As of right now, twenty-eight states in the United States practice the death penalty. New York is one of the twenty-two states that does not have the death penalty. Even though capital punishment is not something we have to worry about in our state we should be concerned about the topic.
In 2020, there were eighteen executions nationwide, which is a historic low. Eighteen may not seem like a lot, especially in comparison to other years like 1999 where there were ninety-eight executions. According to the Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate people that are innocent of the crime they were convicted of, out of the 365 people that were exonerated through the use of DNA, twenty-one of them had been sentenced to death. 97% of the twenty-one exonerees were convicted of violent crimes such as sexual assault and/or murder.
In the case of Dustin Higgs, he was convicted in 2000 for three murders that took place in 1996. On October 26, 2000, Higgs was sentenced to death. For the 20 years he spent in jail he continued to claim his innocence. Then co-defendant Willis Hayes who was sentenced to life in prison without parole confessed to full responsibility of killing the three women and claimed that Higgs did not kill anyone. To justify the court’s decision, they claimed that Haynes only made that confession because Higgs bullied him and threatened him into it. They did this so they wouldn’t have to reduce his sentence or even take him off of death row. Haynes stated, “the prosecution’s theory of our case was bulls***. Dustin didn’t threaten me. I was not scared of him. Dustin didn’t make me do anything that night or ever.”
According to Death Penalty Information Center, crimes that are punishable by death, besides murder, are treason, aggravated kidnapping, drug trafficking, aircraft hijacking, espionage, any involvement in the (tempted) killing of any juror, officer, or witness in cases that involve Continuing Criminal Enterprises, etc. Dustin Higgs did not commit any of those crimes yet, on January 16, 2021, Higgs was executed by lethal injection in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Knowing there are so many other cases like Higgs’, and even people that have been given a sentence far worse than what they deserved, we have to ask ourselves: Should the death penalty be abolished? The 8th Amendment is supposed to protect people from “cruel and unusual punishments,” but, unfortunately there are innocent people still sitting on death row.