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Capital Punishment (2840 words)

Capital PunishmentPutting to death people who have been judge to commit certain extremely heinous crimes is a practice of ancient standing. But in the United States, in the latter half of the twentieth century, it has become a very controversial issue. Changing views on this difficult issue led the Supreme Court to abolish capital punishment in 1972 but later turned to uphold it again in 1977, with certain conditions. Indeed, restoring capital punishment is the will of the people, yet many voices have been raised against it. Heated public debate has centered on questions of deterrence, public safety, sentencing equality, and the execution of innocents, among others. One argument states that the death penalty does not deter murder. Dismissing capital punishment on that basis would require us to eliminate all prisons as well because they do not seem to be any more effective in the deterrence of crime. Others say that states, which have the death penalty, have higher crime rates than those that do not. And that a more sever punishment only inspires more sever crimes. But every state in the union is different. These differences include population, the number of cities, and the crime rate. Urbanized states are more likely to have higher crime rates than states that are more rural. The states that have capital punishment have it because of their high crime rate, not the other way around. In 1985, a study was published by economist Stephen K. Layson, at the University of North Carolina, that showed that every execution of a murderer deters, on average of 18 murders. The study also showed that raising the number of death sentences by only one percent would prevent 105 murders. However, only 38 percent of all murder cases result in a death sentence, and of those, only 0.1 percent are actually executed. During the temporary suspension on capital punishment from 1972 – 1976, researchers gathered murder statistics across the country. Researcher Karl Spence of Texas A&M University came up with these statistics, in 1960, there were 56 executions in the United States and 9,140 murders. By 1964, when there were only 15 executions, the number of murders had risen to 9,250. In 1969, there were no executions and 14,590 murders, and 1975, after six years without executions, 20,510 murders occurred. So the number of murders grew as the number of executions shrank. Spence said: While some [death penalty] abolitionists try to face down the results of their disastrous experiment and still argue to the contrary, the…[data] concludes that a substantial deterrent effect has been observed…In six months, more Americans are murdered than have been killed by execution in this entire century…Until we begin to fight crime in earnest [by using the death penalty], every person who dies at a criminal’s hands is a victim of our inaction. And in Texas, the highest murder rate in Houston (Harris County) occurred in 1981 with 701 murders. Since Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1982, Harris County has executed more murderers than any other city or state in the union and has seen the greatest reduction in murder from 701 in 1981 down to 261 in 1996 – a 63% reduction, representing a 270% differential. Also, in the 1920s and 30s, death penalty advocates were known to refer to England as a means of proving capital punishment’s deterrent effect. Back then, at least 120 murderers were executed every year in the United States and sometimes the number reached 200. Even then, England used the death penalty far more consistently than we did and their overall murder rate was smaller than any one of our major cities at the time. Now, since England abolished capital punishment about released killers have murdered thirty years ago, the murder rate has subsequently doubled there and 75 English citizens. Abolitionists will claim that most studies show that the death penalty has no effect on the murder rate at all. But that’s only because those studies have been focused on inconsistent executions. Capital punishment, like all other applications, must be used consistently in the United States for decades, so abolitionists have been able to establish the delusion that it does not deter at all to rationalize their fallacious arguments. But the evidence shows that whenever capital punishment is applied consistently or against a small murder rate it has always been followed by a decrease in murder. There is not an example on how the death penalty has failed to reduce the murder rate under those conditions. So capital punishment is very capable of deterring murder if we allow it to, but our legal system is so slow and inefficient, criminals are able to stay several steps ahead of us and gain leeway through our lenience. Several reforms must be made in our justice system so the death penalty can cause a positive effect. Abolitionists claim that there are alternatives to the death penalty. They say that life in prison without parole serves just as well. Certainly, if you ignore all the murders criminals commit within prison when they kill prison guards and other inmates, and also when they kill decent citizens upon escape. According to the United States Department of Justice, the average prison sentence served for murder is five years and eleven months. But just putting a murderer away for life is not good enough. Laws change, so