Identifying Problems in the Criminal Justice System Thesis

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Criminal Justice - Systematic Problem

THE PROBLEM WITH CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

The Problem of Capital Punishment in the United States:

Capital punishment has been a feature of human social justice since before recorded history. Generally, civilized societies reserve the ultimate form of punishment for the most serious crimes, such as the murder of another, but that is not always the case.

The Guillotine played a highly publicized role throughout the 18th century in France, and hanging by the neck was frequently imposed in the U.S. well into the 20th century.

In several Middle Eastern countries, capital punishment is still imposed for such "crimes" as homosexuality; in others, including some of the wealthiest, modern, and so- called "moderate" Islamic nations, the death penalty is not formally sanctioned by law, but nevertheless condoned and rarely prosecuted as punishment for female adultery (Dershowitz, 2002). In the contemporary U.S., a large majority of states still impose capital punishment for certain crimes involving homicide, subject to modern rules of procedure and due process established by the Supreme Court in the last quarter of the 20th century (Schmalleger, 2007).

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In the United States, objections to the death penalty as a criminal punishment have centered around constitutional definitions of "cruel and unusual" and culminated in arguments before the Supreme Court in 1976. In Gregg v. Georgia the Court decided that capital punishment is not inherently cruel or unusual provided certain precautions are maintained to ensure a humane death (Dershowitz, 2002). However, evidence suggests that existing guidelines for compliance with constitutional principles are insufficient to eliminate the possibility of cruelty in application, even if not in sentencing (Lancet, 2008).

TOPIC: Thesis on Identifying Problems in the Criminal Justice System Assignment

Beyond the issue of humane application, criminologists examining data from the second half of the 20th century have determined that capital punishment is applied disproportionately to criminal defendants who are from racial minorities as well as those who are poor (Schmalleger, 2007). Finally, the recent advent of advanced forensic techniques making use of DNA science have exonerated hundreds of criminal defendants serving time for crimes they never committed, among them, more than a few who were on death row awaiting execution (Schmalleger, 2007).

Moral Objections and Constitutional Issues:

Religious principles generate a considerable amount of opposition to capital punishment in modern times, despite biblical references to death as an appropriate form of punishment. However, in the U.S., religious principles are not valid criteria for modifying laws; instead, the Constitution dictates the principles that defines and distinguishes appropriate and inappropriate forms of criminal punishment (Dershowitz, 2002).

In that regard, there are two fundamental constitutional problems with capital punishment, at least in the form currently employed within the Criminal Justice system.

Specifically, the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits criminal sanctions that are cruel and unusual punishment (Zalman, 2008). Second, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (in conjunction with Fifth Amendment due process applied to the federal government) prohibits unequal treatment under the law, particularly as a function of suspect classes, including race (Friedman, 2005; Zalman, 2008).

Cruel and Unusual Punishment:

In principle, the Supreme Court determined that capital punishment is not necessarily cruel, in and of itself; rather, the cruelty element of the Eighth Amendment prohibition pertains to the method of its implementation (Dershowitz, 2002; Friedman, 2005; Zalman, 2008). Likewise, the fact that the death penalty has been a feature recognized by the laws of so many human social cultures contradicts the notion that capital punishment is "unusual" (Dershowitz, 2002). Therefore, in the U.S., the concept of cruelty is understood to relate to the procedure of implementing the death penalty, in so far as cruelty is defined by constitutional law.

Today, the two methods employed in the U.S. are the gas chamber and lethal injection. Both are designed to effectuate death quickly and without causing unnecessary physical suffering. Lethal injection in particular has generated concern because of documented instances where mistakes in the precise sequence of individual medication administration lead to undesired discomfort that certainly violates the constitutional standard (Kaveny, 2008).Critics suggest that the process is too complicated and prone to errors that result in condemned prisoners suffocating slowly, such as where the medication used to stop the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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