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The Alternative For Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper
Mead Shumway of Nebraska, was convicted of the first degree murder of his employer?s wife on circumstantial evidence and sentenced to death by jury. His last words before his execution were: ?I am an innocent man. May God forgive everyone who said anything against me.? The next year, the victim?s husband confessed on his deathbed that he [the husband] had murdered his [own] wife (Radelet, Bedau, Putnam 347).
There are an uncertain numerous amount of incidents similar to the one depicted above, that have repeatedly occurred throughout the course of history. Two highly distinguishable figures in the area of capital punishment in the United States, Hugo Bedau and Michael Radelet, discovered in 1992, at least 140 cases, since 1990, in which innocent persons were sentenced to death (Hook and Kahn 92). In Illinois alone, 12 death row inmates have been cleared and freed since 1987 (Execution Reconsidered). The most conclusive evidence in support of this ?comes from the surprisingly large numbers of people whose convictions have been overturned and who have been freed from death? (Bedau 345). One out of every seven people sentenced to death row are innocent (Civiletti). That?s nearly 15%.
The numbers are disturbing. Innocent people are becoming victims of the United States judicial system by its overlooked imperfections. A former president of the American Bar Association (ABA), John J. Curtin Jr., said it best when he told a congressional committee that ?Whatever you think about the death penalty, a system that will take life must first give justice. Execute justice, not people.? Though some of the innocent death row inmates have managed to escape their execution, there are numerous others who are unable to overturn their sentence through appeals. Many cases of innocence go unheard and result in the unfortunate fatality of an innocent bystander. When the death penalty in 1972 was ruled unconstitutional in Furman v. Georgia, the Justices expected that the ?adoption of narrowly crafted sentencing procedures would protect against innocent persons being sentenced to death?. But the chances that innocent persons have been or will be executed remain astoundingly high (Bedua 344). The United States justice system was formed on the premise that it should protect society?s general well being from any harm. Processes and procedures have been formed and created in order to ensure that everyone receives fair treatment, but the system has flaws that has let criminals back out on the streets and put innocent people in jail and on death row. How can the nation?s people put trust into an institution which has reportedly failed them again and again? The system can and will, and has in the past, falsely accused someone and wrongfully sentenced them to terminal punishment. Once a convicted prisoner meets the executioner, the prisoner has reached the point of no return. Death cannot be reversed once it has occurred.
No issue posed by capital punishment is more disturbing to the public than the prospect that the government might execute innocent people. Proponents to the death penalty are, of course, also against executing an innocent person (Hook and Kahn 91). Most everyone would agree that killing someone is wrong. Proponents and opponents agree that murder is a heinous act and should be punished. Despite their hatred for those who kill, proponents support the killing of murderers as a just punishment for their deviant behaviors. In this sense, execution can be termed, ?legal murder? because ?executions shares enough of the characteristics of murder to be counted as part of the general category: it includes a victim who does not want to die, and an agent that nonetheless kills [the victim]? (Yanich 98]. Murder is synonymous with kill, as found in the Britannica- Webster Dictionary. To kill is to deprive one of life or to put one to death and murder implies motive and intent or premeditation. With respect to theses definitions, execution is a premeditated event which deprives the accused of his/her life. Therefore, execution is as unrighteous and unjustified as the act of murder itself.
Despite the detrimental errors of the U.S. justice system, the death penalty remains in effect and is costing citizens hundreds of millions of dollars. California has undergone an economic recession and many social programs have had to be cut, but the state ?continues to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty? (Bedau 408). And between 1977 and 1995, 18 years, California has experienced two executions by lethal injection (United States Department of Justice 16). How much longer will the death penalty be enforced before the federal and state governments realize that it is becoming ?unmanageably expensive? to fund capital cases (Bedau 409)? Financial resources in the U.S. are becoming more and more limited and sparse, yet state governments continue to uphold death cases at the request of politicians? ? get tough? proposals. But politicians neglect to recognize the exorbitant amount of money that the death penalty is costing tax payers (Bedau 405). With more death row inmates than any other state, Texas is experiencing the financial burden of the death penalty, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone at the highest security level in a single cell for 40 years (Bedau 402). Though some authorities are recognizing that the money used for the death penalty trials ? could be better used for additional penitentiary space, rehabilitation efforts, education, and to devote time and attention to juveniles? (Bedau 404). The death penalty is burdening the financial resources for many social programs, including the funding for more police officers and a more functional criminal justice and correctional system.
