Flaws Of The Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper
Flaws of the Death Penalty
Capital Punishment has been part of the criminal justice system since as far back as 1700 B.C. However, in recent times opponents have shown the death penalty to be racist, barbaric, and in violation with the United States Constitution as “…cruel and unusual punishment.” 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.
Abolitionists maintain that the state has no right to kill anyone. The right to reject life imprisonment and choose death should be respected, but it changes nothing for those who oppose the death at the hands of the state.
The death penalty is irrational – a fact that should carry considerable weight with rationalists. As Albert Camus pointed out, “Capital punishment has always been a religious punishment and is reconcilable with humanism.” In other words, society has long since left behind the barbaric “customs” from the cruel “eye for an eye” anti-human caves of religion- another factor that should raise immediate misgivings for freethinkers.
State killings are morally damaging. Why do governments kill people to show other people that killing people is wrong? Humanity becomes associated with murderers when it replicates their deeds. Would society allow rape as the penalty for rape or the burning of arsonists’ homes as the penalty for arson?
The state should never have the power to murder its citizens. To give the state this power eliminates the individual’s most effective shield against oppression of the majority and is inconsistent with democratic principles.
Family and friends of murder victims are further victimized by state killings. Quite a few leaders in the abolishment movement became involved specially because someone they loved was murdered. Family of victims repeatedly stated they wanted the murderer to die. One of the main reasons – in addition to justice – was they wanted all the publicity to be over. Yet, if it weren’t for the drama surrounding an execution, the media exposure would not have occurred in the first place. Murderers would be quietly and safely put away for life with absolutely no possibility of parole.
The death penalty violates constitutional restraints against cruel and unusual punishment. The grotesque killing of Robert Harris by the state of California on April 21,1992, and similar reports of witnesses to hangings and lethal injections should leave doubt that the dying process can be – and often is – grossly inhumane, regardless of method.
The death penalty is often used for political gain. During his presidential stay, President Clinton rushed home for the Arkansas execution of Rickey Ray Rector, a mentally retarded, African American man. Clinton couldn’t take the chance of being seen by voters as “soft on crime.” Political Analysts believe that when the death penalty becomes an issue in a campaign, the candidate favoring capital punishment almost inevitably will benefit.
Capital punishment discriminates against the poor. Although murderers come from all classes, those on death row are almost without exception poor and were living in poverty at the time that they were arrested. The majority of death-row inmates was or is represented by court-appointed public defenders – and the state is not obligated to provide an attorney at all for appeals beyond the state level.
The application of capital punishment is racist. About 40 percent of death row inmates are African American, whereas only 8 percent of the population as a whole is African American. In cases with Caucasian victims, African American 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. In the criminal justice system, the life of a Caucasian person is worth more than the life of an African American person.
The mentally retarded are victimized by the death penalty.
Since 1989, when the Supreme Court upheld killing of the mentally retarded, at least four such executions have occurred. According to the Southern Center for Human Rights, at least 10 percent of death row inmates in the United States are mentally retarded.
Juveniles are subject to the death penalty. Since state execution of juveniles also became permissible in the decision cited above, at least five people who were juveniles when their crimes were committed have since been executed.
Innocent people can – and have been – executed. With the death penalty errors are irreversible. According to a 1987 study, 23 people who were innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted were executed between 1900 and 1985. Until human judgment becomes infallible, this problem alone is reason enough to abolish the death penalty at the hands of the state more dedicated to vengeance than to truth and justice.
Executions do not save money. There are those who claim that we, the taxpayers, shouldn’t have to “support” condemned people for an entire lifetime in prison – that we should simply “eliminate” them and save ourselves time and money. The truth is that the cost of state killing is up to three times the cost of lifetime imprisonment. Judges and others are reluctant – as they should be – to shorten the execution process for fear that hasty procedures will lead to the executions of more innocent people. The death penalty has been imposed most for murders committed during the course of another felony. Aggravating circumstances for murder are defined in the applicable death penalty statute.
Flanders, Stephen A. Capital Punishment. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1991.
Long, Robert Emmet. Criminal Sentencing. New York, NY: H.W. Company, 1995.