Women and the Death Term Paper

Pages: 15 (5499 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 25  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

SAMPLE EXCERPT . . .
The article notes that Mr. Banks was convicted of murder and robbery over 23 years ago; however, his trial appears to have been such a mockery of justice that a team of former federal judges and prosecutors, headed by William Sessions, ex-director of the FBI, filed a brief with the Supreme Court that maintained the prosecution suppressed evidence that would have exonerated Mr. Banks, paid one hostile witness, and allegedly pressed another into committing perjury. "They also claim that the defense lawyer was incompetent" (The needle paused 2003:29). The Banks's case, unfortunately, is not isolated. The issue before the Supreme Court in these types of cases was not the guilt or innocence of these men (although there is clearly doubt that either is guilty); it was, rather, whether the lawyers defending them were competent by the standards which the court set down in a 1984 ruling. In that ruling and subsequent ones, the Supreme Court has struggled to improve the nation's legal system to ensure that innocent people are not executed, as well as to stem the endless flow of death-row appeals that have weighed so heavily on the courts. The cases of Banks and Wiggins appear to indicate that those efforts have failed. However, that may be an erroneous conclusion according to the analysts at The Economist: "Alarmed by the prospect of innocent people being executed, politicians have joined America's judges to try to improve the 'machinery of death,' as one Supreme Court justice once called it. Their efforts may yet produce results" (The needle paused 2003:29). The most well-known example of this was the decision in January 2000 of the departing Republican governor of Illinois, George Ryan, to commute the death sentences of 167 death-row inmates to life imprisonment. This followed a three-year moratorium on executions in the state after 13 people awaiting execution had subsequently been exonerated. The successor to Governor Ryan is keeping the moratorium in place until the state's death-penalty system can be overhauled. Maryland has imposed a moratorium on executions for the past two years. Similarly, In March 2003, Houston's mayor requested that Texas's governor declare a moratorium on 16 death-penalty cases after the local police department's crime lab was determined to be so substandard that it had to suspend DNA testing (The needle paused 2003).

Capital case defendants are frequently underprivileged and sometimes underrepresented, despite constitutional guarantees of the right to counsel. In virtually every case, the defense tends to be poor and weak; the prosecution is always rich and powerful. "State or local prosecutors and judges are frequently elected and subject to popular pressure for convictions in cases involving gruesome crimes. Police also feel such pressure. There have been some notorious cases of police brutality against suspects" (Holt, 2003, p. 11). The argument naturally follows, then, if unnecessarily officious police and prosecutors manage to obtain convictions in such cases and, later, zealous appellate lawyers get the convictions overturned, how many other such convictions remain enforced? In other words, "How many innocent defendants are put to death while pious governors cite our supposedly foolproof judicial system in turning down last-minute appeals for executive clemency?" (Holt 2003:11).

Finality of Sentence. "Wrongfully executing someone, so the argument goes, is a terminal mistake; how can we allow a punishment with such baleful consequences?" (The Chair and Its Enemies 2000:15). Capital punishment critics point to the finality of this sentencing alternative when states can adopt a "no parole" approach to a life sentence. Further, technology has recently made available types of evidence such as DNA that have led to the reversal of convictions after death sentences have already been irretrievably carried out. "How many other such cases were carried out without having been appealed? How many rape cases have drawn long sentences, and have been in the process of being carried out when DNA evidence established the defendant's innocence? How many wrongful convictions for lesser crimes have gone unappealed for lack of resources by defendants?" (The Chair and Its Enemies 2000:15).

As a result of these events, the American public is clearly justified in being suspicious about the American judicial system's disparate application of the death penalty. Holt asks whether the American justice system is adequate to the demands of the 21st century, "both in protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty?" (Holt 2003:11). In order to improve the current approach, Holt recommends two modest steps: 1) governors should exercise more leadership in shielding state judges and prosecutors from political pressure; and 2) the number of public defenders should be increased and be better-funded. Holt suggests that others recommendations would undoubtedly be identified from the further study the problem deserves.

Impact of Gender and Race on Death Penalty Applications. While just three women (Margie Velma Barfield in North Carolina, Karla Faye Tucker in Texas, and Judi Buenoano in Florida) had been executed since the Supreme Court authorized executions in 1976, there is a historic precedent for executing women in the United States (Conrad & O'Shea 1999). Since the first European settlers arrived in America, capital punishment has been viewed as just punishment for women (Baird & Rosenbaum, 1995). In fact, after the execution of Karla Faye Tucker in Texas in 1998, Governor James was quoted as saying that gender would not make any difference to him in determined whether or not to spare a condemned killer from the electric chair. "Every case has to be measured on its own merits regardless of gender," he said (Conrad & O'Shea 1999:37). With three women still on death row in his state as of 1999, Governor James may have to consider the issue in the near future; in Alabama the governor can decide independently of the Board of Pardons and Parole whether to commute a sentence (Conrad & O'Shea 1999). According to an essay by Katha Pollitt, it is beyond dispute that the death penalty is applied unequally in this country "except, unfortunately, in the view of the legal system itself, which dismisses statistics showing that nonwhites convicted of killing whites are vastly overrepresented on death row" (Pollitt 2000:10). Because gender appears to have been a factor in the historic sentencing patterns for women, it has been cited as a reason for appeal in at least one case involving a male defendant. For instance, in April 1998, in Clayton County Georgia lawyers for David Aaron Perkins used gender bias as the basis for appealing his death sentence. Perkins was convicted and sentenced to death in 1997 for stabbing a man eleven times to steal his wallet. According to Perkins' attorneys he would have been less likely to receive the death penalty had he been a woman. The attorneys based this claim on the fact that eleven of the 84 people indicted for murder in Clayton County between 1985 and 1996 were women; however, in the 12 cases where the death penalty was sought, all were men. "At least two of the women indicted for murder, during that period met the criteria for seeking the death penalty, they said, and they believe the reason the District Attorney did not seek the death penalty was because the defendants were female" (Conrad & O'Shea 1999:143). In response, the district attorney said a number of factors were involved in deciding whether or not to seek the death penalty in a particular case; nevertheless, for the defense to say that a woman did not receive the death penalty because of her gender does not mean the opposite is also true: that the death penalty is sought against a man because of his gender. It does, mean, however, that the application of the death penalty in any case has become the source of much criticism at home and abroad.

In his book, The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment, Franklin E. Zimring maintains that capital punishment is barbaric, a "throwback to an earlier age." Much of the world has now rejected it but American states have increasingly resorted to executions: "By the year 2000," Zimring says, "the volume of executions by American states had bounced back to levels quite close to those experienced during the early 1950s," the decade in which the number of state-sanctioned killings began to fall sharply from earlier historic highs. But not every state uses capital punishment as the ultimate payback for crime, and while some states (e.g., New Hampshire, New Jersey, and South Dakota) keep the possibility of it on the books, it is only rarely applied outside the American South. Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma conducted more than two-thirds of all executions in the past two decades (Zimring 2003).

In 1998, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights accused the United States of "racism" and violating "international law" in use of the death penalty. In a report issued in March 1998, UN Special Rapporteur Bacre Way Ndiaye of Senegal declared that "imposition of death sentences in the United States seems to continue to be marked by… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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