5 Death Penalty Myths Debunked

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In advance of the release of our 2014 Global Death Penalty Report tomorrow, here are 5 of the most common misconceptions about the death penalty.

The death penalty deters violent crime and makes society safer.

There is no convincing evidence that the death penalty has a unique deterrent effect.

More than three decades after abolishing the death penalty, Canada’s murder rate remains over one third lower than it was in 1976.

A 35-year study compared murder rates between Hong Kong, where there is no death penalty, and Singapore, which has a similar size population and executed regularly. The death penalty had little impact on crime rates.


The threat of execution is an effective strategy in preventing terrorist attacks.

The prospect of execution is unlikely to act as a deterrent to people prepared to kill and injure for the sake of a political or other ideology.

Indeed, some officials responsible for counter-terrorism have repeatedly pointed out that those who are executed can be perceived as martyrs whose memory becomes a rallying point for their ideology or organizations.

Armed opposition groups have also pointed to the use of the death penalty as a justification for reprisals, thereby continuing the cycle of violence.

option 2

The death penalty is fine as long as the majority of the public supports it.

History is littered with human rights violations that were supported by the majority, but which were subsequently looked upon with horror.

Slavery, racial segregation and lynching all had support in the societies where they occurred but constituted gross violations of the people’s human rights. Ultimately, the duty of governments is to protect the rights of all individuals, even though sometimes, this means acting against the views of the majority.

Moreover, public opinion often changes depending on political leadership and when objective information on the death penalty is provided to the public.

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All people who are executed have been proven guilty of serious crimes.

Around the world, hundreds of prisoners are executed after grossly unfair trials. This can include the use of “confessions” extracted under torture, the denial of access to lawyers and inadequate legal representation.

The countries that execute the most are also the ones where serious concerns exist about the fairness of the justice system, such as in China, Iran and Iraq.

The 144 exoneration of death row prisoners recorded in the USA since 1973 show that, regardless of how many legal safeguards are in place, no justice system is free from error. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.

option 1

Relatives of murder victims demand capital punishment.

The worldwide anti-death penalty movement includes many who have lost their loved ones to, or have themselves been victims of, violent crime, but for ethical or religious reasons do not want the death penalty imposed “in their name.” In the USA, organizations such as “Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights” are driving the movement to abolish the death penalty, for example, in New Hampshire.

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57 thoughts on “5 Death Penalty Myths Debunked

  1. I agree that the death penalty is abhorrent. Even in a perfect world,where you could be 100% certain that a person is guilty, it would still be wrong. It is still judicial murder. As it is, we live in a very far from perfect world, there are genuine mistakes, convictions for political reasons, expediency, judgments affected by prejudice such as racism or homophobia, confessions obtained under torture and so on. How can anyone think the death penalty should be allowed to continue under these circumstances? People can be, and are, executed also for some things which we in the UK wouldn't even consider a crime- like adultery. The death penalty must be banned across the world and until it is we must all keep fighting towards that goal.

  2. runaway slaves account for one third the number executed in the U.S. history of executions.

  3. This JPEG rather feels like Amnesty US, not for the first time, giving the US a back handed compliment

  4. Yes, the death penalty could be constrewed as inhumane. But what some of these convicted murderers have done is not only inhumane, but unimaginable. I have no problem sentencing these people to death. My issue is why do we make them wait for years before we put them out of our misery?
    When people break the law, they give up their rights. Period!

  5. Great article! A few of these points may seem very counter intuitive, such as myth 1. But we just have to go with the scientific way of analysis. Amnesty should put up a detailed comparison of such statistics. That'd convince a lot of people.

  6. Sigh… The 5th one needs to be changed…. it's not a myth, as there most certainly are relatives of murder victims who demand capital punishment… it's true as stated. It's just not the whole truth, in that there are also relatives of murder victims that don't demand the death penalty.

  7. Somalia and other African country might not have actual death penalty in their justice system, but they don't have much of one either, have you guys actually thought of including the genocide of entire villages as death penalty for not converting?

