While researching about criminal justice, I came across a few online articles with very shocking statistics about our current legal systems on the issue of capital punishment. The following statistics vividly captured my attention, from January 1, 1997, to December 31, 2000, 683 executions took place in 31 states. Another statistic was that 1,188 people were executed in the US from 1977 through 2009. From these figures, it came to my mind that 1,188 men, women, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children were denied the chance to life by our legal systems without the opportunity of rehabilitation or change; to make matters worse, some innocent but evidence strongly supporting the conviction, call it being at the wrong place at the wrong time. In this essay I'd like to point out the negativity of capital punishment, otherwise known as the death penalty, and why our legal systems need to abolish it.
In order to achieve this, in this paper I have detailed about the morality of capital punishment and why its pros have outweighed the cons: some of the cons being execution of juvenile offender and the mentally ill, and death penalty conviction based on racism and class. But first of all, Ill give a brief history about capital punishment and about its origins. The first capital punishment laws were established in the eighteenth century B.C in the code of King Hammurabi of Babylon, which confined death penalty to about 25 different crimes. It was also part of the fourteenth century B.C Hittite code: in the seventh century B.C Draconian Code of Athens, which made all crimes punishable by death; in the fifth century B.Cs Roman law of the Twelve Tablets. The means of execution were crucifixion, drowning, stoning, burning alive, and beating to death and impalement. Britain adopted capital punishment in the tenth century A.D. Under the influence of Britain, America adopted the death penalty, with the first execution being that of Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown Colony of Virginia in 1608. America took it further in 1612 when Virginia Governor Sir Thomas Dale enacted Divine, Moral and Martial Laws, which approved capital punishment for even minor offenses such as stealing grapes killing chicken, and trading with Indians. This led me to ask myself, is a human beings life worth that of a chicken? In the following years the death penalty was approved and disapproved several times. In the last 15 years, the death penalty has been suspended in various states such as New York on June 2004, New Jersey on December 2007, New Mexico on March 2009 and Illinois on March 2011. It is clear evident that the death penalty is being reprimanded and needs to be abolished in all states.
Looking at one of the cons of capital punishment, it has become a means of practicing racism and social class preference in our courts of law, where the death penalty conviction is on the basis of skin colour or due to the inability of someone to hire a good lawyer. In the US, statistics provide provided the following information, from 1995 to 20005 federal prosecutors sought the death penalty for 183 defendants; 74% were minorities. One of the 21 people on federal death row as of 2001 JUN, 81% were black or Hispanic (Facts about Capital punishment, Part3: Racial bias). In 2000 SEP, the Justice department issued a preliminary report on racial basis in the prosecution of capital cases. This research confirmed that the defendant sin most cases are the minorities. Research conducted at Stanford University in 2006 on capital punishment, provided a report that supported these statistics. It was found that: Male murderers with stereotypically looking features are features are more than twice likely to get the death sentence than light-skinned African American defendants found guilty of killing a white person, Stanford researchers have found (Facts about Capital punishment, Part 3: Racial basis). Having these facts in mind I realized that sin colour real matters when it comes to getting justice. I really questioned our legal systems: does one have to be well off or the right skin colour or ethnic background (if there is one) in order to be given a fair trial when it comes to capital punishment? Why should a black man be hanged for killing a white man while a black man won't be hanged for killing another black man? Surely capital punishment is selective and not fair justice.
When a society starts killing its children, something is wrong, something is really wrong, Joseph Green Brown, death row survivor, May 1998. As of March 2004, six countries had laws on execution of juvenile offenders: Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United states. In 1994, a 14 years old by the name George Junius Stinney, was executed in the US for the murder of two white girls. Later on questions of his innocence arose in 2011 when a lawyer was determined to prove his innocence (Daily Mail29 Sep 2011). In 1959, in Canada, Steven Truscott, then 14 years of age, as charged of murder of a 12-year-old, Lynne Harper. He was tried and convicted. At the age of 16, he was sentenced to hang. Fortunately the sentence was never carried out. He served 10 years before being paroled. Recent evidence has emerged that proves beyond reasonable doubt that he is innocent of the crime (Facts about capital punishment, Part 6: Executing child criminals(Contd): Status, Court decisions, Opinion polls).I found this really disturbing: are we going to be murdering our children then later on questioning ourselves whether we did the right thing or not? Is this really justice? Is this the society we want to bring up our children in; a society that won't exempt them from electric chair and give them a second chance to life, a chance to write their wrongs and have a brighter future? It is said that the young ones are the future of every nation. What future do we then have if we kill them?
The question of sentencing mentally challenged offenders is very vital to be discussed. In 1979, John Penry, a white man, was convicted of murdering a 20-year-old woman. He was mentally retarded since childhood, possibly as the result of organic brain damage. He had the mind of a boy, with an I.Q. of about 50 to 63 (normal intelligence is 100). This man had limited ability to control his impulses and to understand casualty, yet he was convicted and sentenced to death. Another case that came to my attention is that of Tony Chambers who was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl in 1990. He confessed to the crime within 11 hours though DNA evidence proved he was not the perpetrator. His I.Q. was in the 50s and had mental age of six. From these two cases, I realized that the mental capacity of these individuals was over-looked by the court, and mentally challenged individuals such as Mr Chambers, get sentenced to death row despite their innocence. This shows great fault in our legal system when it comes to sentencing of offender to capital punishment. The only way to avoid this faults is to stop playing God by giving ourselves the power to choose who gets to live and who gets to die.
Evidently from the above cases, I came to the conclusion at capital punishment is an act of cruelty and barbarism. There are surely other ways of getting justice without necessarily taking the life of another. Is it justice for another man to be killed because of murder? Doesn't that make us murders too? So where's the difference between us and the one we execute? We should stop playing God, for God is the giver of life and only he should take away life. To conclude, I share the same view as Steve Earle, My objection to the death penalty is based on the idea that this is ad democracy, and in a democracy the government is me, and if the government kills somebody then I'm killing somebody
Capital Punishment 2000. Tracy L. Snell, Bureau of Justice. Web. December 2001.
Capital punishment: All view points on the death penalty. Bruce A Robinson. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Web. 22 May 2015.
Death Penalty Information Centre: Introduction to the Death Penalty. Web. 2015.
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