Term Paper: Capital Punishment

Pages: 10 (2713 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Illinois Gov. George Ryan's decision to suspend the death penalty -- while affirming his belief in capital punishment -- represents America's own schizophrenia. "We believe in the death penalty but shrink from it as applied." But Ryan's action also represents a public shift. While he is the first governor to take such a stand since the death penalty's resumption in 1977, cities as disparate as New Haven, Conn., and Mount Rainier, Md., among others, are on record as favoring a moratorium.

There are many who reiterate the fact that the support for death penalty beginning to wane. "There are other signs that our love for the death penalty is on the wane. Last year, the number of death sentences meted out was the fewest in six years. The number of commutations also rose to a six-year high in that period.

Kroll, M)

2. Legal fallibility

The writer of the above quotation also points to reasons for the decline in public support for the death penalty.

There are many reasons for the shift but first among them -- and the immediate cause of Ryan's announcement -- is the rash of innocent people recently released from death row, often after many years. In Illinois, more people have been freed rather than executed since 1977. Anthony Porter spent 15 years on death row, and was only two days away from being executed when a group of committed college students convinced authorities they had proof of his innocence. (Ibid)

One of the strongest cases against the validity and the continuity of the death penalty is the fact that too many cases - where the executed prisoner was found not guilty after the execution - have been documented. This is a world wide phenomenon and the following report from Amnesty International illustrates this fact in an article,

Executed "according to law"? (The Death Penalty in China) The article refers to numerous instances of executions that have not been properly administered or which are legally dubious.

Another aspect that is undermining the public's faith in the validity of capital punishment is the fairness of the process; and "the use of jailhouse informants to obtain a conviction in exchange for significant favors like a reduced sentence" (ibid) forms part of the study. Corrupt police and prosecutors have undermined trust in the criminal justice system; in Los Angeles, for example, investigators have found about 100 convicted "criminals" (so far) who were framed by cops who planted evidence and intimidated witnesses

The article also points to another important aspect in the relationship of the media to the concept of the death penalty.

Signs of change are clearly reflected in the popular media. Sister Helen Prejean's popular book "Dead Man Walking" and the film based on it, clearly touched an emotional nerve. This year, "The Green Mile" and "The Hurricane" cannot fail to have a profound impact. (ibid)

It therefore comes as no surprise that support for the death penalty has shown a dramatic decline; below 50% in California, which has the largest death row in the country.

3. The search for an alternative to the death penalty is an area that is difficult to define; numerous alternatives and perspectives will be included in the study. These will include the following.

Social and psychological theories that relate to many of the dominant areas of thought on the critique of society as a source and cause of crime, will be broached in the first section of this study. For example, the postmodern view of society, as discussed by the German Philosopher Martin Heidegger and others, portrays the lack of direction and ennui in contemporary secular society as a central part of the causes of crime. These theories all point to the variety of alternatives for dealing with the death penalty through understanding the causative factors involved. Theories related to alterative and more therapeutic methods of dealing with extreme crime will also be investigated. Included in this section will be the question of deterrence because many are of the opinion that the death sentence is in fact not a deterrent to crime.

Most death penalty proponents concede that executions do NOT deter others from committing murder. In fact, studies show that the murder rate increases slightly after a highly publicized execution. States without the death penalty consistently have lower murder rates - as do countries throughout the world that have abolished the death penalty. Even with recent highly publicized executions, the latest FBI statistics show violent crime on the rise once again. In fact, many murders are not planned, and those who do plan to murder do not plan to be caught.


Other aspects that will be explored are the more practical alternatives to the death penalty, such as extended prison time for those convicted of capital crimes. The feasibility of this aspect will be explored in relation to the other aspect such as cost and infrastructure as well as the profile and findings of the effects of long-term incarceration. One suggestion, for example, is that those convicted of capital crime should serve a minimum of 25 years in prison before the possibility of consideration for parole.


Derechos. Human rights. Acessed 17 April, 2004. http://www.derechos.org/dp/

Baird, Robert M. And Stuart E. Rosenbaum, eds. The Current Debate. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1995.

Bedau, Hugo Adam, ed. The Death Penalty in America An Anthology. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co., 1964.

Bienen, Leigh B. "The Death Penalty: A World-Wide Perspective." Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 89.2 (1999): 751.

Bienen, Leigh B. "The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies." Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 89.2 (1999).

A www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=8134619" "Capital Punishment." The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2000.

A www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001238719" "Death-Penalty Doubts." The Christian Century 24 Feb. 1999: 205. Questia. 19 Apr. 2004 http://www.questia.com/.

Dinan, Stephen. "Death-Penalty Debate Tilts from a Harsh View." The Washington Times 6 Jan. 2001: 1. Questia. 19 Apr. 2004 http://www.questia.com/

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Accessed 17 April, 2004. http://www.fadp.org/

Gaffney, Edward Mcglynn. "The Death Penalty: An Historical and Theological Survey." Commonweal 29 Jan. 1999: 34+. Questia. 19 Apr. 2004 http://www.questia.com/.

Gilmore, Brian. "Spotlight on the Death Penalty." The Progressive Aug. 2003: 38+. Questia. 19 Apr. 2004 http://www.questia.com/.

Green, Joshua. "Second Thoughts on the Death Penalty." The American Prospect 27 Mar. 2000: 10.

Haines, Herbert H. Against Capital Punishment The Anti-Death Penalty Movement in America, 1972-1994. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Kroll, M. Executioner's swan song? February 8, 2000. 17 April, 2004. http://dir.salon.com/news/feature/2000/02/08/death_penalty/index.html?CP=SAL&DN=110

Lowenstein, Tom. "Legal Lynching: The Death Penalty and America's Future." The American Prospect 3 Dec. 2001: 45+. Questia. 19 Apr. 2004 http://www.questia.com/.

O'Shea, Kathleen A., and Ann Patrick Conrad. Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1999.

Sammon, Bill. "Liberals See Death Penalty as Issue." The Washington Times 14 June 2000: 1. Questia. 19 Apr. 2004 http://www.questia.com/.

Schaefer, David. "The Death Penalty and Its Alternatives." The American Enterprise Dec. 2001: 12+.

The Death Penalty. Amnesty International. Accessed 15 April. 2004. http://web.amnesty.org/pages/deathpenalty_index_eng

The Death Penalty: Executed "according to law"? Amnesty International. Accessed 17 April, 2004. http://web.amnesty.org/pages/chn-220304-feature-eng

Young, Robert L. "America without the Death Penalty: States Leading the Way." Political Science Quarterly 117.4 (2002): 689+.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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