Should the USA allow Death Penalty?
Without any doubt, nowadays crime is a serious issue. Where humans look, they see only kidnapping, murders, rapes, and robberies. Thus, criminals have become a part of human ordinary life. Does this mean that they are allowed to commit crimes? Is it immoral to take necessary measures in order to stop these offenders? Do humans have rights to apply death penalty to merciless killers? The answer is distinctly apprehended, it is a yes. Indisputably, eliminating offences is human duty, and humanistic approaches cannot disregard human natural desire to get protection against serious criminals. It is generally true that modern American legal system has faced a big problem, commonly known as application of the corporal punishment. The death penalty (or capital punishment) is a legal process whereby the state puts a person to the death as a punishment for his/ her crime (Date 3). In this case, it is highly recommended to apply the right accusation to the person who has committed a merciless crime. For instance, some felons can commit a crime due to their difficult life conditions; however, some of them can do it just for fun. It is generally true that death penalty is not applied to all classes of criminals. For example, a person cannot be condemned on death row due to his/ her robberies. However, there are a lot of serial killers, who kill people for their personal gain. In this case, these felons definitely deserve corporal punishment.
Historically, the death penalty has been in practice in most countries, except Kievan Rus (a medieval polity in Europe that existed from the 9th to the 13th centuries). The first example of reminiscence of the death penalty is mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi, in which it was stated about various punishments amenably to the different classes of victims and felons. The most notable legal document of application of the death penalty is Athenian legal system that was written by the legislator of Athens Draco in about 622 BC. According to this document, the capital punishment was used in order to punish a particular range of offenders. Moreover, there are many examples of religious verdicts of application the death penalty as the most serious capital punishment. The person came under the death penalty in the cases of kidnapping and witchcraft. In England by the year of 1500, only burglars, rapists, murders, and arsonists were sentenced to death. “Walham Black Acts” influenced the growth of human sentencing to the death. The most terrible year for England and Wales was 1785, while 307 offenders were convicted to the death punishment. After 1750, the reform of the capital punishment has begun in Europe. In the USA the first executor was Captain George Kendall, who was accused of spying for the Spanish government in 1607. However, the European enlighteners Cesare Beccaria, Voltaire, Jeremy Bentham, and Samuel Romilly claimed the needless application of the death penalty as the most violent way of the capital punishment. They pointed out that the death penalty was a cruel way of the shortening human lives. Their disputes had an effect on occurrence of the alternative methods to capital punishment: life imprisonment. However, the shortcoming of life imprisonment can be seen in the probability of parole when a mass murderer or a high profile criminal can back to society and continue committing crimes. There is a high likelihood that the felons will resume their previous criminal actions after the release and pose a constant danger to those who testified against them and the safety of the victim’s family members. Moreover, there is a strong probability that an inmate can escape from prison and continue his/ her horrible behavior. Consequently, felons who commit a serious crime should be better put off from society.
The history of the USA indicates that the American system of corporal punishment is heavily based on British law that proclaimed the application of death penalty to people who could steal vegetables, kill chickens, or trade with Indians (Jacobs 24). In this case, fault of the application of death penalty to ordinary crimes by British colonies is evident. The British law system dramatically influenced the USA, since British colonies adopted capital punishment to black people. This time is famous for the adoption of an American “Blood Code”. In 1791 the Bill of Rights partially improved the appropriateness and legislation of application of capital punishment. However, even at that time there were no strict differentiation amidst cruel and unusual crimes, thus people were executed for not serious crimes. During the years of the pre- and post- Civil War, significant changes were made in order to improve the legitimacy of corporal punishment application. At that time, the first electric chair was invented in New York in 1888. Moreover, the gas chambers were used since 1890. These means of capital punishment considerably improved the “morality” of death penalty, while the inmates suffered only a couple of minutes. The 19th – 20th centuries are famous for the abolishment movement against the application of death penalty by proclaiming humanistic values and civil rights. However, human stark reality indicates that there were no points to abolish death penalty as the most severe form of corporal punishment, since the law officers apply corporal punishment to felons who commit the most horrible crimes and are a constant threat to society. For instance, an offender can be sentenced to death penalty if he/ she is accused of the first-degree murder with 18 aggravating factors, felony murder, kidnapping resulting in bodily injury or death, and treason. Moreover, the accusation of person of death penalty can last during several years, while this procedure includes several appeals to the State Supreme Court and the Federal Courts. In this case, it is clearly seen that the Courts deeply analyze the crimes in order to sentence to death penalty the felons who committed serious offences.
