The death penalty involves sentencing a criminal to death for their crime. It began in the United States in 1608 and is still practiced in 27 states today as the federal government has authorized it. Capital punishment mostly affects black people, the mentally ill, and the poor because they cannot hire good legal counsel. It is irreversible and limits the opportunities for prisoners to present proof that may acquit them. Therefore, it may lead to the death of innocent people. The death penalty also infringes an individual’s right to life because it involves ending a person’s life. There is no adequate proof to show that capital punishment deters crime or offers justifiable retribution. The death penalty process is very lengthy and complicated, making it very costly.
A death penalty is a state-sanctioned act of killing a person to punish a particular crime. It is also known as capital punishment or judicial execution and is associated with murder, espionage, and treason. The first execution was in Virginia, where a firing squad murdered Captain George Kendall for being a Spanish spy in 1608 (Baumgartner et al., 2017). In the 1960s, the death sentence was challenged as unconstitutional (Krumsiek, 2017). It was perceived to contradict the 8th amendment, which counters any harsh and unusual punishment (Melusky & Pesto, 2017). The death sentence was suspended in 1972 by the Supreme Court in the case of Furman v. Georgia due to its harsh and arbitrary manner (Melusky & Pesto, 2017). It was later reinstated in 1976 following the Gregg v. Georgia cases. Currently, the federal government and 27 states still allow the death sentence (Baumgartner et al., 2017). The death penalty is unjust and inhumane because it mainly affects vulnerable groups, may lead to the death of innocent people, violates the right to life, does not deter crime, and is very costly.
Death Penalty Mostly Affects the Vulnerable Groups
Judicial execution is unfair because it disproportionately affects marginalized groups. The outcome of most cases indicates there is a systematic bias against people of color. For example, despite constituting only 13% of the United States population, black people contribute to over 40% of death row prisoners (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). Reports indicate that out of the 4220 prisoners sentenced to death from 1930 to 1996, 53% were black (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). Despite the revised capital acts in 1976, evidence shows that black people continue to form a large proportion of death sentence prisoners. In this case, 52 % and 42 % of death row convicts were African-Americans in 2019 and 2020, respectively (Long, 2020). Additionally, blacks have a high likelihood of receiving a death sentence if they kill a white person. Following the reinstatement of judicial execution in 1976, 295 African- Americans were executed for murdering a white person, while only 21 white Americans were convicted to death for killing a black victim (Long, 2020). Therefore, the death sentence defies the equal protection clause because the penalties are applied discriminatorily.
The unfairness of capital punishment is depicted through its massive impact on the mentally ill and the poor. Research indicates that 5-10% of death row convicts have acute mental illnesses (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021b). The mentally incapacitated persons cannot adequately represent themselves or collaborate with their legal counsel, making them prone to judicial execution. There are numerous reports of the conviction of mentally ill inmates across America. For example, in 2015, the State of Missouri executed Cecil Clayton for the murder of a police officer. Clayton had dementia and had lost a considerable part of his brain to an accident. This was despite psychiatric reports showing he was mentally incapacitated and appeals from his lawyers (Death Penalty Information Center, 2021a). In addition, poor people have an increased likelihood of being given a death sentence due to a lack of good legal representation. Approximately 90% of death row prisoners cannot hire legal counsel during trials or appeals (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). Therefore, the death penalty is unjust since it affects vulnerable people, such as the underprivileged and mentally ill, who are unable to adequately defend themselves.
The Penalty Is Irrevocable, and Its Methods Are Brutal
The death penalty is irreversible, and it denies a convict the due process of the law and forever deprives them of the chance to present new evidence that may reverse the verdict. During an investigation, errors may be made, contributing to the sentencing of an innocent individual. The errors may result from botched crime scenes, wrong eyewitness account, false DNA evidence, and police misconduct (Bohm, 2017). In 2012, a Columbian Human Rights Law Review detailed the case of Carlos DeLuna, who had been executed in 1989 in Texas (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). Though DeLuna had been charged with murder, most residents were convinced that he was innocent of the crime. In DeLuna’s case, no DNA, fingerprints, or hair proof had been found at the crime scene; his conviction was primarily based on eyewitness testimony (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). Another report shows that from 1973 to date, over 186 prisoners were acquitted from death row due to proof of innocence (Death Penalty Information Center, 2021b). Hence, the irrevocable death sentence limits the focus on proof that may free innocent people.
The death penalty is often viewed as a violation of the 8th amendment, which opposes any harsh and arbitrary sentences. The death row prisoners are executed through hanging, lethal injection, firing squad, gas chamber, or electrocution (Baumgartner et al., 2017). The lethal injection is considered less painful, but research indicates that it has a high error rate. In some cases, if injections go wrong, it may take a longer time for the convict to die. For example, in 1985, Stephen Morin was jabbed multiple times in an attempt by the authorities to find his veins (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). In another case, Rommel Broom experienced a similar ordeal as he was subjected to 18 shots of lethal injection, taking more than an hour, and it still did not work. In 2006, during a lethal injection execution, Joseph Clark requested an oral drug because his executioners took a long time to find a vein (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). The capital punishment methods expose the inmates to immeasurable suffering, which could be prevented through less harsh sentences.
Death Sentence Infringes Human Rights and Is Morally Wrong
Capital punishment is inhumane as it violates the right to life. The International human rights convention protects all people against actions that involve torture and other cruel or demeaning treatment. According to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all individuals have a right to life (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). Thus, judicial execution deprives some people of their right to life. Some people have recommended the replacement of death sentences with life imprisonment. They consider life imprisonment more humane because it does not involve murder. A life sentence has also been considered to have a more positive impact than execution because it offers the inmates an opportunity to reflect on what they have done and change for the better. This shows that there are other alternative severe convictions that prisoners may be subjected to and may be more effective than murder. Hence, the judicial execution breaches a person’s right to life and does not offer them an opportunity to reform.
