Last Updated 13 Jan 2023

The Death Penalty: It’s Just Wrong

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Since the formation of the United States, the government has used the death penalty to execute more than 13,000 people. Public outcries caused the practice to come to a near halt in the late 60's. With the case of Furman v. Georgia in 1972, the Supreme court ruled that the state s laws for applying the death penalty were arbitrary, making them violations of the Eighth (cruel and unusual punishment) and Fourteenth (equal protection) Amendments. However in 1976, in Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court said that as long as it was not arbitrary, capital punishment was not cruel, and was therefore legal (Litardo). Today, 38 states have the death penalty (Worsnop). The death penalty is still as inappropriate as it was in 1972 because it is discriminatory, cruel, immoral, and does not achieve the goals it was created to achieve. One reason the death penalty should be stopped is that it is discriminatory. A report by the federal government s General Accounting Office found evidence of racial disparity in the sentencing and imposing of the death penalty. Professor David Baldus examined the sentences in 2,500 homicides in Georgia in the 1970's. He calculated that a person was 4.3 times more likely to receive capital punishment for killing a white person than for killing a black person. The Stanford Law Review published similar findings for Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Virginia (ACLU).

Besides the discrimination against blacks there is a discrimination against the poor. There are few, if any, rich inmates on death row. The reason for this is, according to many, because rich people can afford better, more expensive lawyers. Poor people have to endure the mistakes of their public defender forever. True, there are some decent public defenders, but the chances of getting a competent lawyer are slim because of the plethora of cases entering the court (Worsnop). The Eighth Amendment protects against cruel and unusual punishments. It is hard to imagine a more cruel and unusual punishment than the death penalty. There is always some amount of pain in each of the murders, and many murders are botched. Hanging is still practiced in some states. If the rope is too short or too long, it can either gradually strangle or rip the head of the victim off (ACLU). Electrocution was once again proven cruel recently in Florida. There, the mask covering Pedro Medina s face during his electrocution burst into flames (Navarro). In a gas chamber, it may take several minutes for the victim to become unconscious. His face may turn purple and he might drool. A description of the practices administered by a firing squad alone make it sound cruel. The victim is masked and five people take shots at him. One of them shoots blanks. By a lethal injection, as one federal judge noted, a small mistake in the dosage can cause tremendous pain for the victim. In Texas there have been three such cases since 1983. In one it took 24 minutes for the person to die. (ACLU). Clearly, this is cruel and unusual.

Another argument against capital punishment is that we don t have a right to kill people. Even though we believe that punishments should fit the crimes committed, there is a limit to how far this should go. No one would deny that it doesn t make sense to rape a rapist, and that it is equally pointless to set the house of an arsonist on fire. People can see the pointlessness of this because we are stooping to the level of the criminal. Why, then, is it so hard for people to understand that this is exactly what we are doing in the case of a murderer? We are teaching that it may be okay to kill people. The U.S. should not be transmitting this message to its citizens (ACLU). While some may argue that for the sake of the family of the victim we should kill the murderer, they are quick to forget that the murderer has a family too. His family did nothing wrong. And, while it may be too late to stop the pain of the family of the victim there is a way to diminish the anguish of the murderers family (Litardo).

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The way, of course, is a sentence of life imprisonment. For some, this punishment may seem too lenient. Why should the prisoner be allowed to live in conditions which may be better than his previous ones, get all the books he Il ever need from the prison library, and exercise in the prison gym? The answer to that is that the prisoner will have to live every day of his life knowing that because of the crime he committed he will die in jail. All of the reading and workouts in the gym will never take that away. There are two main refutations death penalty supporters may have to the argument I have written so far. Both come from a lack of knowledge of the facts. The first is that it wastes more tax payer money to keep the prisoner alive than to kill him. The fact is that this is not true. With the appeals process and the long waiting time for executions included, it costs between two and three million dollars per execution. If the prisoner were to get a life sentence, the appeals could be cut, and the money saved could go towards the family of the victim, and to programs to help stop these crimes. This assistance would be more beneficial to the victims families than revenge (Litardo). The other belief of many death penalty supporters is that a severe punishment like death will deter many would-be criminals who d be afraid of being killed if caught. According to a research poll by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, the death penalty was considered one of the least cost effective ways of reducing crime (Worsnop). This is believed to be because many crimes are committed in the heat of passion or rage, or while intoxicated. The other crimes are committed by professionals who believe they will not be caught. Some studies even indicate that the crime rate increases because of the death penalty. In Louisiana, after eight people were executed in 1987, the crime rate in New Orleans rose 16.9%. States that don t use the death penalty have lower crime rates than states that do (Litardo). Finally, although there are many more arguments against the death penalty, I d like to present one very strong one. Not many death penalty defenders would be willing to pull the switch themselves. Deep down, this could very well be because they feel that it is immoral to kill anyone. If it isn t moral enough for themselves, how could they suggest it for the American people?

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