The debate over the death penalty appears to have been one of the most argued actions that the justice system has had to decide upon. Which cases are those that will be the ones in which the ultimate penalty is pursued? Does the seeking of the death penalty depend upon the crime that has been committed, the social class of the person that was killed, or the race and monetary value of the person that committed the crime?
These are only a small portion of the things that are looked at when someone is for or against the death penalty. And there is no shortage of defenders on either of side of the argument. The debate stems from years of the belief where the question has focused has been whether killing another for a crime they have committed is an act of vengeance, or a successful deterrent from those that would violate the highest held of the ten commandments, which states that, “Thou Shall Not Kill. The debate also has to answer if the penalty of death is in itself, allows the government to violate the Eight Amendment, by allowing both cruel and unusual punishment, the lack of fairness by allowing it to be used on certain people and not others, and if there should be any concern that maybe one innocent person might accidentally be put to death. To better understand the issues that are driving this debate during this paper I will look at the history of the death penalty. I will then look at the factors that have been used to separate the sides and draws the line down the middle of the debate.
I will end the discussion by evaluating the concern that the death penalty is a biased punishment. Death Penalty: The Night the Lights Went Out Mr. Johnson on 15 April, 2011 a jury of your peers having found you guilty of willful murder with premeditation in the case of George Wilson, and Mary Wilson has set your punishment to be that of death, by lethal injection. Mr. Carter, a jury of your peers having found you guilty on 15 April, 2011 of wrongful death of another, in the case of George Wilson, and Mary Wilson, have set your punishment as three years, with time served for good behavior.
It took 20 minutes to get the court back under control because of the yelling that immediately broke out in the courtroom. The court officials were finally able to get the court room cleared of all non-essential personal. The new media on the other hand had no problem leaving the courtroom as they were scrambling to get too their news truck so they could go live with the courts verdicts, immediately. The news on every channel were seemingly reporting the same facts of the case. They would have pundits that would restate the events that led to the murders.
The point that they all seemed to be stuck on was one that was repeated by both the professional reporters and those interviewed in the crowd that had massed outside the courthouse. Everyone it appears wanted to know and understand how Mr. Johnson, the driver of the cab, who never went into the house at the crime scene, and clearly had never known that the couple was going to be killed, was given the death penalty. Mr. Carter, the hit man ,who confessed and in doing so told the courts that the driver never knew what was going to happen, and was not involved, was given what appeared to be a slap on the hand.
Naturally the cable and local news feeds were really playing race card, saying that the penalties were the result of racial bias because the shooter happened to be white, and the cab driver was black. The death penalty is not something that just came about at the turn of the century. In order to get a better perspective of what the debate stems from one must look to the history of the death penalty. The History of the Death Penalty The death penalty goes back to the 18th century B. C. during the code of King Hammurabi of Babylon.
The punishment of death was given for violation of one of twenty-five different crimes. Death sentences were carried out by such means as beheading, boiling in oil, burying alive, burning, crucifixion, disembowelment, drowning, flaying alive, hanging, impalement, stoning, strangling, being thrown to wild animals, and quartering (being torn apart). In Britain, hanging became the usual method of execution in the tenth century A. D. The number of capital crimes in Britain increased throughout the next two centuries.
By the 1700s, over two hundred crimes were punishable by death in Britain, including stealing, cutting down a tree, and robbing a rabbit warren. From 1823 to 1837, the death sentence was eliminated for over half of the crimes previously punishable by death. In time the death penalty was reinstated a majority of the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia, the majority of inmates under sentence of death have been white. In 2004, 59 persons were executed in 12 states; the number of executions was six less than in 2003.
The number of executions hit a post-1976 high of 98 in 1999. All the executions in 2004 were men. One person was executed by electrocution; lethal injection accounted for the rest. The data available indicate that almost two-thirds of those sentenced to death had previous felony convictions, and slightly less than ten percent had prior convictions for homicide. Ages of inmates sentenced to death ranged from 18 to 89. Additionally, 52 women were under sentence of death at the end of 2004.
In 2004, 38 of the fifty states in the United States allowed the death penalty. The states across the country it appears are unable to come to a consensus on the rules and measures in which the death penalty should be used. Although the history is not debated the usage of the death penalty is not so clear. That lack of clarity brings us to our next point which looks into the factors that cause the ongoing debate. The Debated Factors of the Death Penalty There are several studies that have been conducted both for and against the death penalty.
If one tries hard enough they can research and find the statistics that will help them back their position in the ongoing debate. The fact that the debate is ongoing provides the fuel to both sides to push their agenda and hope that the undecided voters in the debate will take up their side and push the numbers up on one side that the opposite side can’t dispute and finally bring closure to the question of vengeance or deterrent, as opposed to unlawful state sanctioned murder or legal justice.
Factors that are used for and against the death penalty are not always the exact opposites that one might suspect. It is not as clear as night and day, or hot and cold. Those that are in favor of the death penalty base their support on the factors that the death penalty is a deterrent to those that commit horrendous crimes such as rape, kidnapping, and the killing of a police officer. Those opposed to the death penalty point to the fact that the statics say that is not the case.
They cite how states with death penalty laws do not have lower serious crime rates than states that do not have the death penalty laws. In fact, there is actually proof that their murder rate is higher. This has been thought to be supported by the fact in those death penalty states rates are higher because the person that is committing a crime feels that if they let the person live they will have to face them in court if and when they have been caught. The street policy is if you get rid of all witnesses there will be no one left to identify you.
The states without the death penalty the criminals hope that the fear of the person returning may be the reason that those offenders choose not to cause serious deadly bodily harm to those victims. Then there is the factor that that by using the death penalty it brings closure to the family. However, the other side points to studies where most survivors of murdered victims are more likely to support the person being sentenced to a life in prison without the possibility of parole, where they will spend the rest of their life reliving the pain they has caused the families and the crime they have committed.
The final factor we will discuss is the one with its foundation based on the moral and ethical belief that to use the death penalty goes hand in hand with the bible teaching that an eye for an eye is justified because the penalty is carried out to protect the public from having the murders commit any further crimes, should they ever get out of prison. The likelihood that the person being put to death is being held accountable for their sins against mankind, in a fashion fitting the method they used to kill their victims. The advocates of life over death use the same bible to say that forgiveness is the way of the word.
That only the creator and not man has the power to punish with such finality and that by the justice system allowing the death penalty to be carried out the are being hypocritical in saying that you are going to trial for killing someone and if found guilty you will be killed for your violation of such a heinous crime but when the states kill you it will be done without vengeance or revenge in mind but instead under the names of a death for a death as such allowing that fair sentence being evenly dispersed by the scales of justice.
The fact that the fairness of justice is used as a reason for the death penalty brings us to the final debated issue regarding the death penalty. The merits under which the death penalty is administered in such a biased fashion. The Racial Bias of the Death Penalty When you hear the words racial bias most will assume that I am going to talk about the color of the accused when talking about this unfair practice. I am however more interested in the social aspect of that same dilemma, more in line of those of monetary means as opposed to those that are forced to use the public defender when fighting for their life in the courts.
The very same courts, with the same scales of justice that unknowingly seem to favor the wealthy. This racial bias is what has caused the failure of the successful usage of the death penalty. If you look at three of the biggest factors that can be contributed to the racial bias the system seems to present they are the possible death of an innocent person, inadequate access to effective counsel, and racial bias, throughout the justice system. The first moments after a major crime against another person, the investigation goes into high gear to solve a major crime against a person or persons.
The system of justice requires that certain laws and rights of the suspect be adhered to and a violation of any of those right or laws will usually get cases thrown out. This is also done to protect the innocent from being placed in a position that they might be tried and found guilty of a crime that didn’t commit. The feeling of finding the killer or killers of a victim is a very emotional time and in the first 48 hours the leads that are collected is usually the difference.
But with the new and improved DNA test, several cases have come to light that have proved several people on death row were wrongfully convicted. How can we sit by and watch someone who is innocent die without having a fair chance to defend himself? The death penalty is the ultimate form of punishment, because there is no way to reverse its effects. This is especially true when you are innocent. The system has to be allowed to work or it will end up taking the lives of innocent victims as long as there are faults and human error in the justice system.
