Death penaltyTo begin with, Deborah White (2008) the author of “Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty” writes, “Capital punishment, also dubbed the ‘death penalty’, is the pre-meditated and planned taking of a human life by the government in response to a crime committed by that legally convicted person” (p.1). The death penalty is a form of ending a criminal’s life, for a major wrong-doing that they have committed. The idea of taking another the life of a criminal in response to an act that they have committed is highly debated. Many feel that the death penalty is wrong; however others feel that it is acceptable. The idea of the death penalty being acceptable is supported by those individuals who are pro-death penalty. There are two reasons that the death penalty is often justified for. Hinman (2005) suggests, “there are two ways of justifying punishment, backward-looking: retribution for a past wrong, the lex taliones and forward looking: deterrence against future crimes” (p.
Death penaltysupporters believe that if a criminal takes the life of another human being, then that criminal need to be punished in the same way to either “get even” for the heinous, unforgivable act that they have committed. The death penalty is also used to prevent the event from occurring again by the same person. Why should a person be aloud to serve a few year prison sentence, only to be released to commit the same, or similar crime? It is considerer a sort of “life-saving” measure. The idea of saving a life is considered very important by death penalty supporters as well as death penalty opposers. Hinman (2005) argues, “Both opponents and defenders of the death penalty appeal to the sanctity of life” (p.4). By stating this, Hinman is reinforcing the fact that those who believe in the death penalty feel that they are potentially saving a life by ending the life of a killer; so that they cannot kill again. However, those who disagree with the ethicality of the death penalty, feel that taking a life, regardless of whose it is, is wrong. Every life is considered a life, and thus worth saving. Saving every life regardless of the situation is one belief of anti-death penalty believers. However, there are several other reasons for their strong beliefs against this form of capital punishment. It is considered by many believers that the death penalty is use of excessive force on a human being, and unnecessary. White (2008) writes, “Death constitutes cruel and unusual punishment …wrongly convicted innocent people have received death penalty sentences, and were killed by the state…killing human life is morally wrong under all circumstances” (p.2). Here, White is reinforcing the opinion held by many who are against the death penalty. It is believed that lethally injecting a person or using an electric chair is too cruel. Also, death is irreversible, if a person is sentenced to death, and then found to be innocent; there is no bringing the person back, and unfortunately this has occurred more than once in the United States. As stated previously, for those who do not believe in the death penalty, it is not ethical, or morally right in any situation. Another argument voiced by those against the death penalty is somewhat of a religious one. We are not God, we do not create life, nor should we have a say in when and how a person should die.
John Barry (2000), the author of the article “ Is the Death Penalty Cruel and Unusual”, suggests, “our criminal justice system has no basis for deciding whether an individual deserver or does not deserve to live” (p.1). This quote reinforces the opinion that the government does not have any right to play ‘God’; we should not pass judgment on whether a person should live or die. It is not our say. The fact that it should not be left up to the government whether a person is to live or die, has been the ultimate decision by many states as well as other countries. Barry (2000) writes, “The death penalty is just one more way to get revenge in a society that is already consumed with violence. Many countries have already abolished the death penalty. The United States which has always taken a stand for fairness in criminal justice systems, should join those nations in denouncing capital punishment” (p.1). Here, Barry (2000) is demanding that even though the death penalty has been, and is still being used by many states and as well as other countries; it is being abandoned by many. Whether it be by the data that the death penalty is not working as a deterrent (crimes are still being committed on a daily basis) or that more are considering the death penalty to be “cruel and unusual” punishment. None-the-less, many are eliminating this method of punishment. Another study indicates that the death penalty is a applied mostly with regards to ethnic minorities such as African Americans. As Stark argues, capital punishment is used arbitrarily across geographical locations in which blacks are more likely to receive the death penalty: "The study shows that the federal death penalty is used disproportionately against minorities, especially African Americans -- and that it is applied in a geographically arbitrary way, with some states, like Virginia and Texas, accounting for a large