Abolishing the Death Penalty Thesis
Abolishing the Death Penalty October 18, 2010 Abolishing the Death Penalty The death penalty has been an active force in the United States for decades. In the early history of our country, public executions were quite popular. Thousands have been executed with the majority occurring in the early twentieth century. But public sentiment towards the executions began to wane as the concepts of basic human rights were being developed throughout the century. As a result, a kind of unofficial moratorium was placed on all executions while several Supreme Court cases were taking place to determine the legality of the punishment.
The result of the cases actually made the death penalty illegal as it stood, so several states rewrote their laws, being more specific as to the circumstances as to which the penalty can be applied. The Supreme Court reversed its decision and those states that met the new compliance could reinstate the death penalty. Today, it is legal to execute death row prisoners in all but fifteen states. While it may be legal, it still holds that the death penalty has not and cannot accomplish the task that it has been reinstated to fulfill. Part I: Thesis
The death penalty should be abolished for a variety of reasons. Initially, the death penalty has long been held to be inherently unjust. It is considered unjust in relation to its application, unjust as to the type of punishment utilized and unjust as a punishment at all. It has and continues to be argued in court that the executions amount to what is considered cruel and unusual punishment and so barbaric that it should be done away with as a type of punishment. It is a sad but true statement to say that the United States is one of the last democratic nations to continue to utilize the death penalty.
Our country has wavered back in forth on the issue of capital punishment being illegal and a breach of human rights. Additionally, even while continuing to use the death penalty it has not shown to be a deterrent of crime and actually may increase it. Opponents of the death penalty also recognize that it has not been applied fairly. For instance, minorities, the poor, and the mentally disabled tend to receive the death penalty with far greater consistency than their counterparts. That cannot be a punishment representative of a great industrialized country.
Those against the death penalty also recognize the cost involved with executing a prisoner. To actually take a death row inmate through the complete appellate system, so as to ensure the inmate’s guilt without any doubt, would cost exponentially more than housing the same inmate for the duration of their life. The monies saved could be better served if used towards something positive, like victim’s programs or the like. Lastly, the death penalty is a punishment that is irrevocable; its effects are permanent and there is the sad reality that innocent lives may be lost. There is no perfect system and mistakes are bound to be made.
This is one mistake, however, that cannot be corrected. This is why the death penalty cannot be the United States’ answer for grave offenders of the law. Part II: Anti-Thesis Proponents of the death penalty are large in number. According to many polls, as many as 80% of the American population still favor capital punishment. One reason for this is society as a whole believes that if a person kills another person, the killer forfeits his right to his own life. (Christie, 1990). If a person shows such complete and utter disregard for human life, the question is posed, why should any regard be shown for the person?
Also, those in favor of using the death penalty argue that it is a just punishment for the crime and it is reliable. After all, though some states are trying to punish people with death for other heinous crimes, such as rape and repeat child molestation, so far the death penalty can only be imposed on murder cases. As far as the reliability argument, supporters will always point out that because of the thoroughness in applying and appealing death penalty cases, the process itself will weed out the innocent and wrongly convicted. Proponents of the death penalty also view it as a deterrent to crime. “Same old”, 1990). Just by having the possible punishment of death as an end result to a heinous crime has lowered the murder rate in some states. The feeling is that the more executions you have, the lower the homicide rate you will have. Not to mention the innocent lives you will save. Supporters of capital punishment will cite studies showing that murderers who are allowed to live will inevitably kill again. Studies have shown that murderers awaiting their death penalty sentence to be carried out have killed correction officers, knowing there could be no additional fate assigned to them.
Another argument made in favor of the death penalty is one of Biblical proportions. There are some activists that say the Bible itself proclaims the right to execute a perpetrator of the most serious of crimes by quoting a scripture from Leviticus 24:20 – “…fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. ” The old adage has not been lost on those who feel that it is their God given right to enforce the laws that God has given them regarding the taking of a human life. Gray, 2010) Lastly, many supporters of capital punishment feel that it is appropriate to give a punishment that fits the crime and one that is universal. It doesn’t matter a person’s color, race, creed, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or financial status; if two people, one white and one “non-white”, commit the exact same crime under the exact same circumstances, they in fact should receive the exact same punishment. It is believed that the death penalty, when applied under the circumstance of murder in the first degree with aggravating circumstances, is the great equalizer, with everyone being treated the same in the eyes of the law.
