Capital Punishment the Death Penalty Term Paper

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Capital Punishment

The death penalty is an unsatisfactory approach to serious crimes. Trends and the tide of public opinion through the years indicate this. According to Gregg Easterbrook (2000), the main arguments raised by death penalty opponents are the risk of its being used on the wrong person and the inherent wickedness of execution itself. In recent years, however, opponents have been focusing more on the risk of executing the wrong person and, at the same time, believing that technological advancements would exonerate more innocent convicts. Easterbrook says that neither is bound to happen and that modern technology is instead more and more satisfying one of the two main arguments against the death penalty.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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DNA fingerprinting is one such technology, which almost infallibly identifies a suspect through "markers" yielded by his unique personal DNA information taken from inside his cheek or even a drop of his sweat. It is used mainly in intimate violent crimes in establishing the involvement or presence of a suspect in the crime scene. Easterbrook (2000) writes that while DNA fingerprinting is not helpful in other crimes, nothing beats it in the precise identification of suspects in the present day. It thus increases public confidence that the person who faces execution is the person who has committed the crime. This is how DNA fingerprinting technology addresses and satisfies a main argument to the death penalty on the risk of executing the wrong person. The precision of the information, according to Easterbrook, will, however, tend to result more in convictions and confirmations of convictions than exonerations, as the technology identifies suspects and confirms the guilt of convicts. This is the unfortunate side of the technological blessing. The two-pronged problem it presents consists of the clamor for reopening cases for post-conviction DNA tests and the incorporation of DNA tests into standards for new arrests. Currently, more traditional prosecutors prohibit post-conviction testing. Routine police work in many States forbids it and allows it only in handling very brutal crimes. Moreover, private groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose the use of genetic evidence as violating privacy protection. Hence, DNA fingerprinting is not a cause for celebration among death penalty opponents in that the technology will reinforce convictions rather than increase exonerations. This technology virtually defeats the second main argument.

But there are other flaws, which continue to show the death penalty the wrong solution to the problem of serious crimes. Scott Turow (2003) writes that, since the beginning, there has been a humanist objection as to the government's right to kill its citizens from whom it derives its existence. Michigan was the first State to outlaw capital punishment. Through the years, public opinion continues to vacillate from one end to the other in contention. Turow clarifies that the unsettling situation in the United States is different from that in Europe where the incidence of murders is only a fourth of that in the U.S. He emphasizes that this is not difficult to acknowledge, considering Americans' preoccupation with crime, as can be gleaned from the themes of movies, television and publications. Another flaw consists of the fright and the frenzy of the people who witness or get emotionally affected by particular crimes. This troubled reaction pours pressure on prosecutors and the police who investigate these crimes. Such preoccupation or over-reaction creates a ripple effect and often results in what Turow calls an overreaching prosecution of the crimes. These over-zealous prosecutors and police, in the process, either pin down the wrong person or let the real culprit go, or both. With these flaws in the current system, Turow asks why the death penalty should at all exist. He does not recognize or has not found convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime as a justification. Eric Freedman (1997) agrees that the death penalty does not reduce crime, wastes fiscal and moral resources on a handful of cases and sacrifices measures, which can otherwise be used to produce more significant impact in improving public safety. People who commit capital crimes in general do not pre-evaluate their situation and engage in probability analysis of the likelihood of getting the death penalty if caught. Records show that 18 out of 20 States with the highest murder rates have and use the death penalty. Of the 20 big cities in the country, 17 are death penalty jurisdictions. Records also show that between 1975 and 1985, almost twice as many law enforcement officers were killed in these death penalty States as in non-death penalty States. In the last two decades, Michigan and Indiana, which regularly impose the death penalty, have high homicide rates (Freedman).

For his part, Goldberg (1989) says that the death penalty has asserted only the slightest deterrent effect and that there has been no convincing evidence of deterrence. The only deterring effect seems to be society's claim or threat that certain acts are so horrible that someone who commits them will be killed. People get to internalize this prohibition or threat and associate it with the dire penalty throughout their lives. As they live, society constantly increases people's resistance to committing these forbidden acts. The imposition and the internalizing alone occur in people's minds. Nothing indicates that potential murders consciously weigh the alternatives before committing a serious crime and that, after doing so, they choose or decide that the criminal act is worth life in prison, but not worth taking the risk of incurring the death penalty. Goldberg believes that there is as yet no serious theory of deterrence that a would-be murderer rationally calculates punishment before committing the crime. If the person decides not to commit it, it is likely because of a psychological resistance to the act itself rather than a rational argument of his wanting to deliberately perform the crime, which merits that his life be taken away in recompense. Goldberg sees that it is the legislators who calculate and deliberate for the murderer.

Another flaw, which Turow (2003) takes up, is the wrong idea that the death penalty saves money because it avoids the expense of lifetime imprisonment. He cites the huge costs of capital litigation to back his contention. He says that the average duration between conviction and execution in the United States in 2000 alone was 11 1/2 years. During this time, lawyers present briefs and courts make decisions constantly. At this time, capital punishment proponents persist on their arguments until the crime looks so horrible that the only just response is to kill the accused (Turow). Turow says that the death penalty does not save money and that in the duration involved in capital litigation, proponents go overboard and leave no alternative decision but execution. Freedman (1997) agrees with him again and expands this argument. He says that imposing the death penalty is, in fact, much costlier than keeping murderers in prison for life. He agrees with Turow that most of these extra expenses are incurred before and during the trial rather than in post-conviction proceedings. Unlike other trials, trials under the death penalty system are typically preceded by special motions and extra jury selection questioning. There is much more investigation in capital cases. Large litigation expenses are incurred even if the resulting sentence is other than death or even if up to 50% of the death verdicts are reversed after the first appeal. Thus, the financial burden passes on to the taxpayers who must pay for all the extra costs of capital pre-trial and trial proceedings. From that point, taxpayers must also pay either for the resulting imprisonment for life or the expenses for a retrial, which in turn often leads to a life sentence. Freedman asserts that, even if all post-conviction proceedings following the first appeal were abolished, the death penalty system will still be costlier than its alternative. The other staggering reality is that the costs wasted are taken from beneficial programs, such as providing bullet-proof vests for every peace officer in the New York State. Such a project would save more law enforcement lives. Empirical studies constantly demonstrate that the murder rate decreases as the probability of detection increases. Hence, placing the money into investigative resources rather than wasting it on the death penalty may significantly dent the crime rate. It has also been found that, despite the large volume of narcotics-related ordinary street crimes, the States are short of funds for drug treatment. As a consequence, those who are otherwise motivated to cure their own addictions are compelled to support themselves through involvement in crime. The money, which can fund treatment programs, is instead poured into death penalty litigations (Freedman).

Another objection to the death penalty is that it is arbitrary in operation (Freedman 1997). Considering the gravity of the irreversible sanction to which he or she is subjected, the person should receive the benefits of a judicial process to the fairest possible levels. Instead, the more significant determining factors to imposing the death penalty often have nothing to do with the seriousness of the crime committed. These… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Capital Punishment the Death Penalty" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Capital Punishment the Death Penalty.  (2007, May 29).  Retrieved April 2, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Capital Punishment the Death Penalty."  29 May 2007.  Web.  2 April 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Capital Punishment the Death Penalty."  May 29, 2007.  Accessed April 2, 2020.