The death penalty, to me, has always been a confused punishment. The USA and all other countries that practice Death Penalty are punishing people for murder with murder. The USA, flag bearer of human rights, is excelling in the right to life by taking this right from the ones who commit the crime. Death Penalty runs counter to fundamental human rights and shall be abolished in all states of the USA.
The history of capital punishment dates back to the period of Babylon Empire. It was introduced as a punishment for twenty-five different crimes. When the Athens took to power, they declared death penalty as a punishment for all offenses. The means for execution back then was, crucifixion, burning alive, drowning, etc. In 10th century AD, hanging for death was a very common practice. William the Conqueror then abandoned this practice and made it legal only in times of war. In the centuries to one, there were more death penalties given than anywhere else in the world.
This influence was the strongest in the USA. When Europeans came to power, