Capital Punishment and it's Recent Controversy

Capital Punishment and it's Recent Controversy

There are those with great power in the legal system who can punish those who have broken the law, but there must be limits on the actual punishment. The foundation of the legal system is to find justice, yet it cannot be at the cost of an eye for an eye. While harsher sentences must be given to people who have committed atrocious crimes, there should be no point where someone can state that the life of another is the only adequate punishment. Capital punishment merely allows the legal system the opportunity to end the lives of criminals, a clear misuse of power. Any justice system that employs capital punishment essentially breaks its own laws by condoning murder. Thus, this paper will demonstrate that capital punishment should be removed as a means of punishment in the American justice system. This will be illustrated by understanding the immoral implications of having a death sentence through its history, the consequences of capital punishment as it relates to wrongful convictions, and the hypocrisy surrounding capital punishment regarding the American prison system.

Capital punishment is essentially the killing of a criminal as a sentencing method. Its ultimate purposes are to be a proportional punishment to the crime, to deter others from committing the same offence, and to incapacitate the individual. The death penalty is used in the United States for criminals who have been involved in first-degree murder, death with the intent to kill. This ingrains the idea that it follows an “eye for an eye” ideology, as the criminal must give their life in retribution for the one they took (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/crimes-punishable-death-penalty). Methods of execution in the United States include lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/methods-execution). Though lethal injection is most common as it is the “humane” way of taking the life of another, the fact remains that to take a life to begin with carries a heavy moral burden. Though not practiced in Canada, there are several states that employ capital punishment, a fact that must be changed.

In the United States, the death penalty was permitted primarily through the eighth amendment, stating, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted,” (http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Am8). There was a time when death did not seem to be a cruel punishment, but justified as appropriate for someone convicted of murder. However, in the 1960s, the death penalty was questioned as being cruel punishment for a crime of any nature. The eighth amendment was challenged as abolitionists felt that there was an evolving standard of decency that should mark the progress of a maturing society (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty#Constitutio...). Thus, abolitionists felt the United States should be at a moral point where the standard of decency should not tolerate the death penalty. The protests against capital punishment made it clear that parts of American society felt that capital punishment was unjust and immoral. In the 1970s, defendants began to argue that it was a violation of the fourteenth amendment, their citizenship rights to allow jurors any say in whether or not their life should end (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty#Constitutio...). This has a clear moral issue as the decision to let a person live rests on a panel of people with no legal expertise who may have their own bias for capital punishment.

In 1972, the Supreme Court voided 40 death penalty statutes. In turn, this suspended capital punishment on a federal level because existing statues were no longer valid (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty#Constitutio...). This lead to states acting separately, each trying to create their own guidelines for the death penalty while others chose to abolish it. The discord between the states should have been enough for it to be resolved and negated at a federal level. However, states began to take their own stance on what they felt was appropriate punishment and what was immoral as the moratorium on capital punishment ceased with an execution by firing squad in Utah (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty#Constitutio...). It is clear that the decision to take one’s life does not lie solely in the hands of a judge, but also in a jury. A single person or a panel of every day citizens should not be able to make the judgment to end one’s life. It is preposterous to place this moral duty on a people who must convict and sentence a criminal accordingly. Capital punishment needs to be removed from all of the states as a method of sentencing as it is not only cruel and unusual punishment, but takes away the life and rights of another living human.

Another key reason why capital punishment should not exist as a method of sentencing arises when wrongful convictions with a death penalty occur. There is no way to justify the taking of an innocent life, one of the reasons why murder is illegal. However, no legal system is perfect and there are those who have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. In the United States, an accused murderer must undergo three appeals and have their case reviewed by several judges before finally being executed. Currently, there can be up to 20 appeals to ensure that the conviction is thoroughly examined if the accused is facing the death penalty in an attempt to solidify the accused’s guilt (http://www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0131_Capital_Punishment.html). While this is to help prevent wrongful convictions, it still exists within the justice system. Since 1973, 130 people have been released from death row after evidence exonerating them has been uncovered (http://www.eji.org/eji/deathpenalty/wrongfulconvictions). For every 8 people that have been put on death row in Alabama, there has been 1 person exonerated (http://www.eji.org/eji/deathpenalty/wrongfulconvictions). This is an extremely high error rate making it very possible that others who were executed were truly innocent. Because the justice system is flawed, capital punishment should not be entertained, as the likelihood of taking an innocent life exists. There is no way to undo this, making the public distrust the justice system if they are able to take lives in what seems like a careless manner.

