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Flaws of 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 prisoner's 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." In other words, society has long since 
left behind the archaic and barbous "customs" from the cruel "eye for 
an eye" anti-human caves of religion- another factor that should
raise immediate misgivings for freethinkers.

 State killings are morally bankrupt. Why do governments kill 
people to show other people that killing people is wrong? Humanity 
becomes associated with murderers when it replicate their deeds. Would 
society allow rape as the penalty for rape or the burning of 
arsonists' homes as the penalty for arson?

 The state should never have the power to murder its subjects. 
To give the state this power eliminates the individual's 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. Yet. if it wasn't for the sensationalism
surrounding an execution, the media exposure would not have occurred 
in the first place. 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, indigent black 
man. Clinton couldn't 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 almost inevitably 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 at the they were arrested. 
The majority 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 such 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 executed(Long 79).

 Innocent people can-and have been-executed. With the death 
penalty errors are irreversible. According to a 1987 study, 23 people 
who were innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted were 
executed between 1900 and 1985(Long 79). Until human judgement becomes 
infallible, this problem alone is reason enough to abolish the death 
penalty at the hands of the state more dedicated to vengeance than to 
truth and justice.

 Executions do not save money. There are those who cry that we, 
the taxpayers, shouldn't have to "support" condemned people for an 
entire lifetime in prison-that we should simply "eliminate" them and 
save ourselves time and money. The truth is that the cost of state 
killing is up to three times the cost of lifetime imprisonment(Long 
80). Judges and others are reluctant- as they should be-to shorten the 
execution process for fear that hasty procedures will lead to the
executions of more innocent people. The death penalty has been imposed 
most for murders committed during the course of another felony. 
Aggravating circumstances for murder are defined in the applicable 
death penalty statute. Circumstances considered for murder include:

-The crime was particularly vile, atrocious, or cruel.
-There were multiple victims.
-The crime occurred during the commission of another felony.
-The victim was a police or correctional officer in the line of duty.
-The offender was previously convicted of a capital offense or violent 
-The offender directed an accomplice to commit the murder or committed 
the murder at the direction of another person.

(Flanders 12)

 In the novel, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, the main 
characters Dick and Perry were guilty of several of the circumstances 
that eventually led to their demise:

-The multiple victims included all four of the Clutter family. 
-The event occurred during an attempted robbery. 
-Both were former inmates and had previous dealings with the law.
-Dick had chosen Perry for his instinct as a "Natural Born Killer".

Further,it seems that both Dick and Perry fell almost directly under 
the common background of one convicted of death. The death penalty is 
flawed in many facets. Juries in rural counties are more likely to 
impose the death penalty than those in urban areas. Dick and Perry
were convicted in Garden City, a small to moderate sized town. Both 
Dick and Perry were unemployed, poor, white criminals whose actions 
wrecked havoc not only on the remaining Clutter family and relatives, 
but on the entire town of Holcomb and surrounding areas. This only 
justifies and reinforces the points stated above that capital 
punishment is biased, racist, and is harmful not only to the offenders 
themselves, but to the entire community. Opposition to the death 
penalty finally acheived its goal when in 1972 the Supreme Court 
struck down death penalty laws, finding fault not with the theory, but 
with the method. However, all was lost when four years later, the
decision was once more revised and ruled the death penalty once more 
legal. Death row will continue to expand. It is almost certain that 
the rising level of executions will be widely condemned. The future of 
capital punishment may finally come down to the question of expense. A 
single capital trial now costs millions of dollars. The enormous 
volume of continuing appeals strain both federal and state court
systems. Unless workable solutions are found to the practical 
difficulties involved in the administration of the death penalty. 
American society eventually may decide to significantly restrict or 
even abandon capital punishment.

Works Cited

Flanders, Stephen A. Capital Punishment. New York, NY: Facts on File, 

Long, Robert Emmet. Criminal Sentencing. New York, NY: H.W. Company, 



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