A brief policy analysis
Capital punishment or death penalty is among the most debated topics in contemporary times. The opponents and supporters of capital punishments put forth several arguments in support of their stand. Capital punishment has had a long history, and effected differently at different periods of times, by different cultures. In modern times statistics has shown that capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime, as countries without capital punishment have less crime rate compared to those that have capital punishment. In a progressive world the practice of capital punishment must be reconsidered urgently as it doesn’t serve any individual or the society. It is time to reverse capital punishment everywhere.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the validity and effectiveness of capital punishment, by analyzing every aspect of the policy, and its implications for the society. The paper would consider and validate the viewpoints of both, the proponents and opponents of capital punishment, together with a brief history of the punishment and its perception in recent times. Capital punishment is one of the most debated topics in contemporary times. The rationale behind any punishment is that it can deter people from taking to crimes or committing them. If punishments appropriate for the crimes are in place, people would think before engaging in such acts of crime. It is believed that when punishments are severe, people are more likely to refrain from committing the crime. When the threat of punishment is effective and fully implemented, it serves a huge purpose of reducing the occurrence of future crimes (Law.jrank, 2008). When the society punishes the perpetrator, it is presumed to have restored morality. Punishments are more directed at offsetting the gains or pleasure sought from the act of crime and not to make up for the loss or trauma of suffered by the victim. No amount of punishments can reverse the crime and the effects of the crime committed. Although the society has realized that only punishments could deter criminals, the situation has come when the need and morality of harsh punishments need to be debated. Capital punishment or death penalty is today a widely debated punishment.
Historical background of death penalty policy
The first recognized capital punishment laws may be attributed to King Hammurabi of Babylon of the 18th Century B.C. He promulgated a code of law that had capital punishment for 25 different crimes. The death penalty was also a part of the Hittite law codes of the 14th century BC and the 7thcentury BC Code of Athens that had death penalty for all crimes. The regimes executed the alleged criminals by several ways including drowning, beating to death, burning them alive and crucifixion. By the 10th Century AD, hanging became the normal execution method in Britain. The policy uncertainty of death penalty also has a long history. In the 11th Century AD, William the Conqueror suspended the death sentence for all crimes, except those during war-times (Death Penalty Information Center, 2013). However this was changed during the 16th Century AD, when King Henry VIII used death penalty for several crimes. It is estimated that about 72,000 people were executed during his reign with people sentenced to death for crimes like treason, marrying a Jew and not confessing to a crime. During the 1700s, Britain had death penalty for 222 different crimes including cutting down a tree, stealing and robbing a rabbit warren. American tryst with death penalty has been greatly influenced by Britain, than any other country.
Description of the Problem that Necessitated the Policy
In line with the rationale of punishment for crimes, it was perceived that fear of harsher punishments would deter people from engaging in those crimes. Thus the fear of death penalty was expected to keep people away from committing heinous crimes that warranted death as a punishment. For instance the US that once abolished death penalty later re-imposed it, when the no-death penalty state only emboldened criminals to commit heinous crimes. With the execution of Luis Monge on June 2, 1967 and the declining public opinion for death penalty, the death penalty was considered a violation of the Eight Amendment and banned throughout the US subsequent to the case Furman vs. Georgia (1972 408 US 238). It was however introduced on July 2, 1976 by the US Supreme Court which observed that the death penalty is crucial in serving two social needs namely retribution and deterrence of social crimes. The Court had projected capital punishment as society’s expression in condemning horribly offensive conduct. The Supreme Court also observed that while studies do not convince that capital punishment is an effective deterrence compared to lesser punishments, there are no convincing studies refuting this too (Palmer, 1998).
Description of the Policy
The handing over of death sentences is also not uniform throughout the world. The nature of execution, the reasons and tolerance, and amnesty methods vary from country to country. In many countries death penalties are not imposed on the juveniles and the mentally impaired. Also the deaths are carried out by varying methods like lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad. The reasons warranting death penalty and the working of the justice systems are largely erratic in many countries. Death sentences are handed down without proper investigations and judicial procedures too. Many Islamic countries forgive the offenders when the family of the victim forgives them. Several Islamic countries impose death penalty for drug smuggling, prostitution and even abandonment of the Islam religion (Brea, 2008). Most of their justices systems may be lacking too. The evidence procedures, interpretations of the law may be seriously lacking, at times. In most countries having capital punishment, particularly the developed countries, when people are sentenced to death, it generally takes several years before the actual execution. The convicted person meanwhile is isolated and housed in the death row, which is the housing for prisoners awaiting death. Michelle Lindo McCluer of the National Institute of Military Justice at Washington College of Law suggests that appeals in the military domain, like its civilian counterpart can stretch for decades (Searcey D et al, 2009). The costs associated with capital punishments are comparatively enormous.
The policy of capital punishment pursued in many countries is fiercely debated on its effectiveness. With increasing liberalization and broader thinking, many developing countries have put an end to capital punishment. It needs to be emphasized here that while the European Union requires abolishment of the death penalty as a condition for its membership, the US has re-imposed it after guidelines and directions were issued to judges as to the grounds on which a death sentence can be pronounced (Delfino and Day, 2008). Utah became the first state to reinstate the death penalty when it executed Gary Gilmore by a firing squad. Today in the US there are currently about 33 states, the federal government and the military that incorporate death penalty in their punishments. However rape of an adult woman does not attract capital punishment, which was evident in Coker vs. Georgia (1977) 433 US. 584. The venue of the crime committed can therefore make a vast difference of life and death to the perpetrator, since some states are more likely to impose the death penalty than others.
