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by The Government Department of European WA Office. . 101 reads.

WA Office | Military Death Penalty Ban


The death penalty is ineffective. It has high costs with no measurable deterrent effects. A review of annual state panel data from 1977–2006 found 'no empirical support for the argument that the existence or application of the death penalty deters prospective offenders from committing homicide'. Tomislav Kovandzic et al, 'Does the death penalty save lives?' (2009) 8 Criminol and Pub Pol'y 803. Using an indirect approach to avoid the question of whether execution rate is specifically appropriate also finds no effect. Choe Jongmook, 'Another look at the deterrent effect of death penalty' (2010) J Adv Rsch in L & Econ 12. Reviews of recent literature ‘on whether there is a deterrent effect of the death penalty [are] inconclusive as a whole’. Aaron Chalfin et al, ‘What do panel studies tell us about a deterrent effect of capital punishment?’ (2013) 29 J Quant Criminol 5. While there is evidence that crime responds to better enforcement, increasing penalties does little. Aaron Chalfin and Justin McCrary, ‘Criminal Deterrence: A Review of the Literature’ (2017) 55 J Econ Lit 5.

Studies showing that there is a deterrent effect generally ‘are extremely fragile and even small changes in [methods] yield dramatically different results’. John Donohue III and Justin Wolfers, ‘Uses and abuses of empirical evidence in the death penalty debate’ (2006) NBER working paper 11982. Some classes of models, specifically, two-stage least squares regressions, show an effect, but they are 'unconvincing because they all use a problematic structure based on poorly measured and theoretically inappropriate pseudo-probabilities... and because their instruments are of dubious validity'. John Donohue III and Justin Wolfers, 'Estimating the impact of the death penalty on murder' (2009) 11 Am L and Econ Rev 249. Even the few studies which showed a deterrent effect only did so under limited circumstances. Paul Zimmerman, 'Estimates of the Deterrent Effect of Alternative Execution Methods in the United States: 1978–2000' (2006) 65 Am J Econ & Soc 909 (finding no effect for any execution method on murder rates, except that of electrocution).

Similarly, death penalty moratoriums have no impact on the level of homicides. Achim Ahrens et al, 'Do execution moratoriums increase homicide? Re-examining evidence from Illinois' (2015) 47 Appl Econ 3243. Even generally related to the deterrent effect of severity in general, 'evidence in support of the deterrent effect of the certainty of punishment is far more consistent than that for the severity of punishment' and that 'certainty of apprehension, not the severity of the ensuing legal consequence, is the more effective deterrent'. Daniel S Nagin, 'Deterrence in the twenty-first century' (2013) 42 Crime and justice 199. Reviews upon reviews have found this. Support this is California's Prop 8, which 'enhanced sentences for the most serious felony offences', while yielding 'little evidence of a deterrent effect'. Steven Raphael, 'The deterrent effects of California's proposition 8: weighing the evidence' (2006) 5 Criminol and Pub Pol'y 471, 472; ibid 476; see also CM Webster et al, 'Proposition 8 and crime rates in California: the case of the disappearing deterrent' (2006) 5 Criminol and Pub Pol'y 417 (finding no deterrent effect). Generally, 'while there is considerable evidence that crime is responsive to police and to the existence of attractive legitimate labor-market opportunities, there is far less evidence that crime responds to the severity of criminal sanctions'. Aaron Chalfin and Justin McCrary (2017) supra. And 'evidence in support of the deterrent effect of various measures of the certainty of punishment is far more convincing and consistent than for the severity of punishment'. Daniel S Nagin, 'Deterrent effects of punishment' in Deterrence, Choice, and Crime: contemporary perspectives (2018) 158.

If the death penalty – or increased severity of punishment in general – could serve as a powerful deterrent and contributing factor to law and order, hopefully this effect might be measurable. Insofar as it is not, we are left with the questions of costs and fairness. On costs, it is clear: 'the death penalty has grown to be much more expensive than life imprisonment'. Torin McFarland, 'The death penalty vs life incarceration: a financial analysis' (2016) 7 Susquehanna Univ Pol Rev 4. On fairness, it also is clear. In the United States, the only developed country with a non-homogeneous demographic profile which retains the death penalty, ‘racial disparities [in the death penalty] ha[ve] been evident since colonial times’. Carol Steiker and Jordan Steiker, ‘The American death penalty and the (in)visibility of race’ (2015) 82 U Chic L Rev 243, 243. Even courts have come to this conclusion: 'if any basis can be discerned for the selection of these few to be sentenced to death, it is the constitutionally impermissible basis of race'. Furman v Georgia (1972) 408 US 238, 310 (White J, concurring). Similarly, support for the death penalty itself also is coloured by racial animus. James Unnever and Francis Cullen, ‘White perceptions of whether African Americans and Hispanics are prone to violence and support for the death penalty’ (2012) 49 J Rsch Crime & Dependency 519.

Supporters of the death penalty do little more than demand we keep faith that it deters ephemerally, immeasurably, expensively, and unfairly. The WA Office does not view blind faith as sufficient. We support abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances. This resolution would complete that journey. We heartily recommend a vote in favour of 'Military Death Penalty Ban'.

Primary author(s): Imperium Anglorum.


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