Death Penalty

Thirty eight states in the United States enforce the death penalty. Some people are in favor of the death penalty, but that may be because they have not been directly involved with it. Sometimes people can change their views about an issue when that issue all of a sudden becomes a part of their lives. Death is not something to be played with. Someone’s life should not be put in the hands of another person or the government. These are the five ways people are murdered by the government: Lethal injection is the most common form of execution. This is when a prisoner is strapped to a gurney, while two needles are placed in each arm. Two different types of chemicals are released putting the inmate to sleep. A third chemical, a muscle relaxer, is released causing the prisoner to stop breathing within minutes.

Approximately five states use the gas chamber as a method of execution. A prisoner is strapped down in a chamber where acid is released into a pan. Tablets are then dropped in the pan causing a chemical reaction that causes a deadly poisonous gas to knock the prisoner unconscious. Death occurs within minutes. Gas masked men decontaminate the body with bleach so as not to harm themselves while removing the body. Only a few states still use two of the oldest forms of execution today. Firing squads and hanging are still methods of executing criminals in the United States. Five or more men shoot a prisoner, sometimes killing him/her right away, when states kill by firing squads. When states use the hanging method, they try to set the noose just right so as not to allow suffocation, and to snap the neck and kill the inmate instantly. However, if done incorrectly, suffocation and suffering sometimes occur.

Probably the most cruel and unusual method of execution is death by the electric chair. When a prisoner is strapped into this chair, his/her organs are burned. The inmate’s flesh may catch on fire, and he/she may vomit blood. He/she may also violently twitch or leap forward as his/her insides are being electrocuted. One may be able to handle the fact that a criminal is being put to death. They might think that a criminal has done wrong, so they deserve to die. What they might not be thinking about is that criminal may be someone’s son or daughter, mom or dad, niece or nephew, brother or sister, husband or wife. A human life is very precious. People need to learn from their mistakes and a corpse cannot learn anything. The government should not take someone’s life that has done wrong, but rather teach them the right way, and help them learn from their mistakes. The eight amendment protects Americans from cruel and unusual punishment.

Death is very cruel and could be perceived as unusual, depending on the individual. Cruel and unusual are such vague adjectives, that they can be defined in several ways. What one person believes to be cruel, another person may believe is fair. This country is so diverse, with many different types of cultures and up-bringings, that deciding on one meaning for these two terms fairly for all people of the United States is nearly impossible. Therefore, the eighth amendment should be reworded, or the death penalty should be illegal. Ingesting poisonous gas, being burned from the inside out, suffocating from a noose, receiving poisonous chemicals through the veins, and being shot could all be defined as cruel and unusual. This cruelty’s purpose is to teach a lesson. When judges and juries try to correct crime by putting a prisoner to death, the only lesson they are teaching to American citizens is hypocrisy.

If murder was the crime, they are saying killing another human being is wrong, but it is right if judges and juries do it. In the book, Capital Revenge, Roy Meader thinks judges and juries are hypocrites, stating that when people sentence criminals to death they should look in the mirror. He wonders if they should ask themselves, “Should old commandments be revised to meet modern circumstances – Thou shalt not kill, except in some cases?” (Meader 3). People should not be allowed to kill people whether by law or otherwise. When criminals are sentenced to death, they are taken away the freedom to learn from their mistakes. Meader also looks at capital punishment as a way of revenge. He thinks that America does not help citizens, but avenges them for their crimes. When a criminal is put to death, the families of the victims are supposed to be magically put at ease.

The courts have done their jobs, and they are off to go home to their families and sleep tight, knowing they have done the right thing. But all they have done is created another loss to another family. Putting a criminal to death does not bring back the life of the first victim, and it does not help correct the criminal. Putting a criminal to death only creates another victim. Many people have been taught that punishment should fit the crime, that an “eye for an eye” is a just punishment. They are also taught as children that revenge is wrong. This is extremely hypocritical. The public would not agree with a mother punching her son in the face because he punched another child in the face. In fact, the law prohibits her from teaching him a lesson in that way. Revenge does not teach, it only creates more strife, victims, and losses. While many people see the death penalty as vengeful, others may see it as a deterrent.

The government may think killing a human being will show others that this is what will happen if they misbehave. The idea is the harsher the punishment, the less crime there will be on the streets. In studies done over the years, professors Hugo Bedau and Chester Pierce of Harvard and Tufts Universities have proved this theory wrong. They proved that “the average [homicide] rate is considerably greater in capital states, and that is the findings in all investigations,” (Bedau, Chester 306). Capital punishment does not teach citizens how to behave the right way, but the wrong way. Maybe citizens are noticing all the killing the government is doing, and have decided to follow their examples and start killing as well. Instead of teaching through examples, the United States should stop the crimes before they start.

Justice would be served if crime never erupted in the first place. Is it fair to only try to stop crime after one has already been committed? Instead of trying to eliminate criminals, the United States should try to eliminate victims. The government needs to look at why certain crimes are being committed and try to fix the problems of the crime’s purpose. In a book entitled Pileup on Death Row, Burton Wolfe quoted Clarence Darrow when he spoke on his beliefs of the death penalty. Darrow says, “Crime and poverty and ignorance have always gone hand in hand. When our lawmakers realize this, they will stop legislating more punishments and go after the causes,” (Wolfe 77). In helping America’s problems, such as poverty, the government may be saving millions of lives instead of ending them.


Bedau, Hugo, and Chester Pierce. Capital Punishment in the United States. New York: AMS Press, 1976. Meader, Roy. Capital Revenge. Philedelphia: Dorrance, 1975. Wolfe, Burton. Pileup on Deathrow. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973.