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The Death Penalty

The death penalty has always been and continues to be a very controversial issue. People on both sides of the issue argue endlessly to gain further support for their movements. While opponents of capital punishment are quick to point out that the United States remains one of the few Western countries that continues to support the death penalty, Americans are also more likely to encounter violent crime than citizens of other countries (Brownlee 31). Justice mandates that criminals receive what they deserve .

The punishment must fit the crime. If a buglar deserves imprisonment, then a murderer deserves death (Winters 168). The death penalty is necessary and the only punishment suitable for those convicted of capital offenses. Seventy-five percent of Americans support the death penalty, according to Turner, because it provides a deterrent to some would-be murderers and it also provides for moral and legal justice (83).

Deterrence is a theory: It asks what the effects are of a punishment (does it reduce the crime rate? and makes testable predictions (punishment reduces the crime rate compared to what it would be without the credible threat of punishment), (Van Den Haag 29). The detterent effect of any punishment depends on how quicklythe punishment is applied ( Worsnop 16). Exections are so rare and delayed for so long in comparison th the number of capitol offeses committed that statistical correlations cannot be expected (Winters 104). The number of potential murders that are deterred by the threat of a death penalty may never be known, just as it may never be known how many lives are saved with it.

However, it is known that the death penalty does definately deter those who are executed. Life in prision without the possibility of parole is the alternative to execution presented by those that consider words to be equal to reality. Nothing prevents the people sentenced in this way from being paroled under later laws or later court rulings. Futhermore, nothing prevents them from escaping or killing again while in prison. After all, if they have already recieved the maximum sentence available, they have nothing to lose.

For example, in 1972 the U. S. Surpreme Court banished the death penalty. like other states, Texas commuted all death sentences to life imprisionment. After being released into the general prison populaton, according to Winters: Twelve of the forty-seven prisoners that recieved commuted sentences were responsible for twenty-one serious violent offenses aainst other inmates and prison staff. One of the commuted death row prisoners killed another inmate and another one killed a girl within one year of his release on parole. (21)

This does not mean that every death row inmate would kill again if realeased, but they do tend to be repeat offenders. Winters states Over forty percent of the persond on death row in 1992 were on probation, parole, or pretrail release at the time that they murdered (107). Society has a right and a duty to demand a terrible punishment for a terrible crime. According to Walter Burns, an eloquent defender of the death penalty, execution is the only punishment that can remind people of the moral order that human beings alone live by (qtd in Hertzburg 4).

Van Den Haag states that the desire to see crime punished is felt because the criminal gratifies his desires by means that the noncriminal has restrained from using. The punishment of the criminal is needed to justify the restraint of the noncriminal (30). Society has a moral obligation to see that civil government punishes all criminals, which includes enforcing capital punishment. Executing capital offenders helps to balance the scales of moral justice.

The death penalty is religiously permissible according to certain passages in the Old Testament, particularly in the eye for an eye teaching advocated in Matthew 5:38. god requires capital justice for premeditated murder, when there is no dooubt of hte accused person’s guilt. This is the one crime in the bible for which there is no restitution possible (Winters 64). The Constitution of the United States also supports the death penalty. Norton quotes James Madison, author of the Bill Of Rights:

The Fifth Amendment states ‘ no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury… nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due pprocess of the law’ . The Eighth Amendment states that ‘ cruel and unusual punishment shall not be inflicted’. (A-14) Since both of these ammendments were enacted on the same date in 1791, it can be safely assumed that executing someone for a capital offense does not qualify as cruel or unusual punishment as long as the individual has mot been deprived of life without due process of the law.

The majority of death sentences are not carried out until all appeals are exhausted, which generally takes several years, if not decades. This long appeals process guarantees that the accused recieves due process. In 1974, lawmakers authorized the death penalty for airline hijackings that result in death and in 1988 thay extended the penalty to certain drug trafficking homicides.

The crime bill passed in the summer of 1994 approved the death penalty for dozens of new or existing federal crimes like: treason, genocide #, death caused by train wreck, lethal drive-by shootings, civil rights murders, and gun murders commited during a federal drug felony or violent felony. Thirty-eight states have reinstated capital punishment laws since the U. S. Supreme Court banished it in 1972 and reinstated it a few years later. Executions satisfy the public’s demand that murderers suffer punishment proportionate to thier offense.