  8. It is true that death penalty is not a deterrent to the crime, but a abuse of human rights. If we want to protect human rights, we need to abolish death penalty which is irrational in the 21st century.

  9. Executed terrorists can not be released for political reasons, only to commit terrorist attacks once again.

  10. Fact!
    The Recidivism Rate of Capitol Punishment is Zero!
    Two Co-Eds are Dead in the State of Florida today because the State of Colorado did not Execute Ted Bundy!

  11. Every voice counts, every action counts, the plan is to focus on Belarus, China, Iran, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the USA. In two of these countries Belarus and Mongolia there is a good chance that focused activism could push the authorities towards major changes to their policies.

    In Saudi Arabia, China, Iran and the USA, progress towards abolition of the death penalty is slower. Yet with intensive campaigning, we can save people on death row from imminent executions and limit death sentences. We can make these governments understand that the global community will not give up.

    There is every reason to be optimistic, when Amnesty International was founded in 1961, only nine countries in the world had abolished the death penalty. At that time, capital punishment was not even considered a human rights issue. Fifty years later, 96 countries have abolished the death penalty, most recently Gabon in 2010. The number of countries carrying out executions has declined.

  12. Say what you want but if someone has intentionally killed another person and it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that he is guilty of the crime, then that killer does not deserve to live PERIOD.

  13. Unfortunately the Death Penalty is still praised by many newspapers for its efficiency. I hope the media catches on to this article and the studies about its long term efficiency and publishes the results. This would hopefully change the thinking of many people about this way of punishing people…

  14. IMHO death penalty has no place in a civilised society and must be abolished asap. I also wrote a blog post on this when India executed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only terrorist caught in connection with the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. You may read that post by clicking the following link. http://www.exponentialage.com/2012/11/should-deat

  15. Excellent point. Mario Centobi pulled an officer's gun and killed him with it during a traffic stop in Moody Alabama in 1996. The day he was executed his final statement was to thank the great state of Alabama for their death penalty law. He was tired of prison.
    Many homicidal people are suicidal so death to them is not a punishment but a reward.
    A recent TV episode on death row exoneration had a prisoner with obvious learning impairment. He had a fact checking attorney who was convinced he had been framed. Toward the end he realized what was about to happen. He asked to call the lawyer. She picked up the phone to hear him whisper ''I think they're trying to kill me''. He didn't know what death row meant. He was framed and set free after decades in prison.

  16. I know some people commit horrendous crimes that sicken and discust us but how another honest law abiding sane human being can perform a task that terminates another human life is beyond my comprehension. I wonder what kind of personality is attracted to this kind of duty demanded by society and I wonder in years to come will they be able to sleep at night confident that all their execution were preformed on guilty subjects. To be about to be executed when you are completely innocent must be the nightmare of all nightmares. In a fit of anger we all feel we could kill someone but when the anger subsides would you still feel you could do it. The execution of minors in any country is and abomination in itself I know my feeling about the perpetrators of the Bulger murder but ask myself what happened these kids during there upbringing that could do such a thing.

  17. In my view prison is there to separate dangerous people from the rest of us not to punish them. Punishment is given in the hope of changing someone's behaviour so what is the point of punishing someone put away for life, to make them wish they were dead ?

  18. I would also add the myth that the death penalty is cheaper than a life sentence – which, in the US at least, is not the case at all.

  19. Criminals do not generally plan to get caught… so how can the death penality logically deter, terrorists see themselves at war, therefore in war you have to be be prepared to die. Therefore it cannot deter.

  20. I'm sorry but I fail to see how it's ok for someone who has caused unimaginable pain and suffering to another human being and their families should have any human rights at all. No death penalty means living in reasonable surroundings, free food, free education and visitation from family… Costing each country a small fortune, Hardly fair for victims to know this after what they have done. I think it should be upheld for the more serious crimes.

  21. The death penalty is not only ineffective, inhumane and uncivilised, it also brutalises the people who have to carry it out. W have no right to ask, couple or even allow anyone to commit murder as part of our "justice" system.