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.

MYTH #1
The death penalty deters violent crime and makes society safer.

FACT
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.

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MYTH #2
The threat of execution is an effective strategy in preventing terrorist attacks.

FACT
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.

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MYTH #3
The death penalty is fine as long as the majority of the public supports it.

FACT
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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MYTH #4
All people who are executed have been proven guilty of serious crimes.

FACT
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.

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MYTH #5
Relatives of murder victims demand capital punishment.

FACT
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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53 thoughts on “5 Death Penalty Myths Debunked

      • I'm pretty sure Amnesty International and those other organizations are in no way related in some massive conspiracy to perpetuate the growth of atheism. Religious folks are helping that happen all by themselves.

      • How sad… They fight to for human rights while supporting the killing of humans that have yet to have a voice…

      • They support it in the sense that abortion is included in access to quality health care- a basic human right, and a serious women's health issue. Selective abortion related to gender-cide is another issue – I am not sure what the stance is on that but it may be different. The term being pro-abortion is a bit of a misnomer – no one thinks abortion is an amazing, awesome thing. Being pro-access to safe, legal abortion for people who need it is a consideration of health, human rights, and equity.

    • Abortion is considered a sin in some christian sects, not all, and certainly not in Judaism (Israel has the most liberal policies on abortion rights).

    • Absolutely LOVE the question, Chris. By the number of thumbs down to the fact that Amnesty funds and propitiates abortions across the world, it shows how narrow-minded most 'activists' are when it comes to the value of a life. Educate yourself people. You support the killing of innocent children to support a choice and defend the life of a 'criminal' who made a choice to break the law of their country.

      • But not all people who are executed are criminals. There have been cases where innocent people have been executed. That is one of the main reasons I do not support the death penalty. There are other reasons I do not support the death penalty

        • 'But not all who are executed are criminals.'

          Exactly. And that goes for all the unborn human beings who have no rights. No advocate. I was a fetus. So were you. We managed to get out of the womb alive and learn to use a keyboard. Not the case for millions. Amnesty? Not for them. A woman's body? Sure. It's hers. But the unborn human being within her, has a body of their own and no rights. No protection. On a whim. Suction please. It is a travesty.

          • A whim? You think it's a whim? For anyone? You sad, sad little person. You have the moral sophistication of a slug. What about victims of incest? Or women who already struggle to feed the children they have? Or women whose lives are at risk from a pregnancy and need to be there for their existing kids.No woman aborts on a whim you idiot.

  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.

    • What would you suggest then? Life imprisonment is not much better seeing as it's a drain on resources that won't be repaid to society and that the felon is stuck there for the rest of their life. Despite what many believe, not everyone can be reformed (or even want to) enough to be reintroduced to society. Granted, there are also those that change and become fantastic members of society.

  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!

    • Do you acknowledge that innocents can be sentenced to prison by mistake? If so, can you acknowledge that innocents can also be executed and are you willing to accept that?

      • when i was a child i learned of the death penalty. then, even more so now, i never understood, we don't like/approve of what you did..so…i'm going to do it to you.

    • But, young friend, when we take this attitude toward justice we associate ourselves with the most awful people in history. (Here are your exact words: "When people break the law, they give up their rights. Period!" Your statement is clear and unequivocal.) Did you know that 19th century slaves who ran away from their owners in Georgia were routinely hanged FOR BREAKING THE LAW? Did you know that the German Nazis of the early 20th century killed thousands for BREAKING THE LAW forbidding the hiding of Jews? But usually, of course, people who make the kind of comments you made are not at all ashamed of being Nazi or slaver, but angry that their vengeance has its discontents… angry that some bastard liberal has revealed an unsettling, unflattering truth. Today you're with the Klan and the communists and the Islamic countries that torture and kill women for accusations of adultery. (Those hanged women BROKE THE LAW. PERIOD.)

      • I think that capital punishment should be reserved for the most horrific crimes that are proven without any doubt. Murder, rape, especially of a child, and similar circumstances. Breaking the law doesn't necessarily warrant the death penalty, but if a person has proven that they have no remorse for murdering someone and are not willing to be a productive member of society, why should we let them roam free to terrorize our children? Why should the state and its people support the care of a self-proclaimed murderer? What about abortion? Does everyone here agree that abortion is wrong? I find that most people who are against the death penalty and punishing people for the choices they make are generally for aborting children who haven't yet had the opportunity to make any choice, let alone a bad one.

  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.

    • No. They deserve to live the remainder of their lives in jail – that is the correct punishment. Let them live with the consequences of their actions.

    • Do you honestly believe that these people are always proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? Why even risk sentencing innocents to death? The death penalty is final, there's no posthumous exoneration. Are we so zealous to carry out our barbarous method of retributive justice that we would risk such human rights atrocities? Especially when there is the perfectly viable alternative of life in prison.

      • Then why sentence anyone to anything? Your argument is illogical. "Sometimes there are errors in convictions, so we should never convict anyone." While there are errors, there are times when there is no doubt of the criminal's guilt. Life in prison is not entirely a "viable alternative", we have only so much space and so much money to spend on prisoners. Some people do need to be put to death, sorry as it is to say.

  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…

    • We need more statistics than "oh yeah, the death penalty was abolished so the crime rate went down." Real scientists and statisticians would not accept such an argument without first examining what else might have influenced the rate of crime during that time.

  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 ?

    • You are confusing punishment with rehabilitation. Those are two separate things entirely.

      • You can't rehabilitate someone who does not want to be rehabilitated and would commit murder/rape etc. again if given the opportunity. Change comes from within, and by choice, and also through prayer. Many of the criminals on death row fall into that category. Make an attempt at rehabilitation, persuade them if you can, but in the end not everyone will be persuaded and those who choose not to change cannot be allowed free, nor can they take up space and resources in our prisons.

  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.

    • I agree with you. If you know for certain that this person is guilty (and also unrepentant etc.) then get rid of them. If they are not willing to be rehabilitated and do not feel remorse (especially in cases of substance-induced behaviors) then we have done all we can for them.

  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.

    • Murder and Killing are two different things. One is the premeditated killing of someone who is innocent of a crime, another is either done in war or as punishment for serious crimes. Ironically, people who are against the death penalty are also for abortion…