Capital Punishment 21 Essay, Research Paper
Currently, the United States is one of the only western democratic systems that still has capital punishment in the books. Only America remains committed to this brutal form of punishment. America believes in freedom and democracy, but continues this dehumanizing process, and wont face the facts and remove this evil process from society. The only goal of capital punishment is revenge. It is not deterrence of crime, as the death penalty has been proven not to deter crime. It is not financial responsibility, as the death penalty costs the taxpayers millions of dollars more than life imprisonment. The people who commit such crimes should spend life in prison thinking about whom they harmed, and what it did to the families involved. The death penalty does more harm than good.
Capital punishment has quite a history, first influenced by Britain. When European settlers came to the new world they brought the practice of capital punishment. In 1612, Virginia Governor Sir Thomas Dale enacted the Divine Moral and Martial Laws, which provided the death penalty for even minor offenses such as stealing grapes, killing chickens, and trading with Indians. Laws regarding the death penalty varied from colony to colony. This tradition has gone in and out with the times. In such a modern society people would not expect to find such barbaric behavior.
The first question people ask is does the death penalty really deter crime? They want you to believe the answer to that question is “yes.” But, in fact, it is “NO.” It is already known that the US is the only Western nation that still allows the death penalty, and we also have one of the highest crime rates. During the 1980s, death penalty states averaged an annual rate of 7.5 criminal homicides per 100,000, while abolition states averaged a rate of 7.4 per 100,000. This means murder was actually more common in states that use the death penalty. Even police chiefs and sheriffs questioned in a nationwide survey ranked capital punishment as the last way of reducing violent crime. Murderers do not look at the risks or rewards before they kill someone. Being a criminal is essentially irrational, so you would think life imprisonment would deter a rational person. Besides, no criminal commits a crime if he believes he will be caught.
A second argument against the death penalty is the costs related to it. Spangenberg and Walsh in an article in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review stated that “The death penalty is not now, nor has it ever been, a more economical alternative to life imprisonment”. A study by the NY State Defenders Association also showed that the cost of a capital trial alone is more than double the cost of life imprisonment. These types of statistics have showed up in every state that supports the death penalty. Studies have proved that enforcing the death penalty can cost up to six times more than life imprisonment. These types of results seem like they would convince most of the taxpayers alone to reconsider their views on the death penalty. It is a costly procedure and more often than not kills innocent people.
A third argument is that the death penalty kills more innocent people, than actual murderers. At least twenty-three percent of people have been executed who did not commit the crime they were accused of, and those are only the cases we know about. When we execute an innocent person, the real killer is still on the streets, ready to victimize someone else; and if he is executed, than the case remains closed forever. This is not the type of system that is portrayed to society. The death penalty is irrevocable. “In case of a mistake, the executed prisoner cannot be given another chance. Justice can miscarry. In the last hundred years there have been more that 75 documented cases of wrongful conviction of criminal homicide (Draper 47). Undoubtedly many 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 possible for a corpse.
The strongest argument against using capital punishment is the argument that capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, condemning cruel and unusual punishment, is used to protest capital punishment. When the constitution was drafted, capital punishment was practiced widely in this country, yet it was not specified as wrong or as cruel and unusual. Many of the framers of the constitution endorsed capital punishment, as did philosophers from which the constitution draws from. John Locke went as far to say that murder is not intrinsically wrong. Currently, it is the function of penal laws to prevent murder by demonstrating to everyone that it is not in their best interest to murder. The death penalty is wrong morally because it is the cruel and inhumane taking of a human life. The methods by which executions are carried out can involve physical torture. “Electrocution has on occasion caused extensive burns and needed more than one application of electric current to kill the condemned” (Amnesty 6). This is definitely a cruel and inhumane to even punish a criminal. Some of these arguments are not enough for the public, and some still feel strongly about the death penalty.
One opinion is that executions maximize public safety through a form of incapacitation and deterrence. Executing a person takes away the capacity of and forcibly prevents recurrence of violence. Deterrence is the act or process of discouraging and preventing an action from occurring (Webster, 307). Use of the death penalty as intended by law could actually reduce the number of violent murders by eliminating some of the repeat offenders in turn being used as a system of justice, not just a method of deterrence. Modern supporters of capital punishment no longer view the death penalty as a deterrent, but as a just punishment for the crime, a shift from the attitudes of past generations. “In recent years the appeal of deterrence has been supplanted by a frank desire for what large majorities see as just vengeance.” (Dionne 178-180). The possibility of execution would give a potential pause in the thought process of the murderer, using fear as an incentive for preventing recurrence or quite possibly the first occurrence of murder.
Another favorite of people in favor of the death penalty is that “People that favor the death penalty agree that capital punishment is a fitting punishment.” (Jayewardene 87). These people believe in “an eye for an eye” principle and feel that execution is the only way to satisfy the public as well as themselves. As far as they are concerned, the criminal brought his punishment upon himself; they deserve what they get. Capital punishment is a method of retributive punishment as old as civilization. Those in support of capital punishment feel that making the prisoner suffer by rotting in jail for the rest of his life is more torturous and inhumane than execution. To sum it up, imprisonment is simply not a sufficient safeguard against the future actions of criminals because it offers the possibility of 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 that payment because we, too, are their victims” (Bedau 317).