Death Penalty Narrative Essay
Title: Point: Capital Punishment Should Be Abolished. By: Ballaro, Beverly, Cushman, C. Ames, Points of View: Death Penalty, 2009 Database: Points of View Reference Center Thesis: Capital punishment is useless as a deterrent, morally indefensible, discriminatory in practice, and prone to errors that may have led to the execution of wrongfully convicted people. Its continuing legality in the United States is critically undermining American moral stature around the world.
The Supreme Court should bring the United States in line with the rest of the civilized world and hold that death is a cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Summary: The death penalty process consumes tremendous amounts of money and resources and fails to deter criminal activity. It is not uniformly applied geographically, and where it is allowed, it is used in an often arbitrary and racist manner. As a result, states have been curtailing the use of the death penalty, the Supreme Court has limited its application, and both death sentences and executions are down sharply.
This is at odds with the recent efforts of some states to expand the range of capital crimes, and with national polls which still reflect a clear majority of Americans favor capital punishment. Meanwhile, momentum has been accelerating in the international community to abolish the death penalty, and the United States is increasingly criticized for failing to keep in step with other civilized nations in this area. Capital Punishment in the United States Since the 1977 resumption of capital punishment in the United States, nearly 1,100 convicted prisoners have been put to death in the thirty-eight US states where the practice remains legal.
As of the beginning of 2007, approximately 3,350 people remain on death row in American prisons. In recent years, the evidence has shown that the death penalty process consumes tremendous amounts of money and resources and fails to deter criminals. FBI Uniform Crime Report data show no statistical difference in crime rates based on the existence or frequency of use of the death penalty in a particular state. It is applied in an often arbitrary and racist manner and may have led to the execution of innocent people.
As a result, momentum has been accelerating in the international community to abolish the death penalty. In the United States, despite a national trend toward scaling back the use of capital punishment, it remains largely popular with the American people, and several states have recently attempted to broaden its scope. A 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court in Kennedy v. Louisiana, however, overturned the death sentence of a man convicted of raping a child, effectively holding that states may only impose the death penalty in murder cases.
Still, Virginia is poised to make accomplices to murder, as well as killers of judges and court witnesses, eligible for the death penalty. Missouri may pass a mandatory death penalty for the murder of law enforcement officers. Georgia lawmakers are considering legislation that would permit a judge to impose the death sentence, which currently requires a unanimous vote of jurors, if only nine of twelve jurors on a case are in favor of it.
The effort in some states to expand the range of death-penalty-eligible crimes raises questions that are deeply troubling for both pragmatic and moral reasons, and demonstrates the regionalism that has accompanied treatment of capital punishment in recent years. With states like New Jersey abolishing the death penalty completely and others like Illinois, where executions have been halted by executive order, perhaps the most important factor in whether a killer will face the death penalty is not the heinousness of the crime, but where it was committed.
From a legal perspective, the abolition of capital punishment in the United States would most likely and effectively come in the form of a decision by the Supreme Court that executions constitute cruel and unusual punishment as forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. As the death penalty is specifically authorized in the Constitution, it could likely not be outlawed nationwide by an Act of Congress, and as stated above, most Americans still approve, making legislative abolition in all states unlikely. Discriminatory Application In the 1972 case of Furman v.
Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that existing state capital punishment laws were applied in an erratic and often random manner. The Supreme Court decided that the Georgia state punishment laws violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection and due process. Four years later, however, in Gregg v. Georgia, the Court paved the way for states to reintroduce capital punishment when it declared that the death penalty does not necessarily violate the Constitution if administered in a manner designed to guard against arbitrariness and discrimination.
Most serious legal challenges to the death penalty since then have concentrated on demonstrating that states are not living up to the standards set in that case. Despite the Court’s insistence upon such safeguards, and judicial pronouncements that all states currently conducting executions have met the standards, disturbing patterns persist in the application of the death penalty. Statistics show, for example, that people who kill white people are far more likely to receive a death sentence than those whose victims were not white, and that black people who kill white people have the greatest chance of receiving a death sentence.
Of the approximately 3,350 people on death row as of 2007, nearly all are impoverished, and many belong to minority groups (more than 40 percent are African American). Defendants who have the resources to hire private investigators, psychiatrists, and expert lawyers face much lower odds of ending up in the death chamber. Predictive factors for which convicted murderers are likely to receive a death sentence have less to do with the heinousness of the crimes committed than with the race, sex, and economic class of the prisoner and victim.