If most everyone can agree that killing others is wrong, then why is the United States undergoing a national debate about the death penalty? The public cannot agree on the effectiveness of the capital punishment laws in the United States. Supporters believe that it is an effective form of punishment as well as a societal defense against offenders and is also cost friendly to the national economy (Montague). On the other hand, abolitionists fear for the lives of innocent victims that are being lost at the stake of ?justice?. Furthermore, proponents have discovered that the death penalty does not deter crime, but is a more costly alternative to life imprisonment. Though both sides are in favor for punishing criminal behavior, each side has differing beliefs about what is best for the general welfare of the nation.
The U.S. justice system is central to the debate because many question the lawfulness and legality of the death penalty. Numerous studies have found the death penalty to be discriminatory and arbitrary. Discrimination and arbitrariness can easily be found in the application of the death penalty. Defendants in capital cases are, for instance, generally poor persons living on the margins of society, and they often receive poor legal representation that is usually appointed by the courts. Court-appointed counsel receive only a few thousands of dollars from the state to fight the ?ultimate penalty? (Stewart 52). On the other hand, a more financially secure defendant could afford the expertise necessary for proper investigations and expert witnesses to provide him/her self with a strong case. Indigent defendants therefore are at a disadvantage to the courts with court-appointed counsel because they usually receive less the adequate representation. A lot of the defendant?s counsel are overworked, underpaid and inexperienced.
Despite the differences in representation, there is also discrimination and arbitrariness in deciding who receives and does not receive the death penalty. The decision remains arbitrary. Some are convicted before juries can decide whether or not to impose the death penalty, while others accused are charged with capital murders from the beginning (Barkan 526). Throughout the nation, it is clear, that ?defendants accused of similar murders are treated differently for no logical reasons. Some are charged with capital murders, while others are not. Some receive sentences of the death penalty, while others do not. Researchers in this area conclude that ?the capital punishment process is akin to a lottery system and that being sentenced to death is the result of a process that may be no more rational than being struck by lightening (Barkan 527). There are race, class, and gender disparities in the sentencing of capital cases. A greater percentage of men than women are sentenced to death. At year end in 1995, 48 women and 2.986 men were under death sentences. There are at least 62 times more men on death row than women. Of the men on death row in the United States, in 1995, 56 were executed, while all the females on death row remained on death row (United States Department of Justice 1). With respect to race, blacks consists of almost 41% of the total, while white make up only a little above 1% (Bedau 117). In addition, death row consists of mostly indigent individuals. And those who are accused of the murder of a white person are more likely to receive the punishment of death, than someone who murders a non-white person (Bedau 119). It is not surprising that almost 75% of blacks believe that a black individual is much more likely than a white individual to receive the death penalty for similar crimes (Bedau 117). It is evident that there are problems inherent in the implementation of the death penalty. These inherent problems have prompted many individuals to oppose the United States capital punishment laws because it is an unfair, biased, arbitrary and discriminative method that cannot guarantee protection. Another problem that contributes to the errors in convictions are improper police work, unlucky chances, and frame ups (Radin 18).
The flaws inherent in the death penalty policy must be eliminated. But how can an institution as large as the United States justice system guarantee perfection? It can?t. Since it cannot, a different alternative must be enacted in order to maintain social order and to protect society without any fatal mistakes, such as wrongful executions. The implementation of the death penalty is irreversible. Life cannot be granted back to someone who is later found to have been innocent. The risk of losing an innocent life is, at least, an urgent cry to society that the death penalty is a flaw itself. At least with a different form of punishment that is reversible, innocent prisoners can be released back into society. Because mistakes are bond to occur within the judicial branch of government, as well as any other branch, an alternative to the death penalty punishment should be devised to eliminate the chance of wrongful execution and to save the nation thousands of millions of dollars.
In order to guarantee the elimination of miscarriages of justice, I propose a solution of abolishing the death penalty and enforcing life imprisonment without parole. The government needs to eliminate the death penalty to expunge the risk that it places upon innocent people in capital cases. To eliminate wrongful executions that may occur as a result of the imperfections of the United States justice system, it is only right that the death penalty be abolished completely. By sentencing accused offenders to life in prison without parole, their sentences can easily be overturned upon discovery of innocence. Though we would regret that the person had to spend time in jail, we can feel better that we were able to let him/her live life again (Stewart 99). An execution is final. Someone cannot be brought back to life once he/she has been executed.
