Rodney Reed was sentenced to death in 1996 after being convicted of rape and murder. The State of Texas was initially scheduled to execute him on Nov. 20. However, the Texas Court of Appeals has decided to stay the execution indefinitely.
Reed’s attorneys claim the prosecution did not disclose evidence that could have exonerated the defendant. Thus, the state may have been days away from killing an innocent man. The more significant issue that Reed’s case presents is whether we should continue using capital punishment. All 29 states that still use the death penalty use lethal injection as the primary method for execution, so that policy will be the primary focus for this article. So, let’s evaluate the death penalty by analyzing its effectiveness, sustainability and ethics.
We can all agree that whatever method the state uses to execute prisoners should do its job and kill those subjected to the procedure. Unfortunately, Doyle Lee Hamm’s botched execution in Alabama indicates that lethal injection does not always successfully take prisoners’ lives. Hamm’s legs and groin were prodded with needles as IV technicians failed to find a vein. After two-and-a-half hours, officials called off the execution.
Lethal injection proponents will argue that Hamm’s case is an outlier, but this claim is false. According to Austin Sarat, a professor of jurisprudence at Amherst University, executioners botched seven percent of lethal injections in the United States between 1890 and 2010, the highest rate relative to other forms of execution. While the majority of cases are successful, our current system is still inefficient and leads to unnecessary suffering.
Opponents will likely and correctly point out that inefficiency is no reason to abolish capital punishment. Sure, reform would be possible if lethal injection was sustainable, but it is not. For instance, Texas has 23 drug doses for lethal injections, all of which are set to expire by May 6, 2020. The state has had to extend the drugs’ expiration dates, increasing the likelihood for botched executions. Drug companies no longer mix the deadly concoction, meaning that once states deplete their stocks, they could be gone for good.
Also, pursuing the death penalty is substantially more expensive than a life sentence. A Kansas legislative audit revealed death penalty cases were approximately 70 percent more expensive. Capital punishment cases cost $1.26 mllion on average through execution compared to non-death penalty cases, which were $740,000 on average until incarceration ended. The lethal injection is susceptible to error, unsustainable and costs over a billion dollars per prisoner. Therefore, the states ought to abolish the death penalty on pragmatic grounds alone.
One may argue that we should use other execution methods. However, there’s an ethical reason to end capital punishment. A 2014 death row study found that up to four percent of inmates sentenced to death since 1970 are innocent. Of course, it is unjust that the criminal justice system convicts and punishes people for crimes they didn’t commit. However, at least abolishing the death penalty gives them the chance to prove their innocence eventually. Perhaps arguing that innocent people do not deserve to die is a controversial position. However, as long as capital punishment is on the books, the undeserving may be executed. And of course, if we were to abolish lethal injection, we would have to resort to more primitive methods like the electric chair.
Rodney Reed is lucky – he is getting a chance to prove his innocence and attain freedom instead of death. Had the Texas Court of Appeals refused to stay his execution, the state may very well have killed an innocent man. To review the facts, lethal injection has the highest error rate of all execution methods. It also has a dwindling supply, is almost twice as expensive as incarceration and has the potential to end innocent lives. The only thing we need to kill is the death penalty, so people like Reed can have hope for freedom.