If it is wrong to impose the death penalty on murderers, then it would be wrong to forceably take back what a robber took by force. It would be wrong to imprision someone that illegally imprisioned someone else. It would also be wrong for the police to drive over the speed limit to persue someone who was speeding. The death penalty is a deserved and just punishment for murder. It does deter some murders, which saves an unknown number of innocent lives. These reasons are why, through all the controversey, three-quarters of Americans continue to support capital punishment.

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Home » Death penalty » The Death Penalty

The Death Penalty

Capital Punishment in this country is a very controversial issue, and has been for quite some time. The history of the death penalty in America dates all the ways back to 1622, where Daniel Frank was executed in the Colony of Virginia for the crime of theft. (UAA) Many more unrecorded executions occurred until the U. S. Bureau of Justice statistics began keeping track in 1930. During that time, there was an average of about 150 executions per year. That number rose until about 1938 then began to decline until 1967, when executions in the U. S. came to a halt.

There was no law or court ruling that resulted in this, it was more of a self-induced moratorium on the state level. The legal and moral questions seemed to be coming into play. Then a ruling in 1972 by the U. S. Supreme Court stated that the death penalty under current statutes is “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore unconstitutional under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Furman v. Georgia) That ruling was reached on a vote of five to four, clearly showing how even the U. S. Supreme Court Justices, the highest authority of the law, were torn on the issue.

This ruling essentially made Capital Punishment illegal in the United States. This lasted about four years, until another case heard before the U. S. Supreme Court (Gregg v. Georgia 1976) that reinstated the death penalty. It stated that it must be administered with guided discretion, meaning it must be applied fairly and uniformly. Two additional cases brought before the Supreme Court this year (Jurek v. Texas) and ( Proffit v. Florida) upheld the original ruling, that the death penalty is Constitutional. All of these court rulings deal with only the legality and constitutionality on Capital Punishment.

However, there are many more fractions to be examined to truly evaluate the effectiveness of the death penalty. The question of morality enters into the equation. Is state sanctioned Capital Punishment moral? Deterrence is also another large factor. Does the death penalty deter capital crimes? Any problems within the justice system have to be reviewed, such as defense for lower income individuals, judges discretion, and discrimination. Public opinion on the subject is a fairly important issue, as the laws in this country should reflect the public interest.

The economic cost of the death penalty is of course an important factor, as it is with all government functions funded with tax payers dollars. Perhaps the most important fraction is Justice served and retribution. That is after all a primary purpose of the justice system. After reviewing this broad spectrum of fractions, capital punishment is the most effective method of justice for punishing convicted murderers. Despite the dozens of rulings upholding the legality and constitutionality of Capital Punishment, many still argue against it on the grounds that if it is unconstitutional.

The Eighth Amendment to the constitution states “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. ” (Bill of Rights) It does not define what is considered cruel and punishment, therefore leaving it up to the interpretation of the reader. Often people include the death penalty as one of the cruel and unusual punishments, however Capital Punishment was never meant to be considered cruel or unusual. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states “nor be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

This amendment was passed at the exact same time as the Eighth Amendment. “This clearly permits the death penalty to be imposed, and establishes beyond doubt that the death penalty is not one of the cruel and unusual punishments'” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. (Scalia, 3) Justice Scalia’s explanation for why people argue against Capital Punishments legality and constitutionality is that those people are very passionate about their feelings. He says “Convictions is oppositions to the death penalty and are often passionate and deeply held. That would be no excuse for reading them into a constitution that does not contain them.

There is clearly nothing contained in the Constitution, or any Amendment to the constitution, that prohibits the death penalty. Justice Scalia concludes that “if the people conclude that such more brutal death may be referred by Capital Punishment; indeed, if they merely conclude that justice requires such brutal deaths to be avenged by Capital Punishment; the creation of false untextual and unhistorical contradictions with in ‘The courts Eighth Amendment Jurisprudence’ should not prevent them. ” The death penalty is clearly permitted under the laws of the United States of America.

The morality of the death penalty is probably the most controversial topic surrounding capital punishment. A favorite phrase of abolitionists’ is “We kill people to show people that killing people is wrong. ” (Carmical, 4) This phrase is simply a play on words. “Kill”, “Murder” and “Execute” are not synonyms for one another. Each has a unique meaning. To kill is to take life, however murder is “The unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another. ” (Carmical, 4) The phrase should read “We Execute people to show people that murdering people is wrong. ” Does not sound quite the same.

