Penalty of Death: Barbaric or Justifiable Homicide
The most severe form of punishment of all legal sentences is that of death. This is referred to as the death penalty, or capital punishment; this is the most severe form of corporal punishment, requiring law enforcement officers to actually kill the offenders. It has been banned in numerous countries, in the United States, however an earlier move to eliminate capital punishment has now been reserved and more and more states are resorting to capital punishment for such serious offenders namely murder. “Lex talionis,” mentioned by the Bible encourages “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” mentality, and people have been using it regularly for centuries. We use it in reference to burglary, adultery, and various other situations, although, some people enforce it on a different level, some people use it in reference to death. An individual may steal from those who have stolen from him, or an individual wrongs those who have wronged him, but should an individual have the right to kill to seek retaliation? Four issues are on the hot topic in the United States, stirring up America’s feeling towards this issue. There is controversy debating capital punishment today and whether or not it works, or if it is morally right. We have a certain privilege in our own lives, but should the lives of others belong to us as well? Do we have the right to decide on the lives of others; of people we may not even know? If we find someone guilty of murder, we sentence him to death. This makes us murders ourselves, but is there possibility in justifying these acts? Those who assist in the death penalty; are they not partners in crime? Is death penalty a cruel and unusual punishment or is it now just a necessary tool in the war on crime?
The use of death penalty has actually declined throughout the industrial Western World since the 19th century. In 1972, a movement in America to have the death penalty declared unconstitutional arose, during the landmark case of Furman vs. Georgia, declaring the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment. Nonetheless, a Supreme Court decision in 1975, Gregg vs. Georgia, stated capital punishment did not violate the eighth Amendment rights, and the executions began again under state supervision. These inconsistencies and indecisions have obviously sparked a debate. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the death penalty was required for a wide range
of offenses, both civil and religious. In the following passages from the King James Version of the Bible, Jehovah required the state to execute a person for murder: Genesis 9:6 states: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” If sufficient proof were provided that a person had committed a crime, the state imposed the death penalty on the guilty person(s). They were either stoned to death, impaled or burned alive. Witnesses who testified at the trial would often participate in the killing.
Protecting the citizens against harm and wrongdoing is the first and most fundamental duty of government. Capital punishment has turned the tables on fear and put it in the hearts of criminals. People always want to live in a safer place, a place where children can play outside without worry; parents can send their kids to school with peace of mind. People don’t have to worry about casting a suspicious eye. Capital punishment is necessary in order for justice to prevail. Capital punishment is the execution of criminals for committing crimes, regarded as so bad that this is the only acceptable punishment. It is one of the only fair punishments allowed by the judicial system. Murder like all other crime is a crime against society. It is for assault upon society that the state inflicts punishment.
No loved ones should have to go through such a wrenching experience. Jannice Hunter, whose 27-year-old daughter, Adrien, was stabbed 47 times by serial killer Nathaniel White in 1992. Mrs. Hunter spoke for every family member when she said, “It’s a heartache that all parents suffer. I have to go to the cemetery to see my daughter. Nathaniel White’s mother goes to jail to see him and I don’t think it’s fair .In 1973, Shawcross, one of the New York’s most ruthless serial killer, was convicted of the of the brutal rape and murder of two children in upstate New York. After serving just 15 years in prison, he was paroled in 1988. In a horrific 21-month killing spree, Shawcross took 11 more lives. That is 11 innocent people who would be alive today had justice been served in 1973; 11 families that would have been spared the pain and agony of losing a loved one.
The death penalty deters murder and prevents murderers from killing again by putting the fear of death in to would be killers. A person is less likely to do something, if he or she thinks that harm will come to him. Another way the death penalty may help deter murder is the fact that, if the killer is dead, he or she will not be able to kill again. Criminals deserve to die and not stay in jail. If a man kills a man and is convicted, he should be ready to die next. Supporters of the death penalty feel that criminals should be punished for their crimes, and that it doesn’t matter whether it will deter crime. They want to make examples out of offenders so that the threat of death will be enough to stop them from committing such horrible crimes. The man who kills is society’s greatest enemy. He has set up his own law. If anarchy is not to be met with anarchy, it must be met by the laws, and these laws must be enforced.
