The Death Penalty
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The Death Penalty
Capital Punishment has been part of the criminal justice system since the earliest of times. The Babylonian Hammurabi Code (ca. 1700 B.C.) decreed death for crimes as minor as the fraudulent sale of beer (Flanders 3). Egyptians could be put to death for disclosing the location of sacred burial sites (Flanders 3). However, in recent times opponents have shown the death penalty to be racist, barbaric, and in violation with the United States Constitution as “cruel and unusual punishment.” In this country, although laws governing the application of the death penalty have undergone many changes since biblical times, the punishment endures, and controversy has never been greater.
A prisoners death wish cannot grant a right not otherwise possessed. Abolitionists maintain that the state has no right to kill anyone; . The right to reject life imprisonment and choose death should be respected, but it changes nothing for those who oppose the death at the hands of the state.
The death penalty is irrational- a fact that should carry considerable weight with rationalists. As Albert Camus pointed out, ” Capital punishment….has always been a religious punishment and is reconcilable with humanism.”
State killings are morally bankrupt. By continuing with the death penalty it is telling people that its absolutely right to kill another human being. Humanity becomes associated with murderers when it replicates their deeds. The state should never have the power to murder its subjects. To give the state this power eliminates the individuals most effective shield against tyranny of the majority and is inconsistent with democratic principles.
Family and friends of murder victims are further victimized by state killings. Quite a few leaders in the abolishment movement became involved specially because someone they loved was murdered. Family of victims repeatedly stated they wanted the murderer to die. One of the main reasons, in addition to justice, was they wanted all the publicity to be over. Murderers would be quietly and safely put away for life with absolutely no possibility for parole.
The death penalty violates constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. The grotesque killing of Robert Harris by the state of California on April 21,1992 and similar reports of witnesses to hangings and lethal injections should leave
doubt that the dying process can be and often is grossly inhumane, regardless of method (Flanders 16).
The death penalty is often used for political gain. During his presidential gain, President Clinton rushed home for the Arkansas execution of Rickey Ray Rector, a mentally retarded, black man. Clinton couldnt take the chance of being seen by voters as ” soft on crime.”Political Analysts believe that when the death penalty becomes an issue in a campaign, the candidate favoring capital punishment will benefit.
Capital punishment discriminates against the poor. Although murderers come
from all classes, those on death row are almost without exception poor and were living in poverty when they were arrested. The majorities of death-row inmates were or are represented by court appointed public defenders and the state is not obligated to provide
an attorney at all for appeals beyond the state level.
The application of capital punishment is racist. About 40 percent of death-row inmates are black, whereas only 8 percent of the population as a whole are black (Flanders 25). In cases with white victims, black defendants were four to six times more likely to receive death sentences than white defendants who had similar criminal histories. Studies show that the chance for a death sentence is up to five to ten times greater in cases with white victims than black victims (Flanders 25). In the criminal justice system, the life of a white person is worth more than the life of a black person.
The mentally retarded are victimized by the death penalty. Since 1989, when the Supreme Court upheld killing of the mentally retarded, at least four executions have occurred. According to the Southern Center for Human Rights, at least 10 percent of death row inmates in the United States are mentally retarded (Long 79).
Juveniles are subject to the death penalty. Since state execution of juveniles also became permissible in the decision cited above, at least five people who were juveniles when their crimes were committed have been executed (Long79).