As Americans we live in a modern republic under a government constructed to secure the rights of the people. Today's government and judicial systems were forged by our founding fathers as they fought to establish a government free from tyranny and brutality and thereby forming a constitution based on civil liberties. Our country has grown and matured through the centuries and in effect has made changes and alterations as innovations and advancements have deemed necessary. One area where we seem to have evolved at a slower rate is in the archaic and often inhumane judicial laws of the death penalty.
The death penalty, a law which strips the civil liberties and violates the human rights of the accused offender, needs to be abolished. If as a nation we are to uphold our integrity it is imperative that the United States embrace the worldwide movement toward the complete abolition of the inhumane act of capital punishment. Intense controversy over the legality of the death penalty in the United States has always been multi-faceted and emotionally charged. Constitutional lawyers insist the founding fathers made provision for the death penalty in the 5th amendment which guarantees "due process of law before a person can be deprived of life, liberty or property", while ignoring the 8th amendment which bars cruel and unusual punishments (Singh, 2003).
There is no constitutional amendment that gives state or federal governments the authority to proclaim death as a penalty. This is an assumption based on the methods of punishment used in the era of the first colonies. The archaic "eye for an eye", "Annie get your gun" justice has regressed into a self-justifying realm of indecision where it is easier continue in conventional tradition. We need to demand the legal system be held accountable to constitutional laws as written not as interpreted based on history. Death by hanging, firing squads, electrocution, the gas chamber and death by lethal injection are all options still available to those on death row. Each one in progression a little more civilized then the one before it, or so society attempts to convince themselves.
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The courts, as well as society, need to stop accepting and allowing these gruesome acts of purposely killing another human in the name of justice. In recent centuries the majority of American citizens supported the death penalty believing it served both as a deterrent and as an appropriate response to particularly heinous crimes. Unquestionably, there are heinous acts of crime being committed. Yes, these crimes need to be addressed, victims and their families need validation and offenders needed to be prosecuted, punished and kept from harming others. Yet, in our imperfect legal system and often overzealous prosecution mistakes are inevitable.
Seemingly conclusive circumstantial evidence, coerced confessions, emotionally biased witness testimonies, inadequate legal representation and community pressure all fatal ingredients that could lead to a life altering mistake by a jury of the accused peers or a presiding judge. It could be argued that death is what murderers deserve. However, requiring that the punishment fit the crime is an unacceptable principle, we would then have to apply this to all crimes such as rape, assault and torture. While punishment needs to be proportionate to the offense and retribution is sought, these are not sound and objective reasoning for the death penalty.
Although some advocates for the death penalty would argue that its merits are worth the occasional execution of innocent people, to maintain the death penalty in the failures of the system is unacceptable (ACLU 2011). Eighty-four years ago, Judge Learned Hand said, "Our procedure has been always haunted by the ghost of the innocent man convicted" (Law ; Social Inquiry, 2009).
The argument for a deterrent of violent crimes cannot be upheld consistently or statistically as a rational determinant. We need to stop allowing our legal system to play off of emotion and the human desire for retribution and begin to acknowledge alternative sentencing such as life in prison without parole. This is more humane as well as cost effective, due to less court appeal fees, separate housing and security costs, and the need for victim validation through life-long punishment is still fulfilled.
The death penalty should no longer be a legal option. Once, unequivocally accepted worldwide for a variety of crimes, the death penalty has been widely outlawed in today's progressive society. The United Nations General Assembly imposed a policy that states throughout the world, it is desirable to "progressively restrict the number of offenses for which the death penalty might be imposed, with a view to the desirability of abolishing this punishment". As of recent, 140 countries, more than two-thirds of the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice (Amnesty International, 2012). How can America remain influential in speaking with other nations about human rights and civil liberties while leading their own convicted citizens to death row? We need to step out of the hypocrisy and stand with these other countries worldwide and abolish the death penalty.
Everyday American school children recite the Pledge of Allegiance in their classrooms repeating "for liberty and justice for all." American junior and senior high school students are being taught the history of the United States, the Constitution and Bill or Rights. They learn about civil liberties, American freedoms and the justice of the legal system. Yet, we are not providing them with examples when we continue to implement the death penalty.
In an ever advancing country where liberal thinking and tolerance, equality and human rights are encouraged by leaders, we still hold fast to an archaic and unthinkable law, the death penalty. We need to hear the truth in the words of the framers of the constitution, the voice of the world and the cry of those who are appalled by the violation of human rights. The people of this free nation need, with one voice, to call for the abolition of the death penalty.
- American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation, 2012, Retrieved March 9, 2012, http://www.aclu.org/capital-punishment/case-against-death-penalty
- Amnesty International, 2012,Retrieved March 9, 2012, http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty/abolitionist-and-retentionist-countries
- Law & Social Inquiry, Volume 34, Issue 3, 603–633, summer 2009 Robert Singh, PhD, Governing America: The Politics of a Divided Democracy, 2003
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