Capital Punishment When The Right To

Capital Punishment: When The Right To Life B Essay, Research Paper

Capital Punishment:When the Right To Life Becomes Alienable On February 3, 1998, at 6:45 p.m., Karla Faye Tucker died by lethal injection in Texas. She was guilty of murdering Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton on June 13, 1983. When the crimes were committed, Tucker was a cynic drug addict, and a prostitute. However, at the time of the execution, Tucker was a different person. By the time of her execution, Tucker had become an asset to our society. The fourteen years in prison taught her the ways of Born-Again Christianity. As she became a Born-Again Christian, she realized that she had wronged society, and she tried to help her fellow inmates to repent and learn that our society could benefit from them. Tucker’s execution gave the people of the United States the opportunity to reflect on capital punishment. The first question that arises from Tucker’s example is whether capital punishment is truly necessary in an advanced society. The need for death sentences is very debatable. Political, ethical, moral, and religious issues are involved in each person’s decision to support or oppose capital punishment. The following explain the logic behind each stand. The first reason pro capital punishment is deterrence and incapacitation. Tom Guilmette feels that capital punishment “is a deterrent for criminal activity because of its severity and it will never allow the murderer to murder again and tear apart another family.” Those in support of capital punishment believe that criminals, in fear of death, do not let themselves commit capital crimes. If a criminal still chooses to do wrong, death incapacitates him from committing a similar crime. The second point that pro death sentence people emphasize is Hammurabi’s Code or Lex Talionis. Hammurabi developed the rule of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Five milleniums after its development, numerous individuals still believe that it is just to replay a crime on a criminal. Many people who support capital punishment believe that it is very relieving for those who are affected by a murder to witness the death of the culprit. Furthermore, it is the symbolism involved in the execution of a felon that makes capital punishment attractive to so many people. Reed explains that “proponents of capital punishment like psychiatrist Willard Gaylin argue that ‘the power of the symbol must never be underestimated,’ that society needs to know a price commensurate with the crime will be paid, particularly in high-profile cases” (340). In other words, knowing that the felon has learned his lesson alleviates the pain of the victims. Supporters of capital punishment also examine its economic advantages. Edward Laijas explains his opinion on this matter:Let’s imagine for a moment there was no death penalty for a moment. The only reasonable sentence would [be] a life sentence. This would be costly to the taxpayers, not only for the cost of housing and feeding the prisonerbut [also] because of the numerous appeals which waste man-hours and money. By treating criminals in this manner, we are encouraging behavior that will result in a prison sentence. If there is no threat of death to one who commits a murder, then that person is guaranteed to be provided with a decent living environment until their next parole hearing. (Cantu)As can be seen, capital punishment saves taxpayers the money that they would otherwise need to feed and shelter a criminal. It is also demoralizing for a victim to pay for his aggressor to live comfortably in jail. One last point that capital punishment supporters bring up is that death is more humane than life in prison. That is, capital punishment is instantaneous (the felon only suffers briefly), whereas life imprisonment dehumanizes the criminal, and the length of the incarceration exacerbates the pain. On the other side of the issue, one of the points that opponents of capital punishment bring up is that of its cruelty and the violation of human rights. Jack Beaudoin states the following: No issue in America may be as controversial as the death penalty. But for right activists, the controversy is not over whether capital punishment deters crime, but whether it inherently violates human rights. “Life is the most fundamental human right there is,” says Stephen Bright [of the Southern Center for Human Rights]. “The death penalty is like torture–it’s beyond the pale. Most people say it’s not right to cut a thief’s fingers off. But it’s OK to cut off their head?” (15)Besides Russia, the U.S. is the only industrialized democracy where capital punishment is legal. This fact, added to police brutality and incarceration conditions, has led Amnesty

International to initiate a human rights campaign in this country. It is the duty of the United States to solve this problem. To many people in this country, and to most in other industrialized nations, it would be strategic for the United States to abolish the death penalty if it is to face the accusations of AI. Another important point is the possibility of error, which is the equivalent of unfairly killing an innocent person. Terry Golway expresses New York Cardinal John O’Connor’s perspective on the issue: “His critique of capital punishment was both nuanced and passionate. He noted that it is irreversible.” If the innocent is unjustly given such a sentence, all he can do is to hope for the appeal process to lean the balance towards him before the day of his execution. Should he not be lucky, once the execution is carried out, the state cannot do anything to compensate for the loss. Irreversibility leads to another point: a criminal’s right to repent, change, and the opportunity to repay society for his wrongdoing. Tucker’s is a great example of this point. By the time of her execution, she had repented and become a good person. Moreover, she tried to correct her error by helping others. Dan McGraw questions the purpose of capital punishment: “Is it to protect society from its worst predators? Or is it retribution? Are there some crimes so heinous that an inmate’s rehabilitation becomes irrelevant? For now, the state of Texas is saying that what Tucker did is more important than who she has become.” As long as capital punishment exists, a criminal can only be forgiven–if he is religious–by his God. Unfair administration of the death sentence is one last point that opponents of capital punishment mention. The use of capital punishment is unfair when it comes to women, minorities, and the poor. Guilmette explains that women are rarely sentenced to death, although they are responsible for one fifth of the murders. Minorities are sentenced with even more injustice. “A black man who kills a white person is 11 times more likely to receive the death penalty than a white man who kills a black person,” says Guilmette. Economic discrimination is even worse. Reed cites the following example: “In Louisiana, for example, 99 percent of the inmates on death row cannot afford their own lawyers. Court-appointed lawyers are paid a maximum of $1,000 (while the prosecution spends many times more) and are not required to have any prior experience in criminal law” (342). Given these three facts, it becomes obvious that prejudice is the main reason in the support of capital punishment. After stating the facts and reasons, my opinion is that capital punishment should be abolished. Blood shed does not solve the crime problems that this society faces. Many people feel relief when a murderer is killed, but his death does not bring his victim back to life. Most murderers experience mental trauma when young. As humans, is it not our duty to help those people by forgiving and giving them a chance to undo their wrongdoing? Killing criminals can only show that humanity still acts on the primitive instinct of revenge; but it solves nothing. Capital punishment is a very controversial issue. The facts stated on this paper can help the reader make a decision on which stand to take. As I mentioned at the beginning of the paper, there are many political, ethical, moral, and religious issues involved in the death penalty. These allow people to create their own policy on capital punishment. In other words, supporters (and opponents) can have different views and reasons for it. Personally, I hope that analysis of the controversy leads to its abolishment.

Beaudoin, Jack. “Does the U.S. Abuse Human Rights?” Scholastic Update. 8 Dec.1997: 14-15.Cantu, Leslie, et al. Capital Punishment: Life or Death. Online. Internet. 5 Aug. 1998. Available: tonya/spring/cap/group1.htm.Cauthen, Kenneth. Capital Punishment. Online. Internet. 3 Aug. 1998. Available: kenc/cappun.htm.Golway, Terry. “Life in the 90s.” America. 13 Apr. 1996: 6.McGraw, Dan. “When is forgiveness unforgivable?” U.S. News & World Report. 9Feb. 1998: 7.Guilmette, Thomas. Capital Punishment: A Report By Tom Guilmette. Online.Internet. 5 Aug. 1998. Available:, Julia. “Politics: Capital Crime.” Vogue. March 1998: 338-42.


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