Death Penalty as Justified Murder Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2596 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Death Penalty as Justified Murder - an Ineffective Method of Crime Prevention

Capital punishment has a history in the United States that goes back to the colonies. The tenet of capital punishment remains one of the most controversial issues in the United States. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 1,151 executions have taken place in the United States (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 1). Thirty-eight of those executions took place in 2008 (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 1). The following research will examine the death penalty from the lens of fairness in a number of special populations. It will then examine the death penalty in its ability to carry out its primary objective, deterrence of violent crime. By the end of this presentation, it will be clear that the death penalty does not accomplish its original intended purpose. It will also be clear that this practice is administered in an unjust fashion.

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One of the key arguments against the death penalty is that in 96% of the states where there have been reviews of the death penalty, a pattern of racial discrimination became apparent (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 2). In states that have the death penalty, 98% of the chief district attorneys are white, with only 1% black (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 2). This racial inequality in the justice system may have an impact on the administration of the death penalty and the chances that a person will pay the ultimate price for a crime.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Death Penalty as Justified Murder - An Assignment

In North Carolina, it was found that blacks are 3 1/2 times more likely to receive the death penalty than whites who committed similar crimes under similar circumstances (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 2). In California, crimes in which the victim was white were 3 times more likely to receive the death penalty than if the victim were black of Hispanic (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 2). It is not known if these statistics are representative of trends in other states, but at this juncture in time, it appears as if these racial trends are reflected in like. These statistics make the death penalty echo the cries of racially motivated lynch mobs that were common on America's not so distant past.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ended the death penalty for juveniles. However, since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1975, 22 defendants that were juveniles had been executed (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 3). They were not old enough to vote for laws to protect their rights. They were not old enough to the rights of an adult. They were not allowed to have the chance to turn their lives around and become model citizens. They were in a period of their lives that is typically marked with hormonal rage and impulsive decisions. We will never know what these young persons may have become, or what contributions they may have made in society because they will never get the chance to show us.

The execution of persons with mental health issues is another point of contention among capital punishment opponents. In 2002, Atkins v. Virginia the execution of defendants suffering from mental retardation was ruled unconstitutional (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 3). There are currently proposals by the American Psychiatric Association to make it unconstitutional to execute anyone with a mental illness (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 3). These issues would seem apparent to the person who wishes to make certain that the death penalty does not unfairly target those that are less fortunate.

However, supporters of the death penalty fear that this can be used as an excuse to escape death for those that truly deserve to die for their crimes. One must ask which is worse, to kill an innocent who has not concept of what they have done and is in need of help, or to allow someone to go free so that they can receive proper medical treatment for their condition. If they are deemed unsafe to roam society at large, so be it, but at least we did not murder a person for a handicap. This brings us to our next topic: that of wrongful executions.

Wrongful Executions: Murder by the State

The U.S. constitution has stopgaps to help assure that innocent people are not punished for crimes that they did not commit. In the case of Capital crimes, the importance of his concept become more poignant, as wrongful prosecution can mean the difference between "punishment" and murder for the state. The concept of innocent until proven guilty is a wonderful concept in theory, but in practice, a person is guilty until proven innocent. The concept of "innocent until proven guilty" is not a reality in the world of crime and punishment in the United States.

When a heinous crime occurs, District Attorneys, Judges and juries are anxious to "get their man." They want to find someone to blame and put the public mind at rest. In their haste, sometimes, the innocent must die for crimes that they did not commit. One can find numerous examples where mistakes were made and the innocent were punished while the true murderers went free (Gumbel).

The case of Cameron Todd Willingham is one example. In 1991, a house fire broke out in the Willingham home. Todd tried desperately to save his three children, but to no avail. They burned to death in the fire. Willingham's conviction was based on inaccurate information from the arson investigator, evidence that was later demonstrated to be faulty. The only other key piece of evidence against him was testimony from a neighbor who did not have a high opinion of him. The question of bias never came up. In February 2004, he was executed by lethal injection, still proclaiming to be an innocent man (Gumbel). As an afterthought, the "science" proclaimed to be key evidence was shown to be faulty (Gumbel). Willingham, a grieving father, was murdered by the state for a crime that he did not commit.

The United States has a history of wrongful executions. It is not known how many innocents have been executed for crimes that they did not commit, but when one looks at the historical record, it appears that it happens more than anyone would like to admit. It is easier to understand those that occurred before modern technology, when trials were based largely on testimony and witness account (Radelet, Bedau, and Putnam, 1992). However, with new techniques in forensics, it is hard to believe that this could still happen.

The most frightening thing about wrongful executions is that faulty science and lack of evidence are often not to blame. In an examination of wrongful executions for which the person was exonerated for the crime after the fact, the faulty justice system was often to blame. The problem occurs when valid scientific evidence is ignored and opinion and hearsay are accepted in its stead. This is scary, but true.

When evidence is ignored and the innocent are executed, the result is irreversible (Amnesty International). When an innocent is murdered, even if they are later proven innocent through valid forensic evidence, what is done cannot be undone. Even if the real murder is found and convicted, for the innocent it is too late. When an innocent is executed, the state has committed murder. Yet, there is not one case where a DA or judge has been executed for the willful murder of their innocent victims. When evidence is ignored that could prove a person's innocence and faulty evidence is admitted that leads to their execution, the crime is much more heinous than the original. Yet, those in the criminal justice system appear to be exempt from the death penalty that they so willingly and indiscriminately impose on others.

Crime Deterrence

The last and final case in point deals with the original purpose of the death penalty in the first place. The death penalty was designed to serve as a deterrent to committing violent crimes.

The irony of this argument is that if it worked, we would not need it. However, despite existence of the death penalty, people still continue to commit capital crimes. A survey of former and present experts on criminology rejected the idea that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 4).

Consistent with these statistics, in 2006, the Southern states had the highest murder rate in the country. Yet, nearly 80% of all executions occur in these same areas (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 4). Consequently, the northeastern United States had the lowest murder rate and they also account for less than 1% of all executions (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 4). These statistics are heavy indicators that the death penalty and murder rates have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Let us now examine some plausible explanations for these trends.

Crime occurs for many different reasons. If all crime were committed due to a singular cause, then the ability… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Death Penalty as Justified Murder.  (2009, March 11).  Retrieved October 26, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Death Penalty as Justified Murder."  11 March 2009.  Web.  26 October 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Death Penalty as Justified Murder."  March 11, 2009.  Accessed October 26, 2021.