Undoubtedly, in the framework of identifying advantages and disadvantages of corporal punishment, it is necessary to mention its 8 types. Among them one can distinguish: beheading, electric chair, firing squad, guillotine, hanging, lethal injection, poison gas, and stoning. The beheading characterizes by the chopping executer’s head off. This type of the death penalty is used in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. While applying the electric chair, the executor suffers from two discharges of 500-2000 volts. However, there is uncertainty when the person may die. If the felon still survives, the executioner releases the discharges until the death of the victim. According to the history of the USA, New York became the first state that adopted electrocution as its method of death penalty (Bedeau 12). In 1890 the first felon executed by electric chair was William Kemmler. It is generally known that this method of capital punishment was the most widespread method of execution in the United States. Nowadays the geographical borders of the electrocution are extended on Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. By using the firing squad, the prisoner is shot through the heart. Rifles are always used for this capital punishment. Historically, the firing squad was applied two times to Gary Gilmore (1977) and John Albert Taylor (1996). The firing squad is mostly used in Asian countries, Belarus, and Uzbekistan. However, the firing squad is used in the USA, especially in Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah. This method of execution is used as an alternative method to lethal injection. The guillotine is a French type of the death penalty that characterizes by the severing of the prisoner’s neck. The hanging is used in the African and Asian countries and is determined as the most human method of the death penalty, since the felon’s neck is broken and his/ her death comes very quickly. According to the history of the USA, hanging is one of the oldest methods of death penalty. In recent history, there are known only three executions by hanging. Nowadays Delaware, New Hampshire, and Washington have authorized hanging as a mean of death penalty. By using the lethal injection, the law officers put a powerful paralyzing toxin in the veins of the executor’s arms. The prisoner falls into unconsciousness. Then the prisoner gets the injection of the potassium chloride. After that, the person may experience the paralysis and his/ her heart stops. This method belong to the “human method of killing”, since the person suffers from the pain during 5-7 minutes. In 1888 lethal injection was firstly applied as a form of execution in New York. Nowadays 16 American states and the federal government have authorized lethal injection as the prime method of execution. Moreover, 20 other states provide lethal injection as the sole method of death penalty; however, the application of alternative methods highly depends on the date of the sentence, maintenance to constitutional rules and regulations, and the choice of the felon. The poison gas has been used since World War I. At that time, the gas ovens were used in order to punish recidivists and enemies. In the history of death penalty, in 1924 Nevada was the first state to adopt capital punishment by lethal gas and executed the first felon in 1924. During the war times, lethal gas was applied 31 times. In 1999 Arizona applied the last capital punishment by lethal gas. The most poisonous gas is hydrogen cyanide that brings the person to the agony and leads to death. Finally, the stoning is the type of the death penalty that is used in Iran and Afghanistan. By applying this method, the law officers bury the offenders up to their neck and pelt them with rocks (Bedau 42).
The personal support of death penalty can be explained by the following several reasons. Firstly, death penalty is a unique way of punishment that deters murder by putting the fear of death into the felons. Nowadays the statistics indicates that 80% Americans highly support death penalty, since according to statistics states where death penalty is applied, these states have a low murder rate. Secondly, death penalty is irreversible; however it is hard to kill an innocent person due to the several procedures, such as conclusive evidence of the guilt, the advent of DNA tests, and the long appeals procedure. Additionally, a felon has a chance to prove his/ her innocence. Thirdly, corporal punishment completely assures security of humans by eliminating the murders. Moreover, the concept of “lex tallionis” (a life for a life) is highly applicable in case of death penalty, since everyone, who commits a serious crime, should bear responsibilities (Date 4).
Indisputably, society has always used various methods of punishment in order to prevent unlawful actions. In this case, death penalty is examined as the most reasonable punishment and deterrence to serious killers. If felons are condemned to death and execution, potentional killers will take this example into account and twice consider their next crime for fear of being punished and sentenced to death. Thus, deterrence is a vital tool of punishment that creates various phobias in criminals for the punishment. According to, Ernest van den Haag (193), a Professor of Jurisprudence at Fordham University, “Most murders would reflect twice if they knew that their life was under constant danger and death”. It is distinctly apprehended that death penalty cannot completely protect innocent from killers; however, humans should agree that everybody fears death. Moreover, death penalty cannot be replaced by life imprisonment due to parole effect. For instance, Paul Van Slambrouck, an Associate Professor of Mass Communication at Principia College points out, “Statistical indices show that the quantity of offenders is increased in the past decade” (Jacobs, Landes & Siegel 15). Consequently, it is clearly seen that nobody and nothing can stop the felons committing further crimes within the prison, while these offenders have the most severe punishment and have nothing to lose (Slambrouck 10).
