Death Penalty Few Issues Thesis

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Death Penalty

Few issues in the United States, and indeed worldwide, criminal justice system have been as widely debated and contested as the death penalty. Proponents hold that the death penalty serves the purpose of deterring serious crimes, while those who oppose it focus on arguments relating to equality issues in the criminal justice system. Indeed, the latter group note that not only prisons, but also death row, are disproportionally populated by the poor and racial minorities, who are unable to afford proper legal counsel. While few women have received capital punishment for their crimes, it is something that occurs. In most cases, women who receive such punishment are unjustly tried or are cohersed into criminal activity without their consent or predetermination. Indeed, the way in which women on death row arrived at their current situation can be used as a strong argument against the dubious justice of such punishment.

THE JUSTICE of the CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

According to Dow & Dow (2002:82), the death penalty in the United States has been abolished in the United States on the basis of the unconstitutional and unfair manner in which juries and judges allocated such punishment. Indeed, the whole process was seen as arbitrary and even "irrational" because of the prejudices and subjective opinions that were necessarily part of the juries involved. However, the death penalty was reinstated only four years afterwards, and hence the injustice was allowed to continue. Indeed, statistics such as those quoted by Dow & Dow (2002:82) and Dreyfuss (2003), appear highly indicative of such injustice.

In the state of Alabama, for example, as in other Southern states, the overwhelming majority of death row inmates are poor and/or black. Furthermore, those on the official side of the justice system tend to be all white and male. In Alabama, for example, there are very few black trial judges, while the court of criminal appeals also incorporates only white employees.

This system particularly appears to discriminate against the poor, especially if they are women. Lawyers appointed to these persons are of the lowest quality. Indeed Dow & Dow (2002, p. 82) provide an example of a woman, Judy Haney, who hired a professional to murder her husband. The husband in question was routinely abusive towards both Judy and her children. The authors note that it is rare for women in such situations to be sentence to death. However, in Judy's case, her attorney was so drunk that he had to spend a night in jail to become sufficiently functional to handle court proceedings. Judy was subsequently sentenced to death. In addition to poor legal services, judges in the South particularly appear uninterested in providing the convicted with the full means necessary to defend themselves. Those who are both powerless and poor, such as women like Haney, tend to receive the shortest end of the justice system.

In addition, the attitude of the predominantly male sector of the justice system leave women accused of crime in a very disadvantaged position. Specifically, the authors mention judges who are openly sexist not only towards the accused, but also towards female lawyers in their courtrooms. They clearly have very little respect for women and hence also little interest in providing women with the necessary means of defending themselves properly.

II. WOMEN and the JUSTICE SYSTEM

In the state of Texas, things appear little better, particularly for women. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, 2002) mention the example of Andrea Yates, for whom the death penalty was a possibility in Texas. She was acquitted by a fortunately forward-thinking jury on the strength of her serious mental illness. After a period of severe and even psychotic postpartum depression, Yates drowned her five children. Arguments such as those held by Jeannine Scott (2002), and substantiated by her husband, was the Andrea's treatment was never adequate for her condition, and that the tragedy would simply be perpetuated by giving her the death penalty. The very fact that her execution was even a possibility is condemned by the ACLU as highly unconstitutional and prejudicial. Indeed, the Union and the public at the time called for both a more realistic definition of insanity and a relaxation of requirements surrounding the death penalty, particularly in cases such as that of Yates. Indeed, the case highlights the particularly harsh system in the state of Texas, as does the case of Sonia Jacobs, as cited by Claudia Dreyfuss (2003). Even worse than the other two mentioned above, Sonia's case is particularly unjust, as she was falsely accused of a murder that she did not commit. This was easily orchestrated by the true guilty party Walter Rhodes, who made a deal for a false confession with Texas authorities. His confession was both easily and falsely validated by entering false evidence into the courtroom, and hence finding both Sonia and her husband Jesse, guilty of the murder committed by Rhodes.

According to Dreyfuss (2003), even the media contributed to the image of Sonia as a murderer; along with her husband, the media twisted their situation into a Bonny and Clyde type of scenario, where the couple murdered for "fun." As such, Sonia's husband, Jesse, was quickly found guilty and sentenced to death. As for Sonia, her guilt was established by two false testimonies: that of Walter Rhodes and Brenda Isham, a woman who briefly shared a cell with Jacobs. Coached by the DA, Isham falsely claimed that Sonia had confessed to murder, said that she had enjoyed it, and would do it again. No attempt was made to prove Sonia's innocence or indeed the falsehood of the provided testimony.

Having a typical attitude for judges both in Texas and the above-mentioned Alabama, Daniel Flutch overruled the jury's recommendation for life imprisonment to death by electrocution. As such, Sonia was the first woman to die after the reinstatement of the death penalty. Regardless of having justice on her side, and being innocent of the crimes as her family correctly believed, they were however incorrect in believing that the justice system would uncover Sonia's innocence.

Since Sonia's conviction, many others have also been condemned. Dreyfuss (2003) mentions names such as Karla Faye Tucker and Wanda Jean Allen in this regard. Indeed, it is as if an increasing number of women have been condemned to this fate, with 10 having been executed, and 9 of these during 1998-2003. In states such as Texas, it therefore appears that not only society, but also the criminal justice system itself, is becoming increasingly bloodthirsty. Under the false belief that the death penalty serves both as an example and a deterrent to other criminals, society increasingly calls for the death penalty, and the justice system is complying. Experts however warn that this simply perpetuates the violence.

III. WOMEN, CRIME, and the PUBLIC

Sonia Jacobs spent five years in complete isolation to such a degree that even her guards were not allowed to speak to her (Dreyfuss, 2003). When transferred to a maximum security prison and allowed into the general prison population, Sonia discovered that the majority of women convicted of murder and given the death penalty were in this situation as a result of their involvement with men. They are therefore not only victimized by society and the justice systems, but also by their situations and involvements prior to the crime and conviction. This is not at all taken into account when sentences are initialized and carried out, particularly in states where the requirements for sentence are particularly harsh.

A further problem facing such women is the fact that their fate is largely absent from public debate on the death penalty issue. Indeed, Dreyfuss calls them mostly "invisible" in terms of both their lives and deaths. Those who are least able to defend themselves need it most. They are marginalized in society,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Death Penalty Few Issues.  (2008, October 19).  Retrieved January 27, 2020, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/death-penalty-few-issues-united/94303

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