Research Paper Example on Capital Punishment in America

Published: 2021-08-11
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Sewanee University of the South
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Research paper
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Is capital punishment just or unjust? Does capital punishment reduce the occurrence of crimes in a nation? Does capital punishment offer retribution to families? These and many more questions linger around capital punishment. Over time the debate on capital punishment has been one of the recurrent issues in America. Capital punishment in America is the death penalty. Many argue that life is sacred. Everyone vehemently denounces acts of violence or acts that are harmful to other human beings. For instance, when a person murders another person, the only just way is to let the law take its course. According to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, the death penalty is not prohibited for felony murder. However, there are conditions that must apply for one to face capital punishment. Under Tison v. Arizona (137), the death penalty can apply if an individual is a participant in an underlying felony or an act that resulted in the reckless indifference to another's life. The same Amendment restricts capital punishment on someone that did not attempt to kill, did not kill, or did not intend to kill another (Enmund V. Florida 782). In the exposition, I will discuss capital punishment without reclining on one side.

In America, the court has two proportionality principles; subjective and objective. Under the subjective proportionality principle, the court looks at the evidence available and offers a judgment that serves the goals of deterrence and retribution. Under the objective proportionality principle, the court looks at the evidence tabled and offers a judgment based on the past behavior of sentencing juries or the provisions of the legislative judgment. When capital punishment is declared by the sentencing jury, the court has to consider either of the two proportionality principles. A feeling of horror and frustration engulfs individuals whenever there is an experience of brutal and senseless crimes disrupting the society's harmony. Additionally, people experience a pain that accompanies the heartfelt sympathy extended to a victim's family. Whenever a murder or felony occurs nothing can change the reality. The courts have to offer their judgment to deter similar crimes in the future or offer consolation to the victim's family by prosecuting the perpetrator of the crime (Walker 535-536).

According to Rogers (823-824), acknowledging the centrality of public debates is the first step to understanding the development of the American democracy especially on capital punishment. Since colonial settlement times, capital punishment has been in existence and serves as a way of deterring future crimes and offering retribution to the affected families. The first death penalty occurred in 1608 in Jamestown when George Kendall, a council member, was executed for treason ("Part I: History Of The Death Penalty | Death Penalty Information Center"). Currently, the death punishment occurs when an individual is found guilty of first-degree murder in the United States. There are various schools of thought on capital punishment. There are those that believe that capital punishment deters murderers and there are those that want the practice to be abolished.

The media has a role in shaping the public's opinion. If the media praises the existence of capital punishment there is a likelihood that the society will be easy to convince that the death penalty serves justice to people. However, if the media criticizes the existence of capital punishment, the people will tend to resist the use of the death penalty. In the early years, the death penalty occurred in public. However, in the 19th century, the trend changed to being private with Pennsylvania being the first state to adopt the method. Currently, only thirty-six states in America continue with the death penalty. States such as North Dakota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Hawaii and seven other states have abolished the death penalty. In 1972, there was a temporary abolishment of the capital punishment for ten years after it was determined that the punishment was unusual and cruel ("Furman V. Georgia | Case Brief Summary"). However, it was reinstated before the lapse of the ten years in 1977 when Gary Gillmore was executed.

Capital punishment is still in effect in the United States. However, there are limitations such as the exclusion of juveniles and the mentally handicapped. If an individual is mentally challenged and commits a felony, the court has no jurisdiction to punish the person. America has six methods of executing individuals slapped with a death penalty. The methods vary depending on the State of residence; there is the use of electrocution, hanging, lethal injection, firing squad, and lethal gas. Some Americans believe that capital punishment is a deterrent to crimes; there is a belief that crime rates decrease when the death penalty is instilled (Pataki). However, according to Donohue and Wolfers, there is no admissible evidence that the infusion of the death capital reduces the crime rates.

Human life being sacred makes it immoral for another to take it away. Opponents of capital punishment use the ideology to argue their points over advocates. They argue that the death punishment is a form of legalized murder and that murder is considered inappropriate regardless of the impending circumstances (Amsterdam, 134). However, their argument does not have a strong basis considering the American inheritance from the British an eye for an eye. Additionally, religious books such as the Bible and the Koran are referenced as tools that instigate the act of punishment, perpetrators need to face some form of punishment that can be quantified to their acts. A murderer within the society is considered a hazard since he or she can commit the same offense again. Critics argue that the only way to deter such people from the society is through capital punishment (Rogers 823-824).

