5 death penalty myths debunked

Amnesty International challenges what you think you know about capital punishment by debunking the top five death penalty myths.


The death penalty deters violent crime and makes society safer.

There is no convincing evidence that the death penalty has a unique deterrent effect.  

More than three decades after abolishing the death penalty, Canada’s murder rate remains over one-third lower than in 1976.

A 35-year study compared murder rates between Hong Kong, where there is no death penalty, and Singapore, which has a similar size population and is executed regularly. The death penalty had little impact on crime rates.

The threat of execution is an effective strategy for preventing terrorist attacks.

The prospect of execution is unlikely to deter people prepared to kill and injure for the sake of a political or other ideology.

Indeed, some officials responsible for counter-terrorism have repeatedly pointed out that those executed can be perceived as martyrs whose memory becomes a rallying point for their ideology or organizations.

Armed opposition groups have also pointed to using the death penalty as a justification for reprisals, thereby continuing the cycle of violence.

The death penalty is fine as long as most of the public supports it.

History is littered with human rights violations supported by the majority but subsequently looked upon with horror.

Slavery, racial segregation and lynching all had support in the societies where they occurred but constituted gross violations of the people’s human rights. Ultimately, governments must protect the rights of all individuals, even though sometimes this means acting against the majority’s views.

Moreover, public opinion often changes depending on political leadership and when objective information on the death penalty is provided to the public.

All people who are executed have been proven guilty of serious crimes.

Around the world, hundreds of prisoners are executed after grossly unfair trials. This can include using “confessions” extracted under torture, denying access to lawyers, and inadequate legal representation.

The countries executing the most are also the ones with serious concerns about the justice system’s fairness, such as China, Iran and Iraq.

The 144 exonerations of death row prisoners recorded in the USA since 1973 show that no justice system is free from error, regardless of how many legal safeguards are in place. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.

Relatives of murder victims demand capital punishment.

The worldwide anti-death penalty movement includes many who have lost their loved ones to, or have been victims of, violent crime but, for ethical or religious reasons, do not want the death penalty imposed “in their name”. In the USA, organizations such as “Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights” are driving the movement to abolish the death penalty, for example, in New Hampshire.