Unlike popular belief, the death penalty does not act as a deterrent to criminals. As stated by Alfred Blumstein, “Expert after expert and study after study has shown the lack of correlation between the treat of the death penalty and the occurrence of violent crimes.” (Blumstein 68) Isaac Ehrlich’s study on the limiting effects of capital punishment in America reveals this to the public. The study spans twenty-five years, from 1957 till 1982, and shows that in the first year the study was conducted, there were 8060 murders and 6 executions. However, in the last year of the study there were 22,520 murders committed and only 1 execution performed. (Blumstein 54) This clearly shows that many violent criminals are not afraid of the capital punishment.
Abolitionists believe the offenders should be required to compensate the victim’s family with the offender’s own income from employment or community service. There is no doubt that someone can do more alive than dead. By working, the criminal inadvert-ently “pays back” society and also their victim and/or victim’s family. There is no reason for the criminal to receive any compensation for the work they do, because money is of no jail time. This could be considered a form of slavery to some, but it is no different from the days of being sent to the “yard” to break stone.
One of the most well-known examples of the criminal contributing to the betterment of society is the case Leopld and Loeb. They were nineteen years old when they committed “The Crime of the Century.” In 1924, they kidnapped and murdered a fourteen-year-old boy just to see how it would feel to kill someone. They were both spared the death penalty and sentenced to life imprisonment. (Bedau 78) Together their accomplishments included working in hospitals, teaching the illiterate how to read, creating a correspondence school, writing a grammar book, and making significant developments in the World War II Malaria Project.(Bedau 193) “An inestimable amount of people were directly helped by Leopold and Loeb, Both of tem made a conscious commitment to atone their crimes by serving others.”(Bedau 217)
The most widely used form of execution has been electrocution. With this method of executing a prisoner, the individual is strapped to a chair along with electrodes attached all over the body. The executioner then proceeds to “throw the switch” sending vast amounts of electricity flowing throughout the prisoner. During this period, the prisoners flesh burns and the body shakes violently from the overdose of electricity. When it is all over, smoke is often seen coming from the head of the corpse. (Ernest Van den Haag 135)
Officials often defend this punishment as not being cruel and unusual, but how can they defend the opinion in the case of John Evans who was executed by electrocution in 1983? According to witnesses at the scene of the death of Mr. Evans, he was given three charges of electricity over a period of fourteen minutes. After the first and second charges, Mr. Evans was still conscious and smoke was coming from all over his body, as a result from his flesh burning. An official at the prison even tries to stop the execution on account of it being cruel punishment, but the man was unsuccessful. Witnesses later called the whole incident “a barbaric ritual”. (Haag 221)
Another method of execution is the gas chamber; during this procedure a prisoner is put in a closed chamber and forced to inhale lethal fumes from a sulfuric acid and a cyanide chemical reaction. (Haag 243) According to a statement given by the U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens concerning the 1992 execution of Donald Harding, there did not seem to be any civilized aspect of the gas chamber method of executing prisoners. (Haag 259) According to the report, Harding tried to hold his breath inside the chamber. When he finally began to take in fumes, his body started going into convulsions and the muscles and veins under his skin were twitching in a wave-like motion. This execution took over eight minutes to complete, and Mr. Harding was writhing in pain for most of the time. According to officials, Harding did not fall unconscious until right before his death. (Haag 262)
The latest method of execution has been lethal injection. It has become deemed as the cleanest form that a prisoner can die. It s thought to be the cleanest because it does not maim the body, unlike all of the other methods of execution. Nonetheless, it is in the opinion of this author that this is still another unjust form of punishment. At the 1988 execution of Raymond Landry, persons at the scene had to repeatedly puncture him because he had very small veins. In addition to this cruel treatment, during the procedure, the tube attached to the needle leaked and the harsh chemicals used to kill Landry were sprayed into the direction of the witnesses. (Haag 307) Besides this case, there have been cases where the victims were not given a strong enough dosage and writhed in pain for several minutes while still conscious. In a statement to the Associated Press, many police officials who have been witnesses to the death penalty, they say it should be abolished because they are sick of having to watch it and it does not deter violent criminals from lashing out against society.
The belief that execution cost less than imprisonment is absolutely false. As Haag states “The cost of the apparatus and maintenance of the procedures attending the death penalty, including the actual stay on death row, and the endless appeals and legal machinery, far out-weigh the expense of maintaining in prison the tiny fraction of criminals who would otherwise be slain.” (Haag 38)
The strongest argument against using capital punishment for retributive purposes is the dispute that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, condemning cruel and unusual punish-ment, is used to protect the death penalty. The fallacy of this argument is that it appears to be a “red herring” argument, one that takes attention away from the facts of the case. When the constitution was drafted, capital punishment was practiced widely in this country, yet was not specified as wrong of cruel and unusual. Many of the framers of the constitution endorsed the death penalty, as did philosophers from which the constitution draws from. John Lock went s far as to say, “…that murder is not intrinsically wrong.
