The death penalty is wrong because it serves no moral or practical purpose.
1) The death penalty is not an effective deterrent. Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia Law School professor, offers this testimony:
Recent studies claiming that executions reduce murders have fueled the revival of deterrence as a rationale to expand the use of capital punishment. Such strong claims are not unusual in either the social or natural sciences, but like nearly all claims of strong causal effects from any social or legal intervention, the claims of deterrence fall apart under close scrutiny. These new studies are fraught with technical and conceptual errors … These studies fail to reach the demanding standards of social science to make such strong claims, standards such as replication and basic comparisons with other scenarios. Some simple examples and contrasts, including a careful analysis of the experience in New York State compared to others, lead to a rejection of the idea that either death sentences or executions deter murder.
2) The death penalty does not do justice, if justice is understood as upholding and encouraging lawfulness and as improving the moral and civic character of a society as a whole. The death penalty debases a society, encourages the belief in violence as an appropriate tool for solving social problems, and appeals to the perhaps understandable, but abhorrent and indefensible, desire for revenge.
3) The use of the death penalty in the “best” of circumstances is subject to the horrifying risk of executing innocent people and the unconscionable reality of unequal application. And in the “worst” of circumstances? In the hands of unethical and self-serving political leadership, the death penalty is a tool of oppression and outright injustice.
I am saddened — and angry — that Iowa legislators are once more trying to reintroduce the death penalty into the Iowa criminal code after an absence of forty years. They exploit our feelings of anger and horror and helplessness at a very public and heinous act of violence to advance their political agenda, while careful analysis and moral leadership go out the window. Again and again, Iowa’s lawmakers have said “No!” to the reintroduction of the death penalty, even in the face of other terrible acts of violence. I do hope and pray that a comparable commitment to real justice will once more prevail.