Capital punishment is the lawful infliction of the death penalty and since ancient times it has been used to punish a wide variety of offenses. The Bible prescribes death for murder and many other crimes such as kidnapping and witchcraft. Major felonies carry the death penalty and some of these felonies are treason, murder, larceny, burglary, rape, and arson. In the 1800’s however, England enacted many new capital offenses, and hundreds of persons were being sentenced to death each year. In the United States prior to the Civil War the death penalty was imposed on slaves for many crimes, but the penalty for others were less severe.
Today, in 37 of the 50 states you can be sentenced to death if found guilty of a crime worthy of the death penalty. The United States is the only western democratic nation that has not banned the practice of capital punishment (Levine 160). Capital punishment is not answer to crime. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction” (mccsc.edu). Due to lack of a fair trial, innocence on death row, and the myth that it saves citizens money, the death penalty should be abolished.
The US constitution states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” The US system is very good about keeping this right for every accused criminal. Although, there are those lawyers who don’t care about the people they represent. There are lawyers who have passed the bar, and have taken the oath to honorably defend. However, because of their illegal and immoral actions they were disbarred. Lawyers like this should not defend the accused, but they do. This does not protect the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
A major aspect of the death penalty is that it is final. So what should happen if mistakes are made? As of today April 28, 2000 there are about 3,500 men and women on death row (icomm.ca/aiusa). Even if only half of one percent were innocent that would mean that about 16 people are waiting their death for a crime they did not commit. There are so many aspects that go into the conviction that it is impossible to have an infallible legal system. Witnesses can mistake identification, false testimony can be given, and an overall prejudice can all affect the outcome of a trial. Prejudice and inadequate defense can all lead to a false death sentence.
People who advocate the death penalty argue the point that it is cheaper to kill an inmate on death row, than it is to house them in a correctional facility. The idea is because they are dead the taxpayers will not have to pay for the inmate.
One aspect that contributes to the support of capital punishment is that it affirms the principle of the rule of law. Law should be reflective over the ideas of the community that is outraged over the vicious crimes. Therefore, it would be fitting to sentence a punishment that is worthy of the crime. When a child is growing up and he takes a cookie out of the cookie jar, parents would say something like, “OK, well now you can not have any sweets after dinner.” They would not ground the child for a week. It is human nature to make a punishment that fits the crime. In these terms the death penalty would be a sensible punishment. It states in the Bible an eye for an eye, which would support this claim fully. Although the sixth Commandment also states that though shall not kill. So because one sin has already taken place, is it right that the government commit another sin.
Bernon Howery was charged with setting a fire in south Chicago that killed four children including three of his own. He asked attorney Earl Washington who had defended a relative of Howery’s to defend him. Although there were many leads in the case Washington did not follow up on the leads. During the trial Washington was repeatedly late to court and sometimes did not even show up. Judge Patrick Burns later commented about the performance of Washington to Howery stating he was “totally amazed” at the little amount of evidence that was supported in favor of Howery. Due to the lack of evidence supporting Howery’s innocence, the judge sentenced Howery to death. In 1997 Howery was granted a new trial due to the fact that Washington had deprived Howery of adequate legal representation (Armstrong Tribune).
Thirty-three defendants sentenced to death were represented at trial by an attorney who had been, or was later, disbarred or suspended-disciplinary sanctions reserved for conduct so incompetent, unethical or even criminal that the state believes an attorney’s license should be taken away. Among those attorneys were David Landau, who, in the face of 78 disciplinary complaints, was disbarred one year after representing a Will County defendant sentenced to death, and Robert McDonnell, a convicted felon and the only lawyer in Illinois history to be disbarred twice. McDonnell represented four men who landed on Death Row. He handled those cases after being disbarred once and then reinstated despite concerns about his emotional stability and drinking, according to state records (Armstrong Tribune).
A recent study revealed over 400 cases of wrongful conviction for capital offenses in the United States between 1900 and 1991. Most of the convictions were upheld on appeal, with evidence produced years after sentencing to prove the prisoner’s innocence. But, for 23 of the prisoners, that evidence appeared too late. They had already been executed. Between 1973 and 1997, at least 69 men were released from death rows in 17 U.S. states with significant evidence of innocence. Flaws inherent in the death sentencing system had allowed them to be wrongfully convicted (icomm.ca/aiusa).
In 1989 Randall Dale Adams escaped execution by only three days when Texas authorities overturned his murder conviction and released him. He had spent 12 years on death row. In the same year, Florida officials released James Richardson, who had spent 21 years in custody for murders he did not commit and had come within 24 hours of execution. Judicial misconduct has been cited in his case. In 1990, after nine years on death row and twice coming within days of execution, Clarence Lee Brandley was freed by the state of Texas. Judge Perry Pickett said, “The court unequivocally concludes that the color of Clarence Brandley’s skin was a substantial factor which pervaded all aspects of the State’s capital prosecution of him.” (icomm.ca/aiusa).
The following is an eye witness account of an Arizona gas chamber execution given by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens:
“When the fumes enveloped Don’s head he took a quick breath. A few seconds later, he looked again in my direction. His face was red and contorted as if he were attempting to fight through tremendous pain. His mouth was pursed shut and his jaw was clenched tight. Don then took several more quick gulps of the fumes. His body started convulsing violently and his skin turned a deep red…the veins in his temple and neck began to bulge until I thought they might explode. After about a minute, Don’s face leaned partially forward, but he was still very conscious. He was shuddering uncontrollably and his body was racked with spasms. His head continued to snap back. His fists were clenched tightly. After several more minutes, the most violent of the convulsions subsided. At this time, the muscles along Don’s left arm and back began twitching in a wavelike motion under his skin. Spittle drooled from his mouth. Don Harling took exactly ten minutes and 31 seconds to die. Approximately three months later, he was found innocent.” (essential.org/dpic)
The death penalty doesn’t save taxpayers any money, either. Many people have the misconception that criminals should not be allowed to “rot in jail” wasting taxpayers money. However, a study conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) concludes that tax payers pay an average of $3.2 million dollars per each death penalty case -enough to sentence someone to 120 years in a maximum security facility (essential.org/dpic). Texas, with the highest execution rate and one of the highest murder rates in the country, spends an estimated $2.3 million per capital case. This is roughly three times the cost of keeping someone in prison for 40 years. A study in Kansas, which recently reinstated the death penalty, showed that a capital trial, costs $116,700 more than an ordinary murder trial (icomm.ca/aiusa).
We live in a nation that states, “In God we trust” on all of our monetary units. It also states in our Pledge of allegiance, “one nation, under God” so it would seem contradictory for a government to punish by using death. Our government obviously recognizes the role of God in our society. Although because of the government practices capital punishment it is mistaking its role. If it continues to practice the death penalty it continues to signify its disrespect for life. The system has mistakes and because of those mistakes innocent people are dieing. Abolishing the death penalty is an effective manner that would create a more equal a fair system.
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10. Innocence and the Death Penalty: The Increasing Danger of Executing the
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11. MLK Speeches. Atlanta, Georgia. 25 July 2000.
12. Amnesty International: Program to Abolish Death Penalty.
13. Armstrong, Ken and Steve Mills. “Inept defense Clouds Verdict.” Chicago
Tribune. 15 November 1999.
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