Capital Punisment Essay, Research Paper
Capital punishment has been in effect since the 1600’s. However, in 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment, which was unconstitutional according to the Eighth amendment. It was public opinion that the current methods of execution, hanging, electrocution, and facing a firing squad, were too slow and painful upon the person to be executed. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed this decision when a "cleaner" way to bring about death was found in 1976. This "cleaner" way is death by lethal injection, which is quick and painless if administered right. Since capital punishment has been reinstituted the issue has been a major discussion in the media and among the American public. Some say the death penalty is what the criminal deserves while others object to it because death is irreversible.
In a trial the sentencing judge or jury are ordered by the Supreme Court to look for "specific aggravating and mitigating factors in deciding which convicted murderers should be sentenced to death. Some of these mitigating factors are the defendant’s motivation, character, personal history, and most of all remorse. If applied right the death penalty is a legitimate form of justice. Every year approximately 250 new offenders are added to death row. In 1994 there were 2,850 persons awaiting execution. Yet no more than thirty-eight people have been executed a year since 1976. This is a ridiculously low number compared to 199 persons executed in 1935. The reason for this slow execution rate is the process of appeals, from sentencing to execution there is about a seven to eight year wait. The convict’s cases’ are reviewed by the state courts and through the federal courts. With all this opportunity for the case to be turned over or the sentence to be changed it is almost impossible for an innocent person to be executed. Only two people have been proved innocent after their execution in the United States. These wrongful deaths occurred in 1918 and 1949. Since then the justice system has undergone a lot of fine-tuning making this extremely unlikely today.
If someone is sitting on death row, then they more than likely deserve it. They have caused a great deal of grief to the family and friends of the victim or victims and it seems that the only way justice could be served is for the criminal to die. For the person to simply go to jail seems unfair. There they will eat three meals a day, get to watch cable TV, and befriend other inmates. They live a caged life but it is not a life without freedoms. It is a life they don’t deserve. Out of the fifty states in the United States 37 have and use capital punishment. Out of the same fifty states only 18 have life imprisonment with out parole. In the other 32 states a person who should’ve been executed can be released after as little as 20 years in prison.
There are certain standards that are followed in giving out capital punishment. The defendant can not be insane, and mans rea or criminal intent must be present. Also, minors very rarely receive the death penalty because they are not fully mature and might not know the consequences of their actions. Finally the mentally retarded are very seldom executed. The reason for not executing the retarded is that they often have difficulty defending themselves in court, have problems remembering details, locating witnesses, and testifying credibly on their own behalf.
If capital punishment were carried out more it would prove to be the crime deterrent it was partly intended. Most criminals would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives was at stake. As it turns out though very few people are executed and so the death penalty is not a satisfactory deterrent. During highly publicized death penalty cases the homicide rate is found to go down but it goes back up when the case is over. The death penalty is a punishment that will remain active for a long time in the future, even with all the criticism. It is an ancient way of dealing with extremely serious offences that plague our country today. Hopefully the appeals process will be shortened, but remain effective, so more criminals can be executed, making prospective criminals think twice.
Bailey, William C., "Murder, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence" 1994. Journal of Social Issues.
Cole, George F., The American System for Criminal Justice 1995, New York.