If we use the reasoning that it is wrong to kill someone that killed, then we must also use the reasoning that it is wrong for a cop to speed to catch a speeding car, and wrong to imprison someone who kidnapped and illegally imprisoned someone else. (Bradbury, 2) This reasoning has no place in the justice system. “Morally it is wrong to incarcerate someone for murder. A sentence of life in a air-conditioned, cable-equipped prison where a person gets free meals three times a day, personal recreation time, and regular visits with friends and family is a slap in the face of morality.

Carmical, 2) The morality of the death penalty often comes into question. When polls across the nation survey people, the majority of Americans believe that capital punishment is morally just. (Recent Poll) The economic cost of the death penalty is clearly higher than its alternative of life imprisonment. However, the gap is not nearly as large as the media, and death penalty abolitionists would have you believe. And in some cases, use of the death penalty may actually cost less than life imprisonment. Some argue that in-depth hearings, and numerous appeals for capital cases make it too costly.

What must be realized however, is that the same procedures are often followed in murder cases that are not seeking the death penalty. Then, after the conclusion of the proceedings, the government must now house them for the rest of their life, free of cost on their part. While eliminating the death penalty could save a little money, that is not the purpose of the justice system. If it were, we would not prosecute criminals at all. The economic cost of justice is irrelevant when punishing convicted murderers. A major concern with the death penalty is the possibility of executing an innocent person.

This however, is nearly impossible. Studies that show that innocent people will be executed use that number of death row inmates that were exonerated. That assumes that exoneration is the equivalence of innocence, and obvious fallacy. The actual true error rate, the rate of innocents being executed, is zero. (Bradbury, 2) Of the over 7,000 executions in the U. S. during the 20th century, abolitionists have been able to find one case where they believe the executed party was innocent. This is the case of James Adams, executed in 1984. There are four main reasons why they believe he was innocent.

First, the witness who identified Adams was driving the other way on the road in a large truck, and could not have possibly had a good view. In actuality, Adams was driving maniacally, forcing the witness to pull over. Once at a complete stop, he was able to get a good view of Adams. Secondly, the possibility that the witness was angry at Adams for dating his wife. In the court case, no evidence or discussion was presented on this topic; clearly showing it did not exist. For if it did, it would have most certainly been raised by the defense without a question.

The Third reason was that a second witness heard a female voice coming from the house, not a male. I am not even sure how they include this as a valid argument, as the sound was clearly the female victim, as Adams would have no reason to be vocal at that point. The fourth argument is that a hair was found on the victim that did not match the defendants. This knowledge was known by the defense before the trial, yet was never even mentioned. This is because the hair was found during an examination of her body, which was after cops, paramedics, doctors, and detectives have reviewed the body.

The chance that the hair came from one of them was too great, therefore not even worth the defenses time to mention it. In addition to factual rebuttals to each one of their arguments, there is some additional evidence that proves Adams is the guilty party. His alibi was contradicted by 4 witnesses, one of them being called by the defense. Hours after the murder, he went to a body shop to have his car repainted. And at the time of his arrest, he had on his person, $200 dollars cash, and he had just borrowed $35 dollars from his friend the day before.

Of the $200 in cash, one $20 dollar bill was stained with the victim’s blood type. When asked about the blood he said his finger was bleeding the day before, but it wasn’t his blood type. Also found on his person were his clothes also stained with the victim’s blood type, and jewelry that without a doubt came from the victim’s house. The defense was unable to give any reasonable explanation for those facts. (Markman, 3-4) If this is the case where it is most likely an innocent person was executed, I think it is quite clear that it is very unlikely that an innocent person has been executed in this country.

In a capital case, first a jury of 12 peers must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. Then, if the defendant is found guilty, he or she is automatically granted a state appeal, then if they are found guilty again, they are automatically granted a federal appeal. Often additional appeals are granted. This means that a person has to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at least 3 different times. With the average time between sentencing and execution now at over 10 years, and the introduction of DNA testing in the 1990’s, the likelihood of executing an innocent person is almost zero.

