Death Penalty Sample


Justice/legal system is one of the crucial and critical aspects in the society. Arriving at an honorable verdict there should be appropriate, sound and exhaustive evidence supporting the verdict. The society entrusts the judiciary with the legal process. This shows the community beliefs in the field of fair, rightful and precise judgment when dealing with contentious cases. The doctrine of the religion supports rightful judgment and penalties that are in line with the crime committed. This is referred to as retribution, meaning that there must be punishment for wrong-doers, which is appropriate to the harm caused by the criminal act. However, the death punishment has remained to be one of the contentious legal issues in the world. Even in those countries where the death penalty is accepted as a law, there are mixed opinions concerning the topic. The most painful part of this conviction is when the decision made is wrong. This leads to termination of a person’s life only to realize later that the crime was wrongly evidenced. The morals, values and right of the victim are violated in cases of wrong conviction and the society feels indebted to such decisions. From time immemorial, different forms of punishment in a society are governed by social, cultural, political and religious factors.

Despite the fact that the victims should be accorded their rightful justice, the religion prohibits taking away an individual’s life. Together with the human right agencies, they have been on the forefront in the campaign against capital penalty. The main question is raised on the legitimacy and propriety of the verdict. It may have helped in reducing the number of lethal crimes in the society, but its efficacy is also left open for evaluation. Among the countries that have ramified death punishment is America. However, the final decision to implement the penalty is left in the hands of each state. The concern for legalizing death penalty was more supported by the US citizens rather than the policy making bodies. The research will explore the avenues regarding the death penalty as a law in the world with a focus on wrongful conviction.

Wrongful conviction has been described as a misjudged verdict that results from inadequate evidence supporting the culprit as being not guilty of the charges filed against him or her. The death sentence is also referred to as the capital punishment in legal terms. Capital punishment is defined in American law as “the state sanctioned termination of criminal offender’s life”. Capital punishment works on the theory of deterrence. This means that the members of the society refrain from engaging into acts that are penalized by death since the fear of losing their life. In so doing, the criminal cases, which can lead to the punishment through death, decline dramatically in the society. Deterrence can either be individual or general. Individual deterrence is the fear inflicted to the crime offender, while general deterrence is the fear imposed to the society by the law. The policy makers assume that the society stops committing certain type of crimes by giving a severe punishment. However, the wrath of the law is maximally felt once an example suffers the fate. However, critics of capital punishment state that it increases the crime rate in the society. This theory is referred to as brutalization where culprits engage in acts deemed to challenge the law.

Justice does not exist in a vacuum. There must be supportive authorities in the society that support the passage of the law. The society and the political systems have to uphold the law for it to be effective in reducing crime in the society. In this footing, capital punishment is seen as the best approach in facilitating incapacitation. This is the ideology where criminals are supposed to be separated from the society with the aim of avoiding the occurrence of such crimes in the future. The State control of taking somebody’s life assists in both reducing ruthless criminal cases in the communities and sending a signal to those of similar minded.

Importance of the study

Evaluating the progress, expectations and consequences of the death penalty in the society will enable the society to make a sound decision on the effectiveness of the matter. In the realization of the importance of the study, probing questions have been established. Does the death penalty reduce crime in the USA? How effective is the law? What are the possible causes of wrong conviction in death penalty cases?

The US citizens have consistently expressed their concern that killers and other criminals worth incapacitation should receive this final incapacitation “death penalty”. Going through previous studies helps in analyzing reality on the ground regarding the applicability and the repercussions of capital punishment. This will act as a ground report in judging the credibility of supporter and critics of the law. The legal system offers different kinds of punishment with the aim of achieving either all or some of the four key objectives. These objectives include avoidance, preclusion, rehabilitation and payback to the affected individuals (Livingston, 2010). The most effective method is ensuring that the society avoids criminal acts. This will result to minimal negative recursion in the society. The death penalty is viewed by it supporters as a core approach in promoting avoidance in involving with the criminal acts. Therefore, the mixed interest and opinions in capital punishment are the main issues of the study.

