The death penalty has not always been practiced in the United States; however, there have been about 13,000 people who have been legally executed since colonial times. In 1972, the Supreme Court effectively nullified the death penalty. However, in 1976 another Supreme Court found capital punishment to be Constitutional (White 1). One must wonder why they made this decision. In 2007 the court put executions across the country on hold for eight months while it examined whether lethal injection, the most common means of executing prisoners, violated the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment (Lacayo).
How can they not see this form of punishment as cruel and unusual? Individuals are killed by electricity seeping through their bodies, or drugs that cause their organs to shut down one at a time. It’s difficult to unerstand what the government perceives as cruel and unusual punishment. Maybe to them this would mean lining individuals up and killing them at point blank range. What could be crueler than strapping individuals to a chair and sending electricity through their bodies essentially cooking their insides, or putting a lethal dose of drugs into their body that causes organ failure.
The method of taking another human’s life is cruel no matter how it is achieved. This gives too much power to individuals in society. The death penalty is a form of premeditated murder. According to dictionary. com, murder is the killing or slaughter of an individual inhumanely or barbarously. What gives the state or normal everyday citizens the right to determine whether or not an individual lives or dies? This is essentially doing what the criminal did and justifying it by hiding behind the law. Murder is murder whether it is committed by the drug dealer on the street or y the executioner who administers the lethal dose of medication into the inmate’s veins. Some individuals feel that the death penalty gives way to racism and class oppression. African Americans and Latinos represent the majority of inmates on death row. Because of this, executions are exclusively for the poor. Ninety percent of those awaiting execution cannot afford to hire a competent trial attorney ("Reasons to Abolish Death Penalty,"). Too often those convicted are unable to afford a dream defense team and must settle for court appointed attorneys.
These attorneys are often overworked and underpaid. In many cases the appointed attorney has little at stake regardless of the outcome. The biggest problem with the use of the death penalty is that often innocent individuals are sentenced to this heinous form of punishment. There are a staggering number of cases where individuals have been wrongfully convicted. Over the past few years, there have been several stories of individuals who have been convicted of horrific crimes and been sentenced to death only to be freed years later by DNA evidence. Here is a prime example of one of those individuals.
Earl Washington spent almost ten years on Virginia’s death row. He was exonerated by DNA evidence and pardoned by the governor. The same DNA test that cleared Earl, implicated a known serial rapist, yet law enforcement and prosecution continue to claim Earl guilty, apparently believing that Earl raped the victim leaving another man’s sperm. Nationwide over 100 condemned Americans have been exonerated since 1976 and walked off death row as free men (Ballard). Even though we have come a long way with DNA there will always be police officers who are pressured to solve cases too fast.
Some may use whatever tools are necessary including planting evidence or falsifying documents to establish guilt. As with the case above most police officers, as well as district attorneys, do not want to admit when they are wrong, even if it spares the life of an innocent human. It is heard time and time again that capital punishment helps to deter similar crimes. Evidence does not support this claim. Representative Maxine Waters stated that she does not believe you deter the taking of lives by others by having a death penalty.
She went on to say that in the final analysis it does not work fairly if there’s any such thing as being fair about killing people ("Reasons to Abolish Death Penalty") Society tends to follow the trends and mindset of those around them. They often feel that since the Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty, it does not violate the rights of those citizens who have been tried and convicted of crimes that warrant this type of punishment. They presume that justice is being carried out in accordance with the laws that the United States government has set forth.
Then there are those who feel the death penalty is an appropriate means of punishing individuals who commit heinous crimes. Many people often refer to this biblical verse, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand and foot for foot” (King James Version, Exodus 20:28). Too often they feel that this gives them the right to take justice into their own hands. Some individuals feel as though criminals should die by execution if the crime fits the punishment. Talk show host Larry Elder stated that society has the right to judge who lives and who dies.
He says “criminals have made the ultimate sin against society and society is making a moral statement about your conduct” (Ballard, 2003). People who support the death penalty laugh at the notion that they are promoting racism. Statistics about race indicate that 90% of crimes are committed against whites. The study also stated that African Americans committed 7. 5 times more violent than whites (Sheehan, 1995). The conclusion is drawn that they are not targeting race as a factor when handing out death penalties, they are punishing the perpetrator of the crime without taking the race of the individual into factor.
The fact that innocent people are placed on death row has not deterred judges from handing down this punishment. Many do not discount the fact that several people have been placed on death row only to be exonerated. The justice system allows every individual convicted of a crime so many appeals before the sentence is carried out. To the supporters of the death penalty this allows those wrongfully convicted the opportunity to produce evidence that will exonerate themselves. Supporters of the death penalty feel as though this helps to deter other criminals from committing the same act.
According to a dozen studies, execution saves lives. The study stated that for each inmate executed three to eighteen murders are prevented (Liptak, 2007). Two law professors from Harvard also agree that the evidence of deterrent effect from capital punishment seems impressive. They seem to agree that capital punishment will save lives. After examining the information available for both the supporters and the non-supporters of capital punishment, it is clearly evident that capital punishment should be abolished. This form of unishment is cruel and unusual. It also allows our peers to commit murder by standing behind the law, which is no different than the criminals that are being put to death. Too often this form of punishment is passed down to innocent individuals who spend years trying to clear their name, and often do not get the chance to do so. Furthermore, there is not enough evidence to support that the death penalty deters other criminals. After all, there are better ways that tax money could be spent on individuals who commit crimes against society.
The question that the government needs to ask themselves is if this form of punishment is worth the cost of innocent life that comes with it. Works Cited "Another Reason to Abolish the Death Penalty. " Workers. com. 2009. 11 Mar. 2013.
A New Debate. " The New York Times. 18 Nov. 2007. 12 Mar. 2013.