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  • One defendant kills a victim in the midst of a robbery and gets the death sentence.

  • Another defendant kills two people in a fit of drunken rage and gets life in prison.

  • Why did one man get death and the other life imprisonment?

  • What is the real difference between the death sentence and life in prison?

  • The death sentence in America gets it start all the way back with the first settlers in

  • the 17th century.

  • Back then hanging was the most popular form of execution, and the event would draw quite

  • a crowd.

  • People would dress in their best fineries to attend an execution, and a condemned criminal

  • might follow suit as well.

  • Of course, the condemned may also choose to dress in rags so that the hangman would be

  • cheated of his prize- the now dead felon's clothing.

  • Following the common ideology of the time, public executions were meant to not just serve

  • justice, but act as a deterrent.

  • In England, where they made execution the default penalty for a shockingly high number

  • of crimes, it wasn't enough to simply hang the condemned.

  • Their bodies would then often be put on display, in an effort to deter other criminals.

  • Today we have the data to prove that tough punishments do nothing to deter crime- even

  • if people don't want to believe it- and crime actually increased during the times England

  • attempted to deter it the most with grisly displays of 'justice'.

  • Here in the United States though there would be no public display of corpses for months

  • on end.

  • Instead, a trial would be held almost immediately after apprehension, so that the memory of

  • the crime in the local community wouldn't fade.

  • Then a gallows would be erected as close to the actual scene of the crime as possible,

  • where throngs of people could gather.

  • A sermon would be delivered, usually followed by a final statement from the condemned.

  • Then, the execution was on and within minutes the condemned was dead.

  • Much unlike their colonial masters, the early Americans actually placed great emphasis on

  • limiting the use of the death penalty.

  • Clemency would be shown in cases of good personal character, youth, or extenuating circumstances

  • surrounding the crime committed.

  • Governors and other local leaders would also often intervene on the behalf of the condemned

  • in the case of overzealous judges or harsh laws.

  • At the same time back in England, children were regularly put to death for the act of

  • stealing food.

  • After the successful revolutionary war, the death penalty was abolished for most of the

  • lesser crimes that English law still assigned it.

  • Most of the new states would choose to exercise the death penalty only for murder, though

  • even back then a budding movement for the complete abolishment of the death penalty

  • was already growing.

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the south the number of crimes the death penalty could be issued

  • for was increased for crimes committed by slaves.

  • The creation of state prisons, or penitentiaries, led to an increased investment in reforming

  • criminals rather than simply attempting to deter crimes by punishment.

  • Penitentiaries were exactly that- places criminals were meant to go and repent of their crimes.

  • They also allowed the authorities to put an end to the public spectacle of executions,

  • instead holding them in private inside the walls of a penitentiary.

  • Entering into the 20th century, the United States was slowly becoming one of the most

  • progressive countries in the world in the use of the death penalty, reserving it for

  • only the most heinous crimes.

  • Often, even then criminals were likely to receive life imprisonment over the death penalty.

  • A strong desire for more humane executions also led to experimenting with the process

  • of taking life.

  • Hangings had been popular for hundreds of years, and were considered very humane- but

  • hangings could, and often did, go terribly wrong.

  • For starters, a proper hanging required the precise calculation of an individual's height

  • and weight- down to the pound.

  • The goal of a good hanging was to have the individual fall through the trap door and

  • have their neck broken by the thick rope, thus bringing nearly instant death.

  • Without precise measurements of height and weight, a hanging would go very wrong.

  • If the rope was too short, the condemned would not build the velocity needed to physically

  • snap their neck.

  • They would be left to dangle and kick helplessly, sometimes for up to ten minutes as they slowly

  • choked to death.

  • If the rope was too long however, the individual might achieve too great a velocity and have

  • their head popped off like a cork.

  • This would be a particularly grisly affair, with the torn-off head flying several feet.

  • This could also happen if the condemned's weight wasn't correctly calculated.

  • In one particularly grisly case, the rope snapped and the condemned fell to the ground-

  • but not before the rope had torn through part of the condemned's throat.

  • Surely modern science could offer a better solution- and that solution came in the form

  • of the electric chair.

  • Delivering thousands of volts directly to the brain, the electric chair promised quick

  • and efficient death.

  • And much like hanging, when it went right it certainly seemed to achieve that aim- though

  • it's doubtful it was a very pleasant way for the condemned to die.

  • When the electric chair went bad though, much like hanging, it went spectacularly bad.

  • The condemned would often catch on fire, flesh would melt from the extreme current and heating.

  • Teeth could even pop right out of the gums like popcorn.. and even after half a minute

  • of voltage the condemned might still be alive.

  • The gas chamber was seen as a humane replacement to the electric chair, until unsurprisingly

  • it too was soon creating horror stories of its own.

  • One prisoner condemned to die by the gas chamber was asked to nod his head if the gas caused

  • pain.

  • For fifteen minutes he nodded his head in the affirmative before finally succumbing.

  • Today lethal injection is the method of choice for executing the death penalty.

  • You're not going to be surprised to hear that this too has serious problems.

