Introduction Is capital punishment just? Is there ever a time when society may, through the courts, deprive a person of his fundamental human right to life or full liberty? Capital punishment is the execution of a convicted criminal by the State as punishment for capital crimes or offenses. It is called “capital” because it literally and historically meant losing the head to punish or deter crime and political dissent. It was practiced in the past by almost all societies but recently, most European and Latin American states have abolished it.
In most places today, capital punishment is reserved as punishment for premeditated murder, espionage, treason or as part of military justice. It is imposed on sexual and religious crimes in some Muslim countries; drug trafficking in retentionist countries; human trafficking and serious cases of corruption in countries like China; and court martial cases in world courts-martial for cowardice, desertion, insubordination and mutiny. A Gallup international survey found that 52% supported the death penalty, with 66% in North America.
About half of the American public said that the death penalty has not been imposed frequently enough but it is divided on the choice between the death penalty and life without parole. The survey also said that capital punishment does not deter crime and that at least one innocent person has been executed in the past five years. Records say that the death penalty was created or established by the ancient laws of China and imposed by the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon for 25 crimes, but which excluded murder.
The first recorded death sentence was rendered in Egypt in the 16th century on a noble, who was accused of practicing magic and ordered to take his own life. Non-nobles were executed usually with the use of an ax. Legal executions first entered America in 1776 when British soldiers hung a suspected spy, Nathan Hale, during the Revolutionary War. The first to be executed in the electric chair was William Kemmler, who was convicted for ax murder in New York on August 6, 1890. The citizens of Tazewell County, Illinois in 1869 imposed their own justice on four brothers who terrorized them by lynching one of these men.
The US Supreme Court in 1972 ruled that state executions were unconstitutional, but legislators lifted the ban on capital punishment in 1976. It ranked with China, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia as nations, which legalize it. As evidence of how much support had gathered for capital punishment in the US, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis’ popularity for the 1988 presidential race went down when he opposed the execution of a first-degree murderer. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo could have lost the 1994 re-election because he vetoed death penalty bills. The number of executions rose.
In time, the trend reversed when capital punishment showed that it ends in the state-sanctioned murder of innocent persons. Literature Review Wikipedia. Capital Punishment. Media Wiki, 2007. http://emn. wikipedia. org/Death_penalty Crimes, which are subject to the death penalty, vary according to jurisdiction, although some require additional aggravating circumstances. Aggravated kidnapping is a capital crime in Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky and South Carolina; train wrecking and perjury in California; aggravated rape for those under age in Louisiana; and capital narcotics in Florida and New Jersey.
It has, however, been noted that 67% of capital convictions are eventually overturned, mostly on procedural grounds of incompetent legal counsel, police or prosecutors who suppress evidence and judges who give wrong instructions. As of April 2006, there have been a little more than a million throughout the United States. The death penalty is not recognized in 13 States and US colonies. Statistics say that there is one execution for every 700 murders or 1 in 325. The death penalty is sought and imposed more often in some jurisdictions. A 2004 Connell University survey said that, while 2.
5% of nationwide convictions have been meted the death penalty, Nevada has imposed it in 6% of its cases and Texas has executed 40% of those sentenced, which is approximately four times higher than the national average. Of this number only 1. 4% of those executed since 1976 have been women. It has, however, been observed that many who have been executed also received pardon for their crime. Examples given are slave revolts, which were considered capital crimes. There were many methods of execution in the United States and the early colonies from 1608 to 2004.
Electrocution took the place of hangings and the gas chamber, burning, pressing, gibbeting or hanging in chains, breaking on wheel and bludgeoning. The current method is lethal injection, which is used or allowed in 37 or 38 States where the death penalty is recognized and in the federal government. From 1976 to 2006, 861 out of 1,026 executions have been by lethal injection, 152 by electrocution, 11 by gas chamber, 3 by hanging and 2 by firing squad. The malfunctioning and the cruelty of the electric chair led to the opting of lethal injection as a major method of execution.
Whatever the method chosen, an hour or two before the execution, the convict is offered a last meal and religious services. Executions are performed in private with only invited individuals to witness the proceedings. The last to be publicly executed was Rainey Bethea on August 14, 1936 in Owensboro, Kentucky. It must be noted that, while African Americans comprise only 12% of the American population, death row inmates are 40% African American.. They also constituted 34% of those actually executed since 1976.
Around 50% of the prison population is also African American, as many believe. But others say that whites are, in fact, twice as likely as African Americans to be sentenced to the death penalty and also more quickly executed after being sentenced. Academic studies revealed that the greatest predictor of a death sentence is the race of the victim, not that of the defendant. In its 2003 report, Amnesty International said that blacks and white have been victims of murder in almost equal numbers but since 1977, 80% have been executed for murders of or involving white victims.
