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Ten anti-death penalty fallacies: the case against capital punishment relies on myth, misinformation, and misplaced emotionalism. (Crime and Punishment).

Renewed attacks on the death penalty are likely as the trial of accused Twin Tower bombing accomplice accomplice: see accessory.  Zacharias Moussaoui proceeds. Federal officials have charged Moussaoui with six crimes, four of which carry a potential death sentence. Amnesty International Amnesty International (AI,) human-rights organization founded in 1961 by Englishman Peter Benenson; it campaigns internationally against the detention of prisoners of conscience, for the fair trial of political prisoners, to abolish the death penalty and torture of  has already issued an "urgent action alert" to call on the world to condemn this "outdated punishment" in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. . Therefore, there is no time like the present to review some of the misinformation mis·in·form  
tr.v. mis·in·formed, mis·in·form·ing, mis·in·forms
To provide with incorrect information.

 and faulty reasoning of capital punishment capital punishment, imposition of a penalty of death by the state. History

Capital punishment was widely applied in ancient times; it can be found (c.1750 B.C.) in the Code of Hammurabi.

FALLACY #1: Racism

"The death penalty is racist.... [T]he federal death penalty is used disproportionately against minorities, especially African Americans.... According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 [Justice Department] figures, nearly 80 percent of inmates on federal death row are Black, Hispanic, or from another minority group." (Campaign to End the Death Penalty The Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) is an anti-death penalty organization in the United States, built on the philosophy that death row inmates and their family members must be at the center of fighting to abolish the death penalty. )

"The imposition of the death penalty is racially biased: Nearly 90% of persons executed were convicted of killing whites, although people of color Noun 1. people of color - a race with skin pigmentation different from the white race (especially Blacks)
people of colour, colour, color

race - people who are believed to belong to the same genetic stock; "some biologists doubt that there are important
 make up over half of all homicide victims in the United States." (National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty The National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty or NCADP is a large organisation dedicated to the abolition of the death penalty in the United States.

Founded in 1976 (the same year the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court of the United States), the NCADP is

"Death row in the U.S. has always held a disproportionately large population of people of color relative to the general population." (ACLU ACLU: see American Civil Liberties Union.  Briefing Paper on the Death Penalty)

Correction: The claim that the death penalty unfairly impacts blacks and minorities is a deliberate fraud. The majority of those executed since 1976 have been white, even though black criminals commit a slim majority of murders. If the death penalty is racist, it is biased against white murderers and not blacks.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics Noun 1. Bureau of Justice Statistics - the agency in the Department of Justice that is the primary source of criminal justice statistics for federal and local policy makers
, blacks committed 51.5% of murders between 1976 and 1999, while whites committed 46.5%. Yet even though blacks committed a majority of murders, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports: "Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, white inmates have made up the majority of those under sentence of death." (Emphasis added.) Whites continued to comprise the majority on death row in the year 2000 (1,990 whites to 1,535 blacks and 68 others). In the year 2000, 49 of the 85 people actually put to death were whites.

So how can abolitionists claim that the death penalty unfairly punishes black people and other minorities? The statistics they cite are often technically accurate (though not always), but they don't mean what most people assume they mean. Abolitionists often start by analyzing the race of the victims rather than the murderers. Because most murders are intra-racial (white murderers mostly kill other whites and most black murderers kill other blacks), imposing the death penalty more frequently on white murderers means that killers of white people will more likely be executed. In essence, abolitionists playing the race card argue that black murder victims are not receiving justice because only the murderers of white people are punished with the death penalty. Death penalty proponents may consider this denying justice to black people.

New "hate crimes" laws are likely to worsen the hypocrisy. A "hate crimes" mentality translates into tougher sentences for interracial in·ter·ra·cial  
Relating to, involving, or representing different races: interracial fellowship; an interracial neighborhood.
 "hate crimes." Because white people are killed by black people 2.6 times more frequently than black people are killed by white people, more killers of white people will be susceptible to receiving the death penalty than killers of black people.

