” To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice” ( qtd. in Anti-Death Penalty). Capital punishment, or the death penalty, has been around in some sort of variation for centuries. It is enforced upon criminals who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes, such as homicide. There have been debates throughout time as whether or not the death penalty is appropriate punishment. Valid arguments of support and contradiction of capital punishment have come up over time, making citizens believe it is a tough decision for lawmakers to choose whether or not to allow the death penalty. The decision is simple. Capital Punishment should be abolished throughout the country because it is an unfair and unnecessary way of castigation that contains many flaws and serves no justice for those involved.
Executions have been held in the United States as far back as history recognizes. Beginning in 1976, states have begun to come to their senses and finally abolish the death penalty. The number of American civilians who oppose the death penalty have also more than double since then, showing that more than one-third of the population now oppose capital punishment ( 2001Jost 948). Since 1976, more that 1,000 executions have occurred in the United States. Between the thirty-eight states that approve of the death penalty, and the thirty-two that have used in since 1976, there are five different execution methods that are available, each having their disadvantages ( Friedman 85).
The first of these execution styles is death by hanging. Until the late 1800’s, this type of murder was the primary execution type in the united states. Many states have since stopped hangings, but it has not been gotten rid of completely. Currently, it is still used in Delaware, Washington, and New Hampshire. The last record execution hanging dates back to January 25, 1996 in Delaware, when Billie Bailey was hung for being convicted of the murder of an elderly couple. Hanging is just one of the several disturbing ways in which “justice” is served in America ( Friedman 74).
Another way of performing the death penalty is by the use of lethal gas. It is arguably the least violent of execution methods, and it does not mar, or disfigure, the body. There is little pain involved, and it takes minimal time to perform. Several states use this type of execution, including California, Maryland, Mississippi, and Wyoming. The latest recorded execution by lethal gas was in 1999 in Arizona ( Friedman 74). If there were such a thing as the “best” execution method, this would be the one.
The rarest of type of performing capital punishment is by the use of a firing squad. First, the convicted is led into an execution room where he will sit upon a blood absorbing chair. He is placed before five gunmen, holding four bullet guns and a blank, so that the killers would not be identified. After being covered with a black hood, members of the firing squad aim for the heart, instantly killing the criminal. The latest firing squad execution was in January of 1996, when John Albert Taylor of Utah was sentenced to the death penalty. Death by firing squad is very uncommon and is used only upon an inmate’s request ( Friedman 74).
The most currently used method of capital punishment is lethal injection. The performance consists of three drugs entering the bloodstream. They include sodium pentothal, which knocks out the person, pancuronium bromide, which causes widespread paralysis, and lastly, potassium chloride, which induces a heart attack, killing the convicted criminal. Death penalty supporters believe this type of injection is the most humane, because it is said that once the first drug enters the bloodstream, that the victim drifts off to sleep and feels no pain. However, there is no proof backing this theory up, and taking into the consideration of the strength of potassium chloride, it is nearly impossible to believe that the person does not feel any pain ( Friedman 77).
Lastly, electrocution is the fifth and final type of execution. First introduced in the 1880’s, it is currently the second most common type of criminal murder behind lethal injection. The process begins with the criminal being thoroughly shaved to avoid interference with the electrical current. Then they are strapped into an electrocution chair. A saline-moistened sponge is placed upon the person’s head to conduct the electric current that flows throughout the body. This is then covered by a metal hat. The prisoner is then blindfolded. A flip is then switched, sending anywhere from 500-2000 volts of electricity through the body, hoping to kill the person within seconds. Ten states allow this type of execution, and it is the only type of execution permitted in Nebraska. It is by far the most cruel type of criminal punishment, due to the fact that the prisoner is caused an immense amount of pain. A specific case involving this occurred in Alabama in 1983. John Louis Evans caught fire while being executed, and it took over 14 minutes before he was finally pronounced dead. All types of the death penalty are brutal murders, but electrocution by far is the worst ( Friedman 75).
” Because the current death penalty law, while neutral on its face, is applied in such a manner that people of color and the poor are disproportionately condemned to die, the law is legally and morally invalid” ( qtd. in Friedman 61). Capital Punishment is a heinous type of punishment as it is, and the fact the majority of cases are unfair makes it even worse. If the death penalty is to continue, a better effort at least needs to be made to make sure that only defendants that by the lawmakers standards “deserve to be killed” shall be executed. Whether the situation involves racism, the region in which the crime is committed in, financial wealth, or mental capacity, the death penalty is being unfairly applied upon too many individuals.
Racism is one of the most common ways in which Capital punishment is unfairly enforced. In the year 2000, a series of studies was done by the United States Department of Justice. Results from the study show that Caucasians were more than twice as likely to receive plea-bargains in homicide cases than black defendants. A separate study showed that it was at least twice as likely that the prosecution would seek the death penalty if a black person killed a white person, than if a white person killed a black person. A similar 3,900 case study by Jack Boger, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, confirms the statement that if a white human is murdered, it is twice as likely the prosecution will seek the death penalty ( Progressive 135-36). The amount of black criminals that are on death row are beyond all imaginations.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington Death Penalty Information Center, did a studying on criminal cases in which capital punishment was sought by the prosecution. Results showed that 72% of these cases involved a black defendant. Amnesty International is also one of the many organizations that believe too that the death penalty is racist. The organization’s evidence shows that since 1977, the amount of black and white murder victims are nearly equal. However, over 80% of these homicides that received the death penalty involved having a white victim ( 2001Jost 952). Black people are unfairly treated when it comes to capital punishment, but they are definitely not the only ones.
