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Capital Punishment Essay, Research Paper

The topic I chose for my research paper is Capital punishment. I chose this topic because I think Capital punishment should be banned in all states. The death penalty violates religious beliefs about killing, remains unfair to minorities and is therefore unconstitutional, and is inhumane and barbaric. The death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (Bedau 2).

Those who had shown no respect for life would be restrained, permanently if necessary, so they could not further endanger other members of the community (Cauthen 2). But the purpose of confinement would not be vengeance or punishment (Cauthen 2). Rather an ideal community would show no mercy even to those who had shown no mercy (Cauthen 2). It would return good for evil. The aim of isolation is reconciliation and not revenge.

Although the founders of the new country were generally in favor of the death penalty for certain crimes, many Americans in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century were highly vocal opponents, known as abolitionists (Stewart 12). The best known of the American abolitionists was Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of The Declaration of Independence and a confidant of Benjamin Franklin (Stewart 12). Like many other Americans at the time, Rush equated the death penalty with a cruel monarchy specifically that of England’s George and believed that the new republic should have nothing to do with executions (Stewart 12). Rush wrote a number of pamphlets and books arguing that the very idea of a death penalty contradicted the notion of humanity and divine love (Stewart 12). “Who are we to destroy what god has made”. It is far better to reform a criminal than to destroy him.

It is shown that Capital punishment leads many citizens suffering before they are officially dead. When Mississippi executed Jimmy Lee Gray in the gas chamber in 1983, his head was not immobilized (Stewart 30). As the poison gas began suffocating Gray, eyewitnesses and media representatives reporting Gray “suffering a torturous death, his head flailing about wildly, smashing the medal pipe (behind his chair used for support) many times before he lost consciousness” (Stewart 30). The electric chair and hanging too, sometimes fail to be quick, and there have been glitches in lethal injections- executioners have sometimes had difficulty finding usable veins into which to inject the poison, and some victims have suffered breathing trauma before being rendered unconscious by the injection (Stewart 30). Several electrocutions in recent years have taken more than fifteen minutes to kill the condemned man, and meanwhile he has been severely burnt (Stewart 76). How can it serve the purposes of a modern society to condone such torture.

Americans also express great concern over the possibility that an innocent person maybe killed by the state for the crime he or she did not commit (Jackson 45). At least 23 cases have resulted in the execution of innocent people (Jackson 45). Since 1900, this country, there have been on the average more than four cases per year in which an entirely innocent person was convicted of murder. (Bedau 8). Scores of these people were sentenced to death. In many cases, a reprieve or commutation arrived just hours, or even minutes, before the scheduled execution (Bedau). In 1986 a white women was shot and killed at a dry cleaners in Monroeville, Alabama. (Stewart 66). The town was shocked by the murder; however, for the next eight months the police were unable to come up with any likely suspects (Stewart 66). Finally police arrested Walter McMillian, a black man who lived in a nearby town. (Stewart 66). McMillian denied murdering the women at the dry cleaners; he claimed he was at a fish fry all that day with friends and relatives (Stewart 66). In fact, his story corroborated by several people (Stewart 66). Nevertheless, McMillian was arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned on death row even before formal sentencing (Stewart 66). For more than six years, Walter McMillian lived on death row while various appeals were filed in his behalf, all of which were denied (Stewart 67). Eventually, however, new attorneys took over the case an a volunteer basis, and were able to demonstrate serious improprieties in the prosecution’s case, such as withholding evidence that would have proved McMillian’s innocence (Stewart 67). The television show 60 minutes featured McMillian’s case in November 1992 (Stewart 67). Partly because of outraged public response to the report, Alabama agreed to begin a new investigation, and eventually admitted that a terrible mistake had been made (Stewart 67). On March 3, 1993, McMillian was freed. What does this tell the community about trials? It tells me that sometimes they are mislead. Not all accused people will be as lucky as Walter will. This story just goes to show us that innocent people have been convicted.

There is an effective alternative to burning the life out of human beings in the name of public safety. That alternative is just as permanent, at least as great a deterrent and for those who are so inclined-far less expensive than the exhaustive legal appeals required in capital cases. The alternative is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Life imprisonment without parole can keep society safe without needlessly taking human life.

