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Capital Punishment Essay, Research Paper


Who Do We Think We Are?

Capital Punishment is the penalty of death for a crime. The most common criminals

who are executed are convicted murderers. What message is that sending? The use of

capital punishment sends the message that murder is okay, as long as it is applied to the

right person. The application of capital punishment in our society is hypocritical. It has no

place in the judicial system.

The way we handle the punishment of capital crimes is pathetic! There are other

ways to punish criminals outside of taking their lives, but we, for some reason, feel the

need to play the exterminator. The people who commit capital crimes are not animals to

be exterminated. They are human. They deserve the same breath that everyone else takes.

If a person commits a heinous crime then that person is obviously not normal. That person

is obviously in need of mental help and, we should help these criminals instead of hurting

them (religioustolerance.org).

Criminals have families and friends who care about them. Why should the innocent

bystanders be punished because of another’s actions? Killing anyone, for any reason, only

brings on more pain and suffering than is necessary. We should recognize the problems in


our society and heal those problems instead of placing a temporary fix on a permanent


Capital punishment is excessive and unnecessary. Killing a criminal only solves one

problem and causes many more. The one problem it solves is the criminal is no longer

walking the streets. Encarceration would serve the same purpose. If the criminal is

encarcerated then he/she no longer poses a direct threat to society, so killing him/her

would be overkill (pardon the pun). It causes other problems because the criminal was

executed merely out of retribution. Sort of an eye for an eye. Actions like this only keep

hatred and condemnation flowing in society (progress.org).

A punishment can only be called a deterrent if it is performed consistantly and

promptly. There are three reasons why capital punishment cannot be performed with any

consistancy or promptness.

1) The number of convicted murderers sentenced to death are small, and of that number,

an even smaller number are actually executed

2)Manditory death sentences are unconstitutional (Woodson v. North Carolina, 1976).

3)A considerable time between the imposition of the death sentence and the actual

execution is unavoidable.

If a person is going to premeditate a capital crime, he/she is not going to be

concerned with the punishment he/she will recieve. Instead, they are actually concentrating

on how they will commit the crime. Even after that they are not thinking of the


consequences, they now are thinking of how they will evade detection and capture by the

police. The severest of punishments will not deter these criminals.

If a capital crime is commited in the heat of the moment, when most capital crimes

actually are, the criminal is not thinking correctly, he/she can not actually contemplate

what will happen as a result of commiting the crime. Every human being on this planet has

a breaking point, and everyone is capable of murder. When someone reaches that point

there is no punishment capable of deterring them.

Some capital crimes are commited as a result of being under the influence of drugs

or alcohol. The criminals who commit these capital crimes are obviously not in a right

frame of mind and should not be executed. This is not to say they shouldn’t be held

accountable for their actions, this is merely saying they do not deserve to lose their own

life. They may not even be conscious of the action they are committing, so how could they

possibly consider the consequences?

There are also other, underlying, situations when capital crimes are commited.

Here are a few:

Mentally ill individuals who have little or no regard for the consequence of their


Brain-damaged individuals who experience periods of uncontrollable rage and

sometimes kill

Political terrorists who are acting for either a religion or a leader of a group that


honors it’s martyrs.

Professional hit-men who are ONLY focused on evading capture

Other than professional hit-men, few of the people mentioned are actually in a

rational state of mind when they commit their crimes. Death as a deterrent is an unrealistic

idea for these individuals because either they cannot conceive what they are doing is

wrong, or they are not thinking of the consequences of thier actions


Capital punishment in California, as in every other state, is more expensive than a

life imprisonment sentence without the opportunity of parole. These costs are not the

result of frivolous appeals but rather the result of Constitutionally mandated safeguards

that can be summarized as follows:

Juries must be given clear guidelines on sentencing, which result in explicit

provisions for what constitutes aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

Defendants must have a dual trial–one to establish guilt or innocence and if guilty

a second trial to determine whether or not they would get the death penalty.

