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Views Of The Death Penalty Essay Research

Views Of The Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper

Views of the Death Penalty

Capital Punishment has been part of the criminal justice system since the earliest of times. The Babylonian Hammurabi Code (ca. 1700 BC) decreed death sentences for crimes as minor as the fraudulent sale of beer. Egyptians could be put to death for disclosing the location of sacred burial sites (2.). In this country, although laws governing the application of the death penalty have undergone many changes since biblical times, the punishment endures and controversy has never been greater. However, in recent times opponents have shown the death penalty to be racist, irrational, in violation of the United States Constitution as ??cruel and unusual punishment?, and economically unsound.

Capital punishment is racist and discriminates against the poor. About forty percent of death-row inmates are black, whereas only eight percent of the population as a whole is black (1.). In some cases, black defendants were four to six times more likely to receive death sentences than white defendants who had similar criminal histories. Studies show that the chance for a death sentence is up to five to ten times greater in cases with white victims than black victims (1.). The poor are also discriminated against. Although murderers come from all classes of society, the inmates on death row are almost without exception poor and were living in poverty at the time they were arrested. I believe this is because the majority of death-row inmates were represented by court-appointed public defenders and did not have the luxury of high-priced defensive attorneys. Also, the state is not obligated to provide an attorney at all for appeals beyond the state level.

The death penalty is irrational. As James Carlton has pointed out, ?Capital punishment?has always been a religious punishment and is reconcilable with humanism?(3.). In other words, we would like to think that society has long since left behind the archaic and barbarous customs from the cruel ?eye for and eye? anti-humane practices of yore. However, this doesn?t seem to be the case. I believe the irrational and hypocritical behavior of our government is shown through execution. The government expects to show the public that it is wrong to kill people by killing people. I don?t believe society would justify rape as the penalty for rape or the burning of an arsonist?s home as the penalty for arson.

The death penalty violates constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. I believe the methods of execution used in this country are a prime example.

1. The Electric Chair (used in 13 states): a prisoner is strapped to a chair with electrodes attached to his and 30,000 volts of electricity are zapped into his body. These jolts are actually powerful enough to pop the prisoners eyeballs from their sockets and literally boil the brain and cook the internal organs. If this wasn?t bad enough it may require several shocks before the heart completely stops beating.

2. The Gas Chamber (used in few states): The prisoner is strapped to a chair while sodium cyanide is dropped into a pool of sulfuric acid creating a poisonous cyanide gas. This deadly gas causes the prisoner to writhe, shake, and vomit as he gasps for air for the few minutes it takes for him to die.

3. Lethal Injection (used in 23 states): The prisoner is strapped to a table where an injection is given to put them to sleep, another is given to stop respiration, and finally another is given to stop the heart.

Also, hangings are still used in a few states and a firing squad is still an option in Utah. I?m sure that the supporters of capital punishment would point out that these prisoners are not innocent people and have themselves committed cruel and heinous crimes. However, as a society we should not let ourselves and especially our government sink to the level of these individuals.

Many people argue that the death penalty saves the taxpayers the expense of having to pay for an inmate to be incarcerated for life; this is simply not true. The cost of a capital punishment trial is up to three times more than the cost of a lifetime imprisonment verdict (2.). The reason for this is that death penalty cases can be drug out for months. This means the following costs would accrue: the jury would have to be sequestered for the length of the trial (which means hotel rooms, and reimbursement for lost wages), the court appointed attorney fees, and the cost of housing the prisoner in the county jail until the trial is over. If the jury fails to reach a verdict or if the judge declares a mistrial for other reasons then the whole process starts over again.

Recent times have shown the death penalty to be racist, irrational, in violation of the United States Constitution as ??cruel and unusual punishment?, and economically unsound. From the electric chair to the gas chamber to the firing squad, capital punishment is grossly inhumane regardless of the method.

1. Flanders, Stephen A. Capitol Punishment. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1991

2. Long, Robert Emmet. Criminal Sentencing. New York, NY: H.W. Company, 1995.

3. Carlton, James. America on Trial. New York, NY: H.W. Company, 1995.