do parole boards, and people forget the past. Those are things that cause life imprisonment to weather away. As long as the murderer lives, there is always a chance, no matter how small, that he will strike again. This is why for people who truly value public safety; there is no substitute for the best in its defense, which is capital punishment. It not only forever bars the murderer from killing again, it also prevents parole boards and criminal rights activists from giving him the chance to repeat his crime. There are those that state that capital punishment is unfair to people of other races, classes, or mental abilities. I say that these aspects are not an issue. Murder has no color, class, or IQ. A murderer is a murderer. When a loved one is killed, I doubt anyone could take comfort in the fact that the perpetrator had a low IQ, was black instead of white, or poor instead of rich. 1991 Rand Corporation studies by Stephen Klein found that white murderers received the death penalty slightly more often (32%) than non-white murderers (27%). And while the study found murderers of white victims received the death penalty more often (32%) than murderers of non-white victims (23%), when controlled for variables such as severity and number of crimes committed, there is no disparity between those sentenced to death for killing white or black victims. Also, doesn’t the fact that the death penalty is optional make it seem more prone to racial discrimination? It has been called racist since a prosecutor can seek a death sentence against an African-American for capital crime but not a white person for the same offense. You never hear of prison terms being called racist because there are mandatory sentences for many crimes. If the death penalty were the same way, race would not be an issue and the courts would be forced to concentrate only on the crime committed. For capital punishment to be applied equally to every criminal, rich or poor, black or white, it must be mandatory for all capital cases. There are claims that it is more expensive for the state to execute a criminal than to incarcerate him for life. Many opponents presented, as facts, claim that the cost of the death penalty is so expensive (at least $2 million per case?), that we must choose life without parole at a cost of $1 million for 50 years. But JFA (Justice for All) also estimated that life without parole cases would cost $1.2 million – $3.6 million more than equivalent death penalty cases. Life without parole prisoner’s face, on average, 30 or 40 years in prison while the annual cost of incarceration is $40,000 to $50,000 a year for each prisoner or more. There is no question that the up front cost of the death penalty is significantly higher than that of the life without parole cases. There also appears to be no question that, over time, the equivalent life without parole cases are much more expensive – from $1.2 to $3.6 million – than death penalty cases. Opponents claim that the death penalty costs 3 – 10 times more than life without parole. TIME Magazine (2/7/94) found that nationwide the average cell costs is $24,000 a year and the maximum-security cell cost is $75,000 a year. Therefore, any cost calculations should be based specifically of cell cost for criminals who have committed the exact same category of offense – in other words, cost comparisons are valid only if you compare the cost of death penalty cases to the equivalent life without parole cases. But the cost for justice does not have to be so high for the execution of murderers. If we only allowed appeals that are relevant in proving one’s innocence and eliminated the many more that are used merely as delaying tactics, it would save millions in taxpayers dollars. Abolitionists claim that the death penalty is unconstitutional by quoting the eighth amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. But cruel and unusual was never defined by our founding fathers. So where does the Supreme Court stand on the cruel and unusual claim of the abolitionists? In several cases the Justices of the Supreme Court have held that the death penalty is not cruel and/or unusual, and is in fact, a Constitutionally acceptable remedy for a criminal act. The Supreme Court has constantly held that the death penalty in itself, as a sentence for a crime, is neither cruel nor unusual. The court said: The punishment of death is not cruel, within the meaning of that word as used in the Constitution. It implies there is something more inhuman and barbarous, than the mere extinguishment of life. There are those who insist that the Constitution does not support the death penalty. This is simply not true. The fifth amendment states: No person shall be held for a answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall property be taken for public use, without just compensation. Note: …a capital, or otherwise infamous crime… …be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb… …nor be deprived of life…without due process of law… So the constitution does allow capital punishment through indirect reference. I would imagine that the Founding Fathers could not have conceived of a world or nation without capital punishment. Indeed, in those days, there was absolutely no question of the value of public safety and personal responsibility. Had they foreseen the rise in violent crime we have had in the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s, they might