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The Myths and Reality of the Death Penalty Issue The issue of death penalty was one of the most controversial issues of contemporary law system of almost all of the countries of the world. Since ancient times, the death penalty has existed in the majority of societies around the world. From Ancient Rome to modern times, people have believed in punishing crimes by death. The eye for an eye theory has been in practice for severe and petty crimes for many, many years.
In Babylonian times, death could be exacted for the sale of beer to minors. Egyptians could be sentenced to death for disclosing the site of sacred burial grounds (Finley). However, capital punishment has undergone great scrutiny and debate since the Eighteenth Century. The nonchalant attitude toward the death penalty is almost obsolete in the United States today.
Both advocates and opponents to the death penalty voice opinions and evidence regarding their respective sides of this issue. England during the eighteenth century had more than two hundred crimes that were punishable by death. These crimes ranged from minor crimes like pick pocketing to severe crimes like murder. Even in this time, there were people in favor of and against putting criminals to death (Guzman). In United States history in particular, severe crimes that have been punished by execution include witchcraft, adultery, rape, perjury, theft, and murder.
The first known execution that took place in the territory of the United States was Daniel France. He was put to death in 1622 in the colony of Virginia for the crime of theft (Death Penalty History 1). Since that time, the death penalty has almost always been a feature of the criminal justice system, first in the colonies and afterward in the United States of America. There was a short period in American history when the death penalty did not play a role in punishment for crimes. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court voided all state laws that upheld the death penalty in the landmark case Furman v. Georgia.
There reasoning for this finding was that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment and in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution (Capital Punishment 1). In many cases the legal system doesnt seem to be just, in their mind, especially if it allows the killer to sit in a jail cell, while their loved one is lost forever. Their hearts and minds grieve longer while the killer is still alive, with the threat that he / she may be released or escape. The execution provides the ultimate sense of closure for the family of the victim, no longer do they feel the killer got away with a lesser sentence then the deceased, and they can begin to move on with their lives.
Throughout the history of the world there has been incredible support for the use of capital punishment in many societies, and religions. In ancient Greek society Socrates was executed for not believing in the gods, and in Saudi Arabia in the seventies a princess was executed for committing adultery. History has demonstrated that the death penalty is an acceptable method of punishment, and that its use doesnt constitute any wrong doing on the part of the state. The Constitution, the basis for our countries laws and regulations, doesnt speak to the abolishment of, or the illegality of capital punishment. Instead it requires only those penalties be appropriate to the gravity of the crime. When the crime is murder then there becomes a basis for such a penalty right in the language of the constitution.
However the more powerful language in the constitution dealing on this subject comes from the eighth amendment, and the phrase cruel and unusual punishment. Many opponents of the death penalty feel that it is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I contend that since the death penalty was being used at the time our forefathers wrote the constitution, they obviously didnt intend for the death penalty to be a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Therefore, the idea of capital punishment itself cant be deemed a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
The Supreme Court has also decided that capital punishment is acceptable in the case McKlesky v. Kemp. The only way in which capital punishment may be deemed cruel and unusual is in its administration and the method of execution used. However if it can be assured that its administration is just, and the methods used arent cruel or unusual, then the death penalty cant be deemed cruel and unusual, as its structure has already been determined not to be.
I am not trying to argue for anything other then that the structure of the death penalty should be retained, and our nations history provide! s us with strong support. (Finley) As time passed, American perceptions about political and social issues concerning the death penalty began to move in the direction of abolishment or at least restriction of capital punishment for only the most vile and heinous crimes, such as murder cases. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the total number of executions in the United States as of April 6, 1999, range from one in 1977 to sixty-eight in 1998. Already in 1999, thirty-one executions have been carried out.
From 1977 to 1999, a total of five hundred and thirty-one people have been executed. There are several methods used to perform these executions. The following are the methods used throughout the United States: lethal injections, electrocution, gas chambers, hanging and firing squads (Executions 1). Each state has different laws regarding which method is legal and performed. The debate over the merits and disadvantages of capital punishment has lasted for many years and continues to be extremely controversial.
The members of American society that favors the death penalty have many arguments to support their belief in this form of punishment. The most widely used argument to advocate applying the death penalty for severe crimes is the deterrent factor. Many believe that the death penalty deters criminals from committing crimes by placing the threat of being put to death in the minds of the would-be murderers, kidnappers, etc. Numerous advocates of capital punishment feel that lives are saved each time a convicted killer is put to death. According to a study conducted by Isaac Ehrlich in 1976, eight murders are deterred for each execution that is carried out in the U.
S. A. (Capital Punishment II 1). Another study performed by Professor Stephen Lesson of the University of North Carolina in 1986 showed that 18 murders were deterred with every execution (Capital Punishment II 2). It is thought that an individual is less likely to do harm to another person if they know that they would be killed in return. Also, a murderer cannot kill again if he or she is put to death (Capital Punishment II 1).
There are many occasions when killers have been released only to murder or harm innocent people once again. For example, Gary McCorkell was scheduled to be hanged for sex offenses. He was released days before his execution was to take place. Later, he was arrested, tried and convicted for the sexual assault of a ten and eleven-year-old boys (Capital Punishment III 2). There is no way to erase the pain that a family of a murder victim feels. However, supporters of the death penalty feel that retribution is the first step in the recovery process for the loved ones of the victims.
