Capital punishment is the most severe, and controversial, form of punishment in the American justice system. As a form of punishment for crime, it is as old as penology itself, and the debate surrounding the matter has always been intense. Capital punishment refers to the infliction of death for certain crimes, referred to as capital crimes or offences. A consensus on crime and punishment is that the measures adopted to penalise an offence depends upon the atrocity of the said crime. Edward I. Koch, declares that we can only affirm human life through exrtracting the highest penalty for the taking of human life (Koch 3). Capital punishment is arbitrary, unfair, barbaric and immoral, acts as no deterrence to crime and offers the victims or their kin no relief, and as a result, it should be abolished.
Capital punishment may claim innocent lives. Unlike other punishments, the death penalty is irreversible. The death penalty once enforced precludes the possibility of new evidence or advances in technology exonerating the accused. Further, since the judicial system is susceptible to errors, the execution of an innocent man can occur. Figures released by the U.S Department of Justice in Capital Punishment report for 2013, of all death row inmates since 1930, 7% have been found innocent and subsequently released. A further 68% have had their sentences commuted, with 41% of these being due to errors by the Prosecutor or their representation. (U.S. Department of Justice) These figures point to the fact that execution of an innocent may occur. U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, recognising the shortcomings of the justice sytem said it thus, to eliminate the possibility of executing an innocent defendant, we should treat any punishment greater than life imprisonment as wildly excessive”(Baze V. Rees, Commissioner, Kentucky Department Of Corrections, Et Al.) . Of even greater concern is some sections of legislation may further encourage the conviction of innocents. Case in point is the Texas law of Parties which holds a party criminally responsible even when they did not commit the actual murder. This, despite the fact that, Texas at an astonishing 37%, has the highest number of death row executions nationally. (U.S. Department of Justice) Punishing innocents presents the possibility that the guilty walk away scot free, and can perpetrate their crimes again.
Capital punishment is barbaric, unfair and immoral. Through time, the various methods used to enforce the death penalty have been cruel and gruesome. The death penalty has been carried out using firing squads, asphyxiation, electrocution and lethal injection. Executions have a tendency to and have indeed gone wrong in gruesome ways. While most of these cases have been due to equipment faults and human errors, they are nonetheless cruel. The more “humane” lethal injection, intended to be a superior alternative to other methods has had similar issues. Reluctance by pharmaceutical companies to provide their drugs for deadly use, and refusal by medics to participate in the process, as it goes against medical ethics, has resulted in lethal injections being as gruesome. At least forty-four cases of botched executions are on record at the death penalty information website, with one such case being on record as going on for almost two hours. Such executions are surely against the constitutional right to an execution, free from cruel and unusual punishment. At the reinstatement of the capital punishment in 1976, the presiding Supreme Court Justices held that the death penalty was constitutional if it applied equally to all parties. While proponents of the death penalty will argue to the contrary, this has not been the case. The death sentence imposition has been disproportionate upon those whose victims are white, offenders who are people of color, and on those who are poor and uneducated. Being on death row has now become synonymous with poor representation and a lack of privilege.
An often mentioned argument for capital punishment is that it acts as deterrence for future crimes. This This argument is simply not true as statistical evidence cannot confirm or refute this. Arguably, some of those executed may have been incapable of being deterred because of mental illness or defect. Further, most capital crimes are committed in such an emotional state that the perpetrator is not able to think of the possible consequences. It is also plausible to say that no one knows how effective or much more deterrent the lesser sentence of life imprisonment is compared to death row. Deterrence has been proven to be effective only if the punishment is meted out soon after crime. Death row has become synonymous with extended incarceration to such a point as to be likened to being sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of death hanging over the perpetrators head. This surmounts to cruel and unusual punishment, and is unconstitutional. Further still, the average Murder Rate in states that support the Death Penalty was 4.7, while the average Murder Rate in States without the Death Penalty was 3.7 (U.S. Department of Justice). This disuades us from the notion that the death penalty is a deterrence to crime.
In conclusion, capital punishment is demonstrably cruel, unfair to the poor, barbaric and tends to send the innocent to the gallows. All human life is precious, and sending those who take it to meet the same fate not only sends the wrong message but also lowers us to the same levels as the murderers. In this respect, Koch is wrong. In my view, capital punishment historically served as means to prevent murderers from becoming serial offenders. With the advent of supermax facilities, this no longer needs to be the case. Murderers are sure to be held securely, and without being treated in a cruel or unusual manner. Death row is on record as being ridiculously expensive. The funds used to try and execute a death row inmate may be put to better use to institute crime prevention programs. After all the goal of the penal system is rehabilitation. Consider the words of death row inmate Ray Jasper, who says prison sentences are way too severe, with people are being sentenced to life for crimes not involving violence (Nolan).
Koch, Edward I. Death and Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life. The New Republic. 15 April 1985. Rpt. in Current Issues and Enduring Questions. 6th ed. Eds. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston: Bedford, 2002. 557-62
Federal Bureau of Investigation. ‘Unified Crime Report 2013.’ FBI. September 2012. Web. 13 May 2014.
Baze Et Al. V. Rees, Commissioner, Kentucky Department Of Corrections, Et Al.. 07-5439. 2008. Print.
Deathpenaltyinfo.org,. ‘Some Examples Of Post-Furman Botched Executions | Death Penalty Information Center’. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.
Nolan, Hamilton. ‘A Letter From Ray Jasper, Who Is About To Be Executed’. Gawker. N.p., 2014. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.
U.S. Department of Justice, Capital Punishment, 2013 â€“ Statistical Tables. 2014. Print.
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