Death penalty has been a controversial issue in the society. It has raised conflicting opinions in the legal system, religious society and many human rights organizations. The social and ethical issues surrounding death penalty are of concern. Death penalty is the execution of a law offender after conviction by the jury in a court of law to a sentence to death after a criminal offence. The most common form is a lethal injection. Other forms include electrocution and hanging. The U.S laws allow death penalty for capital crimes. This punishment is imposed mainly in cases of murder, felony, premeditated of first degree. It should not be the ultimate form of punishment. Putting a human to death is wrong. This form of punishment is the harshest in the legal system, and morally unacceptable.
Death penalty is imposed on narrow grounds of retribution. Retribution is inflicting punishment as a result of a criminal act. Death penalty should not be justified as there are other forms of punishment. The society and the family of the victims hold the view that murderers deserve death but this should not be the ultimate form of punishment. Justice dictates that the crime committed should serve as a guideline for severity of a punishment Murder is considered the worst crime (American Civil Rights Liberties Union, ACLU). However, other forms of punishment and deprivations are enough to punish the offender. Death penalty does not impose punishment on the criminal; it removes the criminal from the society.
Nobel Laureate Albert Camus wrote,
"For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life." (Reflections on the Guillotine, in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death 1960. qtd in Amnesty International USA.)
Retribution fosters a culture of revenge, rather than a just society. It further promotes violence in the society. This counters the efforts to reduce and control crime.
The forms of death penalty are inhuman. The primary method is lethal injection but hanging and electrocution are still exercised in some states. Lethal injection, practiced by above 30 states was used first in Texas in 1982. Errors in dosage could cause paralysis of the criminal before death. It causes excruciating pain (Amnesty International USA). In 2006, Joseph Clark during his execution screamed that the injection did not work and requested for an oral alternative to end the torture. It took thirty minutes for those carrying out the execution to find the right vein (American Civil Liberties Union). In New Hampshire, Delaware and Washington, the practice of hanging criminals still takes place. Strangulation leads to a slow, agonizing death. The criminal suffers even when the final result is death. In Idaho and Utah, the firing squad is allowed where marksmen fire at the criminal after strapping him to a chair and covering his face. In electrocution, the criminal is subjected to high and low voltages by use of electrodes. This is very painful as the flesh burns. In the electrocution of John Evans in Alabama, 1993, the electricity passed through his body was of 1900 volts. This resulted in a stench of the burning flesh and clothes. Even at this point, he had not died. His heart was still beating after the second jolt of electricity. The prison commissioners request to end on grounds of cruelty was rejected (American Civil Liberties Union). John Evans died after the third jolt of electricity. Alternative method includes use of a gas chamber. The fumes of sulfuric acid cause great pain to the criminal before death. This depicts a society that lacks sympathy, one that has no respect for human life. No crime should result in this cruel treatment as human life is very valuable regardless of the mistakes made. It violates the professional code of ethics (Amnesty International USA)
Death penalty does not curb the crime. Deterrence is the main argument to imposing death penalty. Death penalty prevents the convicted individual from committing more murder but it does not deter other people. It is an intuitive feeling that it is an effective form of punishment rather than the facts and social issues related to death penalty. It is based on the thought that death penalty acts as a threat to counter the benefits the criminal gets after committing murder. If this was true, murder and other forms of crime would not be committed for fear of prosecution. Criminals often dont premeditate their actions, but rather they commit offences in the spur of the moment. Some of the crimes are committed due to the current emotional and psychological conditions of the criminal (American Civil Liberties Union). In such cases, then death penalty would result in killing innocent people. Long term imprisonment would offer a chance to the criminals to redeem themselves. Criminals who have planned crime focus on escaping to prevent arrests and not to be executed. Recent study in Texas indicates that death row continues to decline due to the fact that no death sentences have been imposed in the first half of 2015. It has reduced from to 260 men and women from 460 in 1999. Kathryn Kase, the director of Texas Defender Service says that this allows criminals to reverse mistakes by offering them life without parole (Death Penalty Information Center). With or without death penalty, crime is still committed. It doesnt act as a deterrent. It shows a culture of violence and is not the solution to crime.