Geography and politics also play a major role, as some counties and individual prosecutors seek the death penalty with much greater frequency than others. The quality of the defendant’s defense counsel, the political and social leanings of the judge and jury, and the defendant’s degree of mental impairment are also factors that may determine the probability of a death sentence. Fatal Errors The sociological disparities in the death penalty process are well documented.
Today, the degree to which systemic flaws in investigative, forensic, and trial procedures can lead to false conviction, and subsequent execution, is coming under increasing public scrutiny. Much of the credit for exposing these fatal errors belongs to the Innocence Project, a legal clinic founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld to assist prisoners who could be proved innocent through post-conviction DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, which is a sort of genetic fingerprint) testing. As of May 2007, some 201 people had been exonerated by DNA testingincluding fifteen who served time on death row.
Their experiences have exposed systemic flaws in the gathering and evaluation of criminal evidence. In most of these cases, a wrongful conviction emerged from a combination of factors, such as police misconduct or investigative errors, unreliable witnesses or false testimony, negligence, forensic errors and even false confessions. Collectively, the inmates exonerated by the Innocence Project served a total of 2,475 years in prison for crimes they hadn’t committed. It is impossible to know how many additional innocent people have been wrongfully convicted and perhaps executed.
If for no other reason, the risk of imposing the ultimate penalty by mistake even in one case should give the state pause in assessing the appropriateness of capital punishment. Efforts to speed up and streamline the appeals process for death row inmates, thereby reducing the time spent awaiting execution, also reduce the time for efforts like the Innocence Project to review cases and challenge convictions. While both proponents and opponents of the death penalty have decried the exceedingly long wait between conviction and execution, that time clearly worked in favor of the fifteen prisoners spared from death row.
With such exonerations occurring with more regularity, capital punishment, a sentence that cannot be corrected or undone after the fact if a mistake is made, is increasingly at odds with any moral sense of justice. Bad Company The continued existence of the death penalty and recent efforts to broaden it in some parts of the United States have drawn a flurry of international criticism, which further damages American moral credibility on global human rights issues.
Many countries the US criticizes for lower standards of individual rights and justice refuse to extradite (deliver a prisoner to the United States to stand trial) murder suspects unless authorities agree not to seek the death penalty. With capital punishment having been banned in nearly all the nations with which the United States enjoys its closest political and cultural ties-Eastern as well as Western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, South Africa, and most of Latin America-the United States risks increasing its global perception as a pariah nation, out of step with international human rights norms.
It was at least partly out of consideration for such norms that the Supreme Court ruled, in the 2005 case of Roper v. Simmons, that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while the offender was under the age of eighteen, and a similar case which prohibited executions of the mentally retarded. Prior to the Court’s ruling, the United States was one of only nine countries (together with China, Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen) known, since 1990, to have executed juvenile offenders.
Recent Supreme Court decisions, such as the Louisiana case referenced above, point to “evolving standards of decency” in restricting application of the death penalty based on the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. It seems clear to most legal analysts that these evolving standards will eventually dictate the end of the death penalty in the United States, though this may be many decades away, as only two justices (Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter) appear ready to end the practice outright.
According to Amnesty International, as of 2007, 129 countries-more than half the world-have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Nonetheless, during 2006, at least 1,591 people were executed (by methods including beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection, firing squad, stoning, and stabbing) in twenty-five countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Singapore, Somalia, Uganda, Vietnam, and Yemen.
But 91 percent of all documented 2006 executions took place in China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the United States, where fifty-three people were executed in twelve states. By continuing to accept and attempting to expand capital punishment, the United States is following a rogue course among democratic nations. Such a course makes American human rights rhetoric ring hollow to our allies. It can also only encourage, in the name of security, the use of other brutal measures by the authoritarian regimes with which the US shares this practice.
It is hard for the United States to be a source of moral leadership in the world when our Supreme Court, while recognizing and citing “evolving standards of decency” in imposing limitations, has not yet seen fit to end a practice that nearly all civilized nations have already ended. Conclusion The death penalty has become cruel and unusual, in violation of the United States Constitution, and the Supreme Court should not continue to wait for American attitudes to catch up with the rest of the world, or continue to act in piecemeal fashion.
With the notable exception of 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act-which made the federal death penalty applicable to, among other crimes, espionage, treason, and large-scale drug trafficking-the criteria for seeking the death penalty in the United States have generally grown more restrictive. In 2006, the number of inmates on death row declined to a historic thirty-year low. Statistically, the application of the death penalty is becoming more “unusual” each year.
