Why do conservatives support capital punishment? Right-wing support for the death penalty has been a given for decades. Indeed, just last year a Gallup poll revealed that 72% of conservatives support capital punishment. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. But is the death penalty truly in line with conservative values?
I submit to you that it is not.
How Many Are Wrongly Convicted?
In 2014, Jared Wright Jr. was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and their 15-month-old son. According to The Innocence Project, no physical evidence linked Wright to the murder. The prosecution argued that a glove that was left at the scene belonged to the defendant. However, there was no DNA evidence tying him to the glove.
Regardless of the lack of evidence, the jury found Wright guilty and recommended the death penalty. In May 2017, the Florida Supreme court exonerated Wright citing a lack of evidence.
Wright is one of 160 death row inmates who has been acquitted since 1973. Like Wright, several convicts have been exonerated due to the lack of evidence. Others have been freed because DNA evidence proved their innocence.
While there are 160 known cases of innocent people who have faced death sentences, there could be a significant number of inmates who were wrongly executed. Unfortunately, our justice system does not typically conduct further investigations after a person has been executed so we do not have exact numbers.
How Efficient Is Our Justice System?
According to Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty, many DNA exonerations show that murder cases are “often riddled with problems.” These issues include unreliable jailhouse informants, coerced confessions, incompetent attorneys, mistaken witnesses, and others.
Contrary to popular belief, DNA evidence isn’t a major factor in most cases. Indeed, it is present in only 5% – 10% of criminal cases. To make matters worse, courts can prevent access to DNA testing, even if it could result in the acquittal of an innocent person. Of course, there are also issues of corruption — namely, cases in which evidence that could result in a “not guilty” verdict is withheld at trial.
The bottom line is that our justice system is not incompetent overall — but it is not perfect either. Even with our lengthy appeals process, innocent people could be at risk of wrongful execution.
Typically, acquittals come as a result of people working outside of the justice system. The Innocence Project is an example of an organization that seeks to free people who have been wrongly convicted of a crime.
The Fiscal Expense Of Capital Punishment
It is a common misconception that keeping an inmate incarcerated for life is more expensive than giving him the death penalty. However, studies have shown the opposite to be true.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the death row system can costs states hundreds of millions of dollars. They state that the cost to prosecute and manage a death penalty case averages about $3 million. For a life-in-prison case? $2 million.
So how could it be more expensive to house a criminal for the rest of his life than to just put him to death? Cases involving capital punishment involve more frequent state-funded trials during the appeals process, which results in more lawyers, which leads to greater costs. Moreover, death row incarceration is more expensive than “regular” incarceration. According to the Marshall Project, the costs for death row cases are only climbing.
The Risk Of Wrongful Execution Is Too High
One of the defining characteristics of conservatism is skepticism of the government. We do not blindly trust our officials to do the right thing. Yet, for some reason, many of us are disturbingly comfortable with allowing this untrustworthy institution to make decisions about life and death.
Wrongly convicting a person of a crime is already problematic — but it becomes far worse when that person is sentenced to death. If a person is wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison, and new evidence shows them to be innocent, they can still be released. Not the optimum solution, but better than the alternative.
On the other hand, if a person is executed and found to be innocent later, nothing can be done. It creates a tragic situation where a person is forced to go through the trauma of a long trial, an even longer appeals process, only to meet their end for a crime they did not commit. Not only does the person lose their life, but justice is also not served to the real perpetrator of the crime.
We do not know how many inmates have been wrongly executed, but even one person is too much. Most of the individuals involved in our justice system are well-meaning, but they are flawed. Our government is not perfect, which means there are certain decisions it shouldn’t make.
Capital Punishment Is Fiscally Irresponsible
Another prominent aspect of the conservative movement is fiscal responsibility. You may not know it from the GOP’s proposed spending bill, but we are supposed to be the ones who advocate for cutting expenses where necessary.
Capital punishment does not pass the fiscal responsibility test. Not only is it an irreversible action, but it also costs taxpayers more than the imposition of a life sentence. If this were a regular government program, most of us would want to cut it.
One might argue that the appeals process is the reason our capital punishment system is more expensive. This is true, but the fact that 160 people were exonerated during this process shows the necessity of keeping it in place if we insist on having the death penalty.
The Government Does Not Deserve The Power To Take Life
Here’s the bottom line. Conservatives don’t trust the government to control our healthcare. We don’t trust them to address poverty. We want them out of our guns. Many of us don’t even think they should be allowed to tell us what substances we can put in our bodies.
So why the hell would we trust them to decide who lives or dies?
Yes, we all want justice. But justice isn’t only about punishing the guilty; it’s also about protecting the innocent. The death penalty might punish the right people most of the time, but an imperfect system run by imperfect people will inevitably punish individuals who are undeserving.
Is this enough of a reason to abolish capital punishment?. It is likely that a significant number of innocent people have already lost their lives, but even one person should be unacceptable.
There is a reason why capital punishment is enjoying less support — even among conservatives. It is a deeply flawed solution with a permanent consequence. Executing murderers should not be more desirable than ensuring that we are not risking the violation of an innocent person’s right to life. This is not promoting justice, and it certainly is not conservative.