On the contrary, anti-capital punishments claim that the death penalty is determined as the most violent way of the punishment that contradicts human rights. The opponents advocate that death penalty is ineffective tool that cannot considerably decrease the level of offenders in the world, while the annual level of crimes highly grows (BBC 3). According to the FBI, the level of the murders in the states where the death penalty was abolished is 23%. To counterbalance it, in the states where the capital punishment is a legal act, the level of the murders has grown to 48 % (BBC 3). It can be amplified by the fact that the government has chosen the wrong way of abatement of the crimes. Moreover, the adherents of the capital punishment insist on compensation for hurting a victim’s family (Shapiro 2). Those families demand from the court an equal reckoning for the death of their family member. Unfortunately, the true reality indicates that one more death will not bring that person back. Besides, those families can feel a depression and unwillingness to live, while they have killed the other person in the same way as he/ she did to their relative. In this case, the victim’s family, the court and the lawyer became the murders, since they proclaimed the death penalty as the unique way of punishment. Their disputes had an effect on occurrence of the alternative method to capital punishment: life imprisonment. Indisputably, the law enforcement officers can deeply analyze the case, a felon’s mental condition, and his/ her motives to perform a crime by applying life imprisonment. However, this alternative method to corporal punishment has its significant disadvantages, since during imprisonment procedure the law officers can reduce the endurance of sentence and release the offenders. No one can guarantee that these felons will not perform a criminal act again. Moreover, these offenders can create their own behavioral tactics in order to deceive justice. According to Hugo Adam Bedau (301), “Serious crimes can be deterred merely by compelling would-be criminals fear being executed, convicted, and heavily punished for crimes”. Unfortunately, human stark reality shows ineffectiveness of life imprisonment due to the increased rate of offenders. For instance, in 1990 there were 42, 733 offenders in Alaska; however, until 1999 this rate increased up to 69, 000. Additionally, some murders can reflect that there is a slight possibility to be caught, thus, they continue committing serious crimes. The perfect example for this could be serial killers. For these felons, capital punishment should be highly applied in order to frighten the others of committing such crimes. This lesson will prove that even “elusive” killers are finally caught.
Moreover, anti-death penalty strongly believes that capital punishment is irreversible and may become a serious fault of irreversible mistakes (Roberts 2). Once a felon has been condemned to the death row, there nothing can be done in order to save offender’s life or to recognize his/ her innocence. In this point one can see strong evidence; however, the probability of making a mistake in corporal punishment is extremely low. Death penalty is determined as the most severe punishment and the legal system deeply analyze the case before finalizing the decision. According to the judicial system, one can find that there are various safeguards guaranteeing against making a mistake. For example, capital punishment can be applied in case of strong evidence of human guilt leaving no room for an adducing of new identification evidence. Furthermore, death penalty is not applied for all murders. For example, felons, who commit murders during times of unconsciousness or are recognized as mentally ill, do not deserve death penalty. According to definition, mental illness or mental retardation is a condition of health, characterized by considerable impairment of human normal cognitive, behavioral or emotional functioning that can be followed by aggressive behavior, hallucinations, nervous breakdowns, and uncontrollable cruel actions (Schalock 1). In this case, death penalty is not applied, since poor health conditions can dramatically influence human behavior and way of thinking. It is distinctly apprehended that people who have mental illnesses are at a higher risk of being sentenced to the death. Mentally ill people are more inclined to falsely confess to a crime, since they want to please the law enforcement officers who are investigating the crime. Furthermore, mentally challenged people are less likely to work with their lawyers productively in order to prepare their defense, comparing to healthy offenders, while they do not clearly understand their criminal act, illegal behavior and tremendous consequences of their criminal offence. Consequently, mentally ill people can hide from their lawyer or conceal the vital information about the crime, while they do not realize the importance of evidence for the outcome of the case.
Indisputably, high-professional psychologists and the law enforcement officers should work with the mentally retarded people in order to provide diagnosis of the felons. Moreover, these professionals should be highly qualified in manipulative techniques, while the offenders can employ them in order to cover the evidence of crime. In this case, the psychologists and the law officers should make a thorough analysis of felon’s mental functioning, behavior, cognitive thinking, and adaptive abilities. Consequently, the law officers should employ a verdict of “Guilty but Mentally Ill” in order to excuse mentally challenged humans from a possible sentence of death (Schalock 21). However, the application of this verdict does not mean that mentally disable people should be allowed to go back to their normal environment. It is generally true that these people can put other humans in the constant danger, and pose a serious threat to society. Instead, the legal system should establish appropriate conditions for mentally ill people in order to analyze their behavior, incentives to perform a crime, and cognitive decay. Undoubtedly, the death penalty for mentally ill people is the cruelest way of punishment, while they are not fully aware that they perform the criminal act, cannot clearly comprehend their own transgression, and cannot utterly realize the true nature of their punishment. Consequently, the main functions of death penalty, such as deterrence and retribution, would not be applicable (Shapiro 4).