Man, as he is bound to preserve himself and not quite his station willfully, by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind.” (Bedau 277) An argument against the death penalty is the basic moral issue of conservation of human rights and humanity. The argument of retribution would be even easier to dismiss if it consisted only of a basic thirst for revenge. As stated by Bedau “Society must manifest a terrible anger in the face of a terrible crime, for nothing less will suffice to remind us of the moral order by which alone we can live as human beings.” (Bedau 121)
This is a serious moral argument. Opponents of capital punishment must be willing to answer it on its own terms. They say that “… the death penalty demeans the moral order and execution is not legalized murder, nor is imprisonment legalized kidnapping, but it is the coldest, most premeditated form of homicide. It does something almost worse than lowering the state to the moral level of the criminal: it raises the criminal to the moral equality with social order.” (Haag 280) Indeed, one of the ironies of capital punishment is that it focuses attention and sympathy on the criminal.
How can murder not be immoral? Citizens under a social contract agree not to kill only because others also agree. In an attempt to try and stop the public from taking the law into their own hands, the judicial system must convince society that it is not in their best interest to murder. So how can the constitution be brought into this argument, since it makes no mention of capital punishment? These are a few of the questions that we must ask ourselves when we try to form and develop our own opinion on the subject of the death penalty.
Even though the retentions pose some interesting arguments, I myself feel that the abolitionist outlook contains much stronger support and more reasons for opposition. The first of which is the death penalty is wrong morally because it is the cruel and inhumane taking of a life. The methods by which most executions are carried out can involve physical torture. Haag states “Electrocution has on occasion caused extensive burns and needed more than one application of electric current to kill the condemned.”(Haag 137) To many opponents, capital punishment is a euphemism for legally killing people. And no one, not even the State, has the authority to play God.
Despite the moral argument concerning the inhumane treatment of the criminal, we return to the “nature” f the crime committed. Can society place an unequal weight on the tragically lost lives of murder victims on the criminal? This is not an exam question in a Thiel philosophy class, but a moral puzzle at the center of perhaps the most interesting issue facing the Supreme Court today. Punishment is meted out because of the nature of the crime, without any reference to social identity of the victim. Compassion and political calculations have combined to transform victims and their advocates into a way to sway voters by their feelings.
Beginning in California in 1987, the Supreme Court carved out a crucial exception: Neither the life of the victim or the suffering of his survivors could be a factor in any state or federal case punishable by death. The catch is that every cutback in the complex legal process has evolved to ensure that only the guilt die, increasing the chance that an innocent person will be subjected to this most irreversible and final of punishments. (Bedau 298)
The possibility of an innocent person being put to death is another factor some people have against the death penalty. According to a 1987 Stanford University survey, at least 23 Americans have been wrongly executed in the twentieth century.
In case of a mistake, the executed prisoner can not be given another chance and justice will have miscarried. In the last hundred years, there have been more than seventy- five documented cases wrongly conviction of criminal homicide. A death sentence was carried out on eight of these seventy- five individuals. Surely there are many other cases of mistaken convictions, and execution occurred and remained undocumented. A prisoner discovered to be blameless can be freed, but neither release nor compensation is possible for a corpse.
The death penalty should be abolished because it is a barbaric form of punishment, which should not be allowed in the United Sates, which is supposedly one of the most civil nations in the world. It should also be abolished not only because it is barbaric, but it also defies the U.S. Constitution, which most Americans hold sacred. In addition to this, the death penalty even if it remains legal in the U.S. would not obtain its goal. The death penalty fails its main objective and because of the reasons stated above should be abolished.
American Civil Liberties Union.Goher:/gopher.pipeline.com:70/00/society/
aclu/publicatios/papers/8. Briefing Paper Number 8.
Associated Press. News:death-penalty/[email protected] PD Chiefs:
Death Penalty Fails.
Bedau, Hugo Adam. Goher:/goher.pipeline.com:70/000society/aclu/issues/
death/case_against. The Case Against the Death Penalty
Blumstein, Alfred and Jacqueline Cohen. Deterrence and Incapacitation:
Estimating the Effects of Criminal Sanctions on Crime Rates.
Washington, DC., 1978. National Academy of Sciences
Van den Haag, Ernest. Punishing Criminals: Concerning a Very Old and
Painful Question. New York, NY, 1975. Basic Books, Inc.