Dead men cannot talk. This statement has usually been used by hideous forces to cover their actions. The government is mandated with enforcing the rights granted by the constitution, including the cardinal right to life, except in certain circumstances. These few circumstances are this essay’s bone of contention. Is killing by hanging, lethal injection, firing squad or electrocution the better way of dealing with capital offenders? Agreed, a man deserves an equal measure of his own evil, but should there not be a need to explore beyond any doubts the reasons as to why one must be killed? If punishment is the motive, does research indicate that other methods of punishment excluding death to have an equal severity? But again, is it possible to be sure beyond reasonable doubt that one deserves to die, given that in case information indicating the contrary surfaces it might often find one innocent posthumously? On 19th October, 1860, three persons, Sam, Sanford and Caesar were executed in Alabama for slave revolt, a then crime which was later declared unconstitutional. While the three were pardoned posthumously, death is unchangeable (Halperin). Other numerous incidences leave severe taint on the capital punishment garment, yet 37 states in the U.S.A. continue to enforce it. This paper will challenge capital punishment in the USA through an objective approach that will draw arguments and evidence from both points of view.
History of Death Sentence in the United States
Death sentence has been constitutional at least at one time in all the states, and as many as 15,000 persons have been executed in U.S.A. and its colonies in the period 1608 -1991 (Dow and Dow 17). In addition, 4661 people were executed between 1930 and 2002 (Halperin). The Army executed 135 army men in the last 100 years. Following a temporary ban on capital punishment in 1972 at which time the Supreme Court disputed procedures using in Georgia as unnecessarily cruel and inhuman. The ban was lifted in 1976 and 37 states reinforced it, with considerations for altering the conditions in which execution was mandatory. Since 1976, a total of 1307 executions have been done, and a current 3193 persons are waiting on the death row. Texas has conducted the highest number of executions (490), while Florida has the highest number in the death row (405) (Halperin). Several states had only one person executed, while Kansas, New Hampshire, the US Military and Samoa had no executions in this period. The percentage of the population in favor of capital punishment is higher than that against it, but has gotten progressively smaller over the last two decades. In a 2010 poll, 49 % favored death sentence while 46% favored life imprisonment (Halperin).
A turning point in American capital punishment history came in September, 2011, following execution of Troy Davis. Death penalty information centre spokesman said: "They weren't expecting such passion from people in opposition to the death penalty. There's a widely-held perception that all Americans are united in favor of executions, but this message came across loud and clear that many people are not happy with it" (Halperin). In addition, the amnesty International condemned the killing stating that “there was a groundswell in America of people who are tired of a justice system that is inhumane and inflexible and allows executions where there are clear doubts about guilt" (Halperin).
Reasons for abolishment of Capital Punishment
This essay will argue for abolishment of death row executions from various standpoints, with due consideration for major research done regarding all concerns and a personal opinion will be given too any perspective of argument. Capital punishment is unethical, financially irresponsible, and not any more effective in terms of crime reduction than life imprisonment.
Supporters of death penalty note that, it usually results from such aggravated deeds as child murder, murder after torture, massacre and other forms of brutalities resulting in painful death. Granted, violence should be met with violence of equal measures. There is, perhaps, no punishment immediately closer in avenging an innocent’s murder than killing the murderer. However, giving it a deeper thought, does vengeance by killing result in satisfaction of the aggrieved, or merely seems to mitigate the pain of loss? While retribution is necessary for justice to occur, life imprisonment without parole is as thorough a punishment as death sentence. Life imprisonment may even be more thorough than death because its punishment extends through a lifetime. In addition, prisoners on life terms have their freedom withheld for ever, which is tantamount to denial of progressive life, much like denial of life without necessarily taking it. Lipak argues that execution is not an equal retribution to murder since, in murder, the killer commits the act spontaneously without prior warning to the victim who therefore does not undergo psychological torture before the act.
In execution, however, the prisoner is made aware of the hang date and other conditions, exposing them to extensive psychological torture prior to the hanging. This is inhuman, perhaps, in consideration of the significant portion of death inmates for whom wrongful execution has been done. Besides this, execution expressly violates the Blackstone’s formulation that it is better to acquit 10 guilty people than convict one innocent person (Lipak). This saying has been echoed severally by eminent law makers across the globe and has found a solid basis for criminal justice across many jurisdictions. To illustrate this point, it will be noted that as many as 123 acquittals from the death penalty lists have been done in 25 states in the period 1973-2005, a period in which total US executions was less than 1300 (Halperin).
Death penalties are costly. This cost emanates from the high likelihood that all persons sentenced to death will exhaust their appeal alternatives. Donald McCartin, a California jurist with a record for sending as many as ten people to death row have observed that it is ten times more costly to execute death row inmates than to give life imprisonment (Associated Press, 2011). Arthur Alarcon, a federal judge and former death penalty prosecutor, said that California State has used more than $4 billion, additionally noting that the average cost of death sentence trials is more than 20 times the life in prison trial (Halperin). Those who oppose the death penalty abolishment have often stated that life imprisonment is also supported using the taxpayers money, and that therefore the cost of death penalty is not a valid argument for abolishment. It should be noted, however, that besides the Alarcon estimates, most detention facilities operate programs in which inmates do valuable service to the state. These work programs may return much more earnings per prisoner than their individual expenditures in the longer portion of their life terms.
Opponents to the death penalty abolishment argue that the severity of capital punishment is the best deterrent option to warn potential offenders and that it reduces crime rates. While it is true that execution is a gruesome memory and may deter offenders, there is no sufficient ground to say that it is a better deterrence tool than the horror of life imprisonment with all cardinal freedoms withdrawn. In addition, the rare cases of executions resulting from murder renders the deterrence effect of death penalties insignificant, a documented rate of one death penalty for 300 murders is in record (Deiter 27). Studies conducted among members of the police force revealed that the police ranked deterrence effect of death penalty below other incentives such as drug use and abuse reduction, giving longer sentences and resolving social conflicts resulting from joblessness and harsh economic times (Deiter 23).
Capital punishment is a deep seated retribution tool accepted and handed down across many generations in the U.S.A. So traditionally acceptable is it that America, famed for being among the most democratic and human right driven nations on earth, is the sole nation among the G8 and in the entire Western hemisphere where death penalty is still practiced. While most people cling to what traditionally has seemed to work, they fail to take into consideration changing perceptions towards punishment and the rise of alternative correctional measures (Bakken 33). Murder, rape, terrorism, massacre and genocide are grievous crimes that should be met boldly and with tough measures, but death penalty is not necessarily the most effective punishment if the motive is to create a prolonged regret. In fact, the nature of individual perception regarding death as a penalty is changing, and suicide terrorists are more likely to favor death sentences than life imprisonment without parole. This demonstrates the progressively failing success of execution as a vengeance or retribution tool, and a correspondingly rising likelihood of its abuse to perpetuate individual or remotely skewed interests with no constitutional backing.
As yet, there is no standard procedure for delivering the death penalty across the United States, leave alone across the globe. Yet, the international conventional on human rights regards the right to life as an irreducible basic right. In the US, death sentence is a prosecutor’s discretion, with the control that Supreme Court may offer being very limited and distant, death sentence is largely a private method of controlling the most fundamental human right. Capital punishment in the US should be abolished.