Opposing The Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper
Opposing the Death Penalty
?Capital Punishment is the infliction of the death penalty on persons convicted of a crime? (Americana 596). Killing convicted felons has been one of the most widely practiced forms of criminal punishment in the United States. Currently, the states that do not practice the death penalty are Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin. But for the remaining states that still do practice the death penalty it has been a topic of debate for many years. There are two parties who argue over its many points, including whether or not it is a fitting and adequate punishment, whether or not it acts as a deterrent to crime or whether or not it is morally wrong. These two classes of people can be grouped together as the retentionists, or the proponents, and the abolitionists, or the opponents (596). For the retentionists, the main reasons they are in support of the death penalty are to take revenge, to deter others, and to punish. They are most concerned with the protection of society from dangerous criminals. In spite of all this however, the death penalty is not a good form of criminal punishment for many reasons: it is morally wrong, it does not act as a deterrent for crime, it is irreversible and can be done on people who are innocent, it is more expensive than imprisonment and those who are convicted commonly use the costly process of appealing the decision and there is no chance to make restitution to the victim and/or the victim?s family.
?People that favor the death penalty agree that capital punishment is relic of barbarism, but as murder itself is barbaric, they contend that death is a fitting punishment for it? (Jayewardne 87). Retentionists are most often subscribers to an ?eye for an eye? principle and feel that execution is the only way to satisfy the public as well as themselves. Who doesn?t enjoy it when, for example, someone steals ten dollars from you and then the person who stole your money has the same thing happen to them? Retentionists feel the same way about murderers who are sentenced to die. As far as they are concerned, the criminal brought his punishment upon himself; they deserve what they get. When proponents of the death penalty are thrown the argument of capital punishment being a tragic loss of human life, the majority respond ?even in the tragedy of human death there are degrees, and that is much more tragic for the innocent to lose his life than for the State to take the life of a criminal convicted of a capital offense? (Bedau 308).
Fear of death deters people from committing crimes, proponents say. They also believe that if attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts moral influence by placing a stigma on certain crimes like manslaughter, resulting in attitudes of disgust and horror to such acts. Furthermore, retentionists insist that the deterrent influence of the death penalty reaches across state lines into jurisdictions that have abolished it, and so all benefit by its continued use. Perhaps this is the intended goal of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It ?establishes constitutional procedures for the imposition of the death penalty for federal crimes. It applies to federal statutes that previously carried the death penalty and creates many new capital offenses. As a result of the Act, the death penalty may now be imposed for nearly sixty federal crimes. New capital offenses include the murder of a federal prisoner serving a life sentence, and drive by shootings in the course of certain drug offenses? (Internet 8/7/00). Those in support of capital punishment think achieving model citizens and a better society happen through fear and intimidation.
Retentionists do not see the death penalty as being morally wrong. For them the most likely source of constitutional difficulty with capital punishment is the prohibition against ?cruel and unusual punishment,? otherwise known as the Eighth Amendment. When told by the opposing side that the death penalty is cruel, inhumane and degrading, most proponents argue that murder is too. In fact, some retentionists consider execution to be more human than life imprisonment because it is quick and instantaneous. Those in support of capital punishment felt that by making the prisoner suffer by rotting in jail for the rest of their life is more torturous and inhumane than execution. To sum up the basic views of the proponents, imprisonment is simply not a sufficient safeguard against the future actions of criminals because it offers the possibility of escape and release on parole. ?We think that some criminals must be made to pay for their crimes with their lives, and we think that we, the survivors of the world they violated, may legitimately extract the payment because we, too, are their victims? (Bedau 317).
Even though the retentionists pose some interesting arguments, I myself feel that the abolitionist perspective contains much stronger backing and more reasons for opposition, the first of which is that the death penalty is morally wrong because it is cruel and inhuman taking of a human life. The methods by which executions are carried out can involve physical torture. ?Electrocution has on occasion cause extensive burns and need more than one application of electric current to kill the condemned? (Amnesty 6). To many opponents, capital punishment is a euphemism for legally killing people and no one, not even the state, has the authority to play God.
Contrary to public belief, the death penalty does not act as a deterrent to crime. ?Expert after expert and study after study have emphasized and emphasized the lack of correlation between the threat of the death penalty and the occurrence of violent crime? (Meador 69). Isaac Ehrlich?s study on the deterrent effect of capital punishment in America reveals this. It spans twenty-five years, 1957-1982, and it shows that in the first year the study was conducted there were eight thousand and sixty murders in 1957 and sixty-five executions. However, in the last year of the study, there were twenty two thousand five hundred and twenty murders committed and one execution performed. The absence of deterrence is clearly shown. The death penalty is irrevocable. ?In case of mistake, the executed prisoner can not be given another chance. Justice can miscarry. In the last hundred years there have been more than seventy-five documented cases of wrongful conviction of criminal homicide. The death sentence was carried out in eight of these case? (Draper 47). Undoubtedly other cases of mistaken conviction and execution occurred and remain undocumented. A prisoner discovered to be blameless can be freed; but neither release nor compensation is possibly for a dead body.
The belief that execution costs less than imprisonment is false. ?The cost of the apparatus and maintenance of the procedures attending the death penalty, including death row and endless appeals and legal machinery, far outweighs the expense of maintaining in prison the tiny fraction of criminals who would otherwise be slain? (Draper 46).
Abolitionists believe that the offender should be required to compensate the victim?s family with the offender?s own income from employment or community service. There is no doubt in my mind that someone can do more alive rather than dead. By working, the criminal inadvertently ?pays back? society and also their victim and/or the victim?s family. There is no reason for the criminal to receive any compensation for their work. Money is of no value in jail. One of the most well known examples of the criminal contributing to the betterment of society is the case of Leopold and Loeb. Leopold and Loeb were nineteen years old when they committed ?The Crime of the Century.? In 1924 they kidnapped and murdered a fourteen-year-old boy just to see what it was like. They were both spared the death penalty and were sentenced to life imprisonment. Together, their accomplishments include working at hospitals, teaching illiterates to read, creating a correspondence school, making significant developments in the World War II Malaria Project and writing a grammar book. ?An inestimable amount of people were directly helped by Leopold and Loeb; both of them making a conscious commitment to atone by serving others? (Horwitz 109).
Abolitionists consider the death penalty an insufficient form of punishment because it is cruel and inhuman, there is no proof that it deters violent crime, it can be inflicted upon people innocent of any crime, the costly process of appealing gives the death penalty a hefty price tag and with the death penalty, the chance to make restitution to the victim and/or the victim?s family does not exist. The essence of the abolitionist perspective is this:
The death penalty has been a gross failure. Beyond its horror and incivility, it has neither protected the innocent nor deterred the wicked. The recurrent spectacle of publicly sanctioned killing has cheapened human life and dignity without the redeeming grace which comes from justice meted out swiftly, even humanely? (Draper 44).
Amnesty International Report. The Death Penalty. England: Amnesty International Publications, 1979.
?Angel on Death Row? http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/procon/deathissue.html 2 Aug 2000.
Bedau, Hugo Adam. The Death Penalty in America. New York: Okford University Press, 1982.
?Capital Punishment.? Encyclopedia Americana. 1990 ed.
Draper, Thomas. Capital Punishment. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1985.
Howitz, Elinor Lander. Capital Punishment U.S.A. New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1973.
Jayewardene, C.H.S. The Penalty of Death. Massachusetts: Lexington, 1977.
Meador, Roy. Capital Revenge: 54 Votes Against Life. Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1975.