Death Penalty (Anti) Historically Term Paper

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Death Penalty (Anti)

Historically, much of the debate over capital punishment has focused on the core moral issue of whether it is right to take a life as a punishment for murder. This moral debate is important and necessary, but because a variety of cultural factors influence a society's sense of morality, it is unlikely that any society can ever reach a complete consensus on this key question. To borrow from Judeo-Christian ideology, there are some who believe in the philosophy of "an eye for an eye" and others who believe in "turn the other cheek," and defend the sanctity of life, under all conditions.

The goal of this paper is to move the debate on the death penalty beyond the core moral issue of whether it is ever permissible to intentionally kill, and toward an ethical debate on how the death penalty is administered in the United States. While the American public may never completely agree on whether death is a justifiable punishment for murder, there may be some issues surrounding the administration of the death penalty that are more black and white from an ethical perspective. And these issues, jointly and separately, make a compelling case for abolishing capital punishment as a sentencing option in the United States.

Among the many problems with the administration of capital punishment in the United States are:

The arguments for the death penalty, such as crime deterrence and wide public support, are flimsy.

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Death penalty supporters argue that victims' families deserve justice, but prosecutors often ignore families' wishes to spare defendants lives.

Cases have been overturned by DNA technology and other forms of exoneration, demonstrating that many wrongly convicted people have been placed on death row, many are likely still on death row, and some have probably been executed.

There is a frightening racial component to the death penalty, and people of African-American descent are much more likely to be sentenced to death.

Term Paper on Death Penalty (Anti) Historically, Much of the Assignment

People who are mentally ill or retarded have been and continue to be executed.

People accused of capital murder, who are often poor and can not afford high-priced attorneys, are frequently assigned inexperienced and ineffective counsel.

The most common method of execution, lethal injection, may actually be extremely painful and constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

These seven conditions, and many more, have led many nations to completely abolish capital punishment or, at the very least, to stop carrying out executions. These factors also present a strong justification for ending the practice of capital punishment in the United States.

Does the death penalty deter crime - and do Americans really support it?

Supporters of the death penalty in America frequently argue that capital punishment powerfully deters would-be murderers, and that the American public widely supports the death penalty. In fact, we must concede that there is evidence that supports both of these arguments, but that evidence is hardly unassailable and is, in fact, quite weak.

For example, death penalty proponents cite a 2005 Gallup survey that found that 65% of Americans support the death penalty, but it is worth noting that this figure represents a sharp decrease from the 80% supporting the death penalty in a 1983 poll (Callahan 2006). Further, when life in prison is offered as an alternative punishment option, support for the death penalty slips below 50% (Callahan 2006). In short, there is no mandate among the American people in support of capital punishment, particularly when there are other punishment options.

In fact, we can take this argument a step further and point out that research has shown that many people who claim to support the death penalty do not feel that strongly about their position. A study by Unnever, et. al. found that when asked whether their support or opposition to the death penalty is strong or not strong, a large portion of the American public answers 'not strong' (Unnever, et.al. 2005). It is interesting here to note that many death penalty opponents also have weakly held views, but the real point to distill from this research, again, is that there is no strong and overwhelming support for capital punishment in America. Polls suggest American support for the death penalty decreasing and that even those who support capital punishment are not zealous defenders of the practice.

But doesn't the death penalty deter crime? Death penalty supporters have argued that the threat of this ultimate punishment may lead would-be killers to change their minds, thus saving lives. But the many studies that have been done on the death penalty as a deterrent do not provide the type of clear evidence that would support the retention of capital punishment. In short, it is impossible to count would-be murders, so we're only left to compare data in states or countries before and after the death penalty is either enacted or abolished. This is a flawed process, as a great number of factors, such as economic unrest, increases in drug addiction, or even single events such as school shootings or riots, can cause murder rates to jump.

Still, numerous researchers have attempted to quantify whether capital punishment deters people from murdering. A particularly ambitious study by Dezhbakhsh and Shepherd looked at murder rates over 40 years in all 50 states, applying 96 regression models to find what the authors deemed a "robust" connection between the death penalty and reduced murder rates (Dezhbakhsh and Shepherd 2006).

However, research by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has found that murder and execution data, particularly when the 1960s are included, are often misrepresented (Woodrow Wilson International 2006). The center points out that the country experienced a surge in murders after 1962 and a reduction in executions starting in 1978, and that the two events involved a number of other factors (Woodrow Wilson International 2006). The center goes on to specifically cite the research by Dezhbakhsh and Shepherd for misrepresenting the data from the 1960s and for failing to explain why there were also surges in murder rates in states where there was no change in death penalty laws (Woodrow Wilson International 2006).

In short, scholars have found problems with just about every study ever done on the deterrence effect of the death penalty and, frankly, this will likely always be the case. The simple fact is that we can not easily measure murders that did not happen, so we are left to simply compare data sets (such as murder rates before and after changes in capital punishment laws) that may or may not be related.

The end result is that we will likely never be able to convincingly prove or disprove the deterrent effect of capital punishment. but, really, the burden of proof on this issue should be on death penalty proponents. Because death penalty proponents are advocating a punishment that involves a loss of life, the burden is on these proponents to prove that there is some resulting social good. As has been established, this proof has not been convincingly presented and likely never can be.

Arguments on behalf of victims' families ring hollow common argument made by death penalty proponents is that executing convicted murderers provides a sense of justice for murder victims' families. and, certainly, there are some people who have lost loved ones who would like to see harm done to their killers. This is an understandable human emotion, even if it smacks of vigilante-style justice.

However, a fundamental problem with the notion of executing murderers as a type of justice for victims' families is that the wishes of those family members can easily be disregarded during the trial process. A prosecutor may decide to give weight to the wishes of a victim's family, but the prosecutor is equally free to completely disregard those wishes.

Consider, for example, the case of Ricky Langley, who molested and killed a child in Louisiana in the early 1990s. The victim's mother wished to provide a victim impact statement saying that she was opposed to the death penalty and did not want Langley executed, and the prosecutor responded by appealing the judge's decision to let her speak (Lupo 2003).

In fact, according to Murder Victims' Families' for Reconciliation, an anti-death penalty group that counsels victims' families, it is not uncommon for prosecutors to ignore families' wishes or to deny them the right to speak. For example, in the case of Victoria Lamm, who was murdered in Nebraska in the 1980s, a prosecutor allowed a pro-death penalty sibling to address the court, but would not permit another sibling, who was opposed to the death penalty, to speak (Murder Victims' Families' for Reconciliation 2002).

In another case, a Texas prosecutor reportedly cut off all communication with Jeanette Popp after she said she would not support the death penalty for her daughter's murderer (Murder Victims' Families' for Reconciliation 2002). Popp's claims are similar to claims that have been made by other victims' relatives who oppose the death penalty.

Sometimes, victims' families oppose the death penalty because they know that pursuing capital punishment will result in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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