Defendants sentenced to death are granted oversight protection in an automatic

appeal to the state supreme court.

These constitutional safeguards translate into:

a more extensive jury selection procedure


a four fold increase in the number of motions filed

a longer, dual trial process

more investigators and expert testimony

more lawyers specializing in deathpenalty litigation and automatic, mandatory appeals

Since there are few defendants who will plead guilty to a capital charge, virtually

every death penalty trial becomes a jury trial with all of the above necessary requirements

and expenses.

David Erickson’s study of Los Angeles County breaks down the cost of a capital

trial and compares it with the costs of a murder trial where the death penalty is not sought.

The following schedule is a summary of Erickson’s cost study of a death penalty trial in

Los Angeles County only.


If the cost of incarceration on death row and the cost for the mandated appeal to

the State Supreme Court were added to the above capital trial expenses, the cost would

increase to an estimated 2.5 to 3 million dollars per execution. If the cost of incarceration

of an inmate sentenced to life imprisonment without parole were added to the above non-


capital trial expenses, which is less expensive than confinement of an individual on death

row, the cost of life in prison without parole would increase to an estimated 1 to 1.5

million dollars.

Prisoners are executed in the United States by any one of five methods; in a few

jurisdictions the prisoner is allowed to choose which one he or she prefers. These are the

methods of capital punishment in use in mid-1997.

The traditional mode of execution, hanging, is an option still available in

Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington. Death on the gallows is easily bungled: If the

drop is too short, there will be a slow and agonizing death by strangulation. If the drop is

too long, the head will be torn off.

Two states, Idaho and Utah, still authorize the firing squad. The prisoner is

strapped into a chair and hooded. A target is pinned to the chest. Five marksmen, one with

blanks, take aim and fire.

Throughout the twentieth century, electrocution, has been the most widely used

form of execution in this country, and is still utilized in eleven states. The condemned

prisoner is led – or dragged – into the death chamber, strapped into the chair, and

electrodes are fastened to head and legs. When the switch is thrown the body strains,

jolting as the voltage is raised and lowered. Often smoke rises from the head. There is the

awful odor of burning flesh. No one knows how long electrocuted individuals retain



In 1983, the electrocution of John Evans in Alabama was described by an

eyewitness as follows:

“At 8:30 p.m. the first jolt of 1900 volts of electricity passed through Mr. Evans’

body. It lasted thirty seconds. Sparks and flames erupted … from the electrode tied to Mr.

Evans’ left leg. His body slammed against the straps holding him in the electric chair and

his fist clenched permanently. The electrode apparently burst from the strap holding it in

place. A large puff of grayish smoke and sparks poured out from under the hood that

covered Mr. Evans’ face. An overpowering stench of burnt flesh and clothing began

pervading the witness room. Two doctors examined Mr. Evans and declared that he was

not dead.

“The electrode on the left leg was re-fastened. …Mr. Evans was administered a

second thirty second jolt of electricity. The stench of burning flesh was nauseating. More

smoke emanated from his leg and head. Again, the doctors examined Mr. Evans. [They]

reported that his heart was still beating, and that he was still alive. At that time, I asked the

prison commissioner, who was communicating on an open telephone line to Governor

George Wallace, to grant clemency on the grounds that Mr. Evans was being subjected to

cruel and unusual punishment. The request …was denied.

“At 8:40 p.m., a third charge of electricity, thirty seconds in duration, was passed

through Mr. Evans’ body. At 8:44, the doctors pronounced him dead. The execution of

John Evans took fourteen minutes.” Afterwards, officials were embarrassed by what one


observer called the “barbaric ritual.” The prison spokesman remarked, “This was supposed

to be a very clean manner of administering death.” (www.aclu.org)

Since it has been argued in the previous pages, capital punisment is morally wrong,

then to deliberately kill someone, who has already been detained and no longer poses a

direct threat to society, is murder.






Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280


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