No reason was given for the inconsistency. A May 2005 Gallup survey revealed that 74% of those interviewed favored the death penalty for murder convicts with life imprisonment without parole as an option for murder. Elections have impact on public choice. In 1986, three justices were removed from the Supreme Court of California by the electorate, specifically because they opposed the death penalty. Religious groups were largely split on the issue, with more conservative groups more inclined to support it and the liberal groups, likelier to oppose it.
The debate on the death penalty touches on four basic issues. These are the moral correctness of taking another life, the deterrence to crime, the fairness of the death penalty across social classes and the irrevocability of the penalty in the future. Other issues include the financial cost of a complete death penalty case as against lifetime imprisonment. Records showed that between 1976 and 2003, less than 2% of death row prisoners were exonerated, sentences reduced for other grounds or reasons and 112 prisoners released.
This source describes parole as the supervised release of a prisoner before the completion of his or her sentence and differentiates it from amnesty and commutation of sentence. A parolee is still serving a sentence and can be sent back to prison if he fails to adjust to society. The court, which has jurisdiction over the parolee, fixes the nature and time required before a prisoner becomes eligible for parole, such as “15 to 25 years” or “15 years to life. ” A parole with a specific time for serving a sentence is the indeterminate type, while a life sentence without the possibility of parole is determinate.
In most states, a parole is granted, not merely on the basis of good conduct while in prison but also on the workability of the temporary freedom, such as a permanent residence and useful and immediate employment or some other visible means of self-support. The grant requires the parolee’s agreement to the terms, including periodic meetings with the parole officer or community corrections agent who evaluates the parolee’s behavior and if the terms are being met or have become unnecessary to protect society.
In 2002, the US Department of Justice said that approximately 45% of parolees had successfully served their sentence, 41% returned to prison and 9% absconded. On account of the relatively unchanged statistics since 1995, the DOJ abolished parole for violent felons as the federal government did for all convicts of federal crime in 1984. Despite the decline in jurisdictions granting parole, the average annual increase in the number of parolees went up by around 1. 5% a year from 1995 to 2002. This implies that prisoners with life terms continue to seek parole and it continues to be granted.
This source says that life imprisonment is considered a slightly lesser alternative to the death penalty in places where the death penalty is a possible sentence. In the US, life imprisonment usually lasts until the prisoner dies. At times, a life term is intended to exceed the life time of a convict. A person found to be guilty of multiple counts of murder, for example, can be sentenced to 200 years in prison. A life term does not always mean imprisonment for life, as a convict can be released on parole even when he is sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
Government officials can grant amnesty or reprieves or commute a sentence. The federal criminal code of December 1, 1987, however abolished parole for offenses committed after this date, and these included life sentences. So a convict sentenced to life imprisonment will remain in prison for the rest of his life, unless he is granted pardon or reprieve by the President Life imprisonment has different durations in different countries. In some, it lasts till the death of the convict, while the rest fix the length to different number of years, such as 15, 20 or more years.
This source implies that the determination of life imprisonment is jurisdictional. Burns, Kari Sable. History of the Death Penalty. Kari and Associates, 2005. http://karisable. com/crpundeath. htm The author writes that the death penalty was first established by the ancient laws of China, allowed by the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon in the 18th century and that the first execution occurred in Egypt in the 16th century on a noble. She also writes that legal executions entered America in 1776 with the hanging of a spy during the Revolutionary War. The first to die on the electric chair was an ax murderer in New York in August 1890.
In 1972, the US Supreme Court ruled that state executions were unconstitutional but legislators lifted this moratorium on capital punishment in 1976 to join the ranks of China, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia as nations imposing the capital punishment on their citizens. But in reality, the author writes that less than 1% of all murderers are condemned to death, 2% of those actually in the death row are executed, more than 113 death row convicts have been exonerated since 1873, 68% of death convictions between 1873 and 1995 were reversed, with more than 75% of death inmates spending more than 20 years in the death row.
Despite the appearance of popularity and strength, the death penalty is actually not imposed as frequently as feared. Amnesty International. Facts and Figures on the Death Penalty, April 2001 This international organization says that more than half of all the countries in the world have already abolished the death penalty – either in law or in practice: 74% of these countries and territories have eliminated it as punishment for all crimes. An average of more than three countries a year have abolished it in the last decade, and once abolished, it is seldom re-introduced.