FALLACY #2: Cost

"It costs more to execute a person than to keep him or her in prison for life. A 1993 California study argues that each death penalty case costs at least $1.25 million more than a regular murder case and a sentence of life without the possibility of parole." (

Correction: While these figures are dubious at best, this argument deserves no response. Justice isn't up for sale to the lowest bidder.

FALLACY #3: Innocence

"A review of death penalty judgments over a 23-year period found a national error rate of 68%." (ACLU Death Penalty Campaign statement)

"[S]erious error -- error substantially undermining the reliability of capital verdicts -- has reached epidemic proportions throughout our death penalty system. More than two out of every three capital judgments reviewed by the courts during the 23-year study period were found to be seriously flawed." ("Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995" by James Liebman et al.)

Correction: The major media reported this highly publicized pub·li·cize  
tr.v. pub·li·cized, pub·li·ciz·ing, pub·li·ciz·es
To give publicity to.

Adj. 1. publicized - made known; especially made widely known
 Columbia University Columbia University, mainly in New York City; founded 1754 as King's College by grant of King George II; first college in New York City, fifth oldest in the United States; one of the eight Ivy League institutions.  study uncritically when it was first released in 2000. But Reg Brown from the Florida governor's office exploded it: "The 'study' defines 'error' to include any issue requiring further review by a lower court.... Using the authors' misleading definition, the 'study' does, however, conclude that 64 Florida post-conviction cases were rife with 'error' -- even though none of these Florida cases was ultimately resolved by a 'not guilty' verdict, a pardon or a dismissal of murder charges."

Brown noted that even political overturning of death penalty cases added to the figure. "[T]he nearly 40 death penalty convictions that were reversed by the California Supreme Court during the tenure of liberal activist Rose Bird are treated as 'error cases' when in fact ideological bias was arguably ar·gu·a·ble  
1. Open to argument: an arguable question, still unresolved.

2. That can be argued plausibly; defensible in argument: three arguable points of law.
 at work." Paul G. Cassell of the Wall Street Journal explained how the 68 percent figure is deceptive: "After reviewing 23 years of capital sentences, the study's authors (like other researchers) were unable to find a single case in which an innocent person was executed. Thus, the most important error rate -- the rate of mistaken executions -- is zero."

FALLACY #4: DNA Evidence Among the many new tools that science has provided for the analysis of forensic evidence is the powerful and controversial analysis of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the material that makes up the genetic code of most organisms.  

"Since the US. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that capital punishment is not 'cruel and unusual,' 618 prisoners have been executed across the nation and about 80 have been exonerated.... Those disturbing odds beg the question Beg the Question is a graphic novel by Bob Fingerman. It chronicles the trials and tribulations of protagonists Rob — a squeamish freelance cartoonist/pornographer — and Sylvia — a beauty salon manager with loftier aspirations — as well as a : If the chances of executing an innocent person are so high, should we have capital punishment?" (, March 6, 2000)

Correction: While most of those released from death row have been released for political purposes or for technical reasons unrelated to guilt, it is true that a small number have been released because DNA evidence has proven innocence.

But even though ABC ABC
 in full American Broadcasting Co.

Major U.S. television network. It began when the expanding national radio network NBC split into the separate Red and Blue networks in 1928.
 may not agree, its news story reinforces why the release of those on death row argues for, not against, the death penalty: "Widespread use of DNA testing DNA testing
Analysis of DNA (the genetic component of cells) in order to determine changes in genes that may indicate a specific disorder.

Mentioned in: Acoustic Neuroma, Retinoblastoma, Von Willebrand Disease
 and established standards for defense lawyers will virtually eliminate the argument that the death penalty cannot be fairly applied." If DNA evidence can really prove innocence, it can prove guilt as well, and society can be all the more certain that criminals sentenced to death will be guilty. The system as a whole is already working well. Since reinstituting the death penalty in 1976, not one person executed in the United States has been later proven innocent as a result of DNA evidence.

