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Untitled Essay, Research Paper

In the 1971 Supreme court case of Furman V. Georgia, the constitutionality of thedeath penalty was challenged. The majority opinion held that although the way it was beingapplied was unconstitutional the death penalty itself was constitutional. They held itunconstitutional because since it was applied arbitrarily and with apparent racial and economicbias it was cruel and unusual. In Weems v. United states (1910) the Supreme Court held that apunishment could be considered cruel and unusual if it is excessive. In Dulles v. Trop the courtheld that “the basic concept underlying the 8th amendment is nothing less than the dignity ofman.” According to the court if a punishment denies someone human dignity than it is cruel andunusual. Combined these two cases set the precedent that both (1)breaks the past notion that theonly things considered cruel and unusual are the specific things barred at the time the Constitutionwas penned and (2) says that what is excessive and what attacks human dignity evolves withsociety. Our society has evolved to the point where we will apply sanctions to other countries totry and prevent them from harming their own citizens. We no longer clamor for public bloodshed,it is something we don’t want to see, our society has grown past the death-penalty.It is my feeling that capital punishment is always wrong. The Justice I am in mostagreement with is Justice Brennan. His reasoning is that, it is an affront to basic human dignityand he sets up four rules to help determine this. First a punishment may not be so severe as todegrade the dignity of human beings, second it cannot be arbitrary, no conflict with contemporarymoral decency and lastly it must be the least severe punishment that achieves the intended goal.We both agree capital punishment breaks all four rules and is therefore against constitutional law.I feel (as stated above) that capital punishment detracts from the dignity of not just the onehuman that society feels compelled to put to death, but it demeans all of society. I am prettymuch a pacifist, I feel that all murder except in the self-defense of another human is wrong.Therefore I feel that people who commit murder should be punished harshly but that does notmean I feel they should be killed. When society decides to take the life of a convicted murderer itis stopping down to the level of the murderer; essentially degrading us all. It is responding to onewrong, with another wrong (two wrongs do not make a right). Killing the murderer serves nopurpose, it has not been shown to deter other murders, it does not bring back the person killed, itdoes not protect society in ways that long-term imprisonment could not, and on top of that itcosts more. The only purpose that the death-penalty serves is that of revenge or retribution.Some will make a distinction between the two, noting that retribution is a legal act performed bythe government. The government has no power that is not granted to it by the people soessentially, a government act, is an act of the people; capital punishment is the government takingrevenge on behalf of the people.Many proponents of capital punishment say that death is the only punishment that peopleconvicted of murder deserve, anything less would not be harsh enough. This causes severalproblems. One is that many people consider death the easy way out, for example, some saysuicide is for wimps. It is actually much harsher punishment on a murderer to confine him to acell for the rest of his/her life; killing him is a very short-lived punishment. Also in other respectsthe death penalty may be too severe, although the person is not “punished” per se by long termsanctions on them, they are denied the basic human dignity of existing. It has been said that ifsomeone commits murder they lose their basic human rights and therefore it is not inhumane tokill them. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they areendowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life….”. That is adirect quote from the Declaration of Independence written by our forefathers in 1776. Accordingto them no matter what certain rights like the right to life are unalienable or “not to be separated”(American Heritage Dictionary).There is no purpose served by killing, that could not be achieved by long-term (or lifetime)imprisonment, save one, prevention. Some death-penalty advocates say that if we do not kill aconvicted murderer they might escape and kill again, or kill another inmate. According toinformation in Bedau (pg 295) less than 1 in 500 convicted murderers ever kill again; albeitsometimes it does happen, we do not know which ones it will be in advance. Unless we kill ALLmurderers, (which the Supreme Court said was unconstitutional in Woodson V. N.C.) then wecannot achieve the goal of preventing all the potential murders. An example would be PatrickSonnier, though sentenced to die, Pat showed extreme regret for what happened and showedabsolutely no signs of being a future threat to anyone. Yet he was killed, premeditatedly (first-degree, legally the worst), and in cold blood by the state of Louisiana.Not only is capital punishment wrong in itself, it also has several problems in its’application. First off, in almost every study done on capital punishment statistics, it is shown thatan unfairly high percentage of those receiving the death penalty are from the lower economicbrackets and are also disproportionately high numbers of blacks are put to death as well. Ifsomeone kills a white person (whether they are black or white) you are several times more likelyto get the death penalty than for committing the same crime against a minority. Death-penaltyadvocates say that this is a problem with the system and not with capital punishment in and ofitself and therefore it is not reason to abolish it. This systematic problem is not new, it has beenthis way since capital punishment was instituted originally; therefore it is highly unlikely that it is aproblem that will be solved so, capital punishment cannot be allowed to continue. Even theSupreme courts four year hiatus of capital punishment and reorganization did not solve theproblem.


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