Is the Death Penalty Effective or Merely an Empty Threat?

julie marshLast week in Utah, Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed after being sentenced to death nearly 25 years ago.

Twenty-five years -- more than half his life. That's how long he spent on death row, while his case went through appeals and reviews, before his sentence was carried out.

Both for those who support the death penalty and those who don't, Gardner's case is an example of its ineffectiveness. If he'd been sentenced to life without parole or if his sentence had been carried out in a timely manner, the state could have avoided the majority of legal actions and the associated expenses. Likewise, regardless of the outcome, Gardner's fate would have been sealed, and both he and his family and his victims' families could have moved on. Instead, the matter remained unresolved for twenty-five years.


I support the death penalty. I have no personal moral objections to taking the life of someone who took the life of an innocent person. Frankly, I think considering the humanity of a means of execution is a non-issue. Did the murderer consider his victim's comfort?

However, I think it's a travesty that judges and juries are able to sentence defendants to die, yet the state is unable to carry those sentences out in a timely manner. If the death penalty is merely an empty threat, it's no longer a deterrent, nor is it humane.

The Death Penalty Information Center notes that conditions on death row are comparable to solitary confinement and "death-row inmates live in a state of constant uncertainty over when they will be executed. For some death row inmates, this isolation and anxiety results in a sharp deterioration in their mental status." Inmates such as Michael Ross of Connecticut, executed in 2005, have been said to suffer from "death row syndrome," leading to further delays while their mental states are evaluated.

In other words, living on death row makes these inmates want to die, which puts their appeals on hold while their mental states are evaluated before they are executed.

I know mistakes are made during trials. I've seen The Shawshank Redemption. I'm no lawyer, and as such, I expect lawyers to criticize my views, but I think appeals and reviews ought to come before sentencing. Make sure the defendant really did the crime before any decisions are made about the time.

Otherwise, the death penalty is all bark, no bite, and of little use to survivors and defendants alike.


Image via Aimee Giese

Read More >