The execution rate reached its peak of 98 executions in1999 after the Supreme Court has restored the imposition of capital punishment in 1976. However, there has been a significant change thereafter, since there was a downward trend in the executions due to the fact that there are some high-profile cases involving death row inmates, who had been acquitted after undergoing the DNA testing. According to the report of Christian Century, even though the number of the death row inmates who were executed in the year 2012 remained unchanged at 43 since 2011, the opponents of death penalty argued that the capital punishment will soon vanish.
Thesis Statement: The death imposition of the death penalty must be restored to promote the deterrent effect of execution of offenders who commit heinous crimes.
Death Penalty Statistics
In 2013, the state of Connecticut claims that there are at least 17 states that will eventually repeal the death penalty. Some of these states were reported to have high numbers of executions in the past. However, as of 2012, there had been no newly issued death sentences. Based on the statement of Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, the death penalty or capital punishment has become marginalized and meaningless in majority of the state in America. Dieter adds that in 2012, only a few number of states enforced the death penalty and only a limited number of these states carried out executions and death sentences and executions had been grouped in a small number of states.
Records show that inmates in the year 2012, there were only nine (9) states that carried out their executions. In the state of Texas alone, it executed 15 people who were on the death row. The other three states are Oklahoma, Mississippi and Arizona had implemented more than three-quarters of all state executions that were recorded. During the previous year, there were only 13 states that used the death penalty.
Death Penalty as a Crime Deterrent
According to Mandery, the death penalty has been proven to be an effective tool to deter crimes. Hence, the death penalty should not be abolished in order to lower the crime rate in society. Majority of the anti-death penalty groups contend that capital punishment or the death penalty is grave punishment for it results to the calculated killing of person with the consent of the. For them, the death penalty results to the denial of the right to life of the person who is being subjected to execution.
Most of deterrence researches have shown that the death penalty has about the same effect in comparison to long-term imprisonment taking the homicide rates as the point of reference. The significant deterrent effect of the death penalty was initially discovered by Isaac Ehrlich during the 1970s. Ehrlich’s study revealed that for every execution of the convicts on death row covering the years between 1933 and 1969 prevented eight (8) homicides (Radelet & Akers, 1996). It is undoubted that the waning support for the deterrence hypothesis of the death penalty later resulted on the basis of the empirical research made by criminologists headed by Thorsten Sellin. Based on Sellin’s report, results of the scores of that was collected and analyzed by the researchers revealed that the death penalty has a stronger deterrent effect on homicide rates as opposed to life imprisonment. There are legal scholar and experts made econometric studies in the 1970s who claimed that the results serve as an affirmation of the deterrent effect of the death penalty against heinous crimes. Such claim was subject of a major controversy and encountered criticisms. In fact, a panel was formed by the National Academy of Sciences headed by Nobel Laureate Lawrence R., Klein for the purpose of discrediting such claim. Klein thoroughly scrutinized the studies published by Ehrlich on his claims of the deterrent effect of the death penalty on future crimes. Klein, in his conclusion, stated that there is no clear and convincing evidence that showed the deterrent effect of the death penalty on the basis of the recent studies and data that was gathered. In fact, the research on the deterrent effect of the death penalty cannot produce concrete results to convince the position of the lawmakers. Thus, such statement remained to be the topic of scholarly debates for more two decades.
Another study conducted by Johnson in 2006 revealed that while it is true that the study of Ehrlich presented the significant deterrent effect of the death penalty on murder rates, some legal experts doubted Ehrlich’s findings. They claimed that some of the observations which passed judgment on the effectiveness of the death penalty did not consider important variables such as the availability of firearms and the shortening the length of time being served in prison for the crime of homicide. In fact, some legal scholars argued that the findings in Ehrlich’s study are biased since he only gathered the murder rates for the nation in its entirety without taking into account the death-penalty and abolitionist states individually. However, despite these criticisms, the censure on Ehrlich’s study cannot be effected since no other legal scholars were able to replicate the results in the study conducted by Ehrlich. It bears to stress that the more important argument that will validate the deterrent effect of the death penalty is that it has been proven to be a necessary means to achieve a socially valid end. The imposition of the death penalty is the most pervasive measure that will deter heinous crimes in the community. There are offenders who are driven by their sexual impulses to commit crimes such as rape with murder, incest, child molestation and other analogous crimes. One of the best ways to prevent these heinous crimes is imposing the penalty of death. This is based on the principle that an offender who perpetrated a brutal crime deserves to suffer the same ordeal as that of the victim.
Death Penalty being a cruel and unusual punishment
Majority of legal scholars and lawmakers believe that death penalty is cruel and degrading which is in contravention to the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. In the case of Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the Supreme Court held that the death penalty is a cruel, degrading, unusual and inhumane punishment, which is contrary to the Eighth Amendment. Thus, it is unjustifiable to impose the death penalty for it fails to serve as a deterrent for criminal activities in the future. The decision in the Greg case overturned the previous ruling in Furman v. Georgia (1972), where the High Court ruled that before imposing the death penalty, a rational process must be take place before the final verdict is reached, and thereafter the case shall be the subject of review.
