Capital Punishment, Not A Deterrent Essay, Research Paper
Capital Punishment, not a deterrent “The question with which we must deal is not whether a substantial proportion of American citizens would today, if polled, opine that capital punishment is barbarously cruel, but whether they would find it to be so in light of all information presently available.” (Justice Thurgood Marshall) There are two opposing views regarding capital punishment: those who oppose it and those who support the death penalty. Many opinions are understandable from both sides; for example, if one takes a look at the family of the victim. These want the criminal, who committed the terrible crime to be punished the same way the victim was, and that is to pay with his or her life. However, the questions we all have to ask ourselves -no matter how deep our feelings go- is if, by the death penalty, prevents similar crimes in the future Capital punishment is not an effective deterrent for criminals. Recent statistics and scientific studies have shown that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual treatment and it costs more money than life imprisonment. Besides, there is always the chance to punish the innocent person. Capital punishment is barbaric and cruel. It represents and unusual treatment for the convicted, something which Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms tries to prevent by stating that everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. (Gibson, Murphy, p. 55)It should not have any place in the world today. It should be left behind because it is part of ancient times, times where physical punishments were common.Moreover capital punishment is unfair as it denies the due process of law. It forever deprives an individual of the benefits of new evidence or a new law which might change his or her life by reversing the conviction or by deciding upon a milder punishment.People who have been convicted of capital crimes can be punished in different ways.One method of execution is the electric chair. Here the prisoner is led, or forced, to go into the so-called death chamber where he is tied to the electric chair. After this, electrodes are fixed to the prisoner’s head and legs. Next the switch is turned on and the body strains as the voltage is raised and lowered. Often, smoke rises from the head and the smell of burned flesh is in the air. However, nobody knows how long individuals are conscious after being electrocuted. Later, the gas chamber was invented as an attempt to improve electrocution. Here the prisoner is led into the gas chamber and he is strapped into a chair. Underneath the chair there is a receptacle containing sulfuric acid. After the chamber is shut and sealed, cyanide is dropped into the acid to form lethal gas, which is fatal and kills the prisoner. (Barbarity )Two other methods for the death penalty to be carried out which have been used for hundreds of years are hanging and the firing squad. For the latter, the prisoner is strapped to a chair and he is hooded so that he cannot see what is happening. Then a target is fastened to his or her chest and five marksmen fire. (Barbarity )As in all other methods, when somebody is being hanged things may go wrong and the prisoner might have to suffer serious and cruel consequences. When the hanging drop is too long, the head is torn off, and when the drop is too short, the prisoner suffers a slow and painful death by strangulation. (Barbarity )The methods described before are older and considered barbaric. Nowadays there is the possibility to use the lethal injection as a method to carry out the death penalty. It might seem more humane at first sight, but in fact, no one really knows how painful it is. The U.S. Court of Appeals gave a description of what happens when the substance is injected into the
“substantial and uncontroverted evidence that execution by lethal injection poses a serious risk of cruel, protracted death Even a slight error in dosage can leave a prisoner conscious but paralyzed while dying, a sentient witness of his or her own asphyxiation.” (U.S. Court ) Apart from the fact that the death penalty represents a barbaric and unusual treatment, it has not yet been confirmed that it is a good deterrent for criminals. “Research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment and such is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis ” (UN) The countries where the death penalty has been abolished have a lower rate of homicides and life imprisonment appears to be more effective than capital punishment. Surveys and statistics have shown, “the fact that all the evidence continues to point in the same direction is persuasive a priori evidence that countries need not fear sudden and serious changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance upon the death penalty.” (UN) Canada is a good example to demonstrate the effect produced by the abolition of the death penalty. In the year 1975, that is one year before the abolition took place, the homicide rate per 100,000 population lay at 3.09 and only five years later, and four years after the abolition it had sunk to 2.41 per 100,000 population, and it has not changed much since then. In 1993, the rate was at 2.19 per 100,000 population which is 27% lower than in 1975. These facts prove that the death penalty does not represent a barrier to the commission of crimes but that it is possible to reduce the number of crimes committed by other means. (Buckler, A15)Another recent survey states that during the 1980s death penalty states had averages of about 7.5 criminal homicides per 100,000 population where the abolition states averaged 7.4 homicides per 100,000 population. Not only do these surveys or statistics indicate that capital punishment has no impact on the deterrence of criminals but it is obvious that its abolishment can result in the reduction of crimes. (Amnesty )Another study, which shows that the death penalty only increases the amount of homicide rates, shows the situation in New York where between the years 1907 and 1964, 692 executions were carried out. Over this 57-year period, one or more executions in a specific month resulted in a two homicides increase the next month and this fact should be enough to prove the inefficiency of the capital punishment. (Amnesty ) Even police officers agree in this matter. They say that more criminal homicides do not take place in US-states where the death penalty has been abolished. Basically, there is “no support for the view that the death penalty provides a more effective deterrent to police homicides than alternative sanctions.” Not for a single year was evidence found that police are safer in jurisdictions that provide for capital punishment. (Bedau)
