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Capital Punishment on Trial
Capital Punishment is an issue that has been argued over from the dinner table in
the average American home the the oval office in the White House for countless amounts
of years. The opposing sides each state their claim on why we should, or shouldn’t allow
the death penalty to be administered to those criminals who the courts believe should be
killed. Each argument has very valid reasons on why the death penalty is right and wrong,
and they both have convincing points to prove their argument. The social problems within
capital punishment vary from it being morally right or wrong, humane or inhumane, to the
excessive time and money that is spent during appeals and stays of execution. This paper
will focus on the problem of the justice system, and why we should and should not grant
numerous appeals and stays of execution.
Capital Punishment has been around since the days of Christ, and its results have
not changed, only the way capital punishment is administered has. States such as
California use the gas chamber as the means to end the convict’s life, while Texas and
Florida have used the electric chair in the past, the remedy for death is now by using
leatheal injection to end the convicts life. Death has always been used as a way to deter
criminals from engaging in criminal activity. In the days of the old west, a man would be
hung if he was caught stealing another mans horse, and during the Cold War, death would
be handed down if you were convicted of treason against your country in many of the
nations involved. Today though, the death penalty is given in a selected amount of murder
cases where the jury or judge feels that it is the only way to go about giving the murderer a
just sentence, and that life in prison sentence would be to lenient. In 1995, prison
authorities saw the largest number of state mandated killings since 1957, and with more
that 3,000 inmates on death row in this country, and several legislative moves to cut the
appeals process, a execution boom seems imminent (Bruderhof 1996).
Pain. Anger. Frustration. Hatred. These feeble words do not describe the anguish
felt by the families of murder victims. Ted Bundy was responsible for the deaths of more
than fifty young women across the United States (Lamar 34). Bundy was finally sentenced
to death by the state of Florida in 1978 after being convicted for the kidnapping and brutal
murder of a 12 year old girl and the deaths of two Florida State sorority sisters. As if the
loss of a loved one is not enough for a family to deal with, Bundy remained on death row
for nearly ten years. Three stays of execution and endless appeals kept Bundy alive for
almost a decade, when his victims lives were untimely and viciously taken from them
(Lamar 34). Many in fovor of the death penalty feel that if a sentence of death is handed
down, then it should be enforced immediately, not as a question of morality, but simply as
an act of justice.
The death penalty already exists in thirty six states, and given its existence it should
be enforced. The problem that arises within the criminal justice system as it is currently
written in the law books is where part of this social problem arises. Since the United
States Supreme Court reinstated the death Penalty in 1976, thirty six states have legislated
capital punishment statutes (Capital Punishment 1992). All but thirteen states and the
District of Columbia have the death penalty as a sentencing option, including Alaska,
Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota,
Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (Norman 1). Since capital
punishment is already in existence, the problem is that it is not enforced. This lack of
enforcement translated into inefficient functioning of the criminal justice system, which
begins to be looked at as a social problem. If the criminal justice system cant enforce its
own laws, the what will make the hardened criminal believe that he is in danger of getting
caught and convicted. This shows a weakness in a institute that should be rock solid and
non swaying in the carrying out of its laws and decisions.
Two reasons why the death penalty should be enforced are saved time, by the court
system through limited appeals, and saved money, by taxpayers due to reduced court and
imprisonment fees. Much of the court’s time could be saved if death row inmates were
limited to a set number of appeals in a reasonable amount of time. Facilitating numerous
appeals results in many unforeseen costs. In 1992, expenditures on criminal justice
activities by all federal, state, and local governments combined to reach $299 per capita
(BJS). Ted Bundy’s ten year stay on death row, involving numerous appeals and excessive
imprisonment fees, eventually cost the Florida taxpayers more the six million dollars
(Lamar 34). For those in favor of a swift death penalty being taken out, these expenses
were unnecessary and unjustifiable and could of been alleviated by limiting his appeals.
Public defense expenditures reached a startling $16.4 billion in 1990, which breaks down
to about seven dollars per capita for each case tried in public defense cost alone (Capital
Punishment 1992). Although those figures are for total spending on public defense, it is
easy to reduce that by limiting the number of appeals for death row inmates, which would
then reduce these figures significantly.