Another study conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 1996, AI concluded that countries need not fear sudden and serious changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance upon the death penalty. Furthermore, crime figures in abolitionist countries do not show that the abolition has had damaging results. On the contrary, figures demonstrate a downward trend in the total number of homicides in the last decade. It makes the stand that the death penalty is an unjust, cruel and unusual punishment to young or mentally deficient offenders.
Since 1990, seven countries have executed prisoners 18 years old and below at the time of the crime, and the country with the highest known executions of young offenders is the United States. It also says that there have been reports of retardates being executed. International human rights treaties exist, which prohibit the execution of anyone under 18 years of age at the time of the sentence. More emphatically, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child provide for the same thing.
In response to the common position of these international bodies, more than 110 of those countries that have retained the death penalty excluded the execution of young offenders. AI further says that the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was ratified by 46 states. The Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty has been ratified by eight states, while Protocol number 6 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights) was also sighed last May.
Protocol Number 6 is an agreement to abolish the death penalty in time of peace. The Second Optional Protocol and the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights opt for the total abolition of the penalty both in times of war and peace. Protocol number 13 to the European Convention was for the total abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances and times. Moore, David W. Public Divided Between Death Penalty and Life Imprisonment Without Parole. The Gallup Organization: Death Penalty Information Center, 2004. http://www. deathpenaltyinfo. org/article. php? scid=22&did=1029
Moore of the Gallup Organization writes that public opinion is divided between the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole at 53% and 44%, respectively. The Organization’s findings indicate that support for the death penalty has fluctuated from 49% to 61% in the past 20 years. Meantime, it notes that support for life without parole was higher in the past several years than from 1985 to 2000 at around 40% when a third of all Americans subjects of the survey expressed preference for life imprisonment for murder. Public opinion went down when the legality of the death penalty was under question in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Gallup interprets these findings to mean that 65% of the respondents believe that the death penalty is a “morally acceptable” form of punishment for capital offenses, while only 26% think it is “morally wrong. ” Support for stringent imposition of the death penalty rose from May 2001 to May 2002 after the terrorist attacks in New York and has remained high at around 55% despite related findings on mistaken convictions, as revealed by new DNA tests. Most of those surveyed at 62% believe that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder, and 35% says it is.
This is a significant deviation from common views gathered in 1991 by Gallup, which showed that 51% of Americans considered the death penalty a deterrent. Among those who say it is a deterrent, 69% say they would still support it even if it proved not to deter and lower the crime rate. The Gallup Organization claims 95% confidence on the results of its surveys and telephone interviews with only 3% plus-minus margin of error. Critics, however, say that the error probability, wording of questions and practical difficulties encountered during the survey and telephone interviews can alter genuine results or infuse bias into these results.
Discussion Opponents of the death penalty or capital punishment reason that it should be abolished because it is racist, anti-poor, condemns innocent prisoners to death, does not deter serious crimes, and is cruel and unusual punishment. African Americans comprise only 12% of the whole US population yet 43% of those in the death row are Blacks because the victims of their crimes are whites. More than 75% of those in the death row are non-white. The death penalty makes a crime out of being Black. Secondly, more than 90% of those accused of capital crimes are poor and cannot afford to pay an experienced criminal defense attorney.
These accused have to resort to inexperienced and underpaid, inefficient and indifferent court-appointed lawyers. Criminal trials are also held quickly, often less than a week, which is hardly enough for the respondent or accused to put up and present a good defense. Moreover, the rich not only avoid punishment but are also less sentenced to death. They also argue that the death penalty condemns innocent prisoners to death at a ratio of one in seven in the death row. They likewise say that, in societies which enact the death penalty, murder rates still continue to rise and decrease in those societies where it has been abolished.
It is furthermore considered cruel and unusual in that it executes young people, 70% of whom are in the death row and 34% of them are mentally unstable. Amnesty International also says that 111 countries have abolished it and that an average of 3 countries follow suit per year. International human rights treaties prohibit the execution of convicts aged 18 or less at the time of the commission of the crime. There is as yet no evidence that it has a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Lastly, there is always a risk of executing the innocent as long as the death penalty remains legal in a State or society.
Legal executions were introduced in America in 1776 and abolished by the Supreme Court in 1972. The ban was lifted in 1976, but since then and despite the lifting, less than 1% of all convicts have actually been sentenced to death and fewer have been actually executed, while more are exonerated and more death convictions have been reversed than feared . The grant of paroles was abolished in 1984, yet records show that the number of paroles went up by 1. 5% yearly from 1995 to 2000. Supporters of the death penalty argued that capital punishment is not racist and that punishments, like guilt, are personal rather than racial or economic.
