Deliberations in the jury room brought a unanimous decision on punitive action for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: death. The jury reached the decision after fourteen hours of deliberation. However, it is not surprising to see that such a verdict was reached. The Boston Marathon Bombing of April 2013 was one of the scariest times for the country since the 9/11 terror attacks. Three were killed and 260 were wounded in the attack, and the psychological effects of the attacks still echo throughout the nation.
Has justice been served? At first glance one may be inclined to say “OF COURSE!” Upon close examination though, I am not so sure that one should be so quick to hit the gavel. There are other factors to consider besides the traditional eye for an eye view on the event. Costs, timeframe, wrong verdicts, and manner of execution should all cause the diligent student of life to ponder the rationality of the death penalty.
Executions are expensive, because lawyers. There are often long appeals processes by which defense attorneys take their clients to challenge convictions. Lawyer fees add up, court fees as well. Many states have lost millions of dollars in execution cases. For instance, the state of New York reinstated the death penalty in 1995. However, the law was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court in 2004. All 7 death sentences were then overturned as well. New York State taxpayers lost $170 million over 9 years with no executions taking place.
It’s not just New York State that has such financial burdens attached to the death penalty. This is a nationwide issue. A 2004 study at the National Bureau of Economic Research found that in counties where execution trials take place, a significant portion of taxpayer dollars are reallocated from other critical areas to pay for the trial, and taxes are often increased to offset the costs. In total, capital trials cost approximately $1.6 billion between 1982 and 1997.
Is it worth taking dollars from the Deparment of Highways to pay for an execution? It’s a legitimate question to ask. While one focuses on extinguishing the guilty, the innocent can be neglected in the process. We all want to ensure that the murders and rapists get their day in court and are held accountable for their crimes. However, once the verdict has been delivered, continuing to prolong the process with costly appeals may be much more harmful in the grand scheme of things.
Not only are these proceedings expensive, they are also lengthy. Inmates on death row often spend nearly 20 years in prison before the execution actually takes place. The process has only gotten longer as the years have passed. In 1984, the average time between sentencing and execution was 74 months. By 2012, it had risen to 190 months. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, time between sentencing and execution could be measured in mere weeks or days. Such prolonged anxiety and uncertainty on the part not only of the accused, but also of the victims places a significant mental burden on each respective party.
The days of swift executions as in the Founding era are likely over, and very unlikely to return. The lengthy appeals processes appear to be here to stay. Such lengthy timeframes for executions draw out the process of justice far beyond a reasonable period that can constitute a speedy and public trial. Am I being too soft on the guilty? By all means no, but nonetheless they are still human beings and deserve treatment as such, no matter what their crimes. Often times in the midst of a fiery passion of hatred, people will call a murderer, rapist, child molester, etc. an animal, scum, subhuman and others. Nonetheless, the accused is still a human being; so is the innocent, and even the guilty as much as we may be reluctant to admit so. Forgetting that devalues human life across the board. In a society that already largely condones killing the unborn, do we really need to add any more devaluation to life?
Speaking on the topic of life, what about situations in which one is wrongfully convicted? Hypothetical: a man is accused of first-degree murder and is found guilty, to be punished via execution. He is on death row for 10 years through the lengthy and costly appeals process. Finally, he enters the room with a table and a needle, and finds himself strapped down knowing that his life will be over in a few short minutes.
A short time later, the guilty is no more. But that may not be the end of the story. Let’s say a witness comes forth presenting new evidence that could have exonerated the accused. What does one do with the newly presented evidence? There is no one to free. The innocent has already been executed, and the guilty still runs loose. When one is sentenced to life in prison, solitary confinement or otherwise, that person’s life is still preserved. If there was a wrongful conviction, that person can be released from their wrongful imprisonment. With death, there is no turning back.
Finally, the manner of execution is an issue that must be addressed. The lethal injection is the most common form of execution here in the United States, and has been for some time. However, it is very possible that the needle is less humane than many people believe it to be. Look at the botched execution case from Arizona in 2014. A murderer was sentenced to death by lethal injection, and was taken to the table in that year. However, the execution took 2 hours.
AZCentral- One reporter who witnessed the execution, Troy Hayden of Fox 10 News, said it was “very disturbing to watch … like a fish on shore gulping for air. At a certain point, you wondered whether he was ever going to die.”
Having an execution drawn out for hours on end is not justice; it’s a crime against humanity. It’s degrading of the human spirit to cause someone to suffer for such a prolonged period, putting them at death’s door but not letting them pass through. A case such as this is not common, but perhaps it should cause us to ask some difficult questions. Is an injection really the best method of execution? Is it the most painless, and least cruel?
Maybe firing squad is a better option if the death penalty is going to be a penal practice. It’s quick, painless, and costs only as much as a few rounds of ammunition. Have seven sharpshooters on a firing line, and on the order fire seven large caliber rounds at the convicted. Why don’t we do that anymore? If we have any sort of execution, why should it not be by firing squad? (No, being anti-gun does not count as a valid argument against it.) No more botched executions like the one in Arizona.
I’ll just straight up say it. I am against the death penalty. I used to be a supporter of it, but after lengthy considerations I can no longer be one. These are just some practical reasons behind my opposition. But I’ll give a more important one, a religious one. If a person is executed for their crime, whatever it may be, the opportunity for them to repent of their sin and believe in Christ is taken away, and they are eternally damned. If you’re not a Christian, then you may not agree with me on that. However, if you are a fellow believer, this is something that you should consider as well.
We are all sinners, and have all sinned. In God’s eyes, there are no differences between sins; they are all the same. If the man who died on a cross to save you and me of our sins was willing to offer the penitent thief salvation, why should we deny that same opportunity? One may not accept the Gospel the first, second, or hundredth time. But that hundred and first time may be when he does accept the gift. If we decide that he must die to pay for his crimes, how can we not ask this question about the afterlife?