Against the Use of Capital Punishment

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Category: Capital Punishment

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Due to the fact that the death penalty is a serious and contentious issue, both abolitionist’s and retentionist’s have strong supporting theories and arguments which represent their beliefs. Abolitionists believe that the death penalty is imposed unfairly, violates the fundamental right to life, is not a unique deterrent, provides counter productive effects and is therefore unjust. The object of this paper is to support the theories and arguments that are in favour of the abolishment of the death penalty.
Capital Punishment is unjust and immoral due to the fact that it does not act as a deterrent, is unjustified retribution, innocent lives are at risk, and is a definite form of discrimination. Deterrence is defined as the use of punishment as a threat in order to deter people from committing a crime. The argument that capital punishment should be abolished because it has no deterrent effect on offenders justifies that the use of capital punishment is not an ultimate mean of crime prevention. The death penalty does not prevent future murders from occurring within a society and therefore does not act as a deterrent.
It is no more of a deterrent than a life imprisonment, which is a more rational punishment. Most murderers commit their crime in the heat of the moment, in a psychotic state of mind, and do not weigh the differences between a possible execution and life imprisonment. Therefore these murderers are not deterred by the death penalty law. Life in prison is a worse punishment, simply because the criminal is behind bars and facing the consequences they have committed everyday for the rest of their lives.
Defendants who are sentenced to life behind bars often settle into a normative routine and become less of a threat to commit violence in comparison to other prisoners. Therefore a life sentence is a more effective deterrent than being sentenced to death. Abolitionists also argue that the death penalty does not deter the criminal themselves from carrying out another crime. Criminals who are found guilty carry out the rest of their life in prison, and therefore society is safe due to the fact that the criminal is behind bars and unable to commit another heinous crime.
John Sorenson, Robert Wrinkle, Victoria Brewer and James Marquart examined executions in Texas between the years of 1984 and 1997. They speculated that if deterrent effects were to exist, they would exist in Texas simply because Texas has the highest number of death sentences and execution rates. These authors found no evidence of a deterrent effect after studying patterns in executions and murder rates within the state. They concluded that execution rates are unrelated to murder rates in general, and execution rates are unrelated to felony rates.
Police officers reported that there is not a higher occurrence of assaults and homicides in death penalty states as opposed to abolished states. This proves that there is no evidence that the death penalty is a better deterrent than life imprisonment. The death penalty teaches society to respond by violence, and therefore doesn’t act as a deterrent in any way. If we teach people to respond to violence with violence, this will only increase crime rates, and we will be presented with a vicious cycle of violence within society.
The fact that capital punishment does not deter future crimes from occurring supports that the death penalty acts as an ineffective deterrent. Both abolitionists and retentionists argue whether or not a just society requires the death penalty for the taking of a life. Retribution follows the basic assumption that a wrongful act must be repaid by punishment. In other words, retribution can be seen as revenge or pay back. Revenge is not a rational response in critically important situations.
Immanuel Kant is a well known philosopher who strongly believes that an “eye for an eye”, in which society does to the criminal what they have done to the victim, is a reasonable way to handle punishment. In response, a society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings. An execution is a violent public spectacle and endorses killing to solve social problems. The death penalty is the worst possible example to set for citizens within a community. It is often argued that the punishment should fit the crime, and if it does not then the punishment is unjust and the principle is nacceptable. This would then require us to inflict horrible degrading punishment on criminals such as torture torturers and rape rapists. Our criminal justice system should not endorse the principle of an “eye for an eye” or “life for a life” approach. We do not allow torturing the torturer or raping the rapist. What is the difference between this and murdering a murder? There is no difference. Other forms of punishment, such as a life imprisonment, are more reasonable and equal in punishment for the harm the criminal has caused.
A great philosopher, Jeffrie Murphy believed that the only motive behind the death penalty is to do justice, which is not enough of a reason. A mature society should always imply a measurable response, and therefore should not use the death penalty as a means of pay back. Thus, a just society does not require sentencing someone to death for the taking of a life, and if it does, it is unjustified retribution which is both unjust and immoral. Capital Punishment is irrevocable. Nothing can be done to make amends once an execution has been conducted.
Reasons for wrongful convictions may happen due to the fact that legal representations are inadequate, inappropriate actions caused by police officers, racial prejudice, and political pressure to solve a case. There is considerable evidence that provide statistics that prove innocent lives have been at risk and taken by the death penalty in the past. Since 1973, one hundred and twenty-one people have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence had been emerged. In this time period, almost one thousand people were executed. This proves that as high as one in every eighth person sentenced to death is innocent.
Error rates have been consistently high over the decades. Studies have shown that more than fifty percent of all cases were flawed that were reviewed. High rates of faulty sentencing will lead to frustration of the goals of the criminal justice system. Redau, Radelet and Putnam conducted important research which identified that four hundred and sixteen cases had the wrong person convicted and sentenced to death in the United States between 1900 and 1991, and by 1992 another sixty-six more wrongful convictions were confirmed. Their research proved that twenty four executions had been carried out to innocent defendants.
