The topic of death as a punishment is so controversial that people have been debating it for many years. An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. But is death the ultimate punishment or just the ultimate revenge? There are many arguments for and against the death penalty and as I researched this topic, I do acknowledge that both sides have a convincing point of view. But I keep coming back to the same question, why do we kill as a punishment for killing?
Some people argue that the death penalty is a deterrent for others. That the mere thought of the electric chair or lethal injection can sway them from committing a crime. But there are no studies that support this reasoning. Most murders are done out of misplaced passion, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. (http://www.cacp.org/) Beccaria wrote in his Essay on Crimes and Punishment that the certainty of punishment, rather than its severity, was a more effective deterrent. Social scientists have collected statistical data on the effects of capital punishment in certain jurisdictions. They compare homicidal rates in places with and without the death penalty. They found that the presence of capital punishment does not influence the rate of homicide. (www.encarta.msn.com)
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2002, the murder rate in the South increased by 2.1% while the murder rate in the Northeast decreased by almost 5%. The south accounts for 82% of all executions while the North accounts for less than 1% (deathpenaltyinfo.org) It seems to me that the deterrence argument is used to justify death. Sure it makes sense for those who have not committed a crime because we are thinking reasonably. We understand the effect a crime will have and the punishment that will occur when we chose to do something illegal. But people who are full of emotion, drugs, alcohol, or just not thinking rationally do not consider the possibility of being executed. The deterrence argument does not seem like an argument at all. No shred of evidence supports its theory, therefore making it invalid.
As of 2000, 87 nations authorized the death penalty for crimes such as murder or treason. (http://encarta.msn.com/) Most states with the death penalty choose first-degree murder as a capital offense. But doesnt the 8th Amendment of the Constitution condemn cruel and unusual punishment? Does the type of murder we perform on a criminal really change the fact that we are taking that persons life? Whether it be the gas chamber, lethal injection, or the electric chair, he is being murdered. We are taking a human beings life for a crime we think is severe enough to do so. Who are we to make this decision? Did we give that person life? No. So why do we have the right to take it away? And if the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment, why do we try to make the process of killing someone less painful and gruesome? The lethal injection is used to make us feel like we are not killing and the prisoner is not dying. Sterilized and depersonalized methods of execution do not eliminate the brutality of the penalty. (www.encarta.msn.com)
What about the chance of error? Twenty one condemned inmates have been released since 1993. Many of these cases were discovered not because of the appeals court, but rather as a result of new scientific techniques, investigations by journalists, and the dedicated work of expert attorneys not available to the typical death row inmate. (deathpenaltyinfo.org) The Stanford Law Review found evidence that suggested that at least 350 people between 1900 and 1985 in America might have been innocent of the crime for which they were convicted, and could have been sentenced to death. 139 were sentenced to death and as many as 23 were executed.(http://www.religioustolerance.org/) In my opinion that seems like 23 too many. Put yourself in that convicted murderers position. Imagine not only being publicly humiliated, waiting in a cell for your day to come but then being executed because a court room of people considered you guilty. I know this is an every day consequence with all criminals and the judicial process but innocent people are being killed. If these people were kept alive then when we discovered they were innocent they would be able to go home and live the rest of their natural lives. In case of a mistake, it is impossible to pardon a corpse. (www.religioustolerance.org)
Why isnt life in prison considered a reasonable sentence for capital punishment supporters? I understand that people feel severe crimes deserve severe punishments. I understand that emotions get involved and some people may want nothing more than for the criminal to feel pain. But is this irrational? Is it considered acceptable to judge a person when we are blinded by emotions? When choosing between killing an innocent person or life in prison without a chance for parole, how could the decision be hard when there may be a possibility that person is innocent? I feel that life in prison is an extremely severe punishment. Every day of their life should be a reminder of the horrible choice they made. I think that execution doesnt prove anything to the criminal. Its a way out; they no longer need to face what they have done. Being incarcerated seems to be the ultimate low for any human being. Your freedom is taken away. You no longer have any rights to do anything. All you have is the memory of your crime.
Some people may believe that the death penalty is cheaper than keeping a prisoner incarcerated for life. But studies show that sentencing a prisoner to life in prison is a better allocation of resources than sentencing him to be executed. Florida calculated that each execution costs 3.18 million. If incarceration is estimated to cost 17,000 per year, a comparable statistic for life in prison of 40 years would be $680,000. (http://www.mindspring.com/) This is money that can be going towards the law abiding public, rehabilitation programs and compensation for the families of the victim.
Is there a disproportionate amount of poor and minorities being sentenced to death? Although African Americans make up 12% of the population, they account for 43% of current death row inmates. Since 1977, blacks and whites have been the victims of murders in almost equal numbers, yet 80% of the people executed in that period were convicted of murders involving white victims. (NCADP- National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty- ncadp.org) These facts show that the race of the victim and the accused has a great impact on the way a person is sentenced. How could two people who commit the same crime be sentenced differently? The color of your skin should not determine whether or not you will be allowed to live. Is this truly death by discrimination? The poor can not afford to hire the best lawyers to defend them. How can they make a good defense- especially if they are considered guilty before proven innocent?
Rev. David B. Thompson, Bishop of Charleston S.C states Capital punishment feeds the cycle of violence in society by pandering to a lust for revenge. It brutalizes us, and deadens our sensitivities to the precious nature of every single human life. Life is a very amazing gift that we should consider valuable. When we are exposed to something such as the death penalty, we begin to accept it. We consider revenge and a desire for retribution justifiable reasons to commit murder. Is the death penalty just a settling of the scores?
George W. Bush once stated that every person, however frail or vulnerable, has a place and a purpose in this world. Every person has a special dignity. This right to life can not be granted or denied by government, because it does not come from government, it comes from the Creator of life. I guess he meant every person except those accused of murder. Although this statement is hypocritical, it does have a point. In my mind, it all comes down to the fact that this is a life we are discussing. In our country everyone has the right to life, our Constitution guarantees that. When that right is taken away what do we have left? We each make choices between right and wrong and our system deals with those who chose wrong. The severity of those wrongful choices may vary, but death shouldnt be a consequence for anything.