The death penalty contradicts the whole idea of human rights. Human rights are significant because “some means may never be used to protect society because their use violates the values that make society worth protecting. ” In 1967, executions in the United States were temporarily suspended to give the federal appellate courts time to decide whether or not the death penalty was unconstitutional. Then, in 1972, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of “Furman versus Georgia” that the death penalty violated the Eight Amendments.
According to the Eighth Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, no excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted. ” Presently in the United States the death penalty can only be used as punishment for intentional killing. The one question we must ask the society, if we accidently execute one innocent man and nine guilty one, are we ok with the human error of the one that died? I would rather let all ten do life in prison without parole then accidently murder the one who is innocent.
The amount of wealth that you have correlates to the type of defense you get. If you are in need of a lawyer and you are unable to pay, you should pack a bag and be prepared to stay. The ability to have a good lawyer is dependent on your ability to pay. Do you think that you could one day be falsely accused? Those who can afford the best lawyers get the best defense team, the poor will get the poorest defense. They are limited by what they can do as a public defender, who is always over worked and is not a seasoned lawyer.
Being placed in a position where you only have access to inadequate counsel may be your last breath of life, because after the trial it becomes a high mountain to climb to reverse your guilty verdict. You may find your self-charged with murder and find out that the public defender you have been assigned has never handled a case above jaywalking. It’s your life that is at stake, not theirs. What are your options if you can’t afford a good knowledgably lawyer?
In some cases, lawyers representing defendants in capital trials have slept through parts of trial, shown up in court intoxicated, and failed to do any work at all in preparation for the sentencing phase. “Alabama is the only state in the country without a state-funded program to provide legal assistance to death row prisoners. There is no state-wide public defender program in the state and, in some counties; defendants have been sentenced to death after trials where they were represented by a lawyer who did not meet even the minimum requirement of five years of criminal defense experience.
Death row prisoners have been convicted even though their lawyers were cited as being drunk in court, subsequently disbarred, or publicly supported a conviction and death sentence for their client. Over half of the 200 people on Alabama’s death row were represented at trial by appointed lawyers whose compensation for out-of-court preparation was capped at $1000. ” As a result of inadequate representation, many people have been illegally convicted and sentenced. An alarming number of these men, women, and children are innocent.
Increased hostility towards the plight of the economically disadvantaged threatens to undermine the equal administration of justice. Lastly the death penalty when looked at as being biased will immediately make one think that what I am going to be talking about is the usage of the death penalty against people of and those not of color. Upon someone seeing that issue one quickly assumes that what is being discussed is the black on white murders. In fact, it is a known fact that more serious crimes that are committed by blacks are on other blacks. So the finding should be that more blacks on death row for killing other blacks.
The problem happens to be that is not the case, with the least amount of serious crimes against whites by blacks the issue is that more blacks are charged for the death penalty at a higher rate than whites. Making the issue not one against blacks and whites, but instead blacks and the justice system. When one takes into account these three factors they can better understand the racial bias is not one of color, but one of social standing and economic class that makes the system biased against those less likely to be able to mount a strong defense because of the lack of means.
Summary The death penalty by itself is a cruel and unusual punishment, but the treatment of prisoners before being executed is also cruel and unusual. In August 1995 Robert Breechen was scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma. He attempted to commit suicide, but authorities revived him, then executed him hours later. In Illinois last November, the state gave death row inmate John del Vecchio two heart surgeries and then executed him in December. Richard Town’s execution in Virginia was delayed for twenty two minutes while they looked for a vein to inject.
During this paper we have discussed the history of the death penalty. Looked at the various factors that have been used to debate the separate the sides of the death penalty issue. And we ended by looking at the racial biases that effect the system. Death of the innocent, inadequate counsel, and Racial Bias, but only to a certain part of the population, it not a black or white problem, or a male female problem but a rich man poor man action. We as a society of fair and just law, should not be able to live knowing that even one innocent person has been executed.
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