In the year 2003, ten wrongful convicted murderers were released from death row. Governor George Ryan of Illinois stated in 2000 that, “I cannot support a system which, in its administration, has proven so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state’s taking of innocent life… Until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty, until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate. ” This Governor made a correct moral decision which sets a great example for other states and provinces around the world.
An interview with Damien Echols who was on death row since 1993 and recently released after being proven innocent stated that: “I miss the stars. You know, I haven’t seen the stars in years and years and years. I miss the rain. I miss food. I miss all these things. But what it comes down to the most- and this is the thing that will scar me the most and that I’ll carry with me as a scar the longest- the thing I miss the most is being treated like a human being”. This quote proves that those who are innocent and faced with a death penalty suffer emotional distress. It is heartbreaking to know such torture is brought upon an innocent life.
If such torture is imposed onto an innocent person, this degrades society and the justice system. Another issue involving the fact that innocent lives are being taken are those defendants who are mentally ill or impaired. People who suffer from a mental illness should never be sentenced to death for an illness they have no control over. In June of 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled that sentencing of the mentally ill was a violation of the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments. Evidence of wrongful convictions proves that our capital punishment system is unreliable and mistakes are bound to happen.
By retaining this justice system, the government is simply acknowledging that government action is inadequate to deal with the problem of wrongful convictions or that these mistakes are not a problem. Wrongful executions are a preventable risk, but society takes too many risks in which innocent lives can be lost. Therefore, since capital punishment is a risk taking procedure, it can not be justified on retributive grounds, and is therefore unjust and immoral. Discrimination is defined as the making of a distinction in favour or against a person based on their group or class that they belong to.
Abolitionists believe that the death penalty is imposed unfairly due to the fact that it imposes discrimination because equals are not treated equally. Whether or not a suspect receives the death penalty, depends not only on what they have done, but what their skin colour is, and how much money they have. Most defendants who face the death penalty can not afford their own attorney, and in hence receive lawyers assigned by the state. These lawyers lack experience and believe they are underpaid, and therefore fail to investigate the case accurately.
Defendants who are wealthy are able to hire experienced attorneys and have a chance to “buy” themselves out of their sentence. Abolitionists support the idea that the chance of an African American receiving the death penalty is significantly higher if the victim is white. Amnesty International reported that eighty nine per cent of those executed for rape between the years of 1930 and 1967 were coloured people. In more recent research, a study carried out by David Baldus in Pennsylvania in 1998 examined a large sample of murderers who were eligible of being sentenced to death between the years of 1983 and 1993.
Their study proved that African Americans in Philadelphia were more likely to receive the death penalty than non-blacks who had committed similar murders. Studies have shown that the death sentence is more prevalent if a white person is murdered than if a coloured man is murdered. There is a strong correlation between executing a coloured person if the victim is white. This shows that our justice system values white people more then coloured people. Since 1976, one hundred and fifty-eight black defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, and only eleven white defendants have been executed for the murder of a black victim.
This proves that there are high racial disparities within our own justice system. Practicing racial discrimination within our justice system provides African Americans sufficient justification for believing that they have potential of facing higher penalties, such as death, from murder than do other individuals, and for little reason other than their own race. Research conducted by Jeffrey Pokorak analyzed data which related to race and gender of lawyers authorised to prosecute capital crimes within all thirty eight states.
His research provided evidence that ninety eight percent of attorneys are white and almost all male. A more diverse justice system would provide less discrimination and more accurate sentencing. Since any discriminatory system of punishment is unjust, the death penalty is unjust because it is biased against minorities and the poor. Thus, Capital Punishment ultimately violates the right of life. It is not only cruel and inhumane, it is unjustified and immoral. The notion that retribution can serve as a moral justification for the sanction of a death is a disturbing aspect of today’s unfortunate decisions.
It is inconsistent with our societal values and should therefore be abolished worldwide. We can not teach society that killing is wrong by killing, simply because it is hypocritical. Society also takes too many risks which cause wrongful convictions and innocent lives are lost. Capital Punishment is slowly becoming viewed as inhumane and unethical internationally. Hopefully within the next decade, worldwide support will be given for the abolishment of capital punishment, and the death penalty will become a memory of our past instead of a practice of our future.
