How Game of Thrones Helps Make the Case for Abolishing the Death Penalty


Scott Peterson, convicted in 2004 for murdering his wife, has filed an automatic appeal to the court challenging his sentence based on a reportedly biased trial atmosphere. The Peterson case opens up a lot of questions as to why we keep the death penalty around in the first place. Here's a short list of reasons why we should bid adieu to the death penalty. 

1. This scene from Game of Thrones.

"The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword." In one sentence, Ned Stark sums up a major issue of the death penalty: the lack of culpability from any party in feeling as if they were 100% responsible for the death of the individual sentenced. Think about it. If you're the jury, it's not totally your fault because you're not having to kill the person yourself and you also weren't the only one voting on the case. If you're the judge, you've got the jury to consider and follow and you're also not personally responsible for killing this person. If you're the person responsible for killing the convicted individual, you're getting orders from someone else. It is simply your job to do this; you weren't the one deciding who to kill and why. With no one individual held completely responsible for every aspect of a person's sentence, we reduce the chance of personal bias and corruption in a case, but we also remove the guilt. Yes, all of the aforementioned parties might indeed feel this guilt, but it will be alleviated by their individual distances from being the actual, responsible party that ends the individual's life. 

2. The fallability and bias of human beings. 

Human beings are capable of being wonderful. But we're also capable of being terribly racist, homophobic, misguided by power, swayed by advertisements, and a host of other traits that make us not so hot in the whole "unbiased-decision-making" department. Remember the Stanford prison experiment? It was supposed to last two weeks. It was halted after only six days because things got so out of hand. Six days. The experiment stands as a testament to how impressionable and malleable individuals can be. Being completely unbiased is impossible. Being able to withhold bias in whatever judgement you make is doable but very difficult and takes a lot of work and practice that those on jury duty might not be concerned about.

3. According to the ACLU, the death penalty doesn't actually make crime any less likely by operating as a standing threat to would-be criminals. 

This information came from the Death Penalty Information Center where law enforcers ranked the death penalty as least effective out of other options like gun control and more officers on the street in ending violent crime. 

4. You can't take it back.

So all those previous reasons mentioned about how we can go wrong in sentencing because of a host of biases? Well, we do indeed get it wrong. And a surprising amount of times. The ACLU documents that "since 1973, over 138 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed." But once it's been done it's over. You can't take it back even if you're wrong. A recent project called One in Ten is attempting to document the testimony of those who were exonerated before it was too late. To get a better perspective of the problem of irreversibility, check out their videos and information.

5. It seems to be inherently racist, biased towards executing men over women, and classist. 

From the Government Accountability Office came findings that showed that of 28 studies of capital punishment sentencing procedures, 82% of the studies showed that a victim's race influenced the likelihood of the defendant being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty. In a nation still so steeped in racism, particularly in the South, it seems suspect to continue to make hard and fast decisions about sentencing people to death.

This list is not exhaustive and there is much more to say about why we should ditch the death penalty. And progress is being made to accomplish such a goal in several states according to the New York Times. So even if Peterson is guilty of the crimes he was charged with, I can still say that I hope he does not have to face the death penalty.