expensive when it comes to long term cost, which is much more important than short term.

"There is no question that the up front costs of the death penalty are significantly higher than for equivalent life without parole cases. There also appears to be no question that, over time, equivalent LWOP cases are much more expensive... than death penalty cases."
(Dudley Sharp, Death Penalty Resources Director of Justice For All, a Criminal Justice Reform Organization)

LWOP is our only other option for extreme offenses, like murder, and it is actually more expensive in the long term.

You can cross apply my 1st Contention to this - I have already proven the deterrence of the DP. The Pro challenges this, but as you can see, I have actual statistics backing up my claim, when all the Pro has is the opinion of some experts, not actually backed by evidence taken from the real world. My sources and evidence outweigh the Pro's, and thus you should support my argument instead of his.

I've been enjoying this debate so far. Good luck to the Pro!
Debate Round No. 3


Thank you for this debate. I wish you the best of luck in the voting period. I have very little time left and so I apologize if I do not cover everything.

1. Execution of innocent

My opponent claims that no factual evidence exists that the DP has killed anyone in decades. Con argues that no innocent person has been executed since 1977; however, I have cited two cases which show just that (more on this later). The fact that people are still exonerated after spending years on death row show that mistakes do happen. Indeed, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science noted [1]

"The vast majority of criminal convictions are not candidates for exoneration because no one makes any effort to reconsider the guilt of the defendants. Approximately 95% of felony convictions in the United States are based on negotiated pleas of guilty (plea bargains) that are entered in routine proceedings at which no evidence is presented. Few are ever subject to any review whatsoever. Most convicted defendants are never represented by an attorney after conviction, and the appeals that do take place are usually perfunctory and unrelated to guilt or innocence. "

"We do know that the rate of error among death sentences is far greater than Justice Scalia’s reassuring 0.027%. That much is apparent directly from the number of death row exonerations that have already occurred. Our research adds the disturbing news that most innocent defendants who have been sentenced to death have not been exonerated, and many—including the great majority of those who have been resentenced to life in prison—probably never will be."

This paper estimates that the rate of false convictions is about 4.1%. The state is (understandably) reluctant to admit to their mistakes and when someone is convicted, they are even more reluctant to re-open the case at a future date.

Now, going back to the two cases that I cited as examples. With Willingham, con argues that I have not provided any proof that the prosecutors hid evidence. However, the article that I cited very clearly shows evidence of wrongdoing on the prosecutors part, as evidenced by the fact that "all of the evidence used against Willingham was invalid, including the forensic analysis, the informant’s testimony, other witness testimony and additional circumstantial evidence." [2]

2. Cost

Since I have little time left, I'll drop this contention as it is my weakest. However, even if we concede this point, saving money does not justify killing someone.

3. DP does little to deter crime

Most of Con's arguments have already been refuted in previous rounds. This chart (3), published by Amnesty International, clearly shows that there is zero correlation between the DP and deterrence. Moreover, I have shown that con's sources are unreliable and heavily flawed.

Good luck in the voting period!


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This round has not been posted yet.
Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by ThinkBig 2 weeks ago
I tend to do my best proof reading after I hit submit.
Posted by ThinkBig 2 weeks ago
No problem!
Posted by BenJWasson 2 weeks ago
This is a lot better than expected, seeing as many people on this site don't even know how to use proper evidence. I've been very busy, I actually have a debate tournament on the 8th, so it may take me a little bit to finish up my case. Again, tanks for debating me on this!
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