The Boston Bombing trial has finally begun, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty for Dzohkar Tsarnaev, the man who helped his older brother detonate bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013.
While Tsarnaev had pled "not guilty" to all 30 counts levied against him, the facts are indisputable: Tsarnaev and his brother killed three people and gruesomely injured 264. At this point the trial isn't about determining if Tsarnaev is guilty or not "” even his defense attorney bluntly told the jury "It was him" in her opening statements "” but is centered around whether or not he should be federally sentenced to death.
Tsarnaev is a lot of things: a killer, a domestic terrorist, a cold-hearted man with radical ideals, a monster. On the flip-side, there are a lot of things he's not: compassionate, accepting of his guilt, and in my perhaps unpopular opinion, deserving of the death penalty.
A woman's bloodied feet hang out of an ambulance after the Boston Bombings shook the Boston Marathon. Jim Rogash / Getty Images
I've been a long-time opponent of the death penalty, due to a mix of moral and political reasons, but I'm not going to waste your time with "Death penalty is murder" arguments. I'll never change your mind by preaching what I believe is "right" and what's "wrong." Those arguments are subjective, and all they'll do is cause a comment war. But financial and racial facts about the death penalty just might stir up an important conversation.
The United States is one of five countries that are responsible for the majority of executions in the world, according to a 2012 report published by Amnesty International. The other countries include China, North Korea, Iran, and Yemen, putting us on par with governments that commit egregious human rights violations ever year.
But most other nations must also execute criminal offenders, right? Actually, no. The same Amnesty report noted that "over two-thirds of the countries in the world "” 141 "” have abolished the death penalty in law or practice." Perhaps this is because of how incredibly expensive the process really is.
The LA Times reported that California taxpayers alone "have spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment" since 1978 when it was reinstated. To break that down, taxpayers have paid "about $308 million for each of the 13 executions carried out since then," or around $184 million a year.
The Kansas Judicial Council found that death penalty cases "cost about four times as much as defending a case where the death penalty is not considered," and Donald McCartin, who has overseen nine executions, told Forbes that "it's 10 times more expensive" to kill someone rather than incarcerate them for life. Even Fox News has reported that "a death penalty trial costs $1 million more than one in which prosecutors seek life without parole."
Proponents of the death penalty will argue that the drugs themselves aren't very expensive in an attempt to discredit the facts. While pharmaceutical companies haven't released just how much the drugs used for lethal injection cost, many estimate the state pays about $100 per execution. What the drugs lack in price is more than made up for by the cost of the trials surrounding the death penalty sentence.
Amnesty reports that the majority of the costs in a death penalty case "occur prior to and during trial, not in post-conviction proceedings," and that "even if all post-proceedings (appeals) were abolished, the death penalty would still be more expensive than alternative sentences." Each case requires finding a jury that hasn't already made a strong decision about the case, which proved to be excruciatingly difficult for Tsarnaev's trial. CNN reports that officials spent a couple of months interviewing 256 people for juror positions in the trial. While we may not think that's a long time for such an important case, the fact that they used "over 22 court days" just to conduct interviews means they spent a lot of money and used a lot of resources.
Death Penalty Information Center
Of course, this case is especially intense due to how public the crime was and how many people were immediately affected. Not all trials face the same juror selection hurdles, and they don't all get the same level of media attention. But, when you consider that 1,402 people have been executed in the U.S. since 1976, you can imagine just how much taxpayer money has been spent over the course of nearly 50 years on killing criminals.
Proponents of the death penalty argue that its societal benefits outweigh the costs. In an opinion piece for EthikaPolitika, Aaron Taylor wrote that by abolishing the death penalty, we'd essentially be telling people that they can kill others and still live a long life, thus increasing the rate of horrible crimes.
"The only way to prevent the incentivization [sic] of murder is, therefore, to lower the sentences for a range of other crimes," Taylor wrote. "But these lower sentences simply make those lesser crimes to be committed, and so on. Abolition has a cascade effect down through the criminal justice system that potentially places public welfare at risk ... To fail to execute offenders where it would genuinely protect the commonwealth would be a dereliction of duty on the part of the state."
Death Penalty Information Center
What Taylor failed to address is that there is no hard data to suggest that the death penalty actually deters crime. In fact, Amnesty International reports that "FBI data shows that the 14 states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicide rates at or below the national rate." This data paired with the fact that violent crime rates are decreasing across the nation seems to poke a big hole in Taylor's argument.
Of course it's important to talk about preventative measures, but the facts aren't adding up. As of October 1, 2014, 3,035 inmates are currently sitting on death row. That means over 3,000 people weren't deterred by the threat of the death penalty and that taxpayers were forced to pay for over 3,000 trials. Is this truly how we want to deal with criminal justice? By punishing American citizens in order to fund trials for criminals on death row?
Obviously taxpayers are paying for incarceration, but the cost isn't comparable. The Federal Register published a notice from the Prisons Bureau in 2014 that stated "the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in Fiscal Year 2013 was $29,291.25 ($20.25 per day)" while "the average annual cost to confine an inmate in a Residential Re-entry Center for Fiscal Year 2013 was $26,612.15 ($72.91 per day)."
There's no argument that incarceration is expensive, and prison reform is a separate issue that deserves its own conversation. However, the cost of the average incarceration is still significantly cheaper than the incarceration of death row inmates.
Tsarnaev's crimes are inexcusable, and I wholeheartedly believe he should be out of society and behind bars for the remainder of his life. But to use taxpayer money on murdering a murderer? That's something I will never be able to support.
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