Society opposes and considers any form of murder as morally wrong. The moral values emphasize caring and loving other people and ensuring that an individual does not cause harm to others. In this case, the judicial execution causes a lot of emotional distress to the prisoners and their families and can be regarded as morally wrong (Kulp, 2019). Instead, several alternatives, like life imprisonment, may be used to enact the required punishment. Society deeply values the essence of life, be it a child, an adult, or a criminal. The religious teachings also stress the preservation of human life because it is precious and irreplaceable. Hence, more humane verdicts should be considered for inmates on death row.
Death Sentence Does Not Deter Capital Crimes and Is Not a Justifiable Retribution
Judicial execution is perceived as an act to dissuade people against violence and crime. Nonetheless, no studies have proven that capital punishment discourages people from committing murder or terror crimes. On the contrary, states enacting the judicial execution have been linked to increased crime rate and violence than abolitionist states. From 2000 to 2010, the number of murders in states with judicial execution was 25-46% greater than those without (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). Additionally, most capital crimes are not premeditated as they occur momentarily. They may be triggered by substance abuse or emotional distress. In this case, the perpetrators may not be in their sober minds to think of the possible outcomes. Therefore, the death sentence cannot prevent people from instantly committing crimes (Krumsiek, 2017). Furthermore, the proportion of first-degree murderers on death row is minimal, and only a small percentage are executed. Thus, there is no proof that death sentences can avert other violent crimes.
It is a common belief that all criminals should pay for their crimes. As a result, some people support judicial execution because they believe it brings justice to the affected families, victims, and communities. This notion is grounded on the principle of just deserts, which also stipulates that the harshness of a penalty should be equivalent to the extent of the crime. However, if this theory were to apply in judicial execution, it would only be subjected to those charged with murder. The death sentence does not only involve homicides but encompasses other crimes such as rape, drug trafficking, espionage, or kidnappings (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). Thus, it would be unfair to use capital punishment on a prisoner charged with rape or kidnapping. Moreover, this principle cannot apply to all crimes because it would be unreasonable; for instance, it would recommend kidnapping a person found guilty of kidnapping. Evil actions cannot be redeemed with evil deeds of retaliation. Thus, in line with retribution, adopting reformative justice is more suitable than the death sentence.
Capital Punishment Is Extremely Costly
The expenditure incurred in a death penalty process is exceedingly high, placing a huge burden on the taxpayers’ money. This process is expensive because of high legal costs; in this case, many death row prisoners rely on the state to appoint public defendants to represent them. Therefore, the state is obliged to appoint two lawyers for each inmate and settle the prosecution expenses (Death Penalty Information Center, 2021d). This makes the death sentence very overpriced compared to other non-capital cases, such as life imprisonment. In addition, the pre-trial and trial costs are considerably high because death sentences are more complex and may take a long time to be completed (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021a). For example, during pre-trials, many experts are required to help with the case; they may include forensic experts and psychiatrists who determine the accused person’s mental state among other personnel. Judicial execution trials maybe four times longer compared to other prosecutions.
Additional costs are incurred during jury selection and for the prisoners’ appeals. It may take a long time to decide on the appropriate jurors because they first need to be questioned about their views on capital sentences to determine whether they are suitable for the case. The incarceration cost of prisoners with death sentences is also high because they are kept under solitary confinement and require more security (Death Penalty Information Center, 2021d). For example, in 2020, during Trump’s administration, the Federal Bureau of Prisons used around $4.7 million on only five executions carried out from July to August (Death Penalty Information Center, 2021c). In this case, most of the expenses were incurred in the transportation and housing of the witnesses, victims’ families, and the execution professionals. Thus, the expenses incurred for death penalties are too high and consume a lot of taxpayers’ funds.
Capital punishment is inhumane, unfair, and unjustifiable because it mostly affects vulnerable groups, including the poor, black people, and the mentally ill, who cannot appoint a good legal representation. A death verdict is also irrevocable and may result in innocent people’s death because they have been denied a chance to prove their innocence. Over the years, several inmates have been acquitted from death row, proving that not all prisoners with death penalties are guilty. Similarly, it disregards a person’s right to life because it involves murder. No proof has indicated that judicial execution can deter crime or offer retribution. Instead, it causes immense suffering to the prisoners through its methods, such as lethal injections. Likewise, due to its prolonged and complicated procedures, it is considerably expensive. The pros of abolishing capital punishment are that it preserves human life and allows the prisoners to reflect on their wrongdoings. However, the limitation of obliterating this sentence is that many people may take capital crimes lightly, leading to more crime rates because they expect to get lighter sentences.
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American Civil Liberties Union. (2021b). Mental illness and the death penalty. Web.
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Bohm, R. M. (Ed.). (2017). The death penalty today. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.
Death Penalty Information Center. (2021a). Mentally Ill prisoners who were executed. Web.
Death Penalty Information Center. (2021b). Innocence. Web.
Death Penalty Information Center. (2021c). Records disclose taxpayers picked up a nearly million dollar price tag for each federal execution. Web.
Death Penalty Information Center. (2021d). Costs. Web.
Krumsiek, A. (2017). The death penalty: Just punishment or cruel practice? Greenhaven Publishing LLC, San Diego, CA.
Kulp, C. B. (2019). Metaphysics and morality. Palgrave Macmillan, London, UK.
Long, C. (2020). Report: Death penalty cases show history of racial disparity. AP News. Web.
Melusky, J. A., & Pesto, K. A. (2017). The death penalty: A reference handbook. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, CA.