The Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper
Each year there are about 250 people added to death row and 35 executed. From 1976 to 1995 there were a total of 314 people put to death in the U.S. 179 of them were put to death using lethal injection, 123 were put to death using electrocution, 9 were put to death in a gas chamber, 2 were hanged, and 1 was put to death using the firing squad. The death penalty is the harshest form of punishment enforced in the United Sates today.
Once a jury has convicted a criminal, they go to the second part of the trial, the punishment phase. If the jury recommends the death penalty and the judge agrees then the criminal will face some form of execution, lethal injection is the most common form used today. There was a period from 1972 to 1976 that capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their reason for this decision was that the death penalty was “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. The decision was reversed when new methods of execution were introduced.
Capital punishment is a difficult issue and there are as many different opinions as there are people. Different forms of the death penalty are more humane than others. In the 1920’s people decided that lethal gas, or the gas chamber, was more humane than death by electrocution. Nevada was the first state to adopt the gas chamber as their form of execution.
The “Humane Death Bill” was passed abolishing all other forms of execution (Hanging or firing squad were the only other two forms of execution at that time) in the state of Nevada, this bill was signed by the governor on March 28, 1921. Not long after electrocution was tried as being inhumane, the gas chamber was challenged as being cruel and unusual punishment also. Gee Jon and Hughie Sing were the first two people to be sentenced to die by lethal gas. Justice Coleman, after the appeal was denied, relied on the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment to try and prove that the courts was not able to say that lethal gas was a painless way of putting a man to death. He tried to prove that it would subject the victim to either pain or torture.
Many people attended the execution of Gee Jon, some of who were physicians and scientists. They came to try and prove that this was a humane way of killing a man. Putting forth this as a quick and painless method of execution. Several of them said they thought it the most merciful form yet devised. This is what happened to the victim according to A. Huftaker, E. E. Hammer, and Major D. A. Turner of the Army Medical Reserve Corps., The man went unconscious after his first breath of the vaporized acid (liquid hydrocyanic acid). Since the man was unconscious he did not feel any pain and died almost instantly. There for the death penalty was for that time a humane way of killing someone.
Electrocution was also done away with in Florida. In it’s place came lethal injection. The 74 year old oak chair was banished after the second messed up execution in seven years. Jesse Tafero’s in 1990 and Pedro Medina’s on march 25. These cases were the basis for the accusation that the electric chair was cruel and unusual punishment. In both executions, flames shot from the prisoners’ heads when the current of electricity was turned on. The chair’s head gear was blamed for this problem. “It was brutal, terrible. It was a burning-alive, literally,” said attorney Michael Minerva after witnessing the Medina execution. After all this happened the question of what would replace the electric chair if and when Florida got rid of it came up.
The answer to that was lethal injection, a mix of drugs that sends a person in to unconsciousness and then kills them. This was described as similar to putting an animal down. This was a method already employed by 32 states and seemed like the best solution to the problem at hand. Of the 32 states already using lethal injection Florida Corrections Commission surveyed 17 of these states. The majority of these states said that they switched to “the needle”, lethal injection because it is the most humane form of capital punishment. Florida took polls showing the death penalty was strongly supported. Texas, the first to use lethal injection in 1982, and other states has had this form of capital punishment tested in court time and time again and it has always come out as being valid and humane to the victim.
Is Capital Punishment humane? Which methods, if any, are humane? The Prolonged suffering of an individual is not humane. “Pain is subjective to what a person considers painful and how much pain is consider humane. Botched executions, where the offender lingers on before death, does not offer opportunities for us to assess the experience.” (Executions in America pg.47) When the execution goes according to plan, the person doesn’t live to tell about the experience and the effects of it. Execution can be a vary long and brutal process, when something goes wrong. Long ago, in the United States, hanging was he most widely used method of execution. The person’s spine was supposed to snap. During the 18th Century and earlier, hanging were often botched. If the prisoner failed to die from the drop then they would slowly suffocate. If the prisoner was too heavy then the fall could rip the head from the body.
The electric chair replaced hanging. The goal of electrocution is the paralysis of the heart and respiratory system. This happens through the burning of the internal organs. Willie Francis was a prisoner who experienced only a few seconds of electrocution and survived. This was a result of a malfunction of the machinery. He said that the experience was quite painful and that ” My mouth tasted like cold peanut butter. I felt a burning in my head and my left leg, and I jumped against the straps. I saw little blue and pink and green speckles.” A year later he was executed again.
As you can see from these examples, the executed often undergoes horrific physical and even emotional abuse. Can you imagine living through electrocution and going through the process one, two, or three more times! Although we first think of the effects on the executed, we don’t always think of the effects on other people. There are people directly and indirectly involved. For example, Jurors, prison officials, the families of the condemned, and even the families of victims witness or are tied to it some other way.
Botched executions can be the result of mistakes by the executioners, equipment problems or struggling by the prisoner. In order to perform lethal injection a prisoner with a history of “intravenous” drug use, the executioner may have to surgically locate a deeper vein. “Even a small error in dosage or administration can leave a prisoner conscious but paralyzed while dying, a sentient witness of his or her own, slow, lingering asohyxiation.” The executioner has to live with the fact that there were the cause of the agonizing death of another human being.
A man lying face up on a hospital gurney is subjected to what looks like a routine medical procedure. The only difference is that the goal is to kill instead of heal.” In 1951, Eliso Mares was put to death by a firing squad. The prison staff likes Mares and so they aimed away from his heart Mares bled to death and it was a slow lingering process. Again, the executioners were at fault. In 1985, Alpha Otis Stephen’s was shocked with three 1,900 volt of electricity. When Stephen’s was shocked the first time, he struggled for breath for eight long minutes. he was shocked again but witnesses spotted him continuing to gasp for air. After 23 more breaths he was shocked one last time. Fred Leuchter, a major designer of the electrocution machinery, gave his opinion on the cons of the electric chair: “If you overload an individual’s body with current… You’ll cook the meat on his body. It’s like the meat on an overcooked chicken. If you grab the arm, the flesh will fall right off in your hands.. That doesn’t mean that he felt anything. It simply means that it’s cosmetically not the thing to do. Presumably the state will return the remains to the victim’s family for burial. Returning somebody who has been cooked would be in poor taste. This would affect the victim’s family. Even if they chose not to watch the execution, the remains can be just as emotionally harmful. In the example that I started earlier, you can gather that is would not be pleasant to see your son or daughter executed numerous times or shocked a number of times. As you can see from the above arguments there are many paths you could take as far as if the death penalty is humane or not. As an over all out come of this paper I think that lethal injection is the most humane form of execution. The reason for this is it is really hard to botch this type of execution but the others such as electrocution and hanging can be botched quite easily. Although over all I think that the death penalty is a bad solution to this problem, the idea of two wrongs don’t make a right comes into play in this case quite stongly, if it is really needed then I would have to say that lethal injection is the most humane form of execution. Although it is humane, I don’t think I would be able to go through with actually being executed or executing someone.