Behind the idea of capital punishment lies false training and crude views of human conduct. People do evil things; say the judges, lawyers, and preachers, because of depraved hearts. Human conduct is not determined by the causes, which determine the conduct of other animal and plant life in the universe. For some mysterious reason human being act as they please; and if they do not please to act in a certain way, it is because, having the power of choice, they deliberately choose to act wrongly. The world once applied this doctrine to disease and insanity in men. It was also applied to animals, and even inanimate things were one tried and condemned to destruction. The world knows better now, but the rule has not yet been extended to human beings.
If most everyone can agree that killing others are wrong, then why is the United States undergoing a national debate about the death penalty? The public cannot agree on the effectiveness of the capital punishment laws in the United States. Supporters believe that it is an effective form of punishment as well as a societal defense against offenders and is also cost friendly to the national economy. On the other hand, abolitionists fear for the lives of innocent victims that are being lost at the stake of justice. Furthermore, proponents have discovered that the death penalty does not deter crime, but is a more costly alternative to life imprisonment. Though both sides are in favor for punishing criminal behavior.
Mead Shumway of Nebraska was convicted of the first-degree murder of his employer’s wife on circumstantial evidence and sentenced to death by jury. His last words before his execution were: “I am an innocent man. May God forgive everyone who said anything against me.” The next year, the victim’s husband confessed on his deathbed that he, the husband, had murdered his wife. There is an uncertain numerous amounts of incidents similar to that one depicted above that have repeatedly occurred throughout the course of history. Two highly distinguishable figures in the area of capital punishment in the United States, discovered in 1992, that al least 140 cases, since 1990, in which innocent persons were sentenced to death. In Illinois alone, 12 death row inmates have been cleared and freed since 1987 (Execution Reconsidered). The most conclusive evidence in support of this comes from the surprisingly large numbers of people whose convictions have been overturned and who have been freed from death. One out of every seven people sentenced to death row is innocent.
The numbers are disturbing. Innocent people are becoming victims of the United States judicial system by its overlooked imperfections. A former president of the American Bar Association (ABA), John J. Curtin Jr., said it best when he told a congressional committee “Whatever you think about the death penalty, a system that will take life must first give justice. Execute justice, not people.” Though some of the innocent death row inmates have managed to escape their execution, there are numerous others who are unable to overturn their sentence through appeals. Many cases of innocence go unheard and result in the unfortunate fatality of an innocent bystander. When the death penalty in 1972 was ruled unconstitutional in Furman v. Georgia, the Justices expected that the “adoption of narrowly crafted sentencing procedures would protect against innocent persons being sentenced to death”. But the chances that innocent persons have been or will be executed remain astoundingly high. The United States justice system was formed on the premise that it should protect society’s general well being from any harm. Processes and procedures have been formed and created in order to ensure that everyone receives fair treatment, but the system has flaws that have let criminals back out on the streets and put innocent people in jail and on death row. How can the nation’s people put trust into an institution, which has reportedly failed them again and again? The system can and will, and has in the past, falsely accused someone and wrongfully sentenced him to terminal punishment. Once a convicted prisoner meets the executioner, the prisoner has reached the point of no return. Death cannot be reversed once it has occurred.
