The Evolution of Decency – Government Essay
Most people will tell you people that receive the death penalty deserve it. I wouldn’t disagree. The death they caused was certainly cruel, possibly unusual, but we’re not an “eye for an eye” society anymore, thanks to the
evolving standards of the American people. If someone strikes someone, do they deserve to be struck? Of course they do. But you don’t get to strike them. When you commit murder, you do essentially give up your rights, and your life. You’re sent to jail for the rest of it. Does anyone you know have the goal of getting into jail? I doubt it; it’s not exactly much of a life.
In Furman vs. Georgia the Supreme Court found that not only did accidental murder not constitute the death penalty, but that it would be cruel and unusual to apply the death penalty in such a case. I would simply consider this somewhat of a precedent in what constitutes the death penalty. It takes a fairly serious crime/murder/death/whatever to get the death penalty. Before I continue, I notice that what these Supreme Court cases seem to say is that the death penalty itself is not cruel and unusual punishment, but that if the crime doesn’t deserve the death penalty that it’s cruel and unusual punishment. I tend to think that since they ultimately ruled that the electric chair and gas chambers were “cruel and unusual punishment,” that this means the idea that lethal injection is not cruel and unusual punishment is at the very least, open to a good debate. I also believe there is not an un-cruel or unusual way of killing someone. It strikes me that keeping someone on death row for years, and then strapping them down before an audience including their own family, and the victim’s family, and then administering injections causing their breathing and heart to stop, is kind of unusual, and perhaps cruel. Also, there’s a lot happening in the debate on the death penalty right now. Recently a U.S. Supreme Court justice temporarily blocked an execution. Even more recently, a man was suppose to be executed, but they were required to have an anesthesiologist put them to sleep to alleviate any pain that would be involved with the execution. Everyone who was authorized to give it refused to do so, and the execution was put on hold “indefinitely”. Now the argument comes before the court on whether or not lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. There are also rare cases where the dose doesn’t actually kill the person that is supposed to be executed, and he somehow lives. I think it would be pretty cruel and unusual to then make him go through it again. Most states, from what I understand, won’t.
Gregg vs. Georgia is relatively simple. There was a man who was convicted of armed robbery and murder. The court decided three things. A. it is cruel and unusual punishment for someone to be executed for armed robbery, so that charge didn’t even stand. Not just that it was not deserving of the death penalty, but like I said; it would be cruel and unusual to give it to him for that charge. B. the murder charge constituted the death penalty, and C. it would not be cruel or unusual for him to receive the death penalty for murder. To me, it sounds like an awful lot of debating going on. While it is a clearly established precedent that you have to murder someone to receive the death penalty, it then again, depends on the nature of the murder. So, we still have the debate on whether or not it’s cruel or unusual to give someone the death penalty for certain kinds of murder.
Again though, there are some internal debates. What kind of death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, and what is not? Is the death penalty itself cruel and unusual punishment? And more specifically, is lethal injection cruel or unusual? The death penalty has always been unfair to African Americans. The jury system tends to be unfair. African
Coker vs. Georgia is a hard case for me to understand. However, it sounds to me like the prisoner had a death wish. He was in jail for conviction of murder; he breaks out, rapes a woman, and steals her car. It sounds to me like he thought he had nothing to lose, although, I don’t know why he wasn’t already on death row for murder. He might have been, but I didn’t see any clear evidence in the case saying so. Georgia tried to give him the death penalty for raping the woman. The court ruled that it was “grossly disproportionate” to the crime. I would agree, and I would say it is apparent that there is something gross about Georgia’s apparent over zealous love for the death penalty. So they ruled that it would be cruel and/or unusual punishment to give him the death penalty given that he didn’t take the woman’s life. Now if any two of these cases tie together, it would be this one, and Gregg vs. Georgia. Rape did not constitute the death penalty, and neither did armed robbery.
Stanford vs. Kentucky I disagree with. Basically they ruled that you can execute a juvenile offender, and that it is necessary to look at society’s evolving standards of decency. I disagree with that. If the Supreme Court is going to look at the evolving standards of the nation, who is to say what we would allow next? First, you can convict a juvenile offender. What’s next? If the justices keep it up, it will not be too long before NAMBLA is able to get away with their “rape and escape” tactics.
Roper vs. Simmons directly ties to Stanford vs. Kentucky, because this guy was sentenced to death at 17, and once again involved in “society’s evolving standards of decency.” I’m not entirely opposed to national opinion; in fact I think it’s healthy as a nation to have evolving standards. I do believe however that there should be a standard on how far we should evolve. Abraham and many other known Biblical persons were known to have multiple wives. It was the norm, and it was accepted by society. Did that make it right? Of course it doesn’t make it right. Here is an interesting tidbit. “On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the government argued that allowing a state court to overturn a Supreme Court decision by looking at “evolving standards” would be dangerous, because state courts could just as easily decide that executions prohibited by the Supreme Court (such as the execution of the mentally ill in Atkins v. Virginia) were now permissible due to a change in the beliefs of the American people.” I agree. It is dangerous. So, they overturned the decision in Stanford vs. Kentucky and ruled that it was unconstitutional and cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a minor to death.
Couldn’t we just solve all of these problems, and abolish the death penalty? We have society’s ever changing and evolving standards of decency, which means precedent (which is important in courts) is subject to change. There’s the argument of the burden of the tax payer. It costs the government plenty of money to perform an execution, too. Is there any real way to kill someone that is not cruel or unusual? Should the government sanction it? Perform it? While we’re talking about society’s evolving standards of decency, if that’s any measure of where the death penalty is; I would say it is on its way out. Hanging was ruled unconstitutional. So were the gas chambers. So was the electric chair. All because of society’s evolving standards of decency. Proponents of the death penalty hang on to lethal injection. On the moral issue, which is the equivalent of “society’s evolving standards of decency,” it’s important to know that those evolving standards look back on hanging and such things as dark moments in our country. While most of society doesn’t hold that view about lethal injection, nothing says they won’t at some point, and in fact, I believe if more Americans knew more of the details; it would be hard to argue that lethal injection isn’t cruel and unusual. Certainly, we have flaws in the system. It is cruel and unusual to minors; it is cruel and unusual to the mentally ill. All previous forms of the death penalty have been declared cruel and unusual. We can’t have a system with flaws, or prejudice, or that’s disproportionately unfair. So, let’s avoid the debate, work out the flaws, and end it.