Countless proponents of capital punishment feel that convicted criminals, especially those who committed violent crimes against others, should not receive all of the comforts of life, heat, clothing, shelter, hot meals. Many homeless people go without these amenities every day and have not committed any crimes against society. Several people believe that the murderers gave up their rights to humane treatment when they decided to take the life of someone else. In the supporters opinions, the death penalty is morally just. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
Among these was Thou Shalt Not Kill. In Romans 13 Verse 4, the Apostle Saint Paul said: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bearer not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. This passage is interpreted by advocates of the death penalty to mean that governments are to wield the sword and bring about the punishment necessary for those that do wrong and bring harm to others. The number of Americans in favor of the death penalty rises as the crime rate of the United States rises. (Finley) In 1966, forty-two percent of the U. S.
population was for capital punishment. However, in 1986 eighty percent were in favor of the death penalty (Capital Punishment II 2). Proponents of capital punishment agree that deterrence and retribution are the most important reasons for upholding and continuing to support the death penalty. Opponents of the death penalty have their own reasons and evidence to abolish the institution of capital punishment. The majority of the people against the death penalty site cases where innocent men and women are placed on death row and some even executed.
Death Penalty errors are irreversible. For example, Rolando Cruz was sentenced to death in 1985 after being accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering a ten-year-old girl. DNA tests proved that Cruz was innocent and he was released in 1998. He lost several years of his life, but was saved before he lost everything. Another example would be Dennis Williams. He too was accused of rape and murder and sentenced to death.
Once again, DNA tests proved that Williams was not the culprit (Wrongfully Convicted 1). Other innocent people were not so lucky in escaping the death penalty before their names were cleared. A study done in 1987 showed that 23 innocent people had been put to death between 1900 and 1985 (Guzman). Nothing can be done to bring back the wrongly accused victims. The majority of adversaries to the death penalty feel that even one death sentence pronounced in error is one too many. In February 1994, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun states, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed (Winters 12).
It was at this point that Blackmun issued his verdict in the Furman v. Georgia case. Large numbers of people are against the death penalty because they feel that it violates the constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Still others argue that capital punishment is morally wrong and that the states should not have the power to murder its subjects. George Bernard Shaw believed, Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another, but similars that breed their kind (Guzman).
The adversaries of the death penalty are quick to argue against the proponents claim that capital punishment is a deterrent for murder and other crimes punishable by death. According to Michael Radelet, chairman of the University of Florida sociology department, the death penalty never has been a better deterrent than long imprisonment (Finley). Also, the FBI Uniform Crime Reports show that there are no change in the national murder rate since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 based on a national average. Furthermore, states that advocate the death penalty have higher murder rates than those that have laws against the death penalty (Facts about Deterrence 2). Another issue to be brought out in light of the opposition to the death penalty is the cost to the tax payers.
The cost of killing an accused criminal is three times greater than keeping that same criminal in prison for life (Guzman). The reason for the higher cost is to give the accused every advantage with trials, appeals, representations, etc. The average time between sentencing and execution for the 31 prisoners put on death row in 1992 was 114 months, or nine and a half years (Injustice of Society 3). If this part of the capital punishment process was eliminated, even more innocent people would die unnecessarily. Another major problem with the death penalty is that is has not been carried out equally and fairly among all social, economic, and race groups in the United States. For instance, forty-one percent of people on death row are black, while forty-eight percent are white.
However, only twelve percent of the total U. S. population is black. The U.
S. General Accounting Office pronounces that In eighty-two percent of the studies, race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i. e. those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks (Finley). Another group that is treated unfairly when examining the issue of capital punishment is the poor.
Although murderers are representative of all classes, the poor outnumber any other economic class on death row. The reason being that they cannot afford the legal team that the state can. The court appointed attorneys is underpaid and inexperienced when it comes to capital punishment cases. The mentally disabled are also targets for the death penalty. The Supreme Court has upheld the killing of four mentally retarded criminals since 1989 and at least ten percent of death row inmates in the U. S.
are mentally retarded (Guzman). Many people are sentenced to death due to the color of their skin, their economic standing or their mental capability. Although there are a large number of supporters of the death penalty, studies show in Virginia that if an alternative solution including life in prison with no parole for at least 25 years and the convicted paying restitution to the victims families, then the supporters would be more in favor of that type system over death (Guzman). The topic of capital punishment proves to be too difficult and controversial to solve anytime in the near future. Both advocates and opponents of this issue have valid points and evidence.
However, if more time was spent trying to produce solutions and compromises, then lives, time and money would be saved. Today however, it is popular to claim that punishment is meant to rehabilitate. However, rehabilitation is a modern, politically correct term, intended to make society feel better about forcing people to face punishment. Punishment is intended to do what it says, punish. Rehabilitation is something entirely different and should be treated as such. Therefore the argument that capital punishment offers no chance for rehabilitation becomes irrelevant to this debate.
As I have shown the death penalty should be retained, as long as it isnt administered in a cruel and unusual manner, and the method used isnt cruel and unusual either. Society needs the death penalty in order to have a punishment that is equal to the crime committed. History and religion have provided a basis for its use, and as long as it is used properly should remain in our legal system. Bibliography: Will Finley. (April, 2002) Controversies of Death Penalty in the United States. From National Statesman Journal.
Yan Guzman. (June 2000) Death Penalty. Wired magazine. Capital Punishment II. The Globe and Mail. 1987. Retrived from: web (Feb. 2005). Capital Punishment III.
Retrived from: web (Feb. 2005). Facts About Deterrence and the Death Penalty. The Views of the Experts. 1995. Retrived from: web (Feb, 2005) Injustice of Society. CRS Report for Congress. 1995.
Retrived from: web (Feb. 2005).
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Research essay sample on The Myths And Reality Of Death Penalty Issue