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Capital Punishment Essay, Research Paper

In 1985, fifteen-year-old Paula Cooper of Gary, Indiana and three of her friends began skipping school and participating in illegal activities. The teenagers needed video game money for entertainment and thought they had a good means of obtaining some. Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher the girls knew, was seen as an easy target for the girls to victimize. The girls gained easy entry into the house by saying they wanted to take Bible lessons. Once in the house, Paula Cooper stabbed the 78-year-old Pelke thirty-three times with a twelve-inch butcher knife that she had brought along. Mrs. Pelke recited the Lord s Prayer as she died while the girls left with thirty dollars to play video games (Website 2.) The debate over capital punishment is fairly recent in comparison to history. Most ancient civilizations agreed that certain crimes should be punishable by death. Most of the civilizations that have existed endorsed the retaliation of the death penalty as well as the fact that some crimes were too heinous and dangerous to society to let the criminal go on living (Brian Calvert 15.) The death penalty and support for it remained as prevalent in the Middle Ages as any time in history. Most of the crimes punishable by death were religious crimes such as heresy, sacrilege, and atheism. The American colonies punished crimes like witchcraft, murder, and rape with the death penalty. The debates over capital punishment did not really begin until the Enlightenment of the 1700 s (Brian Calvert 17.) During this period, people starting pushing for the restriction of the death penalty for many crimes. Through controversy and debate the death penalty has remained a tool of the criminal justice system and is still argued today. The case of Paula Cooper and thousands more like it are heard in courts every year (Website 1.) Offenders such as these deserve the death penalty. The death penalty is an effective and fair means of punishment for three reasons: It is an effective deterrent, it is morally and legally right, and the chance of wrongful death is virtually zero. The most obvious and convincing advantage of capital punishment for murderers is its deterrence factor (Walter Berns 54.) Opponents of the death penalty would like everyone to believe that the death penalty does not prevent murders. However, with six percent of all murders being committed by repeat offenders, the death penalty would be an obvious deterrent since the murderers would have been killed before their chance to commit murder a second time. In Georgia, out of a sample of 164 murderers, eight of them committed murders after their prison release (Brian Calvert 78.) One out of every twenty murderers released in Oregon were found to kill within five years of release (Brian Calvert 78.) These examples are clear evidence that if the death penalty was applied as it was meant to be, it could save six percent of all murders. That would save just under 1,400 lives annually since there are over twenty-two thousand murders every year (Website 1.) Capital punishment opponents also argue that states without the death penalty that adjoin states with the death penalty have crime rates that are just as low (Walter Berns 45.) However, this is circumstantial and it must be considered that a state with the death penalty has the death penalty for a reason, and that its crime level could be higher without it. Murders that require planning and forethought are also affected by the death penalty. In a study of collected files of the Los Angeles Police conducted by Justice McComb of California, it was found that fourteen defendants said the possibility of the death penalty was what kept them from taking a human life (Website 1). The evidence is in favor of the argument that capital punishment is a deterrent to murder and its proper enforcement could save many innocent lives every year. The death penalty is morally and legally just and serves as a potent reminder to the value and sacredness of human life by imposing the harshest penalty possible for destroying it. Capital punishment abolitionists adamantly claim that the sacredness of life is the very reason that the death penalty is morally wrong. They claim that it is unjust to take a life from a human being. A quotation by Thomas Sowell adequately refutes this, he says:”If we took this kind of reasoning seriously, it would be wrong to take back by force what a robber has seized. It would be wrong to imprison who had illegally imprisoned someone else. It would be wrong for the police to drive above the speed limit to pursue someone who was speeding (Brian Calvert 67.)”

If human life is indeed as sacred and precious as anti-death penalty advocates claim, why do they support mercifully for those who so irreverently decide to take the life or lives of their victims? It seems that the very point of the argument is contradictory to what it stands for. Another less than convincing point that opponents use for morality purposes is the fact that the system could be biased by race or sex (Website 2.) This is an arguable point, but it does not mean that the people that do get the death penalty deserve it less just because someone that does deserve it goes free or just receives life imprisonment. It does however, create a strong argument for the mandatory application of capitol punishment. The legality of the death penalty is always under attack by its opponents. Abolitionists claim that the death penalty falls under the category of cruel and unusual punishment which is condemned under the eight amendment (Walter Berns 72.) But clear evidence in support of the death penalty is found in other instances, one of which is the fifth amendment. The fifth amendment says: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb: nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation (Website 1.)”This allusion to having ones life put in jeopardy is an obvious indicator that the constitution did not mean for the death penalty to be included as one of the “cruel and unusual” punishments that capital punishment opponents claim that it is. Surely if the framers of the United States Constitution meant for the death penalty to be considered cruel and unusual, they would never have directly referred to it in the fifth amendment. While the eight amendment has and always will be open to the judgment of the current society, by no means is a direct reference, such as is found in the fifth amendment, up for debate (Brian Calvert 37.) While common sense alone is enough for most people to see the morality of the death penalty, it s good to have the constitution as a strong reminder of the legality of capital punishment as well. The legal and moral evidence is highly in favor of the death penalty and makes it clear why over 70% of Americans favor it (Walter Berns 34.) Opponents of the death penalty claim that innocent people have been killed and that this makes the death penalty not worth the risk (Walter Berns 2.) Though it is certain that in the past people have surely been executed, the risk of mistaken execution is a very small one and no recent mistakes in the execution process have been proven in the last twenty years. Death penalty opponents site the 1987 Bedau and Redelet study which claims that 350 criminal have been falsely accused a capital crimes (Brian Calvert 85.) This gives the impression that potentially 350 criminals were wrongly executed or were going to be. However, when further studies were done, it was found that only 200 of the cases were even eligible for the death penalty and only 139 of these were ever sentenced to death. Out of the 139 cases, only 23 of these executions were actually carried out. Out of the twenty-three so called wrongful executions, only one took place since 1976 (Brian Calvert 86). With only one possibility of a mistaken execution and no proven mistaken executions in over twenty years, the death penalty is a safe tool of the criminal justice department. Death penalty opponents would have United States citizens believe that capital punishment is not a deterrent, is not morally or legally just, and that people are executed wrongly all the time. The reason they argue these points so fervently is to try to hide the evidence the overwhelmingly supports exactly what they argue against. The death penalty saves lives by deterrence and its incapacitating effect. It is morally and legally just for murderers who have no respect for human life. With only one case that has even possibly been wrong in twenty years, it is safe and fair. With all these arguments in its favor, capital punishment should be seen as a reasonable deterrent tool that should be used even more than already to ensure the safety of our nation.


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