An automatic appeal has been instituted in 35 of the 36 death-penalty states in an
effort to reduce the amount of time spent by the court’s appeal system reevaluating capital
cases (Capital Punishment 1992). Mandatory appeals shorten the length of time spent on
death row and therefore could not be considered cruel and unusual punishment, although
many opponents of the death penalty argue that appeals themselves are also a form of
torture as they keep inmates on death row for many years. This argument is contradictory
because they also assert that there is a possibility of executing a innocent person. With no
appeal, the chance of freeing a falsely convicted felon is also decreased. The argument
those against the death penalty have arguing against quick mandatory appeals in that they
bog down system defeats the purpose of their other argument against the killing of and
innocent person. Those in favor of the death penalty see mandatory appeals as a way of
expediting the execution process, which is currently at an average of nine years and six
months that the inmate spends on death row before the sentence is carried out (Capital
Use of the death penalty as intended by law could actually reduce the number of
violent murders by eliminating some of the repeat offenders thus being used as a system of
justice, not just as a method of deterrence. Many opponents of the death penalty will
argue that although it is said to exist as a crime deterrent, in reality it has no effect on crime
at all. For the most part, modern supporters of capital punishment no longer view the
death penalty as a deterrent, but as a just punishment for the crime, which is a shift from
the attitudes of the past generations (Norman 1). Previously the deterrence argument put
the burden of proof on the death penalty advocates, but recently the argument has become
less effective due to what one source said, “..in recent years the appeal of deterrence has
been supplanted by a frank desire for what large majorities see as just vengeance” (Dionne
Those in opposition to the death penalty believe that if there were not a death
penalty, then there would not be as many appeals tying up the court systems. But since
executions are being performed, we will look at there opinions of why countless appeals,
and stays of executions should be granted. A very strong fact in why those in opposition
to the death penalty believe appeals should be granted is because at least 23 innocent
people have been executed in this century. And since 1970, 59 people have been
discovered and released from death row after evidence of their innocence was proved in
the appellate levels of the court systems (Bruderhof 1996). Another reason why many feel
the death penalty is wrong is because in several states, new legislation drastically limits
possibilities of appeals and stays of executions, ensuring that increasing numbers of capital
defendants will be executed because they are unable to obtain adequate, if any legal
representation (Bruderhof 1996).
More timely enforcement of the death penalty would help to reduce the crime
problem by instilling a sense of respect for the law in that sentences would appear to be
more than words on a page. Crimes carry consequences which should be understood.
This change in the ideology also would reduced cost to the taxpayers. “One of the many
problems with the death penalty is that it is anything but swift and sure” (PD Chiefs: Death
Penalty Fails). The reasoning behind that quote is because the long drawn out process that
a convict has the right to go through after he has been convicted for the first time. As in
the case of Ted Bundy, the system fell down by allowing him to remain on death row for
ten years after murdering 50 women. The justice system needs to allow only one stay of
execution which would be immediately followed by one chance to appeal the case. In no
way should the justice system allow a criminal to have so many ways to extend his life on
this earth, since it is he/she that has ended the life of one or many innocent people with out
any regard for their life. It is the responsibility of all of those in favor of the death penalty
to show support to reform the current laws regulating the death penalty and its executions.
As we learned in chapter 9, future strategies to curve the social problems in judicial
reform would be to provide swift, certain, and fair punishment. Swift punishment can be
applied by the deduction of paroles and stays of executions. Certain punishment would
prove that if a certain criminal deed is done, that the justice system will make sure the
criminals know that they will be convicted. And fair punishment would be that of an eye
for an eye type of punishment. If a murderer has such disregard for a human life that he is
willing to take it, why should we have such high regard for his own.
BJS Justice Statistics Clearinghouse. September 1992
Bruderhof Foundation. 1996. Plough Publishing House. (Transmitted from Netscape).
Dionne, E.J., Jr. “Capital Punishment Gaining Favor As Public Seeks Retribution.”
Corrections Today. August 1990: 178-182.
Lamar, Jacob V. “I Deserve Punishment.” Time. February 1989: 34.
Norman, Jane. “Iowa remains on shrinking list of states without the death penalty.” The
Des Moines Registar. 4 September 1994: 1.
“PD Chiefs: Death Penalty Fails.” 23 February 1995.
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