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Capital Punishment Essay, Research Paper

Currently, the United States is the only western democracy that still has capital punishment on the books. Even South Africa has eliminated it — the US is left with such company as Libya, Iran, and Iraq. Only America remains committed to this brutal and archaic form of punishment. Only America, the foothold of freedom and democracy, continues this dehumanizing process. Only America cannot face the facts and remove this evil from its society.

Do not let the death lobby deceive you…the goal of capital punishment is revenge. It is not deterrence of crime, as the death penalty has been proven not to deter crime. It is not fiscal responsibility, as the death penalty costs the taxpayers millions of dollars more than life imprisonment. Capital punishment is nothing more than an outlet for the bloodlust of the American people. For too long now, politicians have played on these fears and fantasies for political gain. It is time to, once and for all, execute the death penalty.

As former Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun said, the execution of an innocent person “comes perilously close to simple murder.” Rather, it is simple murder, and one of the most horrific aspects of capital punishment. Since 1900, twenty-three people who we now know to be innocent have been murdered by the state. 350 people have been found not-guilty while on death row awaiting execution. Yet, the genocide lobby continues to support limiting appeals.

The death penalty is overworked with abuses and the potential for abuse. Currently, the death penalty is divided along racial lines. A 1990 report released by the federal government’s General Accounting Office found a “pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty after the Furman decision.”

Professor David Baldus examined sentencing patterns in Georgia in the 1970’s. After reviewing over 2,500 homicide cases in that state, controlling for 230 non-racial factors, he concluded that a person accused of killing a white was 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than a person accused of killing a black.

The Stanford Law Review published a study that found similar patterns of racial disparity, based on the race of the victim, in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia. For example, in Arkansas findings showed that defendants in a case involving a white victim are three-and-a-half times more likely to be sentenced to death; in Illinois, four times; in North Carolina, 4.4 times, and in Mississippi five times more likely to be sentenced to death than defendants convicted of murdering blacks.

Does the government have a right to kill? Perhaps in self-defense, as in a policeman firing on a armed and dangerous criminal. Suppose the American people apply the same standards to the government that they have for civilians. True, a civilian has the right to shoot at an intruder as he is entering his home. However, if the civilian catches the intruder, incapacitates him, and has him under his control, then shooting the intruder would be considered simple murder. That is what capital punishment is…simple murder.

This brings this writer to the next point. What is the difference between the state killing and an individual killing? The result is the same – one more dead body, one more set of grieving parents, and one more cemetery slot. Every time we execute someone, we are sending the most profound message of cynicism about the value of human life. Every time we execute someone, we as a society sink to the same level as the common killer. The American people have blood on their hands, and it will stay there until we finally remove this barbaric practice from our nation.

Despite what people might hear, the death penalty is cruel and unusual. For one, it is torture to keep criminals locked up when they know they are waiting to be killed. To paraphrase Camus, there is no equal retribution unless the convicted imprisoned his victim for years, and every day informed him of the date of his death. Furthermore, the methods of executing people have all been found excessively cruel. For instance it often takes ten minutes or more to die in the electric chair. The only method that is not known to be painful and drawn out is lethal injection, about which we know very little at all.

Does the death penalty really deter crime? The death lobby wants you to believe the answer to that question is “yes.” Nevertheless, in fact, it is a resounding no. The US is the only Western nation that still allows the death penalty, and we also have one of the highest crime rates. During the 1980s, death penalty states averaged an annual rate of 7.5 criminal homicides per 100,000, while abolition states averaged a rate of 7.4 per 100,000. That means murder was actually MORE common in states that use the death penalty. Also consider this…in a nationwide survey of police chiefs and sheriffs, capital punishment ranked last as a way of reducing violent crime. Only twenty-six percent thought that the death penalty significantly reduces the number of homicides.

The theory behind the deterrence doctrine is flawed itself. Murderers do not examine risk/reward charts before they kill someone. Being a criminal is inherently irrational. Life imprisonment ought to deter a rational person itself. Besides, no criminal commits a crime if he believes he that there is a chance of catching him.

“The death penalty is not now, nor has it ever been, a more economical alternative to life imprisonment,” said Spangenberg and Walsh in an article in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review. A study by the NY State Defenders Association showed that the cost of a capital trial alone is more than double the cost of life imprisonment. In Maryland, a comparison of capital trial costs with and without the death penalty for the years 1979-1984 concluded that a death penalty case costs “approximately 42 percent more than a case resulting in a non-death sentence,” according to the US Government Accounting Office. In 1988 and 1989 the Kansas legislature voted against reinstating the death penalty after it was informed that reintroduction would involve a first-year cost of more than $11 million. In addition, the Miami Herald reported that Florida, with one of the nation’s largest death rows, has estimated that the true cost of each execution is approximately $3.2 million, or approximately six times the cost of a life-imprisonment sentence.

As was noted, at least twenty-three people have been executed who did not commit the crime they were accused of. Moreover, that is only those that is known. Further, herein lies an inherent danger of capital punishment…when officials execute an innocent person, the real killer is still on the streets, ready to victimize someone else. However, when an innocent person is arrested, they are often the driving impetus behind further investigation, and if they are executed, the case remains closed forever. On the other hand, at least, until another innocent person is killed by the real perpetrator.

So the fight continues. It is tempting to view it in terms of black and white, the good vs. the evil. More accurately, it is the enlightened v/s. the deceived. If the American people knew the truth about capital punishment, that it is racist, that it is expensive, that it is ineffective, and it kills innocent people, then they would no doubt demand its removal. Sadly, the masses are horribly uninformed, despite the best efforts of such groups as Amnesty International.

There are ways to help. The American people could write their Congressman or even e-mail the president. There are different groups to join like Amnesty International and The Friends Coalition against the Death Penalty. When you hear someone expounding an untruth (and this is a common occurrence) about capital punishment, correct them. Make sure everyone knows the facts. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is also dangerous.

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