In 1994, the death penalty was introduced for sixty new offenses for the first time under the Federal Death Penalty Act. The death penalty was introduced under a new chapter 228 of Title 18 of the United States law code. The sections appropriate under it are attributed to the codes 3591-3598. Signed by the then President Bill Clinton, these new offenses fetching death penalty included murder of federal officials, serious drug offenses and also treason and espionage. The death penalty is also handed over for any attempted murder undertaken or ordered by any leader of a drug mafia to stall a drug trafficking investigation or prosecution (Schabas, 1997). Death penalty under the new law was introduced as an optional punishment for seven kinds of planned and intentionally carried out murders including killing of a rape victim or a police officer.
Capital punishment has strong supporters and opponents too whose viewpoints are equally strong. Supporters and advocates of capital punishment say that the fear of death penalty can refrain people from indulging in heinous crimes. However it has been pointed out by human rights activists that the occurrence of crime warranting the death penalty is much less in countries without death penalty, than where it is imposed. There is an increasing public support for the abolishment of the death penalty, wanting the society to look into other ways of crime prevention. Relying only on killing criminals to reduce crime is not in line with societal development. Also capital cases usually cost thrice that of homicide cases where there is no death penalty (Urbina, 2009). This is because capital cases costs more as the trials are longer, needing more lawyers and expert witnesses, with the cases themselves having multiple appeals.
It is increasingly perceived that imposing death penalty reflects the society’s, particularly the law enforcement personnel’s weakness and inhumanity. We carry out the reciprocative act, in a more inhuman way than the crime itself. Not only are the state officials present to witness the execution as if it was a privileged entertainment, we also invite the family of the victim to join them. We forget that the family of the criminal is undergoing an immense plight, coping up with the fact that their loved one is to be executed. The lengthy, planned, collaborated circumstance under which the perpetrator is losing his life is totally different from the situations in which the victim died. Countries have varying execution methods from hanging, firing squad, electric chair, gas chamber, lethal injection and sometimes even public stoning. Not all executions go well as intended. Several executions had been carried out where the procedure turned faulty leading to severe injuries on the face and body of the criminal, requiring postponement of the event. The electric chair malfunctioning in particular has caused burns and charring of the victim on many occasions (Schabas, 1997). The trauma both physical and mental borne by the criminal is definitely not part of his punishments. The barbaric side of the episode is the wanting to still go ahead and complete the execution.
Comparative and international
A survey by the New York Times determined that the homicide rates were lower in states that did not have the capital punishments, proving that capital punishment cannot serve as a crime deterrent. For the year 2011, the average homicide rate in states having capital punishment was 4.7 while that in states without death penalty was 3.1. There are several states in the US which have a lower homicide crime rate that do not have capital punishment, compared to Texas, even as Texas the executes the most in the US. At the international level too, many countries without death penalty have a comparatively lower homicide rate. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in a recent global study determined that several European nations had a homicide rate that was far less compared to the US. Europe had an average homicide rate of 3.3 compared to America’s rate of 15.4.
Social thought and ideology
Living a life in anticipation of death is itself a torture. Any person awaiting an imminent death suffers much more than his victim (Hinman, 2008). Forced to await a certain death is inhuman and against the principles of humanity. Consider the plight of a person who has been sentenced to death for homicide. The killing could have occurred instantly or result from temporary loss of sanity, which the perpetrator may repent later. When offered a death sentence, the criminal apart from repenting his crime is also pained by his own death sentence. Unlike all other punishments, the death penalty cannot be reversed and the accused set free. History holds evidence of last minute cancellation of death sentences due to lack of evidence or proper procedures, when subjected to case review. Today there are many past executions, which still hold doubt if the executed person, was indeed the real perpetrator.
The progressive world needs to urgently consider the practice of capital punishment. Taking away a life does not serve good for any society. All criminals are part of our society and should not be eliminated to ensure the safety of the rest. We need to give them hope, which would only refrain them from such further activity. When they see no hope, it only aggravates the situation for themselves and thus for the rest of the society. Judicial and social reforms must be appropriately implemented for preventing heinous crimes, rather than capital punishment. We need to realize that an execution cannot do any good either for the victim of the criminal sentenced to death, or the larger society itself. Statistics and morality points out that the capital punishment doesn’t serve any purpose, and therefore we need to get rid of it at the earliest possible.
Homicide rate: The ratio of homicides for a given area expressed per 1000 for a given year
Gas chamber: An airtight room that would be filled with poisonous gas for executing a person
Electrocution: Execution carried out by applying electricity
Judicial system: The system of laws and courts that administers justice and law in a state or country, an integral aspect of the judiciary system.
Death row: An housing for those condemned to death, with a prison or jail
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Searcey D et al. (2009) Death-Penalty case would likely take years. The Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2009
Urbina I (2009) Citing Cost, States Consider End to Death Penalty. The New York Times. February 24, 2009