Homicides resulting from drug usage are at an all time high. There is almost universal agreement that the drug problem has infected our society in an unprecedented fashion. With the escalating illegal drug industry making the headlines daily, public concern for the rights of innocent victims and law enforcement personnel has intensified. The simple Trump argument is that the death penalty works because the death penalty protects society from the one put to death because that individual will never commit another crime. Cf., Terrebonne v. Butler, 820 F.2d 156, 157-158 (5th Cir. 1988) (drug dealers are blights on life which like vampires.).
However, “[c]riminologically, the existence and use of the death penalty may not even create the deterrent effect on potential offenders that lawmakers hoped when enacting such laws." Roeder, L. Eisen, and J. Bowling, "What Caused the Crime Decline?," Brennan Center for Justice, February 12, 2015. The authors noted criminals do not consider the consequences of their actions, particularly when the consequence is rarely applied, as in the case of the death penalty. "Much psychological and sociological research suggests that many criminal acts are crimes of passion or committed in a heated moment based only on immediate circumstances, and thus potential offenders may not consider or weigh longer-term possibilities of punishment and capture, including the possibility of capital punishment." They concluded, "In line with the past research, the Brennan Center’s empirical analysis finds that there is no evidence that executions had an effect on crime in the 1990s or 2000s." Ultimately, they attributed drop in crime to various social changes and policing tactics, with increased incarceration having no effect in the 2000s and only minimal effect on property crime in the 1990s.
But studies have demonstrated that homicide rates do not vary greatly between states that have a death penalty and those that do not. In addition, the homicide rates do not vary before and after the imposition of capital legislation in any given jurisdiction. For a review of the literature on deterrence, see FRANKLIN E. ZIMRING & GORDON HAWKINS, CAPITAL PUNISHMENT AND THE AMERICAN AGENDA 167-186 (1986).
In fact, states without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates
There are studies which suggest that there is a deterrent effect on homicides due to the death penalty. However, based on a review of more than three decades of research, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that studies claiming a deterrent effect on murder rates from the death penalty are fundamentally flawed. The report concluded: “The committee concludes that research to date on the effect of capital punishment on homicide is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates. Therefore, the committee recommends that these studies not be used to inform deliberations requiring judgments about the effect of the death penalty on homicide. Consequently, claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the homicide rate by a specified amount or has no effect on the homicide rate should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment." (emphasis added). Criminologist Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon, who chaired the panel of experts, said, “We recognize this conclusion will be controversial to some, but nobody is well served by unfounded claims about the death penalty. Nothing is known about how potential murderers actually perceive their risk of punishment." The report found three fundamental flaws with existing studies on deterrence:
- The studies do not factor in the effects of noncapital punishments that may also be imposed.
- The studies use incomplete or implausible models of potential murderers’ perceptions of and response to the use of capital punishment.
- Estimates of the effect of capital punishment are based on statistical models that make assumptions that are not credible.