  • A lethal injection works in sequence, with one injection serving to knock the condemned

  • unconscious, so that they aren't aware of what's coming next.

  • The second injection paralyzes the lungs so as to stop the condemned from breathing.

  • Finally, the third injection shuts down the heart.

  • On paper, it's a humane and efficient way to end life.

  • In reality, lethal injection is plagued by problems.

  • For starters, the injection is administered by prison guards who have at best, two weeks

  • training.

  • This is because no doctor- who's hyppocratic oath forbids them from causing harm- will

  • accept assignment in executing the death penalty This leaves mostly untrained prison guards

  • to try and find the condemned's veins, correctly insert the IV lines that feed the drugs in,

  • and then administer the drugs in the proper doses and order.

  • Unsurprisingly, investigations into lethal injections find that serious mistakes happen.

  • Most worryingly of all though is the belief by many doctors that the barbiturate meant

  • to knock the condemned unconscious doesn't actually do its job right.

  • Instead, the victim is left in a paralytic state, fully aware of the effect of the other

  • drugs but unable to speak or otherwise signal their extreme distress.

  • Doctors also affirm that the effects of the other drugs are without a doubt, extremely

  • painful and distressing.

  • For better or worse, lethal injection is for the moment, here to stay, as is the death

  • penalty.

  • Once, one of the most progressive countries on earth in the elimination of the death penalty,

  • the United States now comes well in the rear of modern nations- with most European nations

  • having abolished the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment.

  • The real question is why though.

  • For one, life imprisonment is seen as the more moral option in exercising punishment

  • for the most heinous of crimes.

  • The act of killing someone- no matter their crime- is seen as intrinsically making the

  • state no better than the killers it may be trying to punish.

  • Life imprisonment completely avoids this moral pitfall.

  • There's a more practical reason for life imprisonment though.

  • As forensic technologies have increased in capabilities, more and more sentences are

  • being overturned.

  • If a criminal is condemned to die, then there is no chance of redemption once the sentence

  • has been carried out.

  • Life imprisonment meanwhile allows for the possibility of new evidence or forensic techniques

  • to be discovered, and either the freeing of an innocent victim, or a commuting of a much

  • more harsh sentence to something more befitting the new level of guilt.

  • In many countries were the death penalty remains in use, executions can often take years- here

  • in the United States it can even take decades.

  • This isn't just government bureaucracy moving slowly, it is also meant to allow ample time

  • for new evidence to come to light.

  • Lengthy stays on death row are thus seen as a compromise of sorts- though most condemned

  • report that instead it only makes their punishment worse by dragging out the inevitable end they

  • expect to face.

  • But there's also a matter of money.

  • Often proponents of the death penalty will say that they rather see the most monstrous

  • amongst us die instead of living on at the tax payer's expense.

  • At first glance, this makes good sense- however, diving into the data we see that the death

  • penalty is often much more expensive than life imprisonment without the possibility

  • of parole.

  • The cost of a trial alone can be upwards of three times as expensive as a trial where

  • the death penalty was not sought.

  • This is largely because in the US, the defense is allowed many opportunities to appeal the

  • sentencing, seeing as it is a very permanent punishment.

  • The actual trial itself is much longer than a normal trial, due to the exacting amount

  • of evidence that must be gathered by both the prosecution and the defense in order to

  • earn, or beat, the death penalty.

  • Death sentence trials are also granted an automatic appeal at state appellate courts.

  • Once more, because of the severity of the death penalty the US government wants to ensure

  • as fair a trial as possible.

  • Often though, motions for new trials are immediately filed even before getting to this point.

  • Once the death penalty is approved by the state appellate court though, the case goes

  • to the state's supreme court.

  • If it passes the state supreme court, then a federal judge reviews the case one final

  • time.

  • Once on death row, the costs keep on adding up.

  • Running a death row requires additional staff versus a similar-sized segment of the general

  • population.

  • There are also more costs in the observation and oversight of death row inmates, greater

  • maintenance costs, and surprisingly, greater healthcare costs.

  • As most death row inmates will spend around 15 years awaiting their execution, the death

  • row population is on the whole more elderly than general population, which leads to a

  • greater increase in healthcare costs due to age-related illnesses.

  • In one study, a death row inmate cost the US government $1.12 million more than a general

  • population inmate.

  • With approximately 2,500 inmates on death row today, this comes out to $2.8 billion

  • in extra costs to both state and federal governments.

  • So when can you expect the death penalty or life imprisonment?

  • That is a tricky question to answer.

  • Currently all across the US, only crimes resulting in a victim being killed is punishable by

  • death.

  • But each state's legislature can set specific circumstances that make murder eligible for

  • the death penalty.

  • In one state, the murder of a minor may automatically earn you the death penalty, while in a state

  • next door it may be up to the body count- how many victims there were.

  • Then, after a trial, the jury must come to agreement on the application of the death

  • penalty after it fulfills their state's legal requirements.

  • Now go check out Last 60 minutes of being on death row, or click this other video instead!

One defendant kills a victim in the midst of a robbery and gets the death sentence.

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Death Sentence vs Life In Prison - How Do They Actually Compare?

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    Summer posted on 2021/08/15
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