FALLACY #5: "Cruel and Unusual"

"The death penalty: Always cruel, always inhuman in·hu·man  
a. Lacking kindness, pity, or compassion; cruel. See Synonyms at cruel.

b. Deficient in emotional warmth; cold.

, always degrading ... there can be no masking the inherent cruelty of the death penalty." (Amnesty International)

"Capital punishment, the ultimate denial of civil liberties, is a costly, irreversible and barbaric practice, the epitome of cruel and unusual punishment Such punishment as would amount to torture or barbarity, any cruel and degrading punishment not known to the Common Law, or any fine, penalty, confinement, or treatment that is so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community. ." (ACLU Briefing Paper on the Death Penalty)

Correction: The death penalty is not unusual. All of the nations of the world have had the death penalty on the lawbooks throughout most of their recorded history Recorded history can be defined as history that has been written down or recorded by the use of language, whereas history is a more general term referring simply to information about the past.[1] It starts in the 4th millennium BC, with the invention of writing. , and the death penalty remains on the statute books of about half of the nations of the world. The death penalty was on the statute books of all the states of the U.S. when the Constitution was adopted. It is far more unusual to have no death penalty than to have a death penalty.

More importantly, the Founding Fathers who adopted the Bill of Rights banning "cruel and unusual punishment" had no problem with implementing the death penalty.

FALLACY #6: Pro-Life Consistency

"We see the death penalty as perpetuating a cycle of violence and promoting a sense of vengeance in our culture. As we said in Confronting a Culture of Violence: 'We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.'" (U.S. Catholic Conference)

Correction: If capital punishment teaches that it's permissible to kill, do prison sentences teach that it's permissible to hold someone against his will, and do fines teach that it's permissible to steal? In actuality, this fallacy confuses killing the innocent with punishing the guilty. To punish the guilty via the death penalty is not to condone condone v. 1) to forgive, support, and/or overlook moral or legal failures of another without protest, with the result that it appears that such breaches of moral or legal duties are acceptable.  the shedding of innocent blood. Just the opposite, in fact, since capital punishment sends a strong message that murder and other capital crimes will not be tolerated.

A related fallacy is that the pro-lifer who defends the right to life of an unborn baby in the mother's womb, but who does not defend the right to life of a convicted murderer on death row, is being morally inconsistent. But there is no inconsistency here: The unborn baby is innocent; the convicted murderer is not. It is the proabortion/anti-death penalty liberal who is morally inconsistent, since he supports putting to death only the innocent.

Pro-lifers deceive themselves if they imagine abolishing the death penalty will lead to abolishing abortion or a greater respect for life. To the contrary, nations with the death penalty generally restrict abortion more than nations who have abolished the death penalty. Islamic nations and African nations have the death penalty and also have the most prohibitive abortion laws. By contrast, European nations have abolished the death penalty and have liberal abortion laws. Do pro-lifers really want to follow the example of Europe?

FALLACY #7: The Company We Keep

"The USA is keeping company with notorious human rights abusers. The vast majority of countries in Western Europe Western Europe

The countries of western Europe, especially those that are allied with the United States and Canada in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (established 1949 and usually known as NATO).
, North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere.  and South America South America, fourth largest continent (1991 est. pop. 299,150,000), c.6,880,000 sq mi (17,819,000 sq km), the southern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere.  -- more than 105 nations worldwide -- have abandoned capital punishment. The United States remains in the same company as Iraq, Iran, and China as one of the major advocates and users of capital punishment." (

Correction: The arbitrary use of capital punishment in totalitarian societies argues for ensuring that government never abuses this power; it does not argue against the principle of capital punishment, which, in a free society, is applied justly under the rule of law.

The reference to Europe is misleading. Capital punishment advocates are the ones keeping company with common Europeans, while abolitionists are merely keeping company with their elitist e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism  
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.
 governments. Public opinion remains in favor of the death penalty for the most severe murderers throughout much of Europe, but elitist European governments have eliminated using capital punishment.

