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Capital Punishment Essay, Research Paper

Capital Punishment:Injustice of Society Looking out for the state of the public s satisfaction in the scheme ofcapital sentencing does not constitute serving justice. Today s system ofcapital punishment is frought with inequalities and injustices. The commonlyoffered arguments for the death penalty are filled with holes. It was adeterrent. It removed killers. It was the ultimate punishment. It isbiblical. It satisfied the public s need for retribution. It relieved theanguish of the victim s family. (Grisham 120) Realistically, imposing thedeath penalty is expensive and time consuming. Retroactively, it has yet tobe proven as a deterrent. Morally, it is a continuation of the cycle ofviolence and …degrades all who are involved in its enforcement, as well asits victim. (Stewart 1) Perhaps the most frequent argument for capital punishment is that ofdeterrence. The prevailing thought is that imposition of the death penaltywill act to dissuade other criminals from committing violent acts. Numerousstudies have been created attempting to prove this belief; however, [a]llthe evidence taken together makes it hard to be confident that capitalpunishment deters more than long prison terms do. (Cavanagh 4) Going everfarther, Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Montgomery basedEqual Justice Initiative, has stated that people are increasingly realizingthat the more we resort to killing as a legitimate response to ourfrustration and anger with violence, the more violent our society becomes Wecould execute all three thousand people on death row, and most people wouldnot feel any safer tomorrow. (Frame 51) In addition, with the growinghumanitarianism of modern society, the number of inmates actually put todeath is substantially lower than 50 years ago. This decline creates asituation in which the death penalty ceases to be a deterrent when thepopulace begins to think that one can get away with a crime and gounpunished. Also, the less that the death sentence is used, the more itbecomes unusual, thus coming in conflict with the eighth amendment. This isessentially a paradox, in which the less the death penalty is used, the lesssociety can legally use it. The end result is a punishment that ceases todeter any crime at all. The key part of the death penalty is that it involves death — somethingwhich is rather permanent for humans, due to the concept of mortality. Thiscreates a major problem when there continue to be many instances ofinnocent people being sentenced to death. (Tabak 38) In our legal system,there exist numerous ways in which justice might be poorly served for arecipient of the death sentence. Foremost is in the handling of his owndefense counsel. In the event that a defendant is without counsel, a lawyerwill be provided. Attorney s appointed to represent indigent capitaldefendants frequently lack the qualities necessary to provide a competentdefense and sometimes have exhibited such poor character that they havesubsequently been disbarred. (Tabak 37). With payment caps or courtdetermined sums of, for example, $5 an hour, there is not much incentive fora lawyer to spend a great deal of time representing a capital defendant. When you compare this to the prosecution, aided by the police, other lawenforcement agencies, crime labs, state mental hospitals, various otherscientific resources, prosecutors experienced in successfully handlingcapital cases, compulsory process, and grand juries (Tabak 37), the defensethat the court appointed counsel can offer is puny. If, in fact, a defendanthas a valid case to offer, what chance has he to offer it and have itproperly recognized. Furthermore, why should he be punished for a misjusticethat was created by the court itself when it appointed the incapable lawyer. Even if a defendant has proper legal counsel, there is still the matter ofimpartiality of judges. The Supreme Court has steadily reduced theavailability of habeas corpus review of capital convictions, placing itsconfidence in the notion that state judges, who take the same oath of officeas federal judges to uphold the Constitution, can be trusted to enforceit. (Bright 768) This makes for the biased trying of a defendant s appeals, given the overwhelming pressure on elected state judges to heed, and

perhaps even lead to, the popular cries for the death of criminaldefendants. (Bright 769) Thirty two of the states that impose the deathpenalty also employ the popular election of judges, and several of these evenhave judges run with party affiliations. This creates a deeply politicaljustice system — the words alone are a paradox. Can society simply brushoff mistaken execution as an incidental cost in the greater scheme of puttinga criminal to death? Revenge is an unworthy motive for our society to pursue. (Whittier 1) Inour society, there is a great expectation placed on the family of a victimto pursue vengeance to the highest degree — the death penalty. Pat Bane,executive director of the Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR),stated, One parent told me that people made her feel like she was betrayingher son because she did not want to kill the person who murdered him. (Frame 50) This creates a dilemma of morality. If anything, by forcing familiesto seek the death penalty, their own consciences will be burdened by thedeath of the killer. Furthermore, [k]illing him will not bring back yourson[s]. (Grisham 402). At some point, man must stop the violence. Seekingtemporary gratification is not a logical basis for whether the death penaltyshould be imposed. Granted, revenge is easily confused with retribution, andmost would agree that the punishment should fit the crime, but can societyreally justify murdering someone else simply on the basis that they deservedit? Government has the right and duty to protect the greater good againstpeople who jeopardize the welfare of society, but a killer can be sentencedto life without chance of parole, and society will be just as safe as if hehad been executed. A vast misconception concerning the death penalty is that it saves societythe costs of keeping inmates imprisoned for long periods. In the act ofpreserving due process of justice, the court appeals involved with the deathpenalty becomes a long, drawn-out and very expensive process. The averagetime between sentencing and execution for the 31 prisoners put on death rowin 1992 was 114 months, or nine and a half years. (Stewart 50) Criminaljustice process expenses, trial court costs, appellate and post-convictioncosts, and prison costs perhaps including years served on death row awaitingexecution… all told, the extra costs per death penalty imposed in over aquarter million dollars, and per execution exceeds $2 million. (Cavanagh 4) When you compare this to the average costs for a twenty year prison term forfirst degree murder (roughly $330 thousand), the cost of putting someone awayfor life is a deal. Is it really worth the hassle and money to kill acriminal, when we can put them away for life for less money with a great dealmore ease? In earlier times–where capital punishment was common, the value of life wasless, and societies were more barbaric–capital punishment was probably quiteacceptable. However, in today s society, which is becoming ever moreincreasingly humanitarian, and individual rights and due process of justiceare held in high accord, the death penalty is becoming an unrealistic form ofpunishment. Also, with the ever present possibility of mistaken execution,there will remain the question of innocence of those put to death. Finally,man is not a divine being. He does not have the right to inflict mortalpunishment in the name of society s welfare, when there are suitablesubstitutes that require fewer resources. I ask society, …why don t westop the killing? (Grisham 404)BibliographyBright, Steven B., and Patrick J. Keenan. Judges and the Politics of Death: Deciding Between the Bill of Rights and the Next Election in Capital Cases. Boston University Law Review 75 (1995): 768-69. Cavanagh, Suzanne, and David Teasley. Capital Punishment: A BriefOverview. CRS Report For Congress 95-505GOV (1995): 4. Frame, Randy. A Matter Of Life and Death. Christianity Today 14 Aug. 1995: 50Grisham, John. The Chamber. New York: Island Books, 1994. Stewart, David O. Dealing with Death. American Bar Association Journal 80.11 (1994): 50Tabak, Ronald J. Report: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and Lack of DueProcess in Death Penalty Cases. Human Rights 22.Winter (1995): 36Whittier, Charles H. Moral Arguments For and Against Capital Punishment. CRS Report For Congress (1996): 1

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