Life imprisonment not only eliminates the risk of executing innocent lives, but it is also a more cost-effective method. Abolitionists contend that the death penalty is more expensive because of the multiple appeals that inmates request from behind bars (Barkan 525). And since most death row inmates are indigent individuals, the money needed for the appeals cases are funded with government tax money. In California, capital trials are six times more costly than other murder trials, simply because of the complex pre-trial motions, lengthy jury selections, and expenses for expert witnesses. And the pursuit by most death row prisoners to overturn their sentences through appeals are also very costly (Bedau 402). Steven Barkan, a criminal sociologist, argues that since the death sentences puts the prisoner?s life at stake, death penalty cases are especially complicated from pretrial motions through sentencing and appeals, with the state usually having to pay for all the costs. Barkan estimates that the cost of each death penalty case is 2 to 3 million dollars (525). In California, one report estimated that the state could save $90 million each year by abolishing capital punishment. And in New York, the Department of Correctional Services estimated that the death penalty would cost their state about $118 million annually. Sentencing someone to life imprisonment without parole would cost the state about $25,000 per year, or $1 million overall (Barkan 525). By using the funding that would otherwise be used for the implementation of the death penalty, the government can more effectively put it to use in other methods of fighting crime. A million dollars spent pursuing the executions of one defendant could provide far more effective long term crime reduction: many additional police officers, speedier trials, or drug rehabilitation programs (Bedau 401).
Research studies have shown that the death penalty is an ineffective method and the money that funds it could be better used to provide a better judicial system and to aid the prevention of criminal behavior. Improvements can be made in many places throughout the justice system ? from arrest to prosecution to sentencing. First of all, local governments will have more money to hire more police officers. More police officers will result in more police coverage per area, thus possibly reducing the amount of crime committed within neighborhoods. Many citizens complain that there aren?t enough law enforcers on the streets. Abolishing the death penalty throughout the entire United States will provide money for more police officers as well as possibly fund many other social programs.
Court-appointed counsels should receive a fair sum of financial funding to ensure legitimate representation for indigent defendants. By providing court-appointed counsels with more financial resources, defendants will have stronger cases against the prosecution. The court-appointed counsels with more financial resources, defendants will have stronger cases against the prosecution. The court-appointed lawyer can obtain expert witnesses or conduct competent investigations. Depleting the system of the death penalty law gives defendants the chance to a fair trail.
To eliminate bias and discrimination during the process of sentencing in any trial, strict guidelines should be made by which jurors and judges are guided to make a decisions. Though this has already been implemented, it was not implemented correctly. The guidelines must be strict and objective. It must also prevent the inconsistencies that are prevalent in the sentencing process. It is not fair that two people who commit similar crimes receive different sentences. To do this every criminal act must have particular punishment. For example, lets examine a liquor store robbery. The following is inaccurate and merely a hypothetical example. First of all, it was a robbery. Regardless of what else happened during the crime in question a punishment must be assigned to the robbery itself. Lets say hypothetically that a robbery results in a sentence of eight to ten years. The consequence must not be broad, such as one to nine years. The consequence must be narrowly defined so that jurors and judges have less room to include their personal beliefs and biases. Take for instance that the robber injured a hostage with a knife. Additional jail will incur with each criminal act. He/she might receive two to three years for possession of a deadly weapon and four to five years for causing bodily harm to the victim. When all behaviors are in violation of the laws are assessed, it is easy to calculate their punishment without considering the race, class, or gender of an individual. Race, class and gender should not be factors in deciding the sentence for criminal behavior. The crime, not the person is on trial. Though mitigation factors (e.g. list of priors) should also affect sentencing criteria or be used in consideration of parole of there is a possibility of parole. Back to our hypothetical individual, based upon what we have already noted that the defendant has done he/she is expected to receive a sentence of about 15 and a half years in jail. I came to this conclusion by simply adding the average value of each crime together. Though the judge can use his discretion and sentence the defendant to the full term of each criminal act, it is not very different from the sum of the averages, 15 and a half years. A judge who would sentence the robber to the maximum sentence capacity would sentence the defendant to 18 years in jail, only two and a half more years than the sum of the averages.
Now that these offenders have been sentenced to jail time, the judicial system must ensure that theses offenders serve the time that they have been sentenced to. Many support the death penalty simply because it guarantees that criminals will be punished by not allowing them early parole. Prisoners, on the whole, are only serving 20% of their sentence because of overcrowding in correctional facilities (Bedau 119). The inconsistencies in sentencing and the actual time spent in jail have made some people skeptic about resorting to life imprisonment terms. But if the system eliminates the death penalty, the government will have hundreds of millions dollars extra, some of which could be spent on the corrections system. More facilities could be built and more correctional officers could be hired. Though this would cost a substantial amount of money, this would protect society as well as provide jobs for the many whom are unemployed. With more space and more officers, the corrections system won?t have to release prisoners early to make room for new prisoners. Everything about the judicial system must be consistent and objective. Prisoners must serve the full term of their sentences before being released. Parole should not be recognized in order to send a message to the general public that the justice system stand by rigid, objective, and consistent standards, which will treat everyone equally and fairly with no exceptions.