Law related to the death penalty

Death sentence was affirmed in the US legal system in 1976. There has been heated debate among the states in US regarding the authenticity of killing a human being as a form of punishment. The force behind the institutionalization of the death penalty in the American legal system was the American citizens. Polls after polls, there have been increased support for the punishment. In a study conducted in 1981 by Gallup Poll institution, over 66 percent of American citizens expressed their concern on supporting the death penalty (Snell, 2010). The opinion recorded an increment four years later when results showed that seventy two percent of US citizens supported the death penalty. Ten years later, the supporters of the punishment hit the 80 percent mark (Snell, 2010). However, in 2001, the support for death sentence decreases to 65 percent of the citizens endorsing the law. However, a number of US states have not accepted the death penalty in their legal process. The process of ramification has been faced with strong opposition from abolitionists.

The U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is one of the laws that have been seen to contradict with the capital punishment in America. Being a member of the UN nations, America found its stake in the dilemma. However, ten years after signing the convention (1984) America ratified the agreement. According to America, there was not collusion of the two laws since it depends on a state how the term torture is defined. The UN treaty was aimed at prohibiting both physical and psychological extortion and abuse of individuals in detention. The US government has listed down the specific offences that are punishable by death penalty. These offenses include murder related to smuggling of aliens, destruction of transport media that results to death of citizens, civil right offenses resulting in death, assassination and/or kidnapping of the President or Vice President among others (Dieter, 1998).

The major methods of executing death penalty, in the USA, include lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging and the firing squad. Among the five, lethal injection is the commonly used method and it is also approved by 35 American states. According to Snell, 2010, a total of 1,137 inmates have faced lethal injection for their death penalty. Those who have been executed by electrocution amounts to 157 individuals, and 11 inmates were executed in gas chamber. Hanging and squad firing have been used in three cases.

Research related to the death penalty

Researchers have conducted an extensive research on death penalty. The first case to be recorded in America concerning the death penalty was in 1608, when Spanish captain was convicted to death for bringing a secret spy in America. Since then, over twenty thousand people have faced the wrath of the law. According to a research done by Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert 2004, the percentage of individuals supporting the death sentence was seen to be higher among the white citizens that those from representing the black community. A possible explanation may be a prejudice among the white people against black. On the same footing, blacks were associated with crime more than whites. Therefore, they voted in favor of abolishing the law. Along the gender line, more men supported the death penalty than women, in the USA. In 2002, Whitehead and Blankenship discovered that the old generation was more in favor of the death sentence as compared to young people. Liberalization among institutions of higher learning has been noted as the core reason for reduction in the number of graduates supporting capital punishment.

Support of the death penalty has been criticized by researchers, complaining about weak methodologies. For instance, a research conducted by Ehrlich between 1930 and 1960 has been widely rejected by researchers since it generalized the result to cover the whole America, leaving the differences in the states widely open (Kel, 2009). The influence of religion on the issue of death penalty has also been evaluated by researchers. In 2004, Bjarnason carried out a study to evaluate the catholic position on death penalty and support among the citizens regarding this law. Followers of the religion supported the death penalty, while their leaders were so strong in objecting the law. This was a qualitative descriptive study, done in three states, namely Texas, California and Ohio.

The magnitude of death penalties, passed in the American legal system, varies from state to state. In a study conducted in 2000, regarding the numbers of capital punishment approved in America, Leibman recorded that there were a total of 4,578 death penalty petitions between 1973 and 1995. A total of 3,052 petitions were approved after reevaluation and realization that the prevision verdict had defects. This report elicited the topic of wrong conviction among those who have something to do with the death penalty in the country. The worse effect of the law is to charge innocent individuals with the death penalty. Once the victim goes through the sentence it is outrightly impossible to reverse the sentence. Therefore, the credibility of the sentence stands critical evaluation and support. Under the same topic of wrong conviction, Stanford Law Review and Tufts University reported the number of individuals who suffered the wrath of capital sentence in an unjust way. A total of over 350 individuals were sentenced to death, yet reevaluation revealed that they were established to be innocent (Kel, 2009).

