After I wrote my post on the death penalty, I was briskly reminded that I’d left out one of the more major arguments for the death penalty: its function as a deterrent.
There are a few problems with this argument. When someone commits a crime, they are not thinking that they’ll get caught. They’re thinking that they’re going to get away with the crime. This is very much a part of human nature. “Bad things don’t happen to ME, they happen to everyone else.” If they thought they would be caught, they would not commit the crime at all. Their consideration of the consequences goes as far as to plan on how to clean up the mess or keep their crime hidden completely to avoid punishment entirely.
Whether the ultimate punishment is death or life in prison, the criminal will do whatever he can to avoid being put in that position at all.
Further, one of the key indicators of someone who has Antisocial Personality Disorder (a mental illness that most, if not all, serial killers and rapists most assuredly have) is poor impulse control. It does not matter what the consequences of their actions could potentially be, they will still commit that crime. The only thing affected by the consequences is how they commit their crime. Knowing the risk they’re taking (arrest, trial, prison), they will work to avoid capture by covering up what they did after the fact.
Which leads to a key result of the death penalty: if the criminal is aware that he or she will die if caught and convicted, he or she is aware that they have nothing to lose. They will fight that much harder to avoid capture, work that much harder to avoid being executed. If someone is cornered and if they have nothing to lose by resisting arrest, then they will, violently if need be.
The death penalty, once again looking at it as pragmatically as possible, is not a good answer to this pervasive problem.