Methvin, 2) A Major argument against the death penalty is that it discriminates against the poor and against African Americans. The statistics show that it is not discriminatory. About the same percentage on trial for capital cases are convicted, regardless of if they were represented by public defenders, or their own attorneys. Those represented by public defenders that were convicted were slightly more likely to be incarcerated, but received, on average, shorter terms. (Key Facts) That shows that there is very little or no discrimination against the poor.

As far as discrimination against African Americans, it was once true that blacks were executed at a higher rate than whites, however that trend has recently reversed, and the opposite is now true. (Pojman, 4) In addition to the statistics, on June 6,2001, the justice department found that there is no bias in the application of the death penalty. (Carmical, 3) Despite the data showing none, or very little discrimination, arguments persist that it exists. Even if that were true, it would not justify abolishing the death penalty.

Many laws experience discrimination. From speeding tickets, to drug charges, to violent felonies, there will always be some unfairness in the system. These problems exist within the system, not the law itself. This is a cry for judicial reform, not the abolition of the death penalty. “We should reform our practices as much as possible to eradicate unjust discrimination wherever we can, but if we are not allowed to have a law without perfect application, we will be forced to have no laws at all. Pojman, 4) If discrimination against the poor does exist, than “What is unfair is not that poor and black prisoners get what they deserve. What is unfair is that rich and white prisoners do not. ” (Carmical, 3)

Discrimination is an invalid argument against the death penalty. Capital punishment is a deterrent to future murders. Statistics in this area are hard to trust, because “Statisticians have developed many sophisticated techniques to carefully analyze data. People with a point to prove can abuse these techniques to distort the data. Johansen, 2) Because of this, it is best to look at numbers associated with specific geographic areas to determine its effectiveness as a deterrent. In California in 1952, the murder rate was 2. 4 per 100,000. As executions declined, that rate jumped to 5. 4 by 1967, when executions in California ended. By 1980, the year they resumed, the rate was a staggering 14. 4. Executions resumed and the rate dropped immediately to 10. 5 within 2 years. (Cullins, 1) Murders in New York City peaked in 1990 with 2,200, when New York did not have the death penalty.

Tucker, 1) Capital punishment was reinstated in New York in 1995. (Pataki, 1) By 1997, only 2 years later, the murders for the year totaled only 767, about only a third of those reported in 1990. (Cullins, 1) These figures show that capital punishment is certainly a general deterrent. In addition to being a general deterrent, it is, without any question, a specific deterrent. That is, the person who is executed will never commit another murder. A study of 164 paroled Georgia murderers revealed that 8 of them committed a felony murder within 7 years.

A study of just 20 Oregon murderers paroled showed that 1 or the 20 committed a murder within 5 years. A larger study of 11,404 convicted murderers released nationwide on parole revealed that 34 of them committed another violent murder within one year. The death penalty clears deters future murders from occurring. Many people that life imprisonment will also accomplish this, however it will not guarantee that deterrence of future murders by previously convicted murderers. A federal agent is killed on average, once every 4 years in federal prisons by convicted murderers.

Carmical, 4) State officers are killed much more frequently than that because a vast majority of murder cases are handles by the state. Also, thousands of prisoners are murdered in jail each year by convicted murderers. This clearly shows that capital punishment is the only 100% effective specific deterrent against future murders. The most important topic surrounding the death penalty is justice. That is, after all, the purpose and main concern of the justice system. Just is best described as adequate retribution. Many misunderstand retribution, and confuse it with revenge.

They are clearly not equivalent, as revenge is a personal desire, whereas retribution is the impersonal idea that criminals must forfeit the equivalence of what their victim forfeited. (Douglas, 2) Some argue that mercy should be practiced instead of retribution. This argument however, is ridiculous. Our U. S. court system is a system of justice, not a system of mercy. “In the cast of premeditated murder, capital punishment is the only just punishment. It is the only punishment roughly proportionate to the harm that has been done to the murder victim. ” (Bidinotto, 4) Justice and retribution is best served with the use of the death penalty.

Capital punishment is a very complicated and controversial issue, due largely to the fact that there are many topics associated with it. After reviewing a majority of these topics, a few major conclusions can be drawn. The death penalty is legally just, and the only moral punishment for convicted murderers. It is very unlikely that someone has been, or will be wrongfully executed. The death penalty prevents future murders. The evaluation of each one of these topics individually clearly shows that the death penalty is the most effective method of justice for punishing convicted murderers.

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