When it comes to sensitive issues that constantly divides the public even at the present, the topic regarding the death penalty would often spring to mind. This form of punishment was originally meant for those who have committed the highest form of treason known to man, but now became a socio-political issue that now raises the ire of many due to its somewhat “barbaric” notions. Opponents to the use of the death penalty indicate that it is a violation to moral and social stands, violating a man’s right to life. Supporters, on the other hand, highlight that its presence helps reduce the instances of crimes from growing and it is still legal under certain traditions and religions. Although advocacy regarding abolishing the death penalty is becoming popular, many question the capacity of death penalty alternatives to deliver justice because retentionist countries do record instances that death penalty active manages to stave of crime. This proposal aims to determine as to what can be done to improve the death penalty as an acceptable and effective form of punishment for those who are guilty of heinous crimes.
In the United States, several policies have been placed to try and correct the current capital punishment system in the country. According to Kimball (2000), Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Russell Feingold (D-WI) had introduced in 2000 S 2463 or the National Death Penalty Moratorium Act, which immediately ordered the suspension of executions throughout the country while the entire capital punishment scheme is reviewed by a delegated national commission. Under this Act, the commission would determine if the death penalty has been given fairly to the accused and determine as to whether the process has been done under constitutional provisions. Aside from S. 2463, HR 4162 or the Accuracy in Judicial Administration Act of 2000 was also introduced by Representative Jesse Jackson (IL). The Act would order a 7 year moratorium to permit all death row convicts to request case reviews and DNA sampling which could remove their sentences. A state, under this Act, would also need to device their own ruling and procedures to ensure that DNA testing and other exculpatory evidences would be reviewed through the due process and approved accordingly. Finally, the Innocence Protection Act of 2000 was also introduced in both Senate and Congress as a means to ensure that all evidences (especially biological evidences) would be preserved accordingly for potential use in the future. It also increases the standards when it comes to lawyer competency and reduce the possibility of the federal government in pressing for the death penalty in states which have abolished it .
In order to make the death penalty acceptable to all parties, this researcher proposes a complete overhaul of the judicial process as to who is eligible to be placed under the death penalty, what crimes should include a death penalty sentence, and protocols on possible amnesty and case review. The overhaul process can be done with the joint effort of the US Supreme Court, the US Department of Justice, both Houses of Congress, and representatives from various public sectors (most especially the religious and human rights groups) and the general public. Once a specific draft has been devised, these representatives must now deliver the discussion to the public (through a town hall meeting) so they can raise their position regarding the amendments to the death penalty.
These discussions may take 1 to 2 years depending on the deliberation done by panel representatives and the town hall meetings. The US government can also get ideas from international organizations like the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The panel should then forward their proposal to both Houses of Congress for deliberation so they may formalize the amendments to the country’s current capital punishment laws. If one considers the considerations and the House’s procedures for passing new amendments or bills, enforcing the amendment to the capital punishment process may take one full term before a final version can be given to the President for signing. With regards to funding, the funds can come in part of the public’s taxes as it is still under the government’s jurisdiction and operations.
There are three specific reasons as to why this proposal should be taken into consideration by all concerned parties, especially retentionist countries, who wish to improve the capital punishment system. First, reconsidering the current parameters of the death penalty across the country can enable legislators to correct areas wherein possible error can occur. In the article done by the Leadership Conference (2002), various commissions such as the 2002 Ryan Commission, which determined 85 recommendations for reforming the investigation, eligibility and prosecution policies when it comes to the death penalty. The report had even stressed that reforming the policy would ensure that the law enforcers and judges would be fair and reliable once they stress the importance of the death penalty .
Second, there is actually proof that death penalty can indeed reduce the number of crimes committed in the country. According to Dezhbakhsh and Shepherd (2006), when the US had imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in the 1960s, there was a visible increase to the country’s murder rates by up to 6.3%. However, when it was returned back in 1976, there was a high drop on murder rates given the presence of the death penalty . Finally, revising the death penalty proposal would also ensure that the innocents who were wrongfully accused would be given a chance to appeal for their cases. Chang (2009) stated that a complete overhaul of the system would ensure that capital punishment can be rescinded especially if evidences (like DNA) shows a man’s innocence. Currently, there are eight states who do not have policies on allowing DNA evidence to be used as an evidence to stopping a death penalty sentence and there have been cases wherein death row convicts were killed and discovered innocent in these states .
Opponents and their Arguments
This proposal would no doubt gain the ire of human rights and religious groups who consider this form of punishment as barbaric and against the morals of both religion and society. The first argument these abolitionists to the death penalty would raise, as stated by Amnesty International (2010) is the fact that the death penalty is against a person’s human rights. The United Nations, after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, had clearly stressed that each person should be given the right to live even if they are proven guilty of a crime. Criminals are also disabled from being with their love ones before their sentence and there are even cases wherein these criminals are treated like animals once the sentence is over .
Opponents to the death penalty would also argue, as stated by Kirchmeier (2006), that the number of death row convicts often show that there are innocents included in the trial. Several studies have identified certain cases in the United States from 1980 to present wherein the convicted prisoner was actually innocent. Most of these innocent convicts have even appealed to the courts but to no avail . Finally, Blume, Eisenberg and Wells (2004) reported that there are instances wherein the death penalty was given based on a person’s race and gender. Most of America’s death row convicts are African Americans or those from the minority and there are even cases wherein these convicts are given the harshest death penalty sentence .
It is the intention of this researcher to direct this proposal towards religious and human rights groups, as well as to the general public skeptical over the death penalty. It may be true that the death penalty itself is questionable especially when it comes to religion and social norms, but looking at its history and true intent, one cannot easily dismiss it. The appeals regarding a total overhaul of the judicial process and the possibility of amnesty or case review would gain these groups attention because one of their clear arguments against capital punishment are reports of innocents placed on the death row. Another appeal that these groups may take into consideration is the chance to aid in the amendment process. If everything is left to the government, it is likely several key points that may be missed would not be considered in the final draft of the death penalty revision.
Deciding as to whether or not the death penalty or capital punishment should be rescinded or retained is a difficult notion that may remain unresolved in the near future. While there are nations who have already abolished the punishment and reported improvements on the reduction of innocents and crime, full abolition may be unlikely especially for nations who still see its value and its effectiveness. There are also considerations that should be considered by opposing forces with regards to why retentionist countries still have the death penalty. This proposal hopes to create a compromise between the two opposing ends as to what can be done to make capital punishment acceptable and an effective repellant to crimes. Although advocating the death penalty will gain immense opposition, the fact that it can be tempered to be directed to those who are indeed most at fault can be a start to ensuring that this sentence would not be abused or haphazardly directed to people.
Amnesty International. (2010). General Assembly Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty. New York: Amnesty International.
Blume, J., Eisenberg, T., & Wells, M. (2004). Explaining Death Row's Population and Racial Composition. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 1(1), 165-207.
Chang, S. (2009). Protecting the Innocent: Post-Conviction DNA Exoneration. Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, 36(2), 285-306.
Dezhbakhsh, H., & Shepherd, J. (2006). The deterrent effect of capital punishment: Evidence from a "Judicial Experiment". Economic Inquiry, 44(3), 512-535.
Kimball, F. (2000). The Death Penalty on Trial. Washington, D.C.: Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Kirchmeier, J. (2006). Dead innocent: The death penalty abolitionist search for a wrongful execution. Tulsa Law Review, 42(2), 403-435.
The Leadership Conference. (2002). Supreme Court and State Legislatures Tackle the Death Penalty Issues. Civil Rights Monitor, 12(2), 1.