Crime is a major problem in our world today. Some people in our country live in fear that they will be the next victim of a crime; they could be robbed, raped, or even murdered. There are so many theories on how to stop crime. One of the theories is the use of the death penalty as a deterrent. There are a lot of issues that surround that idea that make the use of the death penalty just as bad as the accused committing murder. It is very
contradictive, inconsistent, and unethical. Although some people believe that the death penalty deters crime, there are many arguments against it. For example, the costs are extremely high, racism is involved, and there are innocent people on death row to list a few.
Stanley Tookie Williams is a great example of how the death penalty is unethical. He was the person responsible for creating the Crips gang in California back in the seventies. He was later charged with the death penalty for murdering three people. Over the course of 10 years, Tookie Williams, with the help of his supporter and friend Barbara Becnel, wrote eight children’s books all with the aim of stopping youngsters living a violent gang life. He also earned five Nobel peace prize nominations, a letter from President George W Bush commending him on his work, and a movie portraying his life called, simply, Redemption (Leithead). He was executed in December, 2005 by lethal injection. Some people believe that he deserved to die because even though he had so many accomplishments in prison, out of prison he was a monster. They didn’t believe that he was being genuine in his good deeds. Some people say that he is a success story because he turned his life around despite his surroundings. The system should have let him serve life in prison without the possibility of parole after all of his accomplishments because in this case he had turned his life around and instead of hurting others in society, he was helping society.
Even though a great person like Stanley Williams was executed, the American public has long been favorably disposed toward capital punishment for convicted murderers, and that support continues to grow. In a 1981 Gallup Poll, two-thirds of Americans voiced general approval for the death penalty. That support rose to 72% in 1985, to 76% in 1991, and to 80% in 1994. Although these polls need to be interpreted with extreme caution, it is clear that there are few issues on which more Americans agree: in at least some circumstances, death is seen as a justifiable punishment (Radelet, Akers). Part of the support for capital punishment comes from the belief that the death penalty is legitimate. This justification suggests that murderers should be executed for retributive reasons: murderers should suffer, and the retributive effects of life imprisonment are insufficient for taking a life. While such views are worthy of debate, no empirical research can tell us if the argument is “correct” or “incorrect.” Empirical studies can neither answer the question of what specific criminals (or non-criminals) “deserve,” nor settle debates over other moral issues surrounding capital punishment.
In some people eyes the moral issues of capital punishment don’t outweigh the public concern with violent crime. It is generating strong support for the death penalty. Thirty-eight states have passed capital punishment laws in the past 20 years. One reason for skepticism about the death penalty’s value as a deterrent is the never-ending parade of homicides – from convenience- store shootings to high-profile crimes of passion. A much-watched case involved Susan V. Smith of Union, S.C. She made national headlines when she told police that an armed black man had commandeered her car and driven off with her two little boys. But nine days later, Smith was charged in the children’s drowning deaths. According to police, Smith confessed to strapping the youngsters into their car seats and letting the car roll down a boat ramp to the bottom of a lake (Worsnop). The death penalty will not deter crimes of passion because in the heat of the moment people that kill do not think about the consequences. That shows that the people that believe that the death penalty is a deterrent is incorrect because people still kill even if there is a possibility that they will receive the death penalty.
Some people receive the death penalty for crimes that they did not commit. Having someone serve life in prison instead of the death penalty gives that person time to prove their innocence. The debate over erroneous convictions has increased in recent years because DNA testing now allows inmates to prove their innocence years after their convictions. Former death row inmate Aaron Patterson is one of seventeen wrongfully convicted men freed in Illinois, the only state with a death penalty moratorium. The American Bar Association has called for a nationwide moratorium on executions, citing documented problems in capital trials and sentencing such as racial discrimination, inadequate legal representation and other constitutional violations. The advent of DNA testing — which has been credited with “exonerating” more than 160 prison inmates over the last 15 years, including 14 men on various states’ death rows — has focused attention on using new technology to prevent executions of innocent defendants (Jost).
State officials disagree that this new technology has proven that innocent people have been executed.. Law enforcement groups emphasize in particular that anti-death penalty groups have yet to document a case in the modern era of someone who was executed and later proven conclusively to have been innocent of the crime. Prosecutors and law enforcement supporters, however, say the high court should maintain strict standards for state prisoners to meet before asking federal judges in effect to give them a second trial. “If you’re going to retry every capital case, you’re going to have an even more inefficient system than you have now,” says Barry Latzer, a professor at City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice (Jost). If there is speculation that there are innocent people in prison, there should not be a death penalty. One life being taken over a wrong conviction is enough to end it. The price of an innocent life is far more than trying to prove that the death penalty works.