The death penalty system inflicts heavily on the taxpayers. It is expensive than life imprisonment. The high cost is due to the procedures involved in the conviction and the execution processes, defense costs included. The California Commission on Fair Administration of Justice estimates that the yearly cost of the current system is $137 million, the current system after reforms implementation is $232.7 million and a system in which the lifetime incarceration is the maximum punishment is $11.5 million. In Maryland, death penalty cases cost $3 million a case (Amnesty International USA). This indicates that death penalty cost is much higher and its abolition would save a lot of money. The pre-trial time is long and after conviction there is a series of appeals. During this time here are costs involved in holding the criminal in high security of the death row (Death Penalty ProCon.org). The greatest costs are incurred before conviction. Abolishing post-conviction proceeding would still render the system costly (Amnesty International USA). Death penalty trials cause a diversion of resources from effective crime control which would be more effective in curbing crime. Other forms of punishment are cheaper and more suitable.
Death penalty is racially biased. Racial disparities are evident in the criminal justice system. The population of African Americans sentenced to death is high as compared to the whites. African Americans constitute only 13% of the total U.S. population but almost 50% on the federal death row are African Americans (Death Penalty ProCon.org). This disparity is also evident due to the fact that most criminals are sentenced to death after killing whites, as compared to those who kill black American. An estimated 49% of homicide victims are white. Since the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976, 77% of capital homicide cases have involved a white victim (American Civil Liberties Union). Studies commissioned by the Governor of Maryland indicated that black criminals who murder white individuals are more likely to get a death penalty as there is a higher possibility they will be charged with a capital offence by the state attorney (American Civil Liberties Union). Senator Russ Feingold, in January 2003, on Civil Rights as a Priority for the 108th Congress, Senate, said that, "We simply cannot say we live in a country that offers equal justice to all Americans when racial disparities plague the system by which our society imposes the ultimate punishment."(qtd in American Civil Liberties Union) Racial discrimination is unconstitutional. The criminal justice system is unfair in the execution of criminals. Ethnicity should not determine the type of punishment that criminals receive.
Death penalty is irreversible. Erroneous convictions lead to loss of innocent lives. Wrong execution is due to factors such as destroyed or corrupted DNA evidence, false identification by eyewitnesses, inexperienced lawyers, misconduct by both the jury and police and pressure to solve the cases in a short period of time (American Civil Liberties Union). On June 2012, the County District Attorney of Burleson was disbarred due to his misconduct which led to wrong conviction of Anthony Graves. This was by using false evidence, presenting false statements, and failure to give crucial evidence to the defense. Were it not for the appeal, Anthony would have sentences to death (Death Penalty Information Center). In North Carolina, 2014, two brothers aged 19 and 15, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown had their charges dismissed as they confessed to murder when intellectually disabled. (Amnesty International USA). In the case of mental illness, criminals commit murder without understanding.
Governor George Ryan of Illinois, January 2000, -- in declaring a moratorium on executions in his state said;
"I cannot support a system which, in its administration, has proven so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state's taking of innocent life... Until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty, until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate."
This was after release of the 13th Illinois death row inmate from prison due as a result of wrongful conviction. At this time, execution of 12 other inmates had taken place (Amnesty International USA). This shows that there are more innocent people who have been executed and others on death row. The criminal justice system is far from perfect. Death penalty takes away the chance to prove the innocence of those convicted, and the real perpetrators are not found. The death penalty system has failed and this is unacceptable.
There are alternative forms of punishment. These include life without parole for criminals charged with murder. This is where the criminal stay in prison for the rest of their life. Studies in 2010 in California indicate that 42% of the registered voters preferred life without parole as a punishment to first-degree murder. 41% preferred the death penalty. The statistics taken in 200 shows that 44% preferred death penalty and 37% stated life without parole as a better punishment (ACLU). This shows that more people are deviating from the misguided view that death penalty should be the ultimate punishment.
Death penalty should be abolished. It is a violation of religious doctrines, moral values, ethical codes of conduct and the natural rights to life. It does not lead to anything good as it just results in losses, of human life and resources. The government has a responsibility to protect citizens. Death penalty is not in line with its role to the citizens. It just kills, takes away people with a chance to be better people in the society. It should not be imposed even when the crime committed is the most heinous. The right to life is not in the hands of the state of any individual.
American Civil Liberties Union,. 'The Case Against The Death Penalty'. N.p., 2012. Web. 7 July 2015.
Amnesty International USA,. 'Death Penalty'. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 July 2015.
Deathpenalty.procon.org,. 'Death Penalty Procon.Org'. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 July 2015.
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