The effectiveness of the death penalty in reducing crime in the society was also doubted following a report published in New York Times in 2000. Deterrence was considered as futile in favor of brutalization among that state in over 60 % of states conducting death sentence. The report, which involved collection of data from the law enforcement authorities and cases in the courts, indicated that murder rates were higher in states conducting death sentences compared to those with no Death Penalty. This was in reference to the country’s murder rate over the same period. States with Death Penalty recorded a 35% murders cases higher that those with no death penalties. The rate rose to 37% in 2001, 37.7 % in 2002 and 36.9%in 2003. This was also echoed by a study conducted by Bailey, documented in 2005. According to Bailey, the effect of death penalty and its deterrence theory would be eminently reflected on the rate of cases reported in states with death penalty. However, comparing criminal rates in different states showed little and to some extent no evidence supporting deterrence theory.

On the issue of the cost of death penalties, researchers have affirmed that capital punishments are way too expensive. In a study reported in Times Magazine, evaluating the cost of running death sentences in the USA, it was reported that Arkansas saved a total of over $1.5million in a case where 15 inmates’ death penalties were declined in a petition. In 1977 and 1993, California State lost roughly $ 1billion on cases related to death penalties only to execute two criminals. These findings were reported by the Sacramento Bee.

According to Snell, 2010, the American legal system executed a total of 52 inmates in the year 2009. The leading state in conducting these executions was Texas, with a total of 24 cases. The number reduced in 2010 to 45 inmates. A common similarity is the mode of execution employed by the law implementers. 51 of 52 death punishments imposed in 2009 were conducted by lethal injection. In 2011, a total of 43 inmates were convicted to death penalty. In all the cases, Texas has the leading number of death penalties (Snell, 2010). According to UN, torturing is not allowed in country members, yet they do not prohibit death penalty.

Death penalty in actual cases

There are ample cases of wrongful convictions in American history. An example is Gordon “Randy” Steidl. Steidl was set free in 2004 after a reevaluation of his case. This was what can be called as “justice delayed is justice denied”. In his case, there was wrong evidence coined and modified by the then investigating body. He was accused of participating in murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoads in 1987. The poor trial procedure had found the man guilty and imposed the death penalty. Luckily, he was offered an appeal for his case in 1999. The appeal jury charged the man with life imprisonment without parole. This was after the jury was convinced that Steidl case was not worth a death sentence. In what seemed to be a wave of justice at last, judge Michael McCuskey ruled for reevaluation of Steidl case. In 2003, the evidence presented to the court failed to fully support the involvement of Steidl in the murder. There was no DNA supporting the case. This finally led to freeing the culprit (Death Penalty information Center, 2012).

Another case illustrating wrong conviction is that one of Ryan Matthews convicted to a death sentence in Louisiana in 1999. Matthews was accused of a murder where the plaintiff described the murderer as being not taller than 5’8 feet. Matthews was 6 feet tall. However, there was no DNA test to prove that the accused individual was guilty. The prosecutor had no DNA evidence that could support the claim. However, the judge ordered the jury to move on and arrive at a decision concerning the case without the DNA evidence. The jury agreed that the defendant was guilty, and thus a death penalty was imposed. Years later, the lawyer representing the defendant presented a new proof supporting that the client was innocent. The DNA test was done on a mask that was believed to belong to the murderer and it did not match with the DNA of Matthews. In 2004, Matthews was released (Death Penalty information Center, 2012).