We have covered how the funding of the capital punishment could be better used for the protection of society. No we will cover how the large amount of money spent on the death penalty could be better spent on prevention of deviant behavior. Men commit a large percentage of all crime. The reasoning for this fact contains the answer to preventing crime. Men and women are socialized differently according to their gender roles. Males and females receive differential treatment during childhood. Boys are expected to be tough, strong and independent, whereas the girls are expected to be soft and dependent. Because of this, boys are allowed to stay out until after dark, while girls must go home before sundown. Parents have more confidence in their male children that they can be on their own and that girls need more parental guidance. The difference continues into adulthood. While acts of physical violence are relatively rare among both sexes, they are very much common among men. Differential parenting styles result in the great disparity among men and women. Although more women are committing crimes, the nation must develop a way in which we can raise children without gender differences (Glietman 559-561). The rise in women criminals is due to the present transition in gender roles. ?Many parents are trying to raise their children with fewer preconceived notions about how males and females ?ought? to behave? (Weiten 312). This new transition is what we need in order to create a safer nation. The money used to implement the death penalty could be used to educate parents, teachers, and other agents of socialization on how to socialize children irrespective of gender roles. Social critics view this period of transition as a ?healthy trend? (Weiten 312).
The laws pertaining to the death penalty need to be abolished throughout the entire United States. Hopefully, the Justice Now (JN) organization realizes the potentially deadly mistakes that the death penalty has for the country (Mac Farlane 14779). Many people are affected by the death penalty, not just the prisoner on death row. Everyone needs to remember that by executing the murderer we may relieve some of the grief that is felt by the victim?s family, but by doing so we are giving the family of the prisoner additional grief. Executions do not result in a win-win situation, especially if the prisoner is an innocent victim. Anyone can be sucked into the judicial system just by being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
By abolishing the death penalty entirely, throughout the United States, hundreds of millions of dollars could be used to improve the judicial system. Life sentences without parole will be used instead of the death penalty for a fraction of the cost. The excess money can guarantee that all convicted criminals will serve the full term of their sentence by providing additional correctional facilities and officers. By opening more facilities, abolishing the death penalty creates more employment opportunities. The eradication of the death penalty will mean more funding will be provided for social programs which have the potential to create a better society. The extra funding can also be used for the prevention of crime by reducing the differential treatment that is evident in children rearing. The death penalty poses many problems for the nation. If we can get the majority of the population to believe that life imprisonment without parole is a better method for capital punishment, then the United States can join the industrialized nations that have abolished executions and become a much safer country. But because the United States has used the death penalty throughout the course of history, many are having difficulty understanding the advantages that come with the abolition of the death penalty. Everyone agrees that risking the lives of innocent people is a damaging effect of the death penalty, but the majority cannot come to terms on a better alternative. Life sentences without parole can guarantee that no one will be wrongfully executed, while saving the nation hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on other more beneficial social programs.
WORKS CITEDBarkan, Steven E. Criminology: A Sociological Understanding. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997.
Bedau, Hugo A. ed. The Death Penalty in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Civiletti, Benjamin. ?The Death Penalty is Still Seriously Flawed.? Christian Science Monitor. Aug 1997. Ebsco host. Cerritos College Norwalk, CA. 3 Nov 1999 (http://www.epnet.com).
?Execution Reconsidered.? Economist. Jul 1999. Ebsco host. Cerritos College Norwalk, CA. 4 Nov 1999 (http://www.epnet.com).
Gleitman, Henry. Psychology. 4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995.
Hook, Donald D. and Lothar Kahn. Death in the Balance: The Debate Over Capital Punishment. Lexington: Lexington Books, 1989.
Mac Farlane, Theresa. International Organizations. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.
Montague, Philip. Punishment as Societal Defense. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers: 1995.
Radelet, Michael L., Hugo Adam Bedau and Constance E. Putnam. In spite of Innocence. Pennsylvania: The Maple Press, 1992.
Radin, Edward D. The Innocents. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1974.
Stewart, David O. ?Dealing With Death?. ABA Journal. Nov 1994: 50-53.
United States Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin: Capital Punishment. 1995. Washington: OJP, 1996.
Weiten, Wayne. Psychology: Themes and Variations. 2nd ed., brief version. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1994.
Yanich, Danilo. ?Making Movies Real: The Death Penalty and Local TV News.? Crime Law and Social Change. 26 (1997): 303-328.
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