Part III: Synthesis It is important that the United States realizes, sooner than later, that the death penalty has to be abolished. Proponents want us to think that a killer forfeits his own life. But the reality is all life is precious, regardless of its form or merit. (Thomson, 2001). Although someone has taken a life, and in no way should that be trivialized, it does not change that situation by killing the offender. All it does is show that two wrongs do not make a right. The execution of the murderer does not bring the victim back to life.
Quite frankly, the death penalty often provides a way out for the offender and if punishment was the true desire of the sentence then there are situations, other than execution that may be far more punitive than the taking of his or her life. (Thomson, 2001). When it comes to reliability, the argument on behalf of the death penalty doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Yes, it is true that the exhaustive appeals process does on occasion help to find innocent people who have been convicted of murder. This is largely due to the relatively new innovation of DNA technology as it relates to crime scene investigation. (Gzedit, 2010).
Well, if anything, this proves the fallibility of the death penalty process. If over 131 death row inmates could be exonerated and released from death row, that shows just how faulty the system is and proves it is unreliable. Again, as stated previously, once a prisoner has been executed, there is no returning from the grave to say a mistake has been made. At least if the inmate was serving a life sentence and found innocent, they could be released, although still wronged by a jail sentence, but it is a correctable injustice. One of the main arguments in favor of the death penalty is that it serves as a deterrent to serious crime.
Would it surprise you to know that this simply is not true? It is a proven fact that the death penalty has not demonstrably deterred crime. (“Same old”, 1990). The 2004 Uniform Crime Report that was published by the FBI published that Southern states demonstrated the highest murder rate in the country, despite being responsible for 85% of the nation’s executions. (Friedman, 2006, p. 37). As further evidence that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime I introduce you to the state of Texas which has been nicknamed the “killing machine” because they tend to exercise the death penalty frequently and rapidly.
Even with capital punishment Texas has a disturbing murder rate of 5. 6 per 100,000 persons s opposed to Massachusetts, which banned executions and only has a murder rate of 2. 6. (Gzedit, 2010). As for the idea that people who kill once develop an appetite to kill again, there have been no definitive studies that prove this theory. This mindset is based on gut reaction, conjecture, and hysteria. Perhaps one of the most controversial arguments in favor of the death penalty is the interpreted law given by God to exact the same punishment on the criminal as was forced upon the victim.
Supporters of this notion quote scripture from the Holy Bible as a sort of guideline to follow. However the Bible also has scripture that specifically refutes the idea of the death penalty as retribution for man to man. For example, Matthew 5:38-39 insists that violence shall not beget violence. James 4:12 says that God is the only one who can take a life in the name of justice. Leviticus 19:18 warns against vengeance (which, really, is what the death penalty amounts to). In John 8:7, Jesus himself says, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone. This is truly what Jesus would do! Finally, proponents of the death penalty exclaim that executions are given with perfect exactness according to the crime, without regard to race, color, creed, nationality, etc… , basically saying without bias. However, many different studies have show that the likelihood of you receiving the death penalty increases according to those very attributes. People of color are more likely than their white counterparts to receive the death penalty for committing the same crime under the same circumstances.
Also, blacks that murder white victims are far likelier to end up on death row than whites killing blacks. Furthermore, studies show that prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty against blacks than they will for whites who commit the same crime. (Friedman, 2006, pp. 86-89). So much for all being equal under the law! So, as you see, we are a country somewhat divided. While the majority of Americans still favour the idea of using the death penalty, it has become an increasingly more controversial subject.
The United States always holds its head up high as the leader of the free world and is quick to condemn other countries with regards to their human rights violations. How then can we continue to justify our use of this antiquated, archaic method of punishment? It is time that our country steps in line with the rest of the industrialized countries into the 21st century and do away with the death penalty once and for all.
References Gzedit. (2010, January 27). Pro-death: :America alone. The Charleston Gazette,A. 4. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. Document ID: 1948771421). Christie, J. (1990, March 29). At Last, Punishment Fits the Crime Death penalty: It has wide support because ordinary citizens identify with media images of brutalized victims :[Home Edition]. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext),p. 7. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from Los Angeles Times. (Document ID: 60026222). Friedman, L. (2006). The death penalty. Greenhaven Press Gray, L. (4 November). Houston Chronicle Lisa Gray column: Life, death and the prodigal son. McClatchy – Tribune Business News. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 1893533451). Same old anti-crime hype. (1990, October 15). Milwaukee Journal,p. a06. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from ProQuest Central. (Document ID: 64063217). Thomson, R. (2001, June 18). A consistent pro-life stance rules out the death penalty :[SARASOTA Edition]. Sarasota Herald Tribune,p. BS1. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 74204727).