Capital Punishment the Death Penalty Is Authorized Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2123 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Capital Punishment

The death penalty is authorized by thirty-eight states, the Federal Government, and the U.S. Military. Those jurisdictions without the Death Penalty include twelve states (Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia. Since 1976, there have been 916 executions as of July 1, 2004 and approximately 3,494 inmates are on death row. Today, the death penalty is a hotly contested topic with about sixty-five percent of Americans supporting it, but only a third of these strongly favoring it. This paper explores why these mixed feelings exist and concludes that disagreements on appropriate levels of punishment are the real drivers for controversy and that these differences are not easily resolved, meaning that the death penalty should remain in tact.

Opposition to the Death Penalty

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Opponents of the death penalty claim it is racist in its application in the United States today; killers of whites are eleven times more likely to be condemned to death than killers of African-Americans. Some of this is because many blacks still live in poverty in this country due to historic exploitation and oppression by the white majority, and poverty causes crime. However, another part of the problem is that the police, prosecutors and judges are mostly white males who are not treating blacks fairly. For example, prosecutors -- ninety percent of whom are white -- seek the death penalty more often if the victim is white.9 In Georgia prosecutors sought the death penalty in seventy percent of the cases where the perpetrator was African-American and the victim was white, but when there was a white killer and an African-American victim, the same prosecutors sought the death penalty only fifteen percent of the time.

The ACLU calls capital punishment "a privilege of the poor." Poor people are also far more likely to be death-sentenced than those who can afford the high costs of private investigators, psychiatrists and expert criminal lawyers.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Capital Punishment the Death Penalty Is Authorized Assignment

Opponents of capital punishment are also concerned about wrongful execution. Of cases where the jury gives the death penalty, about two-thirds of cases are reversed for serious legal errors. Most of those murderers are re-sentenced to death, but up to fifteen percent of cases are permanently reversed. Since 1996, 102 people on death row have been proven completely innocent with DNA testing. Cases such as those involving Ryan Matthews are cited to illustrate the possibility of wrongful execution. Matthews was convicted of murder in a convenience store robbery and sentenced to death even though he was not identified by witnesses and was much taller than the description witnesses gave police. And, Matthew's court-appointed attorney was unprepared to handle the DNA evidence properly.

In August 2004, Jefferson Parish prosecutors in New Orleans dropped all charges against Matthews, making him the nation's 115th exonoree and the 14th death row inmate freed with the help of DNA testing. When Matthews' attorneys had the physical evidence retested, the DNA results excluded Matthews and instead pointed to another individual who was serving time for a murder that happened a few months after the convenience store murder and only blocks away. Based on the new DNA evidence and findings that the prosecution suppressed evidence, Matthews was granted a new trial and prosecutors dropped their charges.

Further, opponents of capital punishment believe that there is no evidence that it actually deters crime. States that have death penalty laws do not have lower crime rates or murder rates than states without such laws. And states that have abolished capital punishment, or instituted it, have shown no significant changes in either crime or murder rates. Further, murder is not a type of crime that the death penalty can deter because people commit murders largely in the heat of passion and/or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, giving little thought to the possible consequences of their acts. Few murderers plan their crimes beforehand, and those who do intend to avoid punishment by not getting caught.

Opponents of the death penalty reject the "eye for an eye" principle of literally doing to criminals what they do to their victims. They believe that when the government metes out vengeance disguised as justice, it becomes complicit with killers in devaluing human life Every industrialized nation except for Japan and the U.S. have abolished capital punishment.

Most of the arguments against the death penalty sound compelling, but they simply aren't true. A 2001 Justice Department report examining federal prosecutors' handling of death penalty cases has found no intentional racial or ethnic bias. The number of people who have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence overstates the actual problem because of the distinction that must be made between legal innocence and actual innocence. Acquittal, which is a "not guilty" verdict, means that the state was unable to meet the necessary burden of proof, in establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It has nothing to do with establishing actual innocence. Risk of executing the innocent is extraordinarily low and the cessation of executions will put many more innocents at risk. Data demonstrates that there is a clear relationship between executions and murders (see Figure 1). In 1960, there were fifty-six executions in the U.S. And 9,140 murders. And, in 1964, when there were only fifteen executions, the number of murders had risen to 9,250. By 1969, there were no executions and the number of murders skyrocketed to14,590. After six more years without executions, 20,510 murders occurred rising to 23,040 in 1980 after only two executions since 1976. In total, between 1965 and 1980, the number of annual murders in the U.S. grew from 9,960 to 23,040, a 131% increase as the number of executions shrank.

3.0 Why the Death Penalty Should Be Supported

Even if capital punishment is unfairly applied, it should be fixed by making sure that rich and white prisoners get what they deserve, not by eliminating punishment for black and poor prisoners. Therefore, the best solution lies in making capital punishment mandatory for all capital cases. It could be argued that all laws are unfairly applied because of racial and economic biases. Certainly, no sane person would then argue that we should disband our entire legal system. The more reasonable approach is to make sure that laws are applied equally to all citizens.

The issue of wrongful execution has been exaggerated and should not be used as an excuse to avoid extracting justice for convicted murderers. Before any person is executed in this country, twelve members of a carefully selected jury have to decide -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that a defendant is guilty. Therefore, the possibility of an innocent person being executed is extremely small, and continues to decrease with the improvement of forensic science. This is what the case of Ryan Matthews really shows. And, executions are carried out only after a long and painful appeals process that involves an average delay of ten to fifteen years.

The death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment. As aptly defended by one judge:

There are crimes that are so heinous and the perpetrators are so coldly without remorse and dangerous that it is unjust to society and the victims' families not to execute the perpetrator. When the state has the opportunity to eliminate a murderer and does not, if that murder escapes and kills again, the blood of those victims is on the state's hands."

The Senate Judiciary Committee once noted, m]urder does not simply differ in magnitude from extortion or burglary or property destruction offenses; it differs in kind. Its punishment ought to also differ in kind. It must acknowledge the inviolability and dignity of innocent human life. It must, in short, be proportionate."

Further, the U.S. Constitution supports the death penalty. The Fifth Amendment provides that "[n]o persons shall be held to answer for a capital...crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury...nor be deprived of life...without the due process of law." This clearly permits the death penalty to be imposed.

Nothing illustrates the need for the death penalty more than the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 which was the largest domestic terrorist attack in the history of the United States. The bombing killed 168 people, injured another 800 and destroyed or damaged more than 300 builings. Nineteen of the victims had been children in an on site day care center. Over 12,000 people participated in relief and rescue operations in the days following the blast, many of whom developed post traumatic stress disorder as a result. Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death for the bombing, after being convicted of, among other things, murdering federal law enforcement officials. He was executed by lethal injection at a U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on June 11, 2001. McVeigh participated in the Oklahoma City bombing to avenge the deaths of Branch Davidians at Waco Texas, whom he blieved had been murdered by federal government agents. McVeigh showed no remorse for the Oklahoma City killings, referring… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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