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RFD for death penalty debate

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4/15/2016 9:58:33 AM
Posted: 3 years ago

Pro: missbailey8
Con: subhapriya

For clarification, this vote is from the DDO Voter Union. Contact donald.keller, TUF or me if you wish to submit a debate to the Union for a vote, or if you wish to join. We reserve the right to veto any applications or submissions.

The topic of the debate is "capital punishment should be banned." The term "should" implies a policy debate, and the implicit framework accepted by both debaters is weighing the net benefits caused by this policy action. Burdens of proof are shared evenly, since there is no "default position" that can be coherently taken with a topic of this nature. It is a normative topic, and one where there is no status quo due to lack of specification of the plan. As such, I'm not going to judge by a paradigm similar to that of actual policy debate; rather, I will look at the generic net benefits of the topic without assuming "negation theory."

As a note, the debate is a two-round debate (two rounds of argumentation), so I'm not penalizing "new arguments in the final round" as is often done by debate convention.

Con goes first, arguing in R2, so I'll analyze Con's case first. Con argues that (1) the death penalty upholds morality since it is the only viable option for a person who has harmed society, (2) there are proper grounds of judgement that go into capital cases, (3) would-be criminals think twice before killing due to capital punishment, as evidence from Ehrlich shows, and (4) capital punishment is kinder than the alternatives.

Let's look to the arguments I'm not significantly weighing first. Con doesn't clearly explain the first argument. They don't show how it is the "only" viable option and doesn't provide a clear link or impact. Without that, I'm not finding much offense from the argument at all. The only slight link I can gauge is "do what families want," but Con doesn't explain why this should be so. Pro says families don't always want this, and while that isn't a compelling response, it's sufficient to negate the almost non-existent offense from this. The "grounds of judgement" argument doesn't provide any proper offense either. Just the fact that there are certain grounds of judgement used to give a verdict of capital punishment doesn't mean it should be there. The argument does nothing to advance Con's burden, and to that extent is irrelevant.

Con's first actual offense is the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Con says would-be criminals are deterred from committing murder at the fear of death, and cites Ehrlich to demonstrate that. Pro says there's no clear correlation to demonstrate that, and cites a study that says states with the death penalty have higher crime rates, rather than lower ones--as would be expected. Con extends the study by Ehrlich which holds the saving of 7 lives per murder. Con then further argues that statistical evidence might be a bit hazy since there are so many factors involved, but presents an argument in favor of rational choice theory, saying everyone intrinsically fears death. Con then warrants the deterrent effect with some level of statistical evidence, with research from the Emory University and other studies. Pro drops most of these arguments and studies, and brings up the argument that most of these people commit their crimes in the heat of passion.

But there's no study Pro has to back this up--merely an article whose reliability I must doubt when put against strong research from Ehrlich and the Emory University, and a clear rebuttal to the argument from statistical evidence. As such, I'm buying deterrence and am getting an impact of around 7 lives saved per murder (I'm picking that one because of the huge variability in the Emory University results). I think Pro should have spent more time refuting rational action theory itself, rather than just using some weak statistical evidence. The theory is a pretty weak one and an easy one to refute.

Con's fourth argument is that the death penalty is kinder than life imprisonment, since the criminal is basically treated as a non-human and isn't given some rights, e.g. the right to vote. But all this justifies is that life imprisonment is "harsh," not that it is *harsher* than the death penalty. Pro's response isn't very compelling either--since Pro says by that logic all people sentenced to life should be put to death, which isn't a compelling reductio unless Pro shows that's actually wrong--but I'm weighing this impact significantly lower than I normally would due to lack of clear elucidation.

Let's move to Pro's case. Pro argues that the cost of the death penalty is huge, that innocents die, and that the criminal justice system is racist. Con responds to the costs argument with the example of resources wasted by life imprisonment, but doesn't show that the same applies in most cases, so I don't really buy it as compelling. The impact is only mildly mitigated. But Pro fails to explain why costs are so important and doesn't elucidate any impact to the argument, e.g. budget crisis. So I'm not weighing this as very significant at all. Con's objection to innocent lives isn't sufficiently strong at all--sure, a lot of process goes into it, but Pro's argument is that there are innocents on death row. But all Pro proves is that people are *released* from death row, not that people die as a result, so there's not much of an impact to this either. Con's response to racial bias is compelling, that abolishing the death penalty isn't going to decrease racist decisions since they'll go to life imprisonment anyway.

Let me conclude with an impact analysis. Con's sole standing argument is deterrence, from which I can gain an impact of 7 lives saved per execution. Pro's only arguments are costs and innocent death, neither of which I weigh much against deterrence. There's no impact given to innocent death, and there's little or no magnitude with regards to costs. Since all these arguments win on probability, I vote Con on magnitude. Thus, Con wins.
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