The Fundamental Argument Against the Death Penalty

Senote Keriakes
3 min readMay 5, 2022
Photo by Robert Klank on Unsplash

Arguments regarding the appropriateness of the death penalty as a punishment for the most heinous of crimes tend to centre around themes of morality and justice — as you would expect. Some proponents of the death penalty would argue that for mass murders and crimes against humanity, the only appropriate punishment is death. These arguments tend to follow the ‘eye for an eye’ school of thought in their quest for justice. Others argue that life is sacred and that only a divine being (a god perhaps?) should give or take away life.

These are all valid points that all contribute to a holistic and sound argument regarding the practice of capital punishment, which has been practiced since the dawn of time.

Yet, all of these questions are eclipsed in importance by one single question: as a society, are we comfortable inadvertently sentencing innocent people to death in our quest for justice?

The rate of erroneous conviction of innocent people is a tricky subject for numerous reasons. It has been described previously as being not only unknown, but unknowable as there is no systematic method to determine the accuracy of a criminal conviction; after all, if there were, these errors would not occur in the first place and we would not have anyone being imprisoned unjustly.

However, a surrogate for the rate of wrongful convictions is the rate of exoneration of convicted inmates on death row. A 2014 study published in PNAS reported that the rate of exoneration of death-row inmates currently stands at 4.1% in the US. This does not include those who were executed and were exonerated after their death, or those who were never exonerated as their innocence was never proved.

Recently, the regrettable case of Thomas James and the 1990 Miami murder has resurfaced. Thomas James spent 31 years in prison after being accused of murder following a case of mistaken identity. Witnesses of the murder reported that the perpetrator was called Thomas James or ‘Tommy’ James, and James was arrested as a result. It was after 31 years of persistent efforts to prove his innocence that James was finally exonerated.

Police and law enforcement are under immense pressure to solve crimes and find suspects to seek justice, particularly in high profile violent crimes. Under these conditions, mistakes are bound to be made. The finality of the death penalty inhibits the rectification of unjust sentencing.

In other debates and discussions, cases like those of Thomas James can simply be dismissed as being isolated cases, irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. However, when we are discussing human life, can we ever make such a concession? Can we truly pat ourselves on the back for being ‘hard on crime’ knowing that innocent people will inevitably perish as a result?

Thus, the moral or legal justifications for the death penalty become merely theoretical in nature in the face of the practical implications of living with a flawed legal system worked by flawed individuals.



Senote Keriakes

Notes on philosophy, history and religion. I write to share my point of view and reinforce the concepts that I learn, enjoy:)