On the other hand, the later case of Atkins v. Virginia (2002) maintained the previous ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Greg where it was held that the imposition of the death penalty and the execution of mentally retarded persons is a clear contravention of the Eighth Amendment. This was anchored on statutory provision of the constitution which states that the death penalty is considered as degrading, immoral, cruel and unusual punishment. However, this was criticized by Justice Rehnquist when he stated that the public opinion polls do not hold the majority opinion. Rehnquist claims that by giving credit to public opinion polls does not represent the entirety of the national consensus, nor does it provide a sufficient basis to interpret what is “cruel and unusual” punishment. Furthermore, if there was indeed a legal justification for such determination, the Eighth Amendment is silent regarding the measures to be considered as valid grounds.
In the more recent case of In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court held that the State cannot impose the death penalty upon the offender for the crime of child rape because such a sentence was unconstitutional. In this case, Patrick Kennedy was found guilty of raping his eight year-old stepdaughter in 1998 and was sentenced to suffer the death under Louisiana’s capital child-rape law. The Supreme Court held that the use of the death penalty for the crime of child rape violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
It bears to stress that in the same manner, there are several crimes that are being committed at present time, that do not give due respect for human rights. The act of inflicting severe wrongdoings against another deserves to suffer the penalty of death. There are three principles to analyze the death penalty as a cruel and unusual punishment. First, it is an evil which inflicts danger or harm to another. Secondly, the crime committed is regarded as a moral or legal offense which imposes punishment against the perpetrator who has done wrong. Lastly, the perpetrator has been found guilty for the commission of the crime.
Pojman argued the practice of execution or the death penalty has a strong connection to the principle of retribution. The victim who suffered from the wrongdoing of another deserves justice, and the perpetrator of the wrongdoing must be punished due to the vileness and viciousness of his actions. As a result, the death penalty serves as a deterrent to future serial killers and protects the society against the risk of sacrificing the lives of the innocent. It is more unfair to allow these innocent individuals to be exposed to brazen perpetrators if society will reject to cause the same suffering inflicted by these criminals. Therefore, there is a justifiable ground to impose the death penalty to deter the occurrence of heinous crimes in the future.
Is the Death Penalty Constitutional or not?
The death penalty is considered as an unconstitutional for it violates the right to life. This can be illustrated in the case of Damon Thibodeaux, who had served 15 years on death row, only to be eventually, freed on September, 2012 from Louisiana State Penitentiary after DNA results had shown that he was not guilty for committing the crime. He was the 300th inmate in the U.S. who was exonerated through DNA evidence through the help of non-profit organizations such as the Innocence Project, which aims to free the wrongly convicted persons. These cases represent the living proof that the criminal justice system in America is flawed and needs to be fixed.
Mandery stated that many of the anti-death advocates argued that death is an immoral punishment since it is cruel, severe, inhuman, brutal, and degrading for it shocks the conscience of society. The Roman Catholic Church claimed that it is only God who is the giver of life, who can take the life of another person. Given this line of reasoning, neither the state has the right to impose the death penalty to convicted felons. The severity of the punishment must be in accordance to the principle of equality as enunciated in the bible passage “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Such principle is based on the universal maxim that was developed by Immanuel Kant which provides that the criminal wills an action to himself. Hence, the undeserved evil which the perpetrator committed against the victim must be considered as having perpetuated the same evil to himself.
Justification for the imposition of the death penalty
The broader analysis should be made based on the discernment of the white people giving importance to social order. This is further strengthened by Kant’s argument on the principle of equality where “any undeserved evil that is done to another is an evil done to thy self. Hence, he who robs another, rob himself; he who commits slander, commits slander against himself; he who strikes another strikes himself; and one kills another, he kills his own self”. Before the death penalty should be imposed there elements to consider including the human behavior which bears weight in the overall assessment of the criminal liability of the offender. Thus, the death penalty cannot be imposed against offenders who suffer from insanity or mental disorder. Instead, these offenders must be given proper mental health facility for treatment. Under the positivist theory in criminal law, every criminal is regarded as a mentally sick person that demands for medical attention. The rationale behind the imposition of the death penalty is to promote equality, instead of regarding it as a matter of individual accountability and social order. The death penalty to be considered as a fair punishment must be assessed based on political necessity, and not merely by public opinion.
Many opponents of the death penalty maintain that the death penalty or capital punishment may be imposed discriminatorily against certain class of people on the basis of race.. However, studies revealed that there exists no direct relation between the death penalty and lower rates of capital crime. The strong support for the restoration of the death penalty is popular among the white community who give high regard for social order. The imposition of the death penalty is attributable to the concept of retribution. Hence, any person who was done wrong should seek justice against the wrong doer, who deserves to be punished for his actions. Therefore, the death penalty will serve as a deterrent to future murderers by protecting the exposure to risk of innocent lives. The response of the public on the imposition of the death penalty must not be dependent on personal attitudes, characteristics or opinion. Rather, other factors must be taken into account including the local murder rate, education level, and racial composition of a country.
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