Capital Punishment An Unjust Solution Essay, Research Paper
The three most recognized reasons for capital punishment are crime deterrent, eye-for-an-eye justice, and removal of undesirables from society. In fact, capital punishment has not proven to deter capital crimes in any state. Furthermore, in a sane and moral society the means of capital punishment (i.e. how prisoners are put to death) is anything but just. Ultimately society should aspire to the identification and remedy of that which causes the crime, not extermination of its citizens. It is patently absurd for a civilized society that has identified killing as wrong and inhumane, to endorse killing as a civil means of punishment.
People argue that the death penalty is a valid deterrent to capital crimes. This may appear to be a logical argument, but it is only logical to a rational society. That is, reasonable people would be deterred from committing a capital crime if they understood the consequence of the death penalty. However, people who commit violent crimes are most likely not acting rationally at the time they commit the crime. The possibility of being put to death if convicted usually does not make it into the perpetrators mind. This is especially true when the criminal is mentally unstable or acting under the influence of drugs, or rage, or panic.
To date, no proof has been produced to verify that the death penalty deters violent crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has recently published statistics that indicate that incidents of murder within some states that enforce capital punishment have not declined. Similarly, incidents of murder within other states that do not enforce capital punishment have not increased. Additionally, between 1976 and 1985 approximately twice as many law enforcement officers were killed in capital punishment states as in states that do not execute.
Dr. Thorsten Sellin, the late University of Pennsylvania scholar who changed the face of criminology, has been credited with the formation and usage of statistics in the evaluation of crime, an area in which Dr. Sellin was a foremost authority. He conducted a widely respected study in the 1960’s and 1980?s that concluded that the deterrent effects of capital punishment are minimal.
Death sentences are often times random. It is applied neither fairly nor consistently. Of the thousands of convicted murderers each year, less than 1 percent receives the death penalty. People who have committed the same violent crime under similar circumstances have not received the same sentence. One would think that the severity of the crime would dictate the punishment. However, it appears that race and socio-economic status play a larger role. Prosecutors often show racial bias in their decisions to seek the death penalty. Some prosecutors only call for capital punishment if it will benefit themselves (i.e. re-election), or if pressured to do so by constituents. Although whites and blacks are victims of murder in approximately equal numbers, since 1977 eighty percent of death row defendants were executed for killing whites. Far more often the death penalty is called upon when the victim of the crime is white rather than when the victim is black. In addition, a black defendant is more likely to receive the death penalty when there is a white victim. In most states prosecutors dismiss potential jurors who oppose capital punishment. In cases with black defendants, black jurors are often removed. Since 1976 only five white persons have been put to death for killing a black person.
When a defendant cannot afford the very expensive process of a capital punishment court case, they are assigned a court-appointed lawyer. Inexperienced counsels and lawyers are often assigned to these capital cases. These lawyers are typically under prepared, and over worked. A capital case requires hundreds of hours of preparation as well as court time. In terms of compensation for the hours they are expected to spend, these lawyers are paid ridiculously low wages. The result is often poor representation and sometimes-even misrepresentation.
While moral justice should not be measured by economics, it is nonetheless a consideration. The cost of executing a criminal in the United States is several times greater than the cost of keeping them in prison for life. A typical case involving capital punishment required a two-phased judgment trial, sentencing, state review, post conviction hearings, and possible Supreme Court petitions. In New York the cost of executing a prisoner is over $1.8 million, three times as much as the cost to keep a person in jail for life. Texas spends an estimated $2.3 million per case. They have the highest execution rate in the country, along with one of the highest murder rates. A poll taken in 1995 found that the majority of police chiefs in the United States do not believe that the death penalty is an effective law enforcement tool. The majority, 31%, believed that reducing drug abuse would lower violent crimes, while only 1% believed expanding the death penalty would lower violent crimes.
