It has been a long standing debate for over thousands of decades whether or not imposition of capital punishment is an effective means to deter commission of crimes. Advocates of capital punishment or death penalty makes reference to the biblical passage from Exodus 21:23-25, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a tooth for a tooth,” which means that for every wrong done, there must be a compensating measure of justice. While on the other hand, the group who believes that capital punishment is severe, degrading, inhuman, brutal and cruel sentence, and it is only God who is the giver of life, shall be the one to take it. Death is truly grave punishment. “The calculated killing of a human being by the State involves, by its very nature, a denial of the executed person’s humanity. An individual in prison does not lose the right to have rights. A prison remains a member of the human family” (Mandery, 167).
Thesis: The capital punishment is unconstitutional since it is a violation of the right to life and has not been proven as an effective deterrent of crimes.
According to Justice Stewart, “death penalty sentences are cruel in the sense that they excessively go beyond, not in degree, but in kind, the punishment that the legislatures have determined to be necessary. It is equally clear that these sentences are unusual in the sense that penalty of death is infrequently imposed for murder, and that its imposition on rape for rape is extraordinarily rare. The infliction of death penalty is impermissible in all circumstances under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments” (Mandery, 172).
On the other hand, the report of Even Mandery stated that Justice White addresses the constitutionality of the capital punishment under the three (3) issues:
1. “The legislature authorizes the imposition of death penalty for murder or rape;
2. The legislature does not itself mandate the penalty in any particular class or kind of case, but delegates to judges or juries the decisions as to those cases, if any in which the penalty will be utilized; and
3. Judges and juries have ordered the death penalty with such infrequency that the odds are now very much against imposition and execution of the penalty with respect to any convicted murderer or rapist. Thus, it must be considered whether its execution is in violation of the Eighth Amendment” (173).
In the case of Furman V. Georgia (1972), the High Court ruled that death penalty was a cruel and unusual punishment because it violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. There was a violation of the equal protection clause, which is a guaranteed right under the Fourteenth Amendment. Although this case invalidated majority of the capital punishment statutes in the country, the court did not abolish the death penalty completely. It merely stated that capital punishment will be permitted if it can be shown that the punishment was applied more fairly, consistently and without forming any biases.
While in the case of Gregg V. Georgia (1976), the Supreme Court rejected the stance that death penalty was per se cruel, unusual and degrading punishment. The court held further that the Georgia statute involving capital punishment will have to comply with trial procedures and appeal process to prevent the arbitrary and capricious imposition of the penalty (Latzer and McCord 67).
In the similar case of Mc Cleskey V. Kemp (1987), the court held that capital punishment was constitutional. However, the opponents of death penalty argued that the African-Americans were discriminately sentenced the penalty of death than the whites. It is highly probable that the blacks were more likely to die at the hands of the state (Gershman 77).
The accused Mc Cleskey was an African-American male who was convicted for two counts of armed robbery and one count of murder for killing a white victim. During the interim of this case, there was study conducted by three professors, Baldus, Woodworth and Pulaski researched on more 2,000 criminal cases. Mc Cleskey relied on the study conducted by these professors and he arrived at a conclusion that the defendants who were charged for the murder of white victims has a greater chance of being sentence to suffer death penalty than the white defendants who killed black Americans. It was also clear based on the report made that African-Americans were already pre-judged to receive the penalty of death, no matter who their victims are. In assumption, the black defendants are far more likely the ones who are being maliciously targeted to suffer capital punishment for murder of white victims. Using these facts, Mc Cleskey charged the death penalty statute of Georgia for being biased and unjust on the basis of racial discrimination. Hence, he further stated that the death penalty was unconstitutional and violative of the Eighth Amendment for failure to observe the equal protection clause. He averred that there is injustice done because white defendants are being favored that the blacks regardless of the fact that they are being tried for the same offense. They are not treated equally and the basis for conviction is unreasonable.
The Supreme Court held that in this case that capital punishment was constitutional. Although there apparent discrepancies based on the assumptions of Mc Cleskey, without any showing that the discrimination was intentional, there was failure to justify why it should not be implemented. The held further that the implementation of death penalty does not appear to be cruel and unusual punishment and borders on the concept of decency by streamlining the process of limiting the possible pool of executable defendants. The Court identified the crimes that will correspond to the penalty of death such as rape, murder, treason. (Gershman 78).
However, the opponents of death penalty argued that the pool is restraining and it became apparent that death penalty extended beyond what is decent and cannot be considered acceptable by the American society and should be completely abolished in the justice system of the U.S.
Capital punishment is unconstitutional and has not been proven as an effective means to deter crimes. It is imposed discriminatorily against certain identifiable classes of people. Evidence has shown that innocent people have been executed before their innocence or guilt has been proven. It has not been established as an efficient deterrent of crime. Mandery reported that “The United Nations Committee study shows that there is no correlation between the existence of capital punishment and lower rates of capital crime”(176). It is in violation of the Eighth Amendment on the ground that it is not needed to achieve legitimate penal sanctions. It is a transgression of the Bill of Rights to guard the people against cruel and inhuman punishments.
Supporters of anti-death penalty movement attack the imposition on the basis of moral arguments such as the right to life and respect for human life. However, there are more serious underlying considerations that have to be raised to justify the abolition of death penalty. According to Bedau and Cassell, capital punishment will only be justified if it is proven that it is a necessary means to achieve a socially valid end (33). At present, it has not been proven that the penalty has been a deterrent for future crimes since heinous crimes are still evident in our society. The government in a constitutional democracy that is built on principle of equal freedom and recognition of human rights must resort to less restrictive means to achieve a goal or purpose and which cannot be resolved by the imposition of death penalty (Bedau and Cassell 32). The state must recognize the individual right to privacy, liberty and autonomy as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land, the Constitution. These rights should not be violated and invaded deliberately without safeguarding the principle of due process. The purpose of punishment is retribution of the offender and can also be attained through a less severe penalty. It has not been verified that the punishment of death can remove or obliterate the lawless wrongdoing in the crime of murder. Therefore, it is only proper that death penalty should be eradicated in the US legal system. In closing, the opinion of Mandery is noteworthy when he stated that “Death penalty wreaks havoc our entire criminal justice system and violates one’s right to life because it shocks the conscience and sense of justice of society” (178).
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