DEATH PENALTY IS A CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT

Texas bears the dubious distinction of being the state that has executed the greatest number of prisoners in the United States. If Texas was a country, it would be competing with others like China and Saudi Arabia for this dubious title. Justice Potter Stewart, writing for the majority 1972 Furman v. Georgia case, concluded that “death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual… I simply conclude that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed.”

“The feelings and trauma of the crime victims and their families obviously are a very important consideration. However, the death penalty offers only a false or temporary condolence to those victims while a never-ending cycle of violence continues. The death penalty is unnecessary in the 21st century. It does not decrease the crime rate and it uses monetary resources that could be spent for other crime prevention programs. The use of long-term incarceration and life without parole can protect Texans from criminals while punishing the guilty.” (Source: Capital Punishment in Texas — Emily Kozora).

Since 1974, a total of 1,107 people have been executed by the U.S.  Texas is at the top of the list, with 383 executions (295 of which were in Harris County, and 74 in Tarrant County). Even though the number of death sentences has gone down, these are too many. Harris and Tarrant Counties retain their positions as the top two counties giving death penalties.  During 2014-2018 alone, five prisoners in Harris County and two prisoners in Tarrant County have been executed for serious crimes.

Looking at the race of people who are sentenced to death in our legal system, all seven of the men sentenced to death in Texas were people of color.  According to a 2018 report by the Texas Coalition to Abolish Death Penalty, three were Hispanic and three were African American. Over the last five years, more than 70% of all death sentences have been imposed on people of color.

              Due to the Texas legal systems’ complexity, many innocent people have been executed. The Report by Emily Kozora has identified several weaknesses in the system including:

  • Unreliable witnesses
  • Lack of evidence
  • Incompetent experts
  • Official misconduct
  • Inadequate defense

It is a tragedy to take an innocent person’s life, and Texas has taken too many innocent lives. Considering the cost factor involved in execution versus a life without parole, one sees that life in prison costs an average of $750,000, while a death penalty costs more than $2 million.  Below, we see the actual costs of a death sentence.  These are from a report published in the Dallas Morning News on March 8, 1992.

TRIAL: court personnel $74,000, jury panel $ 17,220

2 defense attorneys, expert witnesses, investigators $112,400

3 prosecuting attorneys $ 38,052, judge $ 23,968

Total $265,640

STATE APPEALS: defense $15,000

Prosecution $29,000, reproducing trial records $20,000

Court of criminal appeals$30,240

Total $94,240

FEDERAL APPEAL:

Defense counsel $ 92,000, state attorney general’s office $ 19,600

Appellate court $ 1,708,000

Total $ 1,819,600

DEATH ROW INCARCERATION:

1 inmate $ 136,875

TOTAL COST: $ 2,316,355

 The argument coming from conservatives is that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime.  This argument has been repeatedly proven false. The argument about victim’s rights will be a better closure for families of the victim if the person is held in prison for years thinking if only he/she had not committed the horrendous act. If the idea of a big and expensive government is an anathema to the Conservatives, how can they justify giving the state the right to kill people at such a high cost?  If they claim to be pro-life, then save innocent lives, halt wrongful convictions and abolish the death penalty in Texas.

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