Two case studies demonstrate the effectiveness of life without parole as a meaningful, practical alternative to the death penalty (Biscup 51). In Alabama life without the possibility of parole has been met with praise where it is seen not only as an alternative to the death penalty, but as a more efficient means of sentencing (Biscup 52).

The Alabama experience has shown that an increase in those sentenced to life without parole does not lead directly to overcrowded prisons (Biscup 52). The proportion of all Alabama prisoners who are truly incarcerated for life is less than nine percent, not even close to being a major reason for overcrowding. It is obvious that if Americans be4came generally aware of life without possibility of parole as a viable means of punishing violent criminals, the death penalty would not be featured so prominently is our national discourse.

The money we citizens pay in taxes is being wasted on cruel and unusual punishment. The long paper trails involved in trying and appealing are not only time consuming, but also costly (Stewart 50). For example, California spends 90 million each year- that’s taxpayers dollars on Capital cases. In North Carolina each execution runs 2.6 million; each one in Texas is about 2.3 million. Florida leads them all, with a single execution costing taxpayers a whopping 3.2 million. Surely the money could be better spent. A Duke University Study estimates that the fifty-six executions that occurred in 1995 cost Americans 121 million, enough to hire three thousand police officers at 40,000 each. Federal Judge Alex Kozinski complains “We have constructed a machine that is extremely expensive, chokes our legal institutions, and visits repeated trauma on victim’s families”.

A Question that always pops up in my head is “Is the Death Penalty used as a sign of Discrimination”? In 1972 when the Supreme Court noted that racial discrimination resulted in different patterns of sentencing and rates of execution for white convicted murders and black convicted murders. The supreme courts decision in Furman vs. Georgia was backed up by many studies and showed that blacks were executed at a rate far out of proportion to their numbers, and the Court urged States to rework their statutes to correct what it saw to be arbitrary and discriminatory use of the death penalty (Stewart 62). The nations death rows have always had a disproportionately large population of African-Americans, relative to their fraction of the total population (Bedau 6). Over the past century, black offenders, as compared to white, were often executed for crimes less often receiving the death penalty, such as rape and burglary (Bedau 6).

Since the revival of the death penalty in the mid 1970’s, about half of those on death row at any given time have been black. A disproportionately large fraction given the black/white ratio of the total population, but not so obviously unfair if judged by the fact that roughly fifty percent of all those arrested for murder were also black (Bedau 6). Nevertheless, when those under death sentence are examined more closely, it turns out that the race is a decisive factor after all.

Discrimination against the poor is also well established (Bedau 7). Approximately ninety percent of those on death row could not afford to hire a lawyer when they were tried. A defendant’s poverty, lack of firm social roots in the community, inadequate legal representation at trial or on appeal-all these have been common factors among death row populations (Bedau 7).

It is wrong to kill. It is wrong for these people to have killed in the community, but it is also wrong for the state to premeditate another murder (Bender 141). Capital punishment is cruel and unusual. It is a relic of the earliest days of penology, when slavery, branding, and other corporal punishments were commonplace (Bedau 2). Opposition to the death penalty does not arise from misplaced sympathy for convicted murderers. On the contrary, murder demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. For this very reason, murder is abhorrent, and any policy of state authorized killings is immoral.

Executions gives society the unmistakable message that human life no longer deserves respect when it is useful to take it that homicide is legitimate when deemed justified by pragmatic concerns (Bedau 3). Capital punishment wastes resources. It squanders the time and energy of courts, prosecuting attorneys, defense counsel, juries, and courtroom and correctional personnel. It unduly burdens the system of criminal justice, and it is therefore counterproductive as an instrument for society’s control of violent crime (Bedau 3). It epitomizes the tragic inefficacy and brutality of the resort to violence rather than reason for the solution of difficult social problems.

A decent and humane society does not deliberately kill human beings. An execution is dramatic, public spectacle of official, violent homicide that teaches the permissibility of killing people to solve social problems-the worst possible example to set for society.

In conclusion Capital punishment does not deter crime, and the death penalty is uncivilized in theory and unfair and inequitable in practice. We should not think of the motto “An eye for an eye”. We should make our society a human place, without the use of the death penalty.

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