American Judicial System: The Death Penalty

1702 words - 7 pages

The death penalty has been part of the American judicial system since the country’s founding [1]. Most people see the death penalty as the fairest way to punish those who have killed, because, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “the instinct for retribution is part of the nature of man.” I do agree that the deliverance of justice is an important factor in any public policy. However, it is also important to consider the more pragmatic aspects, like the cost to the state. It is possible that the financial cost could be outweighed by the societal benefit. However, upon researching the death penalty, one would discover that the cost of capital punishment is unreasonably high, particularly in the state of California, especially when we consider how rarely the death sentence is actually implemented. In times like these, times of economic turmoil and scarce financial resources, the state cannot afford a system that is so expensive and also so rarely utilized. I believe that, in the state of California, the death penalty is overly expensive and so rarely implemented that it should be abolished.
The most expensive part of the capital punishment process is the initial trials and pre-trials [2]. During this phase, the person accused of murder is determined either guilty or innocent. It is also during this phase that they choose whether or not to sentence said person to death. According to statistics from the Death Penalty Information Center, capital trials (cases with the possibility of the death penalty) cost approximately one million dollars more than a non-capital case. To put it another way, the amount of money needed to sentence someone to death could pay for 8 years of school at Harvard University. The attribute cost is attributed to a few unique components of capital cases, which we will examine in the following paragraphs.
One of the major contributing factors to the cost of death penalty trials is the larger legal team. Because of the severity of both the crime and the punishment, both sides of the case are required by the American Bar Association to have two attorneys instead of one [3]. They are also required to have a private investigator, and a mitigation specialist (someone who looks for reasons that someone facing death row may not deserve it). Because most people facing the death penalty are extremely poor, they are commonly represented by the Public Defender, a service that is paid solely through taxpayer money [4].
Another unique aspect of capital punishment trials can be found in its specific jury selection requirements. The court goes on an arduous search for a “death-qualified” jury, meaning a jury that has no strong opinion on for or against the death penalty and would thus be unbiased [5]. In a capital case, the jury not only determines if the accused is guilty, but they also decide whether or not he is to be sentenced to death. According to the Connecticut Post, the search for a death-qualified jury...

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