Secondly, the unfairness of capital punishment is brought out by a defendant’s wealth. Poor defendants receive attorneys who are inexperienced, underpaid, and unmotivated, giving them slim chances of having a chance of innocence. A statement from the United Nations Human Rights Commission stated that an poverty-stricken criminal’s chances of receiving the death penalty increase immensely compared to a rich person, only because of a poor defensive argument ( Parks 57). Amnesty International also reports that 95% of inmates on death row are not even wealthy enough to afford their own attorney, possibly being the reason that they are there ( 2010Jost 973). Although it is said that money cannot buy happiness, it sure has the ability to keep a convicted criminal alive.
Over the past few decades, it has been evident that many parts of the country overuse the death penalty quite a bit. In a 2004 study by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it shows that that the south has carried out 85% of the nations executions, with over half of executions in the United States coming from Virginia, Florida, and Texas, who leads the nation with over 375 executions since 1976 ( 2005Jost 789). Also, out of the top ten states in which capital punishment is used most, the furthest north is the state of Virginia. With all the evidence pointing towards the south becoming a safer place by executing vicious criminals, it is actually the exact opposite. The south has the highest crime rate throughout the country by far, and is the most dangerous region to live in. On the other hand, the northeast has performed the least number of executions. The region also has the lowest murder rate in the country ( Friedman 37). Evidence clearly shows that the south is executing way too many people, and it part of the explanation as to why the south has so many homicides.
“We shall never execute anybody who is mentally retarded” (qtd. in Progressive 132). This quote made by President George W. Bush shows that the debate of whether or not “mentally retarded” criminals should be up for execution continues today. Before 2002, 36 states had prohibited the use of capital punishment on “mentally retarded” defendants. In June of 2002, the supreme court issued a ruling, ending the execution of those with intellectual disabilities. Although this may sound like good news, it still is not nearly enough. Regulations for states classification of an intellectual disabled person include a significantly limited amount of functioning and behavior, and some states include that the defendant must have an IQ below 65 to be considered “mentally retarded”.
These limitations may prevent some executions for mentally slow people, but certainly not all. One of the most nationwide known cases of this involved Virginia’s Earl Washington. In 1983, Washington, having an IQ of 69, was convinced by police that he was guilty of the rape and murder of a Virginia woman. After confessing he was sentenced to execution. In 2000, just days before his execution date, Earl was pronounced innocent and released from prison ( Intellectual Disability). This is just one of the many examples of unknown injustices that occur when mentally slow persons are available to receive the death penalty, no matter what their IQ is. It is believed that there are still over 600 people on death row that can be considered in some way, “mentally retarded” ( Ross 84).
Capital punishment in the United States has numerous problems that hurts the justice system immensely. While real criminals are executed and taken off the street, the pro’s of execution do not outweigh the disadvantages of it. Cost, exoneration, time spent on death row, and the fact that capital punishment does not deter murder are all major issues that need to be understood so that people fully understand why the death penalty should be abolished.
” The extra money spent on the death penalty could be spent on other means of achieving justice and making the community safer: compensation for victims, better lighting in crime areas, more police on streets, or longer periods of incarceration for certain offenders” ( Friedman 12). Cost is a big issue when it comes to the choice between capital punishment or keeping a criminal behind bars for life. Many believe that execution saves the country a great deal of money. It actually is the exact opposite, causing states such as Florida and Indiana an extra forty million dollars on executions annually for each state. The average cost of an execution in the United States ranges anywhere from 2-5 million dollars. This includes the time spent on death row, plus the execution itself. The cost to keep a criminal in prison until death is around $760,000. This surprises many individuals and knowing more information on the death penalty may changes the Capital Punishment views of Americans ( Fagan).
The United States is known for being the most active state when it comes to executions. Those who believe this statement are absolutely correct, because the United States has more death row inmates than any other country in the world ( American Civil Liberties Union 126). All of these people on death row also spend an incredibly long time on death row, which is a main reason that the cost of an execution is so much. In most cases, a death row inmate will spend 10-20 years on average in prison before they are executed. This is due to several things. One is that the government wants to be absolutely sure that the criminal is guilty as charged, even though innocent people have still been executed. Another reason is the numerous appeals that these possibly innocent people file, trying to convince others of their innocence. These issues are important in showing that death row is full of inmates for years, where instead, the inmates could be at normal prisons serving a life sentence ( Friedman 11).
In August of 1993, Ruben Cantu of Texas was executed on charges of robbery and homicide. Later, new evidence, as well as a signed statement by the confessed murder, proved Cantu’s innocence. Many death row inmates have been exonerated through the history of Capital Punishment, and Ruben Cantu is one of many who have been wrongly executed. Another case involved Frank Lee Smith, who was convicted of raping and murdering an eight-year-old girl. Smith spend fourteen years on death row and died of cancer. It was later proven that he was innocent of all charges. Since 1989, there have been more than 180 post conviction exonerations, thanks to the use of DNA technology. The average person who has been exonerated in one of the 31 states where they have occurred has wrongfully spent twelve years behind bars ( Friedman 21). That is more than 180 too many, and not one of those wrongful convictions was necessary.