It price of execution is far more than to keeping him or her in prison for life. A recent New Jersey Policy Perspectives report concluded that the state’s death penalty has cost taxpayers $253 million since 1983, a figure that is over and above the costs that would have been incurred had the state utilized a sentence of life without parole instead of death. “From a strictly financial perspective, it is hard to reach a conclusion other than this: New Jersey taxpayers over the last 23 years have paid more than a quarter billion dollars on a capital punishment system that has executed no one,” the report concluded. Michael Murphy, former Morris County, NJ prosecutor, remarked: “If you were to ask me how $11 million a year could best protect the people of New Jersey, I would tell you by giving the law enforcement community more resources. I’m not interested in hypotheticals or abstractions, I want the tools for law enforcement to do their job, and $11 million can buy a lot of tools” (Death Penalty Focus). This country hates paying irrelevant taxes; they should be taking this information into account. There is no justification for paying taxes for something that is not being used.
There are some justifications for the death penalty. One of those is that the death penalty saves innocent lives by preventing convicted murderers from killing again. Some sense of the risk here is the fact that of roughly 52,000 state prison inmates serving time for murder, an estimate 810 had previously been convicted of murder and had killed 821 persons following those convictions. Executing each of these inmates after the first murder conviction would have saved the lives of more than 800 persons (Cassell). But having the people serve life sentences could’ve served the same purpose of preventing murder. Politics, quality of legal counsel and the jurisdiction where a crime is committed are more often the determining factors in a death penalty case than the facts of the crime itself. The death penalty is a lethal lottery: of the 22,000 homicides committed every year approximately 150 people are sentenced to death (Death Penalty Focus). Most of the 150 people were African American, which shows that the system is unethical and displays racism.
Racism in the imposition of the death penalty has been widely documented over the years. From roughly 1930 to the late 1960s, 49 percent (1,630 out of 3,334) of people executed for murder were African American even though they only made up between 9 and 10 percent of the total U.S. population during this 30-year period. In the early 1970s the courts first challenged the constitutionality of the death penalty because of this probable racial bias. Specifically, the Supreme Court case Furrnan v. Georgia (1972) ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment because of the arbitrary and discriminatory manner in which it was imposed. Race discrimination was at the center of the critique of the death penalty and something the post- Furman reforms were designed to remedy. Despite the implementation of death penalty reforms, race discrimination continues to influence the application of the death penalty. Research has found that racism manifests itself in two ways: 1) defendants who kill white victims are more likely to be given the death penalty compared to those who kill blacks; and 2) black defendants (regardless of the race of victim) are more likely to receive the death penalty compared to white defendants (Bordt). The idea that the death penalty can stop crime would not be the big debate that it is if there wasn’t discrimination in the justice system. Justice John Paul Stevens has become the latest member of the Supreme Court to voice strong concerns off the bench about the way that death penalty cases are handled in the United States. In a speech to the American Bar Association on Aug. 6, Stevens noted the “substantial number” of erroneously imposed death sentences and then suggested the need to re-examine jury-selection and sentencing procedures to eliminate what he called “special risks of unfairness” in death penalty cases. Stevens had gone even further three months earlier. In a speech in May to lawyers and judges at the Seventh Circuit Bar Association, the 85-year-old leader of the court’s liberal bloc said, “This country would be much better off if we did not have capital punishment” (Jost). The death penalty is too inconsistent and unfair to African Americans.
The inconsistencies are also shown for people with juveniles and people with mental disabilities. Deserved retribution as punishment presupposes that the offender is fully responsible for his crime. In the United States we currently have several juveniles on death row, yet few of us are prepared to argue that juveniles are always fully responsible for the harms they cause. We also regularly execute offenders who suffer from various forms of incapacitation mental illness, disability, or retardation. If retribution is such a crucial and fundamental consideration in shaping the punishment a convicted criminal deserves, why don’t they use their theory to protest the execution of the young and the abnormal offenders, as they do to demand the execution of adult offenders who are normal by their standards? One is tempted to conclude either that they do not take the consequences of their own theory very seriously or that they are prepared to be widely inconsistent in its applications (Bedau).
These examples of inconsistencies in the justice system does not help the families of victims heal from the pain of losing a loved one. Many family members who have lost love ones to murder feel that the death penalty will not heal their wounds nor will it end their pain; the extended process prior to executions can prolong the agony experienced by the family. Funds now being used for the costly process of executions could be used to help families put their lives back together through counseling, restitution, crime victim hotlines, and other services addressing their needs (Death Penalty Focus).
At what price should we kill to get things solved? If society is saying that murder is a terrible thing to do, then why do we do the same to punish others? The death penalty should be abolished because there is too much evidence to show that it is inconsistent, unethical and contradicting.
Bedau, Hugo A., and Paul G. Cassell, eds. Debating the Death Penatly. Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts from Both Sides Make Their Case. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 29 Oct. 2007.
Bordt, Rebecca L. “Only Some Are Dead Men Walking: Teaching about Race Discrimination and the Death Penalty .” Teaching Sociology 32.4 (2004): 358-73. 20 Oct. 2007
“Facts.” Death Penalty Focus. 03 APR 2007. Death Penalty Focus. 3 Dec 2007
Jost, Kenneth. “Death Penalty Controversies.” CQ Researcher 15.33 (2005): 785-808. CQ
Leithead, Alistair . 2005. 22 Oct. 2007
Radlet, Michael L., and Ronald L. Akers. “Deterrence and the Death Penalty: The Views of the Experts .” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 87.1 (1996): 1-16. 18 Oct.2007