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The Argument Against the Death Penalty

The feeling of the condemned man was indescribable, as he was minutes away from being executed by an unjust decision.  The verdict of his case was guilty on the grounds of circumstantial evidence.  When in all reality, he was guilty because he was black, poor and socially unacceptable.  His case never stood a chance, it was over before it started.  The judge and jury sentence the man to die in the electric chair.  The condemned man sat in the chair sweating profusely, waiting for a someone to wake him from this nightmare.  A certain death awaited this young mans future.  He could not believe that a country like ours upheld a system of such unfairness.  Then as he was executed, he shouted his last plea, I am innocent, please wait…

How can this innocent man be put to death in a system based on fairness, and a theory of innocent until proven guilty.  There have been circumstances such as this, that were said to be true.  This is one example why capital punishment should be abolished in our country.  Or should it?  Is capital punishment fair, and based on equality?  Does it cost less than other alternatives?  Is it considered cruel and unusual punishment?  And does the presence of the death penalty deter crime?  These are questions that need to be answered to determine whether capital punishment should be  abolished or maintained in our society.
To start, capital punishment is a racist and unfair solution for the criminals in our system.  It discriminates toward individuals on the basis of their race, wealth or social standing in society.  It is not right to kill nineteen men a year out of hundreds and hundreds of convicted murderers.  These men are not being killed because they committed murder.  They are being killed because they are poor, black, ugly or all of these things.  As capital punishment becomes less and less likely to be applied, it becomes more likely to be used in discrimination against those who have no money to afford a good lawyer, those who are poor and powerless, personally ugly and socially unacceptable.

Since 1930, 89 percent of those executed in the United States for rape have been black, as were 76 percent of those executed for robbery, 85.5 percent of those executed for assault by life-term prisoner, 48.9 percent of those executed for murder, 100 percent of those executed for burglary.  All together, 53.5 percent of those we have put to death in this Nation since 1930 have been black (Bedau).

Study after study turns up the same results, one can conclude that there is a pattern of discrimination.  One study shows that prosecutors seek the death penalty most often when the victim is white.  Prosecutors sought the death penalty twice as often when the victim was white as when the victim was a member of a racial minority.  In cases of white victims, 27 percent sought the death penalty, where only 19 percent in cases of minority victims (Bedau).
In most states where the death penalty is instated, it is done so to deter crime.  I think the feeling toward capital punishment boils down to two things.  It is a kind of feeling most of us have that death really scares us, and a harsh penalty, you have to say deters more than life imprisonment.  But if you took the death penalty away, most of us would be just as scared by a life imprisonment.

Secondly, most of us who are thinking about this subject are well adjusted, normal, non-murderers.  We do not commit murder, not because of the existence of the death penalty, but because we are morally developed, life respecting citizens.  The people that do commit murders are of a different sort, their minds do not work like the rest of us.  Whether you call them insane, phycopaths or whatever, no amount of punishment could have an effect on them.  Now that is not to say it is impossible that, in some few cases, the death penalty did deter a capital crime.   These cases, if they exist, must be very few, since they do not show up in the comparative statistical studies.  The states with the highest homicide rates are states still seeking to put people to death.  While the states with the lowest homicide rates have abolished capital punishment.

On a national average, the states that have abolished state death penalty had a homicide rate of 4.6 per 100,000 population, compared to a 7.7 rate in other states (Bedau).  It is wrong for our government to kill in order to teach people not to kill.  In fact it probably promotes more murder than prevents, because it is telling society that it is alright.  It is proven failure because we have more murders and violence today than before the death penalty was reinstated back in 1976.  We also have more murders and violence than states and countries without it.  Far from deterring murder, the continued existence of the death penalty makes us believe  are doing nothing at all about it.  We have been killing murders for years and years but the murders still continue.  The time has come for us to realize that we cannot stop killing with more killing.

