There are several reasons to argue for making the death penalty illegal in the United States of America. The United States Constitution does not allow for unkind penalties as a sentence for crime. The death penalty poses many risks to the innocent. World opinion supports the cessation of the death penalty. Poor and minorities suffer disproportionately from the death penalty. Capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime. Putting people to death by capital punishment is not cost effective. Putting people to death by capital punishment is inhumane and should be illegal.
The U. S. Constitution states that, “cruel and unusual punishments (Amendment 8, 1791),” should not be inflicted on its citizens. It is especially cruel in cases of “botched” executions. On April 22, 1983 in Alabama, it took several jolts of 1,900 volts of electricity to execute John Evans. On the third attempt “another charge of electricity was sent through John’s body. Once again, his head and leg boiled (80, Canan, Burning at The Wire)”. In a 1994 case, Fierro v. Gomez, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California reviewed evidence on the effects of the gas chamber and supported Justice Brennan’s Eighth Amendment claim.
The court “concluded that the time it takes for the lethal gas to kill an inmate combined with the degree of pain inflicted on the inmate warrants the use of another method of execution” (US Court for 9th Circuit). Brennan cited evidence that criminals executed in the gas chamber—by asphyxiation—suffered great pain over a number of minutes. Although most modern execution methods appear to be physically painless, appearances can be misleading. Renowned neurobiologists are now providing evidence which show that it is scientifically and medically certain that death by electrocution is not instantaneous.
In the words of Harold Hillman, a prominent neurobiologist, “death by electrocution may inflict unnecessary pain, physical violence, and mutilation” (Hillman 174). The death penalty poses serious risk to the innocent. Due to inherent flaws in the US criminal justice system innocent people have been wrongly convicted. The danger is that once an innocent person is executed it cannot be remedied. Excerpts from a 1993 report by a US Congress Subcommittee, states that no matter how careful we are “the chances are high that innocent persons have been or will be executed” (deathpenaltyinfo. rg). In 1989 although no physical evidence linked Joseph Burrows to the murder of William Dulin, he was convicted and sent to Death Row.
Witnesses later said they had been coerced by prosecutors and police. In summing up the appeal, Justice Harry Blackmun, stated that, an “execution without adequate safeguards is unacceptable, so too is an execution when the condemned prisoner can prove that he is innocent” (deathpenaltyinfo. org). In 1994, a Texas court sentenced Michael Blair to death for the 1993 murder of 7-year old Ashley Estell.
Mr. Blair could have paid with his life. However a re-investigation of the case in May 2008 found that “no reasonable juror would have convicted [applicant] in light of newly discovered evidence (cca. courts. state. tx. us)”. More innocent people continue to be released from death row. “There have been 220 post-conviction DNA exonerations in United States history (innocenceproject. org). ” World opinion is in favor of abolishing the death penalty. The European Union campaigns for the universal abolition of the death penalty.
Abolition of the death penalty is a requirement for countries seeking EU membership. The EU Charter states that “no one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed (Article II-2)”. Turkey has joined the growing number of countries that advocate the abolishment of the death penalty. The Turkish Constitution states that, “neither death penalty nor general confiscation shall be imposed as punishment (Article 38, 9)”. Even in Central Asia where executions are part of a long tradition, several countries have limited or suspended the use of the death penalty.
On June 26, 2006 the President of the Philippines Macapagal Arroyo passed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty. The bill ratified their 1987 Constitution which states that, “the death penalty shall not be imposed. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua” (Article III, section 19(1). In Africa, only six countries continue to impose the death penalty. On September 16, 2005, Liberia acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
Article 1. 2 of the protocol states that, “each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction” (http://www2. ohchr. org). Because poor and minorities are disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, it should be prohibited. A United States Judiciary Subcommittee in 1994 found that, “minorities are being prosecuted under federal death penalty law far beyond their proportion in the general population” (usdoj. gov). Most court appointed attorneys often lack the experience necessary for capital trials.
