The death penalty should be retained because of the benefits it produces. Rehabilitation and protection of society from criminals are of little importance in our actual justice system. We confine many people who do not need rehabilitation and against whom we neeu no protection. The real function of punishment is to deter others from breaking the law. The coercive imposition of external authority must be reinforced by consistent, swift, and severe punishment if people are to follow the law. The reason the death penalty is not a more effective deterrent is that it is not a swift and certain punishment. Instead, it is slow and uncertain. Currently, only 3% of murder convictions are accompanied by a sentence of death, and only a small number of these actually result in executions. Where threatened punishment is so light, or the chances of severe punishment being inflicted are remote, the advantage of violating the law tends to exceed the disadvantage.
Part of the problem results from the fact that capital punishment inevitably involves years of costly appeals. This not only delays justice, but prolongs the anguish for everyone involved. In fact, it renders an otherwise just punishment cruel and unusual. Furthermore, by allowing an unlimited number of appeals we undermine confidence in the criminal justice system. The number of appeals should therefore be limited.
In our effort to protect the rights of criminals, we have ignored the rights of the victims. The courts should give substantial weight to victim impact statements that explain the extent of the suffering experienced by survivors of murder victims. Since the testimony of survivors is likely to bear on the level of punishment inflicted on the offender, other potential killers may be deterred. For instance, would-be criminals might be less willing to take their chances in a survival lottery where the odds of coming out aiive are greatly reduced.
It is true that capital punishment has not been proven to be an effective deterrent against murder and other serious crimes, but neither has it been proven to be ineffective. In the absence of any conclusive evidence one way or the other, it is better to risk injustice by executing the guilty than by failing to prevent the deaths of the innocent.