FALLACY #8: No Deterrence

"Capital Punishment does not deter crime. Scientific studies have consistently failed to demonstrate that executions deter people from committing crime." (Death Penalty Focus Founded in 1988, Death Penalty Focus is a non-profit organization dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment through grassroots organizing, research, and the dissemination of information about the death penalty and its alternatives. )

Correction: Death penalty opponents love to assume that the principal purpose for capital punishment is deterrence, possibly realizing it is a perfect straw argument. Tangible proof of deterrence alone is not a valid reason for capital punishment (or any other form of punishment, for that matter), nor is it the main rationale employed by astute death penalty advocates. As Christian writer C.S. Lewis observes, "[deterrence] in itself, would be a very wicked thing to do. On the classical theory of punishment it was of course justified on the ground that the man deserved it. Why, in Heaven's name, am I to be sacrificed to the good of society in this way?-unless, of course, I deserve it." Inflicting a penalty merely to deter -- rather than to punish for deeds done -- is the very definition of cruelty. A purely deterrent penalty is one where a man is punished -- not for something that he did -- but for something someone else might do. Lewis explained the logical end of this argument: "If deterrence is all that mat ters, the execution of an innocent man, provided the public think him guilty, would be fully justified."

Men should be punished for their own crimes and not merely to deter others. That said, the death penalty undoubtedly does deter in some cases. For starters, those executed will no longer be around to commit any more crimes.

FALLACY #9: Christian Forgiveness and Vengeance

"The death penalty appears to oppose the spirit of the Gospel. In the Sermon on the Mount Sermon on the Mount

Biblical collection of religious teachings and ethical sayings attributed to Jesus, as reported in the Gospel of St. Matthew. The sermon was addressed to disciples and a large crowd of listeners to guide them in a life of discipline based on a new law of
, Jesus urges us to replace the old law of 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' with an attitude of charity, even toward those who would commit evil against us (Mw 5:38-48). When asked for his opinion in the case of the woman convicted of adultery, a crime that carried the penalty of death, he immediately pardoned the offender, while deploring the action, the sin (Jn 8). It is difficult for us to accommodate Jesus' injunction to forgive and love, to reconcile and heal, with the practices of executing criminals." (Statement on Capital Punishment by the Christian Council Christian Council may refer to:
  • Christian Biblical Council, a splinter group of The Way International
  • Christian Council of Britain, an organisation formed to defend Britain's Christian heritage and national identity from Islam and political correctness
 of Delaware and Maryland's Eastern Shore)

"In Leviticus, the Lord Commanded 'You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge grudge  
tr.v. grudged, grudg·ing, grudg·es
1. To be reluctant to give or admit: even grudged the tuition money.

 against the sons of your own people.' Here the Old Testament anticipated Jesus 'teaching: 'You have heard it said, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other one also.' Paul likewise proclaimed that vengeance is reserved for God and that Christians should feed their enemies, overcoming evil with good (Rom 12:19-2 1)." (Christianity Today Christianity Today is an Evangelical Christian periodical based in Carol Stream, Illinois. It is the flagship publication of its parent company Christianity Today International, claiming circulation figures of 145,000 and readership of 304,500.  4-6-98)

Correction: Punishment -- sometimes called retribution -- is the main reason for imposing the death penalty. The so-called "Christian" case against the death penalty can be summed up in one sentence: We cannot punish wrongdoers because punishment is always a form of vengeance.

