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The Death Penalty Capital punishment is defined as the penalty of death for thecommission of crime. The death sentence has been applied since ancienttimes as punishment for crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. In1976, U.S. states began creating a two jury procedure that would legallyallow imposing the sentence of death. The states did so in response tothe 1972 (Furman vs. Georgia) Supreme court decision which ruled thatdeath penalty statutes were too vague and thus unconstitutional andillegal. The two jury system reserved for capital punishment casesrelies on jurors to decide on innocence or guilt. Another jury decideswhether or not to impose the death penalty. The vote must beunanimously recommended for the death sentence to be imposed. Jurors,acting in societies best interest, have sent a clear message. Those whoare compelled to commit a heinous premeditated murder must be ready toaccept the consequence prescribed by law, death. Nearly 3 of 4Americans support the death sentence as a form of punishment. The sacredness of life has been taught for centuries. One canfind it s teachings throughout western history. This reverence for lifeis often cited to oppose the death penalty. “Those who base theiropposition to the death penalty on moral grounds argue that life issacred and killing is always wrong, whether it is done by an individualor by the state.” (Honeyman .3) It is safe to say that most of us wouldagree that our lives are precious, and even sacred. Most of us alsoagree that killing is wrong. But not to punish a criminal that takesthe life of another with the same punishment, that being death, is notfair to the victim. Miller says, “To punish a murderer by incarceratinghim as one does a pickpocket cannot but cheapen human life. Murderdiffers in quality from other crimes and deserves, therefore apunishment that differs in quality from other punishments.” (87) Bynot giving criminals the proper quality of punishment, we send the wrongmessage to our society. “To refuse to punish any crime with death isto suggest that the negative value of a crime can never exceed thepositive value of the life of the person who committed it.” (Miller.88) Opponents argue that the death penalty cannot work as a deterrentbecause of procedural safeguards required by the courts in capitalcases. Without these procedural safeguards, the risk of making amistake and executing the innocent would be inevitable. This may betrue even in cases that do not involve capital punishment. No one hasclaimed that the justice system in the U.S. is perfect and can’t make amistake. However, the death penalty is irreversible and for this reasonit deserves special attention. States have constructed a two jury trialsystem which addresses this concern. The questions are made clear anda judgment is made to the best of a juries ability. This process isquickly finished when compared to the appeals which follow. Opponentssuggest that they are “necessary to reduce the likelihood of theexecution of innocent persons.” Deciding on the constitutionality of acase through the appeals process takes an average of 10 years, not tomention , a lot of taxpayers dollars. To anyone, this would seem to beextremely wasteful and unnecessary considering that the facts havealready been decided. Opponents sympathize with the criminal and argue that “even the severestpunishment will not deter those who expect to escape detection andarrest.”(Bedau 4) This may be so, but statistics might give us insightas to why this is. As of 1993, there were 2,575 murderers under the

sentence of death. That same year, only 22 were put to death. That isless than 1%.(The World Almanac) There does not seem to be any “severepunishment” involved at all. Law has been reduced to a threat andcriminals are calling societies bluff. Even if a criminal is caught fora lesser crime than murder and imprisoned, the prison life could hardlybe described as punishment. With frequent visits, basketball courts,free-weights, libraries, three healthy meals, medical attention,and theright to apeal, not including the barbed wire fences, prison just fallsshort of all the amenities of a free society. Another argument is that “violence breeds violence- that the deathpenalty carried out by the State against it s own citizens in effectlegitimizes willful killing”. Opponents claim that if severe punishmentcould deter crime, imprisonment could be just as, if not, better thancapital punishment. In defense of their claim, they cite the differencein homicide rates of Michigan and its neighbor Indiana ( one statewithout and one with the capital punishment, respectively). (Miller69)”Between 1972 and 1990, the homicide rate in Michigan was generallyas low as or lower than the neighboring state of Indiana, which restoredthe death penalty in 1973 and since then has sentenced 70 persons todeath and carried out 2 executions.” (Bedau 4) In another case, theyhave attempted to prove that homicide rates increase as a result of thedeath penalty, lending to their “brutalization hypothesis”. At a firstglance, this argument would seem to hold water. However, the comparisonof the homicide rate between states with and without the capitalpunishment would be at most a narrow and inconclusive indicator of aproblem which continues to plague this country. Statistics show thatcrime and homicide are on the rise. “The number of reported murders wasup 3% in 1993 versus 1992 ” (The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1995)Between these years, sentencing of criminals to more than 1yearimprisonment increased in federal and state institutions by 13.2% and7%, respectively.(The World Almanac ) Repeat offenders accounted for a17-30% increase in the prison population. These statistics give us aclearer picture of the deterring effects that imprisonment has onviolent criminals. Opponents will continue to argue that capital punishment has failedas a deterrent, economically, statistically, humanely, and morally. Inan attempt to summarize their position on the death sentence, they wouldhave us believe that “executions seem to appeal to strange, aberrantimpulses and give an outlet to sadistic urges.”(Bedau 11) This may betrue for some people, even those who oppose the death penalty. But, thebottom line is this. Our legal system has set a standard for society inthe best interests of society. Whether or not it is being applieddiligently, if at all, has not yet been decided. ” Jurors have beengiven the chance to decide and their message is clear. Those who arecompelled to commit a heinous premeditated murder must be ready toaccept the ultimate consequence prescribed by law, death. “(Miller,83)


1. Honeyman, Jennifer C. and Ogloff, James R.P., “Capital Punishment:Arguments for Life and Death”, Reprint from the Canadian Journal of BehavioralScience, Vol. 28: 1 January, 1996. 2. Miller, Robert K., The Informed Argument, (1986). 3. Kaminer, Wendy, “It s All The Rage; Crime and Culture”, (1995). 4. Bedau, Hugo Adam, “The Case Against the Death Penalty”,gopher.nyc.pip sues/death/case_against. 5. The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1995.

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