share of death penalty prosecutions" (Stark 1). According to a report, the large percentage of inmates who are on death row are African Americans and Hispanics. This disproportinate amount reveals that minority groups account for the large majority of inmates for whom prosecutors desire the death penalty: "According to DOJ figures, nearly 80 percent of inmates on federal death row are Black, Hispanic or from another minority group. Minorities account for 74 percent of the cases in which federal prosecutors seek the death penalty" (Stark 1). Human rights group are alarmed at the frequency of the occurrences in which minority groups receive the death penalty. They oppose the racial bias of capital punishemtn and wish to bring about change. For instance, organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union desire to put an end to arbitrary confinement of minority groups to the death penalty: "These statistics prompted calls for a halt on federal executions from a number of organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union. And Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold and Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. introduced federal moratorium legislation" (Stark 1). Racial discrimination and inequality occur across all parts of the United States. "Racial inequity is found not just in the South, where most U.S. executions are taking place. According to a study done by David Baldus and George Woodwort, blacks in Philadelphia are four times more likely to get the death penalty than other defendants who commit similar murders. Philadelphia has put 133 people on death row - more than most southern states. Over 89% of these prisoners are people of color" (How Racism Riddles U.S Death Penalty 1). The racial bias in capital punishment is a nationwide phenomenon that results in blacks receiving a death sentence as a result of their race: "Nationwide, cases involving a white victim and a defendant of color are most likely to result in a death sentence. The Baldus study found that six out of ten defendants sentenced to death in Georgia for killing a white person would not have received a death sentence had their victim been black" (How Racism Riddles U.S Death Penalty 1). The lack of equity in the justice system results in blacks receiving the death penalty: "A white victim case was over four times more likely to result in a death sentence than was a comparable black victim case. In Maryland - the state with one of the highest percentages of African Americans on death row - a death sentence is eight times more likely in a white victim case than a black victim case, according to a 1987 Public Defender's Office study" (How Racism Riddles U.S Death Penalty 1). The death penalty is increasingly viewed as an unreliable practice by members of the judiciary system. The decline of death sentences in recent years implies that the death penalty is commonly viewed as a practice that is unnecessary and deserves to be abolished: "Compared to the 1990’s, there has been a marked decline in death sentences in the U.S. since 2000. Every region of the country and every state that averaged one or more death sentences per year have seen a decline in the annual number of death sentences. The chart below compares the annual number of death sentences in each state in the 1990s with the 2000s" (The Death Penalty, 2008, 1). The decline in death sentences reveals that other alternatives such as life-without-parole sentences nullify the need for the death penalty: "On a percentage basis, death sentences in the country dropped 62% between 1998 and 2007. Doubts about the reliability of the death penalty coupled with the availability of life-without-parole sentences have likely contributed to the drop in death sentences" (The Death Penalty, 2008, 1). The unreliability of the death penalty also pertains to the way in which a death sentence can hamper criminal investigations and prevent investigators from scrutinizing all available evidence. An article focuses on how authorities pressured suspects to confess to crimes they did not commit. As a result, the suspects were convicted of murder: "[T]he death penalty distorted a state criminal investigation to the extent that six innocent people were convicted of a murder they did not commit. Defendants were pressured to offer erroneous testimony through the threat of facing the death penalty. “The wrongful convictions show how the death penalty can distort the search for justice,” the editorial stated. “Investigators...showed photos of the crime scene. Under pressure, suspects offered the stories authorities wanted" (The Death Penalty, 2008, 1). Many view this distortion of the law as evidence for the need to abolish the death penalty: "Due to the prevalence of human error in the system, the editorial concluded, "The death penalty should be abolished" (The Death Penalty, 2008, 1). Conclusion, It is clearly certain that the use of the death penalty is an extremely disputed issue in terms of ethical issues. Whether or not it is ethically, or morally right to take the life of another human being for a crime that they have been convicted of has been argued upon for decades, and will most likely continue to be for many years to come.