The wrongful conviction almost took the life of another American citizen. Curtis Edward McCarty was convicted in Oklahoma in 1986. The jury found him guilty of murdering a police officer’s daughter. The person leading the investigation provided hair and semen as part of the evidence supporting the case that the culprit was guilty. However, there was no DNA evidence since at the time when DNA was to be conducted, the presented hair went missing. After 25 years in jail, Edward was set free after the DNA test proved that the defendant was innocent. The semen offered the final decision in setting Edward since it was realized that the clients DNA did not match that one of the semen sample. The reason behind this wrong conviction was the lack of sound evidence since the supportive hair DNA went missing (Death Penalty information Center, 2012).

In a most recent encounter, Damon Thibodeaux suffered the fate of losing his life in the name of justice. In 1997 in Louisiana, Damon was found guilty of raping and murdering his cousin in 1996. Damon laments, after being granted freedom and a chance to live again, that he was willing to give the investigation department anything they wanted to hear just to be through with the interrogation. He claimed to have been forced and tortured to agree to the terms that he was guilty. The police used several approaches to force him to cooperate with them. However, on a verdict passed on September 28, 2012, the judiciary dismissed the evidence supporting that Damon was guilty. This was proved after evaluation which revealed that he was coerced in the interrogation room to accept that he was responsible of the complaints (Blackmon, 2012).

These are some of the cases that illustrate the negative repercussion of death penalties and their detrimental effects on the society. Innocent people may be erroneously convicted, and a verdict of a death penalty imposed. In such cases, the judiciary may be regarded as the most injustice system in the society which helps in raising the number of murder and death of innocent people. This can lead to loss of trust in the judicial system. The effect, which can arise from lack of trust in the system, can be exceedingly detrimental in the rule of law and the justice seeking process.

Remedies of wrongful conviction

Wrong convictions can be minimized through enforcement of adequate evidence and legal framework that seeks to exhaust all avenues of supportive evidence. The jury should use evidence based approach in arriving at their decision rather than personal opinions and understanding of the case. Lack of firm undisputable facts connecting the victim with the crime should be used in imposing the judgment. The members of the judicial system passing a death sentence should be people with in-depth understanding of both the law and the people behaviors. The interrogation team should not in any way use coercive means in trying to convict the client. The most valid evidence to be used in death penalty should be a DNA test. Most of the death penalties which have been overturned used DNA tests to nullify the verdict.


America is one of the countries in the world where the death penalty is allowed. However, in America the states have the final word on the death penalties and thus not all state implement this form of conviction. Texas leads in the number of cases where the death penalty has been imposed. Wrongful conviction in the context of death penalty is the worst and most injustice decision that can be taken by the jury. In the history of American legal framework, death penalty has remained a contentious issue which arouses heated debates. The citizens’ opinions concerning capital punishment have been varying with time, age, and ethnicity. A general overview depicts that the citizens’ support of death sentence is due to the inhuman criminal acts that are worth punishment by death. The cases of wrong conviction illustrate the defective evidence evaluation process. Reliable evidence needs to be established especially through a DNA test. This will raise the individuals` trust on the effectiveness of the death penalty.


Blackmon, D. (September 28, 2012) Louisiana death-row inmate Damon Thibodeaux exonerated with DNA evidence,” Washington Post.

Death Penalty information Center. (2012). Innocent cases: 2004-present.

Dieter, R. (1998). The US death penalty and international law: US compliance with the torture and race convictions.

Kel, J. (2009). The death penalty and the effect of homicide rates in States.

Lambert, E., Clarke, A. & Lambert, J. (2004). Reasons for supporting and opposing capital punishment in the USA: a preliminary study. International journal of criminology.

Livingston, R. (2010). The death penalty is it a deterrent to cop killing and crime in general. Michigan. Michigan University.

Snell, T. (2010). Capital Punishment, 2009- statistic tables. Retrieved 01/11/2012 from

Whitehead, J. & Blankenship, M. (2002). The gender gap in capital punishment attitudes: An analysis of support and opposition. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 25, 1-13.