Another argument in support of capital punishment is justice and/or retribution. This eye-for-an-eye mentality is small consolation to the victims’ family. It also has little to with justice. Since 1973, over 80 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. If 80 people have been released from death row then how efficient is the system in which they are tried?
In order to guarantee the right to life, in 1971 the United Nations General Assembly decreed, “The main objective to be pursued is that of progressively restricting the number of offenses for which capital punishment may be imposed, with a view to the desirability of abolishing this punishment in all countries.” As recent as 1989, the United Nations adopted a set of rules aimed to eliminate the death penalty. The United States is yet to agree to these rules. Humans have rights that are not given or granted to them and cannot be taken away from them. One of these rights is the right to life.
Twenty-four states allow people under the age of 18 to be executed. As of 1997 in 15 states, there were 58 prisoners sentenced to death before they were 18 years old. Juveniles are more likely to act on impulse, under the influence of others and without thinking than adults are. Criminologists have also stated that the death penalty doesn?t affect potential offenders who lack maturity. Between 1985 and 1994, the United States has executed 9 convicted murderers who committed their crimes as juveniles.
The amount of physical pain caused by all five methods of execution cannot be measured. Electrocution, gassing, hanging, poisoning, and shooting are all methods used to kill capital crime offenders. There have been many malfunctions executing someone using these methods. In 1990 at a routine execution in Florida, electric chair equipment malfunctioned and each time the chair was turned on a six-inch flame leaped above the prisoner?s head. There is obvious mental suffering for the prisoner, knowing he will soon die. It is common for the victim to wear a hood to mask the facial expressions and pain from the witnesses and executioners. With the hood on the prisoner is often viewed as an object rather than a person about to be killed.
Innocent people have been executed and will continue to be executed because of human flaw. Between 1900 and 1991 it has been found that there has been over 400 cases of wrongful conviction for capital crimes. Sixty-nine men have been released from death row between 1973 and 1997. In this century human flaws and flaws within the system have allowed at least 23 innocent people to killed.
Saint Thomas Aquinas argued that people who kill should be removed permanently from society so that they will never kill again. That justification still exists today, and has kept us in the dark ages regarding sane, moral treatment of sick members of our society. More than 60 mentally retarded people have been executed in the United States since 1983. According to humanitarian standards mentally impaired people should not be held responsible for their criminal acts. Persons with limited mental competence should not be subjected to the death penalty. The Eighth Amendment, which prohibits the execution of insane prisoners, recognizes that there is no purpose in killing someone who doesn?t understand the purpose of their punishment. In 1993 the execution of Christopher Burger shows some flaws in the system. In 1977, when he was 17, Burger was convicted of murder. At the age of 33 he was executed. He had the intellectual capacity of a 12-year-old.
Currently over 38 states actively enforce capital punishment. In 1998, sixty-eight people were executed in eighteen states. According to the Bureau of Justice 3,452 prisoners are under a sentence of death. All of these prisoners committed murder. White people are seldom sentenced to death for killing a black person. There have only been 6 cases where a white person has been charged with killing a black person since the death penalty was reinstated. In Florida, blacks convicted of killing whites were five times more likely to receive the death penalty than whites convicted of killing whites. In Texas, blacks convicted of killing whites were six times more likely to receive the death penalty than whites convicted of killing whites. Similar statistics were found in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Virginia. All of which are southern states. Since 1988, in 9 out of 10 capital punishment cases the defendant was either Black or Hispanic. All criminals approved for death by Attorney General Janet Reno have been black.
In order to support capital punishment, one must believe that the law enforcement, judicial, and penal systems are incapable of protecting society without opting to killing. Supporters must think that it would be a waste of time to try to rehabilitate the offenders. Of the paroled murderers, .31% were later convicted of homicide. There are actually a greater percentage of the non-capital crime offenders who are paroled and then go on to commit a homicide. Using this logic, crimes such as burglary, armed robbery, and fraud should be considered capital crimes, punishable with death.