Column: It's time to put the death penalty on death row

Death penalty opponents gather outside of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in advance of the scheduled execution of Joshua Bishop in Jackson, Ga., Thursday, March 31, 2016. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Death penalty opponents gather outside of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in advance of the scheduled execution of Joshua Bishop in Jackson, Ga., Thursday, March 31, 2016. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Despite increased support in favor of abolishing the death penalty throughout the world, Amnesty International released its annual report showing last year’s number of executions as the most in the last 25 years. At least 1,634 people were executed in 2015, the number being a rough estimation because of China’s proclivity to doctor facts and figures released to the public. The most executions took place in China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

For the seventh consecutive year, the United States is the only country in the Americas to carry out executions — 28 in 2015, to be exact. Texas, Missouri, Georgia and Florida are responsible for all but two executions last year, according to The New York Times. In our country, 18 states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty while 12 others have not exercised the law for years.

There is also a global trend to disavowing the death penalty. More than half of the world – 102 countries – abolished the death penalty, and 38 others have refrained from use of the penalty for a decade. The United States, unfortunately, is not one amongst that number. Rather, the U.S. is listed along countries whose oppressive regimes allow the use of the death penalty for crimes such as adultery, blasphemy, corruption, kidnapping and dissension.

The death penalty contains many flaws, from economic to biological to social. In an economic sense, the death penalty is an expensive process for the federal government. It encompasses the costliest parts of our judicial system, the lengthy and complicated trial process that also involves experts, attorneys, pre-trial times and one trial just to determine guilt and another to determine punishment. After that comes a series of appeals while inmates are held in high security prisons funded by the tax dollars of our citizens.

From a biological standpoint, there have been multiple issues regarding cases that wrongfully sentence the innocent to death. The Innocence Project was started to identify the true perpetrators of cases and exonerate those who had been wrong accused and sentenced. The Innocence Project was involved in 177 of 337 DNA exonerations due to the project, and many more since the project proved to be wildly successful, according to The Innocence Project’s website. Since 2000, there have been 263 exonerations. Since the reinstatement of the modern each penalty, 87 death row inmates have been later proven to be innocent, thus creating an error rate of one for every seven people executed, according to the dissenting opinion of Supreme Court Justice Brennan in Gregg v. Georgia.

From a social standpoint, there are issues that arise due to classism and racism. There is an overwhelming disparity between the population of African Americans in the U.S. and the percentage of death row inmates who are African Americans. However, the problem goes beyond the numbers and affects due process. If the jury is racially motivated to convict despite evidence to the contrary, the defendant is at a disadvantage despite any evidence to his advantage. In issues of classism, the quality of the lawyer one received would greatly influence the outcome of the trial as well. Those with disposable incomes can often afford lawyers who can make a case to prevent the death penalty. Those of low socioeconomic status often struggle to obtain a lawyer who can competently acquit them.

Also, the requirement for physicians to participate in executions violates their oath to protect lives. The guidelines of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics addresses physician participation in executions involving lethal injection. Ethically, one is clearly prohibited from selecting injection sites, starting intravenous lines, prescribing, administering or supervising the use of lethal drugs, monitoring vital signs, onsite or remotely and declaring death. Physician-assisted suicide, a controversial practice to help promote death in a terminally ill patient who so wishes to die rather than be kept alive by extreme measures, embodies the grey area of medicine. Meanwhile, the federal government chooses to ignore the code of ethics taken amongst doctors for their own benefit of capital punishment. 

As Albert Camus so eloquently put, “But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared?”


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.