This paper will provide a personal response on capital punishment and its relationship for deterring crime. At the same time, there will also be a discussion on the ethical issues concerning the imposition of death penalty in relation to the Constitution. The standpoint of United Nations Committee and anti-death penalty movements will be presented as well as the discussion on the causal link between imposing death penalty against the defendants and its ability to diminish criminality in society. The recognition of the right to equal freedom and respect for human rights by adopting less restrictive means to achieve the goal of decreasing the crime rate in relation to capital punishment will be explained.
Key words: Death penalty, capital punishment, deterrent, execution and sentence.
Capital punishment or death penalty is considered as the most severe criminal penalty. The penalty of death is contrary to the Eighth Amendment for being a cruel and inhumane punishment. Mandery (2005) argues that death is an excessive punishment imposed by the State for it violates his right to life the death of the defendant. The effect of death penalty in the present criminal justice system promotes inequality for the reason that it can be discriminatorily imposed upon identifiable classes of people bases on ethnicity, race and minority.
Capital punishment or death penalty was not proven to be an effectual means to deter crimes. Mandery (2005) reported that United Nations Committee issued an official statement which claimed that there is no causal link between imposing death penalty against the defendants and its ability to diminish criminality in society. Thus, each democratic nation should recognize the right to equal freedom and respect for human rights by adopting “less restrictive means to achieve the goal of decreasing the crime rate which cannot be resolved by applying capital punishment” (Bedau and Cassell, 2005). Death penalty causes destruction in the criminal justice system because it shocks the moral conscience and removes the sense of justice of the nation.
In the classic case of Powell v. Alabama, death penalty was unfairly imposed against the nine African-American boys who were discriminated on the ground of race or color. The seven white boys rode a train on their way to Alabama and later reported to the station master that “a bunch of Negroes” started a fight. As a result, the white boys were thrown off the train except for one. At the same time, there were two white female passengers who accused the African American boys of rape. They African-American boys were convicted of rape and death penalty was imposed by the court only after one day of trial to the exception of one defendant. Hence, the defendants filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to question the decision. The Court held that the African-American boys denied of their right to a counsel which resulted to the denial of the right to due process. They earned the support of the Civil Rights Movement which clamored for the equal application of law for justice will be served in accordance to the doctrine enshrined in the Constitution. At this instance, it can be concluded that that death penalty is prejudicial against minorities on account of race, color and ethnicity. Capital punishment may only be to be imposed if it promotes the interest of fairness, equality, reasonableness, justice and no degree of racial or ethnic discrimination is observed during the whole criminal justice process.
In the similar case of People v. Anderson, the court held that the imposing capital punishment is degrading and brutalizing to the defendant since it will kill the human spirit for causing psychological torture (Colon, 2009). The convicted defendant who spends a lifetime sentence while on death row is equivalent to death for the second time. The defendant will undergo mental torture after learning that he or she was ordered by the court to suffer the penalty of death. For the convicted defendant, imagining his own death only increases his mental suffering. Colon (2009) stated that mental torture and emotional torture are inherent in death penalty. The feeling of the defendants who are about to face death row results to an emotional turmoil as such individual expects his or her inevitable death through electrocution, gas chamber, or lethal injections. Ordering the death of the defendant will violate the right to life while anticipating death to come soon. Thinking about death in repeated times, even prior to the actual execution is the same as experiencing your own death several times before the date of the execution (Colon, 2009).
It bears stressing the importance of Immanuel Kant’s theory which states that the sense of proportionality in punishing a criminal cannot be achieved by applying the simple mentality of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth” since the jury has to determine the blameworthiness of the defendant on the basis of the mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding the case (Colon, 2009). During the recent years, death penalty has not been observed by majority of the states in the U.S. due to conservatism and interference of the Church. The religious sector argues that retribution cannot be equivalent to vengeance since the purpose of punishment is to make the defendant accountable for the crime for violating the laws of the community.
Death penalty is discriminatory and places a burden on the defendant brought about by the delays during the interim of sentencing and execution. Such scenario contradicts the main objective of the punishment which is to serve as a crime deterrent. Colon (2009) pointed out that the lengthy postponements before the day of the convict faces execution disregards the moral fiber. This has been the moral outcry of the people participated the anti-death penalty campaigns. Perry (2007) stated that although there had been reports that death penalty can prevent crimes in the future, there is also a possibility that the jury may wrongly convict an innocent man which causes an irreparable mistake. On the economical aspect, it is recommended that death penalty should be abolished since it may bring savings for the government by doing away with litigation costs and other expenses that will be spent during trials for the work force who will record the transcripts and carry-out criminal investigations.
Capital punishment is not an effectual approach to prevent future crimes since it is exposed to abuses. Anti-death penalty supporters maintain that it is only God who gave life to man, who has the right to impose death. The Eighth Amendment prohibited any “cruel and unusual punishment” since killing of man through barbaric methods such a lethal injection and electrocution is not an assurance that criminality in the community will end. It is recommended that death penalty should be completely abolished since it violated the Eighth Amendment based on the following reasons: First, the delays between sentencing and executions aggravate the cruel and unusual punishment in itself; and secondly, the delay in giving the punishment indicates that the purpose retribution and deterrence cannot be achieved. The delays can be considered prolonging the agony and pain of the defendant who is ordered to suffer capital punishment only frustrates the ends of justice (Colon, 2009). To conclude, the state-sanctioned executions exceed the severity dimension even if it believed to be an effective approach to deter crimes. Therefore, capital punishment is considered as an even worse fate than the possibility of a lifetime of imprisonment (Bedau and Cassel, 2005).
Bedau, H.and Cassell P.G. (2005). Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
Colon, S. (2009).Capital Crime: How California's Administration of the Death Penalty Violates the Eighth Amendment, California Law Review, 97 Calif. L. Rev. 1377.
Mandery, E. J. (2005). Capital Punishment: A Balanced Examination. Canada: Jones and Bartlett Publisher.
Perry, M. (2007). Symposium Article: Is Capital Punishment Unconstitutional? And even if we think it is, Should we want the Supreme Court to so Rule? Georgia Law Review, 41 Ga. L. Rev. 867.
Powell v. Alabama 287 U.S. 45 (1932).