The distribution of punishment, in their opinion, is not unjust, whether it is imposed on guilty Blacks rather than on guilty whites. Justice requires that as many of the guilty ones should be sentenced and punished and those deserving should manage to escape it. Allowing escape to those who deserve it is not just nor is it unjust to the guilty who cannot escape it. Miscarriages of justice are as real and unavoidable as error in human judgment, which at times, accidentally punishes innocent people.
But the reality of human error does not and should not stop society from trying those accused of crimes because the social benefits derived far outweigh the unintentional sacrifice of lives or health in the process. Furthermore, it is still more feared by criminals and would-be criminals than life imprisonment. Abolitionists erroneously place greater value on the lives of convicted murderers than those of innocent victims. But the death penalty should be retained if only to prevent the commission of capital crimes.
It is far better to spare the lives of even a few prospective victims by at least trying to deter their prospective murderers. Criminal law clearly means to protect the lives of potential victims over those of actual murderers. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen suggested that capital punishment is just in that some men would abstain from murder out of fear of getting hanged and regard it with horror. The death penalty may exact a high cost but so does remaining behind bars for life imprisonment But righting wrongs in a society has a higher option than entailing the costs.
Penalties are also acts of social retribution to restrain personal or private vengeance aimed at vindicating the law and social order, which has been injured or violated by a crime. Proponents or advocates of the death penalty emphasize on this viewpoint. They also see that executing a murderer, though unpleasant, is lawful as against the unlawful and undeserved killing, wherein the criminal’s life must be taken away. They also view the death penalty as not unjust as it is necessary in deterring crimes and in instituting justice. It may, at times, be inappropriate but the punishment of the guilt is not viewed as unjust.
By committing a crime, the person takes the risk of acquiring that punishment for his free and knowing act. The needed facts are firmly and convincingly established in criminal court before he is sentenced to death and during which he is thoroughly given the chance to defend himself through the due process of law. They also perceive the death penalty as neither excessive nor debasing. Philosophers maintain that the deserved execution of a convict restores or repairs his own humanity by affirming what is rational and responsible in his actions and by imposing the extreme penalty precisely for his dignity.
This philosophy also sees life imprisonment as less than human in allowing the convict to go on living without the freedom and autonomy of peaceful members of society. To them, the convict’s voluntary self-degradation by committing a crime is what is inhuman and degrading, not the death penalty. Society’s recognition of this self-debasement is itself the essence of execution, rather than execution itself Advocates of capital punishment believe that it is not racist. The unequal distribution of any punishment among those who deserve it is irrelevant to its justice or morality.
Punishments, like guilt, are personal and not racial or economic. The only question to answer is if the person to be executed deserves it or not. Whether it is imposed on guilty blacks and not on guilty whites does not make this discriminatory distribution unjust. Morality seems less important than justice, which, in turn, is independent of proportionate distribution. Justice requires that as many of the guilty are punished, whether others deserving the same managed to escape it. To allot others escape the deserved punishment does not do justice to society, but in the opinion of many, it is not unjust to those who cannot escape it.
Complete miscarriages of justice are unavoidable. Over long periods of time, there will always be miscarriages of justice. But this is a fact of life in any human activity, as in construction, conveyances and lighting, where the lives of some innocent bystanders are accidentally sacrificed despite diligent precautions. Yet we do not give up these activities because the social benefits derived from them outweigh the unintentional loss of lives or health. Many view capital punishment as not inhuman.
No one knows for sure who between the criminal and his victim suffers more, but we are sure that the criminal deserves his sufferings and his innocent victim does not. Penalties are social retribution meant to restrain personal or private vengeance: it is a vindication of the law and the social order that have been injured or violated by the crime. The death penalty should be viewed in this light. Lastly, killing a murder, though something unpleasant to do, is lawful, as opposed to unlawful and undeserved killing for which the criminal’s life will have to be taken away.
The death penalty is not unjust, in the view of many. Threats and punishments are necessary in deterring crimes and as retribution. These means may be repulsive, sometimes seemingly inappropriate, but the guilty person’s punishment is not unjust. By committing the crime, he assumed the risk of acquiring the punishment freely and knowingly. These factors are thoroughly and convincingly established before a criminal is sentenced to death. Capital punishment is neither excessive nor debasing for the offender or convict. The death penalty is neither uncivilized nor voiding of human dignity.
On the contrary, philosophers like Immanuel Kant and GFW Hegel stress that the deserved execution of a convict restores or repairs his humanity by affirming his rationality and responsibility for his actions, and the extreme penalty is, in fact, imposed precisely for his dignity. Life imprisonment should be viewed to be less human in that the convict is allowed to go on living without the freedom and autonomy enjoyed by peaceful members of society. What is inhuman and degrading is not death itself but the convict who voluntarily degraded himself by committing the crime.