The year 2008 brought a flurry of litigation concerning the extent to which lethal injection, the method of execution favored by most states, is “cruel” in that it inflicts unnecessary pain. Executions were halted nationwide as the Supreme Court took up the issue, ultimately holding in a 5-4 decision that the three-drug cocktail procedure most prevalently used in executions did not cause sufficient probability of pain to be unconstitutional.
With several aging members of the Court, and the prospect of a Democratic president poised to make appointments from 2009-2013, the issue is likely to arise again in the future. Capital punishment is useless as a deterrent, morally indefensible, discriminatory in practice, and prone to errors that have likely led to the execution of some wrongfully convicted people. The “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” mentality underlying the death penalty is a prescription for vengeance, not justice, and has been rejected by most civilized nations.
American cultural values and constitutional principles no more sanction the punishment of murder by death than they do the whipping of an adulterer, the amputation of a thief’s hand, the beheading of a murderer, or the crucifixion of a rapist, all of which remain common public spectacles in other countries that employ the death penalty. In an era in which America’s survival may depend in large part on winning the hearts and minds of our global adversaries, America’s continuing taste for vengeance betrays justice at home and belies our traditional role in the world as a beacon of reason, compassion, and human dignity.
Our Supreme Court has seen the writing on the wall, that evolving global and national moral standards justify the curtailment of the death penalty. It is time for the Court to restore America’s moral and human rights leadership in the world by going the rest of the distance and finally agreeing that death is a cruel and unusual punishment for any crime. Title: Counterpoint: The Death Penalty is Necessary. By: Bowman, Jeffrey, DiLascio, Tracey M. , Points of View: Death Penalty, 2009 Database: Points of View Reference Center
Thesis: Opponents of the death penalty routinely argue that it does not deter crime. They miss the point: The death penalty is about the punishment of a crime, not the deterrence of all crime. Summary: The death penalty is a subject worthy of serious debate. It involves ancient questions of crime and punishment, standards of justice and how human beings view their fellow man. In the United States, the federal government and many states allow capital punishment for those criminals guilty of murder, inflicting the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime of taking an innocent victim’s life.
However, there is a vocal minority in the United States that views capital punishment as morally and ethically wrong, equates the death penalty with legalized murder, and asks: If the premeditated killing of another human being is wrong, how does the premeditated killing of the murderer make it right? Shouldn’t society repudiate the death penalty and emphasize mercy rather than revenge? These questions asked by death penalty opponents are legitimate questions for society to consider.
The debate surrounding the death penalty includes discussion of the sanctity of human life, personal responsibility, and the role of the state in administering justice. Yet, for all this complexity, the death penalty remains primarily a form of punishment. It assumes that human life is sacred, and that the killers who take the lives of their victims forfeit the rights to their own. A Short History of Murder In the Western legal tradition, murder is defined as the deliberate malicious killing of a person. Throughout history, murder has always been regarded as a serious crime.
In tribal societies, it was murder that led to the concept of the blood feud, also known as the vendetta. These destructive practices were rooted in traditions where the relatives of a murder victim demanded compensation, usually in the form of the death of the murderer. Blood feuds rarely ended peacefully, with a majority of them spiraling into full-scale war as retaliatory murders escalated beyond control. More often than not, entire tribes were destroyed by blood feuds. According to some historians and anthropologists, the emergence of religious and legal codes were the first attempts by humans to restrain the destruction of blood euds. The ancient Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi (1760 BCE) was one of the first examples of a city forming a religious-secular code of rules for citizens to follow. In the Code of Hammurabi are the first proscriptions against murder, and the first occurrence of the phrase “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” which specified that if a free man murdered another free man, he too would die. The ancient city-states could not allow blood feuds between tribes to escalate into outright war in the streets. By codifying rules of conduct, the state claimed the right and the responsibility of vengeance from the victim’s relatives.
Thus, the city-states elevated the crime of murder above the level of the blood feud, claiming that murder affected society as a whole. Murder became the ultimate crime, an offense against society, not just the victim and his family. Finally, the state ended the blood feud by inventing capital punishment. The Death Penalty Has the state always used the death penalty responsibly and fairly? The answer to that question is an unambiguous “no. ” The state has repeatedly abused the death penalty, punishing people not only for murder but also for offenses against the state such as free speech and freedom of religion.
Consider some well-known examples: the Athenian Republic executed Socrates, the Roman Empire executed Jesus Christ, and the Roman Catholic Church executed uncounted thousands of heretics. Even in the twentieth century, the Nazi government executed millions. Through the arbitrary application of the death penalty, both the value of human life and the rule of law have been cheapened. If the state can execute people for political or religious beliefs, why should the state need be obeyed in other matters of law and order? Why allow the state the authority over life and death if it consistently abuses the responsibility?