There are examples of many situations where was strong evidence of innocence, yet they were still executed. Even though the justice system tries to defend the death penalty by saying that it is a laborious process before it is employed, that does not change the fact that people have died with questions about their guilt. Courts do not even entertain claims of innocence after the defendant is dead, not even allowing their memory to rest fully in peace. Due to this, defense attorneys spend their time trying to exonerate their clients, not just for their innocence, but to save their lives (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent). One example of someone who was executed even with evidence alluding to his innocence was Cameron Willingham, executed in 2004 in Texas, convicted for capital murder due to arson http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent#cam). Arson experts claimed that there was no reasonable evidence suggesting it was arson, merely an accidental fire. However, the original arson investigation claimed that there were 20 indicators that an accelerant was used to set three separate fires. The other key evidence that was used in the case was the testimony of a jailhouse snitch on psychiatric medication who claimed that Willingham confessed to him (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent#cam). Not only is the life of an innocent man taken, but also his death lies heavily on the conscience of the jurors. Because they were not presented with all of the information, they made their decision that he was guilty, but have now stated that they will have to live with the idea of subjecting an innocent man to death for the rest of their lives (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent#cam). Capital punishment needs to be revoked as a form of sentencing to ensure that innocent lives are not taken by the government and that jurors do not have to make the decision regarding someone’s death.

The entire premise of modern prison systems is to embrace the idea of rehabilitation, yet the implementation of capital punishment accomplishes the opposite. Prison is meant to prepare inmates for life outside of prison, allowing offenders the chance to be a functioning member of society. The idea that capital punishment exists at all means that within the legal system that advocates rehabilitation, there is a hypocritical mindset that believes that rehabilitation is not possible. Capital punishment means execution for a crime, showcasing there is a belief that some criminals have no hope of being rehabilitated. If there is no hope, than it means society understands the prison system is flawed because there are those who have no chance of being rehabilitated, yet it does not do anything to actively combat this idea (http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/capitalpunishment/for_3.shtml). Capital punishment needs to be removed as a form of punishment to reinstate the idea that the prison system can effectively rehabilitate criminals. People who are sentenced to execution lose their will to be a model prisoner, making them uncooperative and unwilling to participate in any rehabilitation programs. This means they will cause disharmony within the prison system, knowing their fate is sealed and that they essentially have nothing more to live for. Capital punishment serves to further cause tension within prison, pitting those who have a chance for life in the outside world against those who are relegated to spend their final days within prison walls. This does not help prison morale, further proving why capital punishment is the result of hypocrisy within the American prison system and should be removed.

The other aspect of capital punishment and hypocrisy is regarding how it is a direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If the American legal system attempts to be both just and modern and able to adapt with changing times, it causes one to question why the incorporation of capital punishment goes is against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 of this declaration states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person,” meaning that allowing death to be issued as a punishment is a clear violation of this article (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/). Additionally, Article 5 states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/). Capital punishment is a clear violation of this article, as it is cruel and inhuman punishment, as no one should have to offer their life as retribution for crimes they commit, whatever they may be. The United States Constitution has amendments closely resembling these, yet it has not stopped capital punishment. The death penalty is clearly a violation of these human rights, something the United States is supposed to observe as a member state in the United Nations. If they are unable to do so themselves, but wish to set a precedent for other smaller countries, then they lose the right to comment on their methods of punishment.

By looking at what capital punishment is and its recent controversy, understanding the consequences of its implementation with wrongful convictions, and the hypocrisy in the American Justice System surrounding the death penalty, it has been proven that capital punishment should no longer exist. Capital punishment is clearly in violation of U.S. amendments and is immoral at the core as it takes away the rights of a living human being. The fact that so many people are wrongfully convicted and there is a high rate of those who are placed on death row makes one stop to question if everyone that has been executed has been truly guilty, meaning there is the chance the government has taken several innocent lives. Finally, the entire premise of the American Prison System has a focus on rehabilitation, yet the mere existence of capital punishment proves an understanding exists that rehabilitation fails. Ultimately, the death penalty is an inhumane form of punishment in contemporary society. It needs to be removed so that criminals do not lose their fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.