This kind of death is deliberate social imposition, which recognizes the self-degradation that the criminal freely inflicted upon himself. He renders himself inhuman and unfit to coexist with other peace-loving, law-abiding citizens of a society. Society’s recognition of that self-debasement is the essence of execution. It is not the execution in itself that debases or is excessive. Analysis and Conclusion From presented arguments of both sides, it appears that capital punishment should remain. It is not racing. The death penalty, in particular, may seem unjust to those who escape it but not unjust to those do not escape it.
The death penalty was conceived both to protect society and to repair for the injury done by the crime, while racism is a prejudicial thinking and behavior among those who render verdicts. Repealing the death penalty does not eliminate racist thinking. The problem of racism has another solution. The justice system should be improved as a whole without needing to abolish the death penalty, which is the only imaginable tool of retribution. Statistics and more statistics show that the death penalty deters crime. Yet statistics are not uniform and depend on the size and other characteristics of a given society.
Few take note of how many crimes have been deterred by the death penalty in a given locality, but too many eagerly point to high crime rates in regions or societies imposing the penalty. And how many crimes are prevented by capital punishment cannot be guessed because they do not happen. But the average man-on-the-street is reasonably frightened by the death penalty and comparatively fewer are those who are unmindful of it when they decide to commit serious crimes. The death penalty may seem anti-poor at times, but it should nevertheless remain.
Corruption exists in every sector and every level of human society, including the halls of justice themselves. But the death penalty as a tool for retribution cannot be anti-poor by itself. The action must be to take to weed out corruption as far and as deeply as possible but the death penalty must be retained as an efficient deterrent of crimes. Corruption does not disappear if execution is abolished, but quite the contrary, may breed even more. And if the death penalty costs $2 million per case, Justice for all estimates that life without parole costs between $1. 2 and $3.
6 for 50 years or from $40,000 to $50,000 a year for every prisoner or even more. Suitable measures should be undertaken to minimize miscarriages of justice. But capital punishment, specifically the death penalty, should be retained. Though already convincingly explained by the second argument, miscarriages can and do result in the execution of innocent convicts, but this is not a ground for the repeal of capital punishment. A more strict and weighed delivery of justice should be undertaken in every failure and in every criminal case calling for the death sentence.
Justices, judges and prosecutors must be more stringently selected. Among the strongest arguments leveled against capital punishment, especially the death penalty, is that it executes young offenders. Youthful offenders should be spared from this ultimate sentence. Stronger campaign should be waged in exempting young offenders from execution, rather than the repeal of capital punishment. But a penalty commensurate to the gravity of young offenders should also be instituted to discourage the commission of serious crimes among them.
Most importantly and finally, capital punishment – specifically the death penalty – should be strictly and consistently enforced in order to be an effective deterrent to crimes, especially heinous crimes. This is to demonstrate to would-be criminals that the justice system means business and will not condone their deeds. Greater consideration must be given to preserving the lives of the majority of peace-loving members of society than to imagining how to justify the dignity that criminals themselves choose to dishonor.
Life is meant to be lived with quality and regard for other lives and those without this kind of value does not deserve to coexist together. Under the circumstance, the law that preserves quality life must move to eliminate threats to its continued, fruitful and meaningful existence. As things stand and decisions must be made in the midst of controversy, the rule of law must be followed. Those in the proper position must make the necessary amendments and through the proper procedures. In the meantime, crimes must be tried in court through the established due process of law.
Greater care must be taken that the innocent will not be punished nor will the guilty go unpunished. Great care must also be taken that the guilty are punished according to law as it now stands. The balance between the life of the convict and the general welfare of the community must remain in the hands and trusted vision of the judge or jury. On the other hand, it is the people’s duty, right and privilege to choose the best minds possible to man the courts and whom they will trust to render judgment over their lives and those who will be convicted. # BIBLIOGRAPHY Amnesty International.
Facts and Figures on the Death Penalty. International Secretariat, April 2001. http://web. amnesty. org/library/index/engACT50002201ENGLISH/$File/ACT5000201. pdf Burns, Kari Sable. History of the Death Penalty. Kari and Associates, 2005. http://karisable. com/crpundeath. htm Moore, David W. Public Divided Between Death Penalty and Life Imprisonment Without Parole. The Gallup Organization: Death Penalty Information Center, 2004. http://www. deathpenaltyinfo. org/article. php? scid=22&did=1029 Wikipedia. Capital Punishment. Media Wiki, 2007. http://en. wikipedia. org/Death_penalty End Notes<