However, one argument on capital punishment can be referenced as a basis of nullifying capital punishment in America. If people fight violence with violence and especially the State, what is the message being passed to the citizens on violence? The argument has been raised many times by opponents of capital punishment to convince the Americans to abolish capital punishment. According to the modern society, it is a common belief that violence does not solve issues. Moreover, murdering another individual is considered as an act of eradicating the meaning of human life. It is common to see corpses in the modern society; the mass media has propelled the notion of death. Capital punishment desensitizes the society in various ways. The media can comfortably air the conviction of a convict such as in the case of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi President, who faced his death penalty live on television (Schuldenrein et al. 130-156).

Capital punishment according to its opponents has made violence seem like a common occurrence that the society cannot live without. However, advocates argue that is an act of murder goes unpunished, it results to its perpetration. According to Prejean (57), when the society chooses violent deaths as a measure to curb various atrocious acts, it gives an official sanction to violence. Such schools of thought have been in existence since time in memorial and as time lapses more schools of thought on the subject continue cropping up. However, a republic of people has to be governed by the constitution. The Constitution forms a basis of how people should co-exist together in a society. Without laws, the society would become unruly and people would do as they please causing harm to the marginalized because there would be no one to fight for the rights of the oppressed.

Since civilization came to being, capital punishment has been a retributive method of punishment. However, opponents of the punishment deem it as barbaric and unconstitutional in an uncivilized society (Amsterdam, 134). Despite the State legalizing the punishment, many consider it as a remedy for a crime with no effect or purpose. Additionally, people deem it discriminatory, immoral, and unfair. Cases of people being executed in the United States are numerous and some of the culprits were or are innocent. There is a need to collect adequate evidence before prosecuting someone to face the death penalty. However, the errors of justice cannot be rectified making capital punishment irrevocable. There is no room for reconsiderations and many innocent lives have been lost in the due process.

The debate on capital punishment will continue to exist as long as human life exists. Even in religious books, the death punishment is considered in various teachings while other teachings condemn the act. For instance, the Bible advocates for the right of revenge; an eye for an eye. However, the same Bible condemns killing as illustrated in the sixth Commandment, Thou shall not kill. In the same essence, the State cannot be condemned for the various conflicting arguments on capital punishment. Opponents argue that the State is granted numerous rights that are hazardous to the citizens. They argue that the State has the right to choose who lives and who dies yet it preaches that violence does not solve anything.

A recent independent research in Oklahoma discovered that the costs of capital cases tripled the costs of non-capital cases ("Costs Of The Death Penalty | Death Penalty Information Center"). The study reviewed the costs of the death penalty in fifteen States between 2000 and 2016. During that period, the costs of capital punishment superseded the costs of non-capita punishment by $700,000. Currently, when all States are considered the cost difference between the two punishments surpasses the $1 billion. It evident from the research findings that imposing the death penalty is more expensive than not seeking it. On average, in Oklahoma, a capital punishment attracted $110,000 higher than a non-capital punishment. The trend is replicated in other States where capital punishment is yet to be abolished. All available evidence on the costs of capital punishment concurs with the findings in Oklahoma.For instance, in Oregon, researchers concluded that the death penalty incurs a huge burden on taxpayers who have to finance the maintenance of the punishment.

Considering the ethical point of view on capital punishment, various schools of thought can be deduced. Ethics try to understand the various standards of what is right and what is wrong (Luzarraga 215-216). In the past, capital punishment had a different meaning. The term capital was a reference to a person's head. In the early years, capital punishment was a way of beheading people. However, the trend has changed over time with the introduction of other means to execute capital offenders. According to a non-governmental organization, Amnesty International, several nations have abolished capital punishment. In fact, more than 50% - over 100 - of the countries in the world have abolished the punishment. An average of three countries have been abolishing the punishment in the past decade including both developed and developing countries. Occasionally, capital punishment is reintroduced; some crimes are still punishable by the capital punishment such as war crimes. However, at the current rate, there is a likelihood that in the near future capital punishment will be abolished globally and instances of reintroductions will be minimal. Better and favorable alternatives are cropping up that offer retribution to the affected families and preserving human life.

The existence of crime resulted in the introduction of the capital punishment. In the early 1900s, capital punishment was considered a necessary social measure by criminologists resulting in the resurgence in the use of the punishment. Capital punishment has however evolved as the human society c...

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