have declared the death penalty in the Preamble. As for the penal system accidentally executing an innocent person, I must point out that in this imperfect world, citizens are required to take certain risks in exchange for relative safety. After all, convicted murderers have taken far more innocent lives than the supposedly 23 innocent lives mistakenly executed in this century. For instance, over 600 repeat offenses occur within prison walls each year in this country. Not only that, but over 13,000 Americans citizens are murdered each year by released and paroled criminals. These are the serious flaws in life sentences that abolitionists prefer to trivialize to nonexistence. One United States Senate report stated this position this way: All that can be expected of…[human authorities] is that they take every reasonable precaution against the danger of error…If errors are…made, this is the necessary price that must be paid within a society which is made up of human beings. Also, the death penalty isn’t the only institution that requires that we accept risks in exchange for social benefits. We, in fact, mindlessly use far more dangerous institutions that take the lives of innocents by the hundreds every day, cars for example. After all, how can we accept the average 45,000 person a year death toll in this nation due to car wrecks for our personal conveniences when we can’t accept the few risks of wrongful executions for the sake of defending public safety? To enjoy the privilege of using cars, airplanes, or any other device that improve the quality of our lives, we accept the risks and deaths that are caused by them in order to reap their full benefits. The same concept applies for the death penalty only on a far lesser scale. As long as we are entitled to recklessly endanger hundreds of innocent lives daily for our personal conveniences, then surely we should be allowed to take on a lesser risk for public safety. Every institution that is of great benefit to our society always contains risks so that we may enjoy a better world. The death penalty happens to be the least dangerous of them, yet it is focused on with the most paranoia. Abolitionist likes to establish the illusion that the death penalty is the only risk that exists. That’s why they rarely, if ever, pay attention to the hundreds of innocent human beings that are brutally slaughtered daily by cars, airplanes, fire, and electricity, let alone violent crime. The only time they assign the most worth and reverence to human lives is when they help rationalize their own standards like the possible victims of wrongful executions. Also, whenever we have to go to war, it happens that all the gunshots we fire that are meant for the enemy may hit and kill many of our own soldiers and allies. It had been known to occur, but that unpleasant factor doesn’t prevent us from going to war. On a final note, how can murder be taken seriously if the penalty isn’t equally as serious? A crime after all is only as sever as the punishment that follows it. As Edward Konch once said: It is by exacting the highest penalty for the taking of human life that we affirm the highest value of human life. As the flagship of democracy, it is the United States responsibility to demonstrate that public safety is not some trivial privilege, but an unalienable human right for every citizen. Therefore, the United States should set the example that every civilized nation has a moral responsibility to defend the safety of their citizens at least as diligently as they defend national security with an army. Every country in the world is ready and willing to kill thousands, even millions of human beings in brutal, merciless ways to defend their nation from the aggression of other countries. I don’t see why public safety doesn’t deserve as much respect and protection as a nation’s national security does. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that supporting armies and waging war is far more barbarous than the death penalty. So I find it hypocritical that the same countries who have abolished capital punishment because it is barbaric are at the same time prepared to enforce political power and defend their territorial claims through infinitely more violence and bloodshed than the death penalty would ever require. The whole reason why nations and governments exist is to defend their citizens from vicious criminals. When it fails to do that, it becomes of little use to its citizens. When a society ignores their moral duty to defend the safety and security of their citizens and leaves them at the mercy of violent criminals, they are negligent. I am certain that there will come a time when all the nations in the world will be forced to agree after decades of experience on this issue, that capital punishment, like the military and the police force and taxes, is an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of every civilized society and it will no longer be a question of whether or not a nation should have the death penalty, but rather how it should be used. While I believe that prompt and consistent executions would have a deterrent effect, there remains one great virtue, even as infrequent as executions. The recidivism rate for capital punishment is zeros. No executed murderer has ever killed again. You can’t say that about those sentenced to prison, even if you are an abolitionist.


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