Since “ninety-five percent of death row inmates cannot afford their own attorney,” (deathpenaltyinfo. org) a court attorney is usually appointed for them. During closing remarks in a murder trial in a 1985 case in Georgia (State v. Dungee), the defense attorney stated that, the defendant “is poor and he is broke. He’s got an appointed lawyer” (11th Cir. 1985). The defendant was found guilty and sent to Death Row. A 2003 Amnesty International report found that the “juvenile offenders executed in Texas since 1998 were all African-Americans who committed their offenses at the age of 17” (texasdeathpenalty. rg).
No white juveniles have been sentenced to death row in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982. Since capital punishment does not deter criminal offenses, it should not be a legal form of punishment. A study by The New York Times in 2000 found that homicide rates had risen and fallen along roughly symmetrical paths in the states with and without the death penalty. The neighboring states of Michigan, with no death penalty, and Indiana, which regularly imposes death sentences and carries out executions, have had virtually indistinguishable homicide rates. In 2007 the murder rate in Michigan was 676 (1. 76%) with a 10 million population” (disastercenter. com). While the murder rate in Indiana for the same period was “356 (1. 4%) with a population of 6. 3 million” people (disastercenter. com).
An analysis of the murder rate in Virginia second behind Texas in number of executions from 1976-2004 (94/944) and neighboring Maryland show no significant difference. In 2007 the murder rate in Virginia was “406 with a 7. 7 million population” (fbi. gov) and in Maryland for the same period it was “553 with a population of 5. million people” (fbi. gov). It is also pertinent to compare states with high and low rates of execution as a result of the death penalty. A good comparison for this scenario is Oklahoma, which executed 75 candidates between 1976 and 2004, and Pennsylvania, which executed three. In 2004, Pennsylvania had “a total Crime Index of 2,995. 3 reported incidents per 100,000 people” (disastercenter. com). Whereas, Oklahoma “had a total Crime Index of 4,558. 6 reported incidents per 100,000 people” (disastercenter. com) in 2004.
Although the crime index is not restricted to murders, Oklahoma’s numbers are significantly higher than Pennsylvania’s. The death penalty is cost-prohibitive and should be illegal. A system with a death penalty is vastly more expensive than one where the maximum penalty is keeping murderers in prison for life. In the State of California the additional cost of confining an inmate to Death Row, “is $90,000 per year, per inmate” (ccfaj. org). California could save about $90,000,000 per year by abolishing the death penalty and re-sentencing all of its Death Row inmates to life imprisonment.
In Maryland an average capital-eligible case in which prosecutors do not seek the death penalty cost $1. 1 million. A capital-eligible case in which prosecutors unsuccessfully seek the death penalty costs $1. 8 million and a case resulting in a death sentence costs approximately $3 million. From 1978-1999 seeking the death penalty in 162 cases has cost tax payers of Maryland “$186 million more than what those cases would have cost had the death penalty not been sought” (Urban Institute Report, 2008).
In Indiana “the cost of a death penalty trial and direct appeal alone is more than five times the cost of a life without parole trial and direct appeal” (in. gov). This was the conclusion from a 2002 Indiana Criminal Law Study conducted for the then Governor of Indiana Frank O’Bannon. From 1973 to 1988, the state of Florida spent an average of $3. 2 million per execution (in. gov). “Bottom line, life in prison is one-sixth as expensive” Miami Herald, July 10, 1988. The death penalty is in itself useless and has created counterproductive results in deterring the crime of murder.
It wastes enormous resources on a handful of cases, to the detriment of measures that may provide actual rehabilitation. The United States is currently the only industrialized nation actively executing convicted felons by capital punishment. Considering that all human lives have an innate value it is inherently wrong to take one as a process to compensate for one that’s been lost. “The death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice, and mistake” – Justice Harry A. Blackmun, February 22, 1994. Our future generations will look back and shudder at the barbaric acts we practice today.