Moreover, the opponents to death penalty point out that there is a strong probability that a capital punishment is applied to the innocent person (Roberts 4). For instance, the law officer has judicially accused a person of killing due to his/ her plea of guilty. However, this law officer may not take into account the mental condition that has considerably influenced that person to confess. Moreover, the innocent person cannot realize the complexity of the situation because of his/ her serious mental health problems. For example, 82 inmates were dismissed from the death row in 1976 due to the wrong and thoughtless court decisions (BBC 4). Looking on the other side, the innocent person may be killed according to the unskilled juridical verdicts. However, modern justice criminal system is currently working on the issue concerning application of the corporal punishment to the mentally challenged people. For instance, 38 American states prohibited application of the corporal punishment to mentally retarded people. Furthermore, such American states as Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee abolished the death penalty for people who have serious mental illnesses. Moreover, the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits application of cruel punishments against innocents. According to this Bill, the court and the law enforcement officers should accurately investigate the crime case before taking a decision, especially if the felon is suffering from mental disorders. Additionally, on June 20, 2002, the Supreme Court adopted a new rule, commonly known as the end of application of the death penalty to those who are suffering from intellectual disabilities. For example, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Court claimed that execution of mentally challenged people is an unconstitutional act and an evident violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Indisputably, some people might think that corporal punishment is a barbarous way of punishing people, while the human right to live is not taken into consideration. The opponents to death penalty take advantage of the book Summa theologiae, written by the medieval theologist Thomas Aquinas, where it is stated that nobody has a right to kill a person if he/ she does not want to turn into the evil (Roberts 2). Moreover, the Bible indicates that there is no excuse for killing. Instead of applying the death penalty, the person should forgive the offender as God always forgives human sins. It is generally true that humans have the right to life; however, it does not mean that the murder that killed other people should not be accused of his/ her guilt. In this case, if a death penalty is a barbarous way then the opponents should ask those people who suffered from this barbarous murder or lost their beloved because of felon’s inhuman behavior. It is seen that when a felon takes a life of innocent, the balance of justice is broken (Shapiro 2). Thus, the use of retribution is highly recommended, since society should apply the same measures of punishment against the offenders in order to restore the balance and to show authority that every criminal will be punished according to the degree of crime seriousness. Moreover, the victim’s family cannot be restored again, since they lost their family member or beloved partner. In this case, the justice system at least should provide an equal punishment to those who committed this murder in order to ensure social security. Undoubtedly, the most serious felons deserve the most serious punishment that is the death penalty. Any lesser punishment will cast doubt on reliability and validity of legislation. According to Robert Macy, an American prosecutor, “In 1991 a mother was forced to watch how her child was executed. Then the mother was mercilessly killed. In this particular case, the murder should not lie in a prison where he is provided with basic needs of life and enjoy. Our justice system should adopt the most fully-fledged method of punishment that is applied to those who committed the most horrible crimes. Thus, death penalty is the most effective means of struggling against severe criminals” (Beadau 56).
All in all, the 21th century indicates the new level of social development in which the justice system should highly provide the most effective ways of spreading the law and reducing crime rates. Undoubtedly, death penalty is the most effective way of reducing crime as well as appropriate justice to the criminals and innocents. Unfortunately, the justice system was considerably deteriorated during the last thirty years. In this case, justice system should develop a fully-fledged law system in order to serve main purpose of corporal punishment and to make sure that the rightly accused felon is condemned to accurate punishment. Thus, the need of development of death penalty application is keenly felt; however, it does not mean that death penalty should be abolished. Indisputably, corporal punishment ensures the safety to the society, brings justice to those who have terribly suffered, and considerably reduces crime rates.
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Jacobs, N., Landes, A., Siegel, A. Mark. Capital Punishment, Cruel and Unusual? Wylie: Information Plus, 1996. Print.
Roberts, Rosemary. It’s time to abolish the death penalty in the world. North Carolina News & Record, Feb. 2, 2000.
Schalock, R. The Renaming of Mental Retardation: Understanding the Change to the Term Intellectual Disability. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 2007. Print.
Shapiro, Walter. What say should victims have? Web. 2000.
Slambrouck, Paul Van. US Prisons – Under Pressure – Show Increase in Violence. The Christian Science Monitor Online. 1998. Web.