In conclusion, arguments in favour of abolishing the death penalty include the fact that it does not act as a justifiable deterrent, should not be used as a form of revenge, risks executing innocent lives, and is a form of discrimination. Therefore these above arguments prove that capital punishment in not only unjustified, it is immoral. Word Count: 2,489 Work Cited American Civil Liberties Union. The Case Against the Death Penalty. Web. From: http://www. aclu. org/capital-punishment/case-against-death-penalty Amnesty International USA. Death Penalty and Innocence. Web. From: http://www. amnestyusa. rg/our-work/issues/death-penalty/us-death-penalty-facts/death-penalty-and-innocence Banner, Stuart, 1963-. The Death Penalty: An American History. Eds. American Council of Learned Societies – York University and American Council of Learned Societies. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2002. Print. Bedau, Hugo Adam. The Minimal Invasion Argument Against the Death Penalty. Criminal Justice Ethics 21. 2 (2002): 3-8. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. Canadian Human Rights Commission. What is Discrimination. Web. From: http://www. chrc- ccdp. ca/discrimination/discrimination-eng. aspx Cholbi, M. Race, Capital Punishment, and the Cost of Murder. ” Philosophical Studies 127. 2 (2006): 255-82. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. Death Penalty Information Center. Death Row Facts. Web. From: http://www. deathpenaltyinfo. org/death-row Eds. Peter Hodgkinson and William A. Schabas. Capital Punishment: Strategies for Abolition. West Nyack, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Web. Ehrlich, Isaac. The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death. Eds. NBER Working Papers – York University and National Bureau of Economic Research. Cambridge, Mass. : National Bureau of Economic Research, 1973. Print.
Finckenauer, James. Public Support for the Death Penalty: Retribution as Just Deserts or Retribution as Revenge? From: http://www. hawaii. edu/hivandaids/Public_Support_for_the_Death_Penalty__Retribution_as_Just_Deserts_or_Retribution_as_Revenge. pdf John Sorenson, Robert Wrinkle, Victoria Brewer and James Marquart, ‘Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Examining the Effects of Executions on Murders in Texas’ (1999) 45 Crime and Delinquency 481-93, from: http://www. deathpenaltyinfor. org/deter. html J. Pokorak, ‘Probing the Capital Prosecutor’s Perspective: Race of the Discretionary Actors’ (1998) 83 Cornell Law Review 1811-20. Print.
McFarlane, Bruce A. Wrongful Convictions: The Effect of Tunnel Vision and Predisposing Circumstances in the Criminal Justice System. Eds. Stephen M. 1952- Cordner, et al. Toronto, Ont. : Government of Ontario, 2008. Print. Murphy, J. G. (1979) Cruel and Unusual Punishments. Retribution, Justice and Therapy. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel. Print. M. Radelet, H. A. Bedau and C. Putnam, In Spite of Innocence (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1995). Print. The Death Penalty: Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty. Michigan State University and Death Penalty Information Center, 2000. Web. From: http://deathpenaltycurriculum. rg/student/c/about/arguments/arguments. PDF The Death Penalty: In Opposition. Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab and Death Penalty Information Center, 2000. Web. From: http://deathpenaltycurriculum. org/student/c/about/arguments/argument3a. htm Vaughn, Lewis. Contemporary Moral Arguments: Readings in Ethical Issues. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. See p. 3 Capital Punishment : Strategies for Abolition. [ 2 ]. See p. 4 The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death [ 3 ]. See p. 5 The Minimal Invasion Argument Against the Death Penalty [ 4 ].
Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Examining the Effects of Executions on Murders in Texas [ 5 ]. See p. 481-93 Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Examining the Effects of Executions on Murders in Texas [ 6 ]. See p. 3 of website The Death Penalty: Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty [ 7 ]. See p. 91 James Finckenauer, Public Support for the Death Penalty [ 8 ]. See p. 355 Contemporary Moral Arguments: Readings in Ethical Issues [ 9 ]. See p. 93 The death penalty: an American history [ 10 ]. See website The Case Against the Death Penalty [ 11 ]. See p. 7 The Minimal Invasion Argument Against the Death Penalty [ 12 ].
Murphy, J. G. Cruel and Unusual Punishments. [ 13 ]. McFarlane, Bruce A. Wrongful Convictions: The Effect of Tunnel Vision and Predisposing Circumstances in the Criminal Justice System [ 14 ]. See The Death Penalty: In Opposition website [ 15 ]. See Innocence section from The Death Penalty: In Opposition website [ 16 ]. See p. 371 Contemporary Moral Arguments: Readings in Ethical Issues [ 17 ]. M. Radelet, H. A. Bedau and C. Putnam, In Spite of Innocence [ 18 ]. See Amnesty Internations website Death Penalty and Innocence [ 19 ]. See Death Penalty Information Center website, Death Row Facts [ 20 ].
See p. 18 Capital Punishment: Strategies for Abolition [ 21 ]. See Canadian Human Rights Commission website What is Discrimination [ 22 ]. See p. 11 of website Amnesty International USA, The Death Penalty [ 23 ]. See Capital Punishment : Strategies for Abolition. [ 24 ]. See The Death Penalty: Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty website [ 25 ]. See p. 11 of website The Death Penalty: Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty [ 26 ]. See p. 262 Race, Capital Punishment, and the Cost of Murder [ 27 ]. See p. 1811-1820 Probing the Capital Prosecutor’s Perspective: Race of the Discretionary Actors

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