Looking at another fact one discoveres the proof that the threat of the death penalty “does not even exert an incremental deterrent effect over the threat of a lesser punishment in the abolitionist state.” (Bedau)This was confirmed by a statistic which stated that between 1984 and 1989, 88% from the murders committed against prison staff in ten US-states occurred in death penalty jurisdictions. (Amnesty )Not only is capital punishment of no effect in the prevention of crime but it has been proved that it is a waste of money, too. One might think that the death penalty is better because the citizens do not have to pa for the food and shelter of a criminal. However, statistics indicate that the long lasting appeal processes cost a lot of money, much more than life in prison. In such a case the time and energy of attorneys, juries, defense counsels, courtrooms and correctional personnel are being used and all these people have to be paid for. The prisoner has to wait for years until a decision has been taken. In 1982, a study in the New York state calculated the cost of a capital trial and the first stage of appeal and found out that an enormous cost of 1.8 million (US) were needed for that. (Buckler, A15)Considering these and the studies mentioned before it is true that the execution act is an act of violence. It should not be used by any State as penalty, because it is simply of no use. Apart from the cruelty and inefficiency of capital punishment, this penalty differs from all other punishments in a very important and significant way: it is irrevocable. Life cannot be restored after it has been taken away from somebody. The penalty cannot be taken back if it is discovered that the convicted is not guilty of the crime.”I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I have the infallibility of human judgement demonstrated to me.” (Marquis de Lafayette)Everybody makes mistakes, nobody is perfect. Courts do not represent an exception. There have always been cases, some more important than others, where innocent people have been convicted of different offences, but afterwards they could be freed again, compensated, and apologized to if they were found innocent. However, if an individual were found innocent after being executed already, nothing could be done for him or her, and his or her life could not be brought back. DNA tests recently proved that Gregory Parsons, Guy Paul Morin and David Milgaard were innocent. Had the death penalty not been abolished in Canada in the last twenty years, these innocent people would have been executed. (Buckler, A15) These individuals were incredibly lucky to escape capital punishment and so were a few others.In 1975 two African-American men in Florida named Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee were released from jail after twelve years on the death row waiting for the execution. They had been wrongfully convicted for the murder of two white men because of erroneous testimony of an eyewitness and an incompetent defense counsel. Although a white man confessed the crime they had to fight for nine years before the Governor would apologize to them. At that time, the constitutional status of capital punishment was argued in courts. Had the execution not been stayed during this period of time they would have been dead by today. (Bedau)In the case of Earl Charles he had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the year 1975. This happened because a surviving victim of the crime thought to recognize him as the gunman. Moreover, a jailhouse informant, was said to have heard him confess. However, alibi evidence showed that Charles was in Florida at the time when the crime happened in Georgia, which proved his innocence. Charles had been imprisoned for three years before he was released. (Bedau)These are only two examples of individuals erroneously convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to death. They were lucky, they were not killed before their innocence could be established, however, out of 350 innocent people who were convicted of capital crimes in the U.S. between 1900 and 1985 23 were executed. (Against )These facts are frightening and they are not just words and numbers on a piece of paper, they are realities which need to be faced. “Judging by past experience, a substantial number of death row in mates are indeed innocent, and there is a high risk that some of them will be executed.” (U.S. Congressional Report) By now one should have noticed that something needs to be done in order for the legal systems to be able to provide fair trials and appropriate penalties for criminals. A small step towards the solution of this enormous problem could be the amended Penal Code, which states that the death penalty is to be replaced by life imprisonment without the opportunity of commutation. An exception is made regarding people younger than 20, women who were pregnant at the time of the offence or at the time of sentencing and regarding soldiers younger than 18 for military offences or for offences committed during war. For these people the maximum penalty is life imprisonment with the possibility of commutation. (Against ) Considering the facts given, every statement, every survey or statistic proves that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent for criminals. There will always be criminals to commit terrible crimes and murders but the state will have to find methods other than the death penalty to prevent these from happening in a great number. Apart from the brutality and the risk represented by capital punishment, it has been shown that by using this method as a penalty for criminals the state will not succeed in reducing the number of crimes committed each year.