In the eighteenth century, philosophers and politicians alike addressed these questions, and the modern concept of prison, a place of incarceration where a criminal pays his debt to society, came into being. Prior to prisons, the majority of crimes, including theft or poaching, were punished by death. The adoption of the prison system suggested that criminals could be reformed rather than just killed. As the idea caught on, the number of crimes punishable by death decreased. By the twentieth century, in Western societies, capital crimes were confined to two main categories: treason and murder.
In the latter half of the century, many countries around the world abolished the death penalty outright. The United States, however, did not. The Death Penalty in the United States Throughout American history, capital punishment was widely accepted and widely practiced. Up until the twentieth century, most executions were even held in public. However, coinciding with judicial executions, there was also a history of extrajudicial killings and mob violence, and a disproportionate number of lynching victims were African Americans.
Atrocities such as these tarnished the reputation of capital punishment in the United States. In response to the history of lynching and the lack of due process in capital cases, the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional with a 5-4 decision in the 1972 case of Furman vs. Georgia. This decision was extremely controversial, mostly because there was a wide range of judicial opinion on why the justices found the death penalty to be unconstitutional. As a result, no legally coherent rationale was provided to the states.
Some justices maintained that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Others expressed concern that the civil rights of African Americans were being violated due to their disproportionate presence on death row in comparison to white prisoners. However, the overall effect of the decision was to return the death penalty debate back to the states. If states addressed the court’s constitutional concerns in sentencing guidelines, the death penalty would be considered constitutional.
Subsequently, state legislatures revised their sentencing procedures. Some states banned capital punishment altogether. Others widened their statutes over what crimes qualified for capital punishment. Currently, several national and international organizations, including Amnesty International, Truth in Justice and the Roman Catholic Church, have declared themselves in outright opposition to the death penalty in America. Through legal challenges and political lobbying, these groups insist on the philosophy that the taking of human life is immoral, regardless of the circumstances.
In a court of law, though, there are four main arguments: * The Eighth Amendment bans cruel and unusual punishment * The death penalty is disproportionately applied to the poor and minorities. * The arbitrary and various sentencing structures for capital punishment vary widely from state to state. * There is a possibility that innocent people are executed for crimes they did not commit. These four claims have been the basis of thousands of lawsuits challenging the death penalty. In addition, in order to marshal public support, there are literally thousands of statistics that claim the death penalty does not deter crime.
Despite these challenges, public polls regularly reveal that at least 50 percent of the American people are in favor of the death penalty for crimes of murder. However, statistics alone are not the answer to the debate. After the state of Illinois placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 2000, the public began to question the application of the death penalty. In all, seven states have subsequently placed moratoria on executions. A 2007 survey by the Death Penalty Information Center revealed that 40 percent of all Americans would be disqualified from serving on death penalty juries because of their moral beliefs.
In the 2007 case of Uttecht vs. Brown, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the state can remove jurors from serving on death penalty cases if they have moral objections to capital punishment. However, Justice Kennedy wrote in his dissent that the death penalty is becoming increasingly problematic since juries do not represent citizens who object to the death penalty. The death penalty remains an extremely controversial issue. As Americans appear to be extremely divided on the issue, there needs to be greater clarity on the reasons why the death penalty is necessary.
Crime and Punishment The debate over the death penalty is philosophical just as much as it is judicial. The central question is: What is the value of human life? By taking innocent human life, does the murderer lose claim to his own? There is no simple answer. The injunction from Hammurabi’s Code of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” came down through Western legal tradition. This code expresses an explicit and basic human desire for vengeance and revenge. It even suggests the death penalty is more about revenge than justice.
Interestingly, this was the opinion of Albert Pierrepont, the last official hangman in the United Kingdom, who wrote in his memoirs: “Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing but revenge. ” But is revenge inherently immoral? Let’s not forget that murder is a horrifying, vicious crime. The reality is that there are few innocent people on death row; the vast majority of these inmates did, in fact, commit the crimes for which they were found guilty. These killers brutally took the lives of innocent victims. By not recognizing the lives of their victims as sacred, they cannot claim their own lives are sacred.
In the end, the death penalty is an individual punishment for an individual crime. For better or worse, the law is the codified morality of society. While society is far from perfect, it reserves the ultimate judgment on the rule of law. Punishment is the only proven method to enforce the law. Every American agrees that murder is a crime, and we agree there must be a punishment for the crime. We disagree over whether the death penalty is necessary. If you recognize the sanctity of human life, however, there can be no debate: The ultimate crime deserves the ultimate punishment.