A careful reading of the Bible does not back up the idea that punishment is synonymous with synonymous with
adjective equivalent to, the same as, identical to, similar to, identified with, equal to, tantamount to, interchangeable with, one and the same as
 vengeance. The proportionate retribution required by the Old Testament generally replaced disproportionate vengeance. The same Old Testament that ordered "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" also prohibited vengeance. Evidently, the Hebrew scriptures Hebrew Scriptures
pl.n. Bible
The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, forming the covenant between God and the Jewish people that is the foundation and Bible of Judaism while constituting for Christians the Old Testament.
 view retribution and vengeance as two separate things. In the New Testament, Jesus denied trying to overturn the Old Testament law. "Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them, but to complete them." (Matthew 5:17) The apostle Paul told the Romans that revenge and retribution are different things entirely. "Never try to get revenge: leave that, my dear friends, to the retribution. As Scripture says, vengeance is mine -- I will pay them back, the Lord promises." But then just a few verses later, Paul notes that "if you do wrong, then you may well be afraid; because it is not for nothing that the symbol of autho rity is the sword: it is there to serve God, too, as his avenger, to bring retribution to wrongdoers." (Romans 13:4) "Authority" refers to the state, which is empowered to put evildoers to the "sword." Paul asserts that the state's retribution of capital punishment is the retribution of God.

Clearly, the Christian Testament. regards retribution by the state as not only different from vengeance, but rather as opposites. Vengeance is always personal and it is only rarely proportional to the offense. The Hebrew standard of justice for "an eye for an eye" replaced the hateful hate·ful  
1. Eliciting or deserving hatred.

2. Feeling or showing hatred; malevolent.

hateful·ly adv.
 and very personal "head for an eye" standard of vengeance. Retribution is impersonal punishment by the state. And impersonal punishment is far more likely to be proportionate to the crime, meaning that it comes closer to the standard of "eye for an eye."

By forgiving the adulterous woman, Jesus was not making a statement against the death penalty. Jesus' enemies thought they had put Christ into a no-win situation Noun 1. no-win situation - a situation in which a favorable outcome is impossible; you are bound to lose whatever you do
situation - a complex or critical or unusual difficulty; "the dangerous situation developed suddenly"; "that's quite a situation"; "no human
 by presenting the adulterous woman to him. If Christ ordered the woman's release, they could discredit Him for opposing the Law of Moses. But if He ordered her put to death, then Christ could be handed over to the Roman authorities for the crime of orchestrating a murder. Either way, His opponents figured, they had Him. Christ, of course, knew the hypocritical hyp·o·crit·i·cal  
1. Characterized by hypocrisy: hypocritical praise.

2. Being a hypocrite: a hypocritical rogue.
 aims of His enemies had nothing to do with justice. The absence of the man who had committed adultery with the woman "caught in the very act" must have been glaring. His rebuke to "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" was the perfect reply; it highlighted the hypocrisy. Christ's response was in no way a commentary about the death penalty.

FALLACY #10: No Mercy

"Capital punishment is society's final assertion that it will not forgive." (Martin Luther King)

"It is a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have." (Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Unforgiven)

Correction: The person opposing the death penalty on these principles opposes it from worldly reasoning rather than spiritual reasoning. The above statement by Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Unforgiven typifies this surprisingly common "religious" objection to capital punishment. The underlying assumption is that this world and this life is all that exists. It suggests that only a hateful and vengeful person would seek to take everything from anyone.

But it is not true that most supporters of capital punishment seek to take everything from the murderers. Thomas Aquinas noted in his Summa Theologica The Summa Theologica (or the Summa Theologiae or simply the Summa, written 1265–1274) is the most famous work of Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) although it was never finished.  that "if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy praise·wor·thy  
adj. praise·wor·thi·er, praise·wor·thi·est
Meriting praise; highly commendable.

 and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good." The death penalty for murderers, the Catholic Church's most famous theologian argued, was a form of retributive re·trib·u·tive  
Of, involving, or characterized by retribution; retributory.

re·tribu·tive·ly adv.

Adj. 1.
 punishment. He explained that this "punishment may be considered as a medicine, not only healing the past sin, but also preserving from future sin." Though life may be taken from a murderer, he will be better off with the punishment because "spiritual goods are of the greatest consequence, while temporal goods are least important."

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to dawn on proponents employing this faulty reasoning that perhaps a just punishment in this world would best prepare a criminal for the next.
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Author:Eddlem, Thomas R.
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 3, 2002
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