In addition to that, capital punishment is also more expensive.  Capital punishment ups court cost, takes up so much judicial time and expends so much judicial effort that other criminal penalties become less of an importance.  As capital punishment becomes increasingly rare, and unusual, it also becomes increasingly costly to process capital cases.  This is so because processing an unusual item always costs more.  I dont know whether any body would take the view that we should kill people because it is a cheap way to deal with the crime problem.  But, in any event, it is not cheap.  Actually it is more expensive than its alternatives.  Today, it is much cheaper to convict a man and keep him in prison for the rest of his life than to kill him.  The reason is perfectly obvious.  As capital cases become more and more unusual, they also become more and more costly to process through the legal system.

The last reason that capital punishment should be abolished is because an innocent man could be put to death.  In May of 1992, Roger Keith Coleman died in Virginias electric chair for a murder he claimed he didnt commit.  Many people were deeply troubled by this issue.  While there was physical evidence linking to the rape and murder of his sister-in-law, the case was built with weakness that caused many to question his guilt.  Coleman was convicted without a witness or a murder weapon.  His lawyer was only two years out of law school when his case was tried.  A year before he was sentenced, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Colemans petition for an evidentiary hearing because his papers were filed one day late.  A women identified a different murderer but died a mysterious death the day after giving a television interview.

The man had nothing but time anyway, so why didnt we take more time to find out if there were facts that would have proven his innocence.  His death sentence was not beyond a reasonable doubt.  There could have been an innocent man killed because of our system.  I thought it was a terrible thing.  I think thats an example of whats wrong with the death penalty.  One big thing that is really wrong with our system is that it zeros in on one thing, like in the Coleman case, on the circumstantial evidence.  Also in these trials we engage in a contest between experienced, financed, prepared prosecutors and, with Coleman, a young lawyer whod never tried such a case before.

Since the founding of America the death penalty has been accepted as just punishment for all different types of criminal offenses.  It wasnt until June 29, 1972 that a split 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision said that the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment (Daul).  This meant that the death penalty was in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to our constitution.  Both the majority and minority opinions were far from agreement in why they opposed or supported the decision.  One Supreme Court Justice who voted on the majority decision said, It is the poor, the sick, the ignorant, the powerless, and the hated who are executed (Daul).

The law leaves it up to the judges and juries to determine whether the defendants committing the crime should die or be imprisoned.  The Cruel and Unusual Clause prohibits the infliction of uncivilized and inhumane punishments.  The state, even as it punishes, must treat its members with respect and their worth as human beings.  A punishment is considered cruel and unusual if it does not comport with human dignity.  Justice Stewart stressed another point.  These sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.  It was concluded that the death penalty is an excessive and unnecessary punishment which violated the Eighth Amendment, it is morally unacceptable to the people of the United States.
The constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments  cannot be constructed to bar the imposition of the punishment of death (Billitter).

Find no support in the language of the Constitution, in its history, or in the cases arising under it.  for the view that this Court may invalidate a category of penalties because we deem less severe penalties adequate to serve the ends of penology…if we were free to question the justification for the use of Capital punishment, a heavy burden would be put those who attack the legislatures judgements to prove the lack of rational justifications.  It was claimed that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment, which set off a chain reaction of state  legislatures to rewrite their capital punishment laws to make them more suitable in order to swing the votes of some Justices.  However the decision remained and the death penalty was abolished on the grounds cruel and unusual punishment.  This decision was upheld until 1976 when it was reinstated.
In the conclusion of this issue and the question of whether capital punishment should be abolished or maintained is still left unanswered.  although, the evidenced produced in the paper strongly favor the abolishment of the death penalty.  Not only is capital punishment unfair and discriminating, it also is considered cruel and unusual punishment that violates our constitution, it does not deter crime and an innocent man has a chance of dying in this system.


Bedau, Hugo Adam.  The Death Penalty in America.  Chicago:  Aldine, 1964.

Billitter, Thomas J.  Capital Punishment: What Does Scripture Say?  St. Petersburg Times 30 May 1992:  4E.

Racial Bias Found in Death Penalty.  St. Petersburg Times 25 May 1992:  4B.

Daul, David.  Senators Vote Down Death Penalty Bill.  St.
Petersburg Times 24 May 1992:  8A.

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