Do death penalties deter murder? New studies rekindle debate
According to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, three to 18 murders are prevented.
The effect is most pronounced, according to some studies, in Texas and other states that execute condemned inmates relatively often and relatively quickly.
The evidence on whether it has a significant deterrent effect seems sufficiently plausible that the moral issue becomes a difficult one," said Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago who has frequently taken liberal positions. "I did shift from being against the death penalty to thinking that if it has a significant deterrent effect it's probably justified."
Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, a law professor at Harvard, wrote in their own Stanford Law Review article that "the recent evidence of a deterrent effect from capital punishment seems impressive, especially in light of its 'apparent power and unanimity,'" quoting a conclusion of a separate overview of the evidence in 2005 by Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford, in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science.
"Capital punishment may well save lives," the two professors continued. "Those who object to capital punishment, and who do so in the name of protecting life, must come to terms with the possibility that the failure to inflict capital punishment will fail to protect life."
And of course there are those who think the death penalty has no effect as a deterrent.
But not everyone agrees that potential murderers know enough or can think clearly enough to make rational calculations. And the chances of being caught, convicted, sentenced to death and executed are in any event quite remote. Only about one in 300 homicides results in an execution.
In most death penalty cases the principle driving force behind the execution is not necessarily the deterrence of future crimes but the right of society to rid itself of a heinous criminal. A recent example would be John Couey. Couey is the predator that kidnapped Jessica Lunsford in the middle of the night. Couey repeatedly raped Jessica and then buried alive this precious little girl. Yes! society demands that John Couey breathes no more and whether or not his execution deters future predators is irrelevant. The family of Jessica will have closure on the day John Couey is put to death and on that day he will no longer be a threat or a burden to society ever again.