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Is the Death Penalty Ever Justified?

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Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, China, Sudan.

No, this is not a list of countries with records of human rights abuses; nor is it a list of countries with ruthless dictators; nor is it a list of countries the United States has condemned at some point within the past few months.

Actually, it's an incomplete list. Add the U.S., and you are one step closer to completing a list of countries that kill their own people.

Every country mentioned currently allows its citizens to be sentenced to death. Only China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia execute more people than the U.S. does, and they are all on a list of only 20 nations who performed executions in 2009.

But, to be fair, executions are handed out with a somewhat honorable intention: to deter, and ultimately reduce, crime. It is reasonable, then, to question whether or not that works.

2012-05-17-ExecutionsVsCrimes.png

Indeed, the numbers do not add up. There is no evidence suggesting that increasing executions leads to a reduction in crime. In fact, as executions increased in the late '80s, the number of crime rose along with them. Similarly, both the number of crimes and the number of executions have fallen in the past decade. If anything, the evidence concludes that increasing executions might actually correlate with higher crime.

Regardless, the only thing being accomplished by the death penalty is death itself. A country that brutally murders its citizens seems as far from developed or democratic as it can possibly be. If the United States is the beacon of freedom and justice that it claims to be, it would abolish the death penalty tomorrow.

Not to mention the unintended consequences that come with any policy, and are not easy to undo when it comes to the death penalty. A recent New York Times editorial tells the tale of Carlos DeLuna, an alleged murderer executed by the state of Texas in 1989. According to studies involving the case, DeLuna was likely innocent. It would be foolish to believe that DeLuna's case is isolated.

At the very least, our system needs to start holding people accountable. The prosecutors in DeLuna's case reportedly withheld crucial exculpatory evidence that led to his conviction and ultimate death -- an unfortunate tactic that is widespread and goes unpunished. Prosecutors who act in such a way are, unquestionably, more guilty of murder than the innocent people they target.

Last August, Governor Rick Perry of Texas lambasted the Syrian government for threatening the safety of its own people. The next month, he received a roaring ovation after bragging about his authorization of 234 executions, the most in history.

Well, Mr. Perry, what's the difference?