This article is in response to Patrick Hauf’s article “4 Reasons Conservatives Oppose the Death Penalty.” I encourage one to take a look at this well-written article on Lone Conservative before or after reading my counter article. Hauf’s article lists 4 main reasons as to why conservatives are shying away from the death penalty. At the end of his article he asks pro-death penalty supporters to reflect and reconsider their stance. Here, I will explain 5 reasons why the death penalty is supported by the majority of conservatives and why Mr. Hauf’s beliefs are wrong for Republicans.
One must first consider the consequences of unilaterally eradicating the death penalty. There are several incentives that would be created if capital punishment were outlawed. The first is the go big or go home effect. Outlawing the death penalty would mean criminals originally facing it would receive life in prison instead. Because of this, if a person was going to commit a heinous crime, there would be an incentive to go overboard and all out. For example, if one was going to kidnap a child, there would be an incentive to kill any witnesses, since they would likely receive life in prison either way. Also, there would be no incentive for criminals to plead guilty. In death penalty trials, it is often the case that the defendant will plead guilty in order to avoid getting sentenced to death, and take life in prison instead. Without the death penalty, criminals are encouraged to see their trials all the way through. This will lead to more mistrials, hardened criminals going free on technicalities, and ultimately lower conviction rates of felons. An opponent of the death penalty could argue that shorter sentences could be used to incentivize a criminal to plead guilty, but as a society, we do not want murderers roaming our streets due to short sentences.
Protecting Police Officers and Prisoners
The death penalty is an important incentive that protects our police force and even those who are in prison. As previously mentioned, criminals will have an incentive to “go big” when committing a crime. Going big would also include targeting and fighting police officers during an arrest. If someone is facing a sentence that would most likely outlive them (40 year sentence for a 50 year old) there is an incentive to evade, attack, and even murder police officers when they try and arrest him or her. The death penalty provides an incentive for criminals to cooperate with police officers.
Many murders in prison go unpunished. If someone is facing the maximum penalty of life in prison, there are no consequences for murdering other inmates. Prisoners may murder for respect, out of anger, or even out of boredom. Without capital punishment, we are not properly protecting those within the walls of prison.
Eradicating the death penalty because a tiny percentage of executions have not gone properly is ridiculous. Should the U.S. not imprison criminals because some escape? Is it not cruel to re-imprison someone after they have gotten a taste of freedom? Point being, punishments should not be eradicated because they are not 100% effective.
Dismantling the Claim that a state does not have the right to take someone’s life
To quote Hauf, “Conservatives understand that government is imperfect and that above all, one has the right to their own life.” There are a couple of things wrong with this statement. First and foremost, it is misleading. A criminal’s guilt is decided by one’s peers, not by an ominous government. Secondly, if the government does not have the right to take a person’s life, then the government also cannot go to war or conduct drone strikes.
It is worth noting that the Supreme Court, in the case of Gregg vs. Georgia (1976), decided that the death penalty was constitutional and that the state did in fact have the “right” take a criminal’s life.
Lastly there is an obvious moral aspect to the death penalty. Many conservatives believe that criminals who are child rapists and murderers, torturers, serial killers, etc., should be put to death because they do not deserve to live another day on this planet.
In addition, capital punishment is an obvious deterrent to violent crime. Deterring and preventing rational crime can be shown on a graph. It is a simple and intuitive concept; deterrence is determined by two factors: the probability of one getting caught and the severity of the punishment. Let’s say that there is an optimal level of crime. Let’s pretend that the optimal level is 800 murders a year. The more severe a punishment is, the less successful the justice department has to be in convicting murderers in order to reach that optimal level of crime. If the U.S. were to get rid of the death penalty completely, in order to keep murder rates the same, the conviction rate must drastically go up. If this is possible, it will be very expensive.
I am not denying that some conservatives are moving away from supporting the death penalty, but there are compelling reasons as to why the vast majority of conservatives are still pro-capital punishment.