Now, there are actually some safeguards guaranteeing protection of those facing the death penalty, the defendant cannot be insane, and the man’s real or criminal intent must be present. For example, In September 1998, the Illinois Supreme Court delayed the execution of Anthony Porter just two days before it was scheduled to occur. Porter, who was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in 1982, had been determined to have an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 51. A person registering an IQ below 70 is often considered mentally retarded, and the court wanted more time to consider whether the Constitution permits the execution of such an individual. Unlike some other states that use capital punishment, Illinois does not have a law specifically prohibiting executions of the mentally retarded. During the delay, David Protess, a journalism professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., investigated Porter’s case. Working with a private investigator, Protess and his students dug through police and court records until they located another man who confessed–on videotape–to the murders for which Porter had been convicted. After the confession became public, the sole eyewitness who testified against Porter recanted. In February 1999, more than 16 years after Porter was first imprisoned, he was pardoned by Illinois Gov. George Ryan. Also, minors rarely receive the death penalty because they are not fully mature, not knowing the consequences of their actions. Though, to their credit, the courts must require very high levels of proof of criminality before they would order the death penalty. Lastly, the mentally retarded are very seldom executed. The reason for not in this case is that they often have difficulty defending themselves in court, such as problems remembering details, locating witnesses, and testifying credibly on their own behalf. Technologies also are very helpful in solving crimes. Some observers have called “DNA fingerprinting” the answer. In recent years, scientists have learned how to identify an individual by his or her genetic makeup, as encoded by deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Every person has a unique configuration of DNA, and that code is imprinted on each cell in the human body. Police often gather bodily materials such as hair, semen, blood or fingernails at a crime scene, since those materials can be analyzed to determine whether the “DNA fingerprint” of a person accused of a crime matches the DNA samples recovered at the crime scene. If the defendant’s DNA does not match that found at the crime scene, it becomes more difficult to prove that he or she was involved in the crime. These safeguards are to try to insure that justice will be served without having it suffer.
Life imprisonment is a more cost-effective method. Abolitionists contend that the death penalty is more expensive because of the multiple appeals that inmates request from behind bars. And since most death row inmates are indigent individuals, the money needed for appeals cases are funded with government tax money. In California, capital trials are six times more costly than other murder trials; simply because of the complex pre-trail motions, lengthy jury selections, and expenses for expert witnesses, and the pursuit by most death row prisoners to overturn their sentences through appeals are also very costly. Criminal sociologists, argues that since the death sentences puts the prisoner’s life at stake, death penalty cases are especially complicated from pretrial motions through sentencing and appeals, with the state usually having to pay for all the costs. They estimates that the cost of each death penalty case is 2 to 3 million dollars.
Studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been conducted for several years, with varying result. Most studies have failed to produce evidence that the death penalty deterred murders more effectively then the threat of imprisonment. The reason for this is that few people are executed and so the death crime deterrent is not a satisfactory deterrent. If capital punishment were carried out more often it would prove to be the crime deterrent it was intended to be. A major purpose of criminal punishment is to conclude future criminal conduct. The deterrence theory suggests that a rational person will avoid criminal behavior if the severity of the punishment outweighs the benefits of the illegal conduct. It is believed that fear of death deters people from committing a crime. Most criminals would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives were at stake. When attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts a positive oral influence, placing a stigma on certain crime like manslaughter, which results in attitudes of horror to such acts.
Too often, we are confronted with wanton acts of violence that cry out for justice. The World Trade Center bombing and the murderous rampage on the Long Island Rail Road by Colin Ferguson are but two examples. The slaying of a police officer in the line of duty is another. To kill a police is to commit an act of war against civilized society. A person who knowingly commits such a heinous act poses a serious threat to us all, for government cannot protect citizens without doing everything it can to protect those charged with our safety. Police officers put their lives on the line, not knowing whether their next traffic stop or call of duty will be their last. Contract killers, serial murders, those who torture their victims, or those who have murdered before also can be sentenced to death. In determining whether the death penalty should be imposed on anyone convicted of first-degree murder. “An eye for an eye,” many people believe that capital punishment dose not belong in a civilized society. I believe a form of it is needed because we do not live on a civilized society, whereas mass murders and those who create such devious and heinous crimes will surface at different time, and there needs to be a way of ending their madness. We live in a day and age where killing happens everyday though, and first time offenders, for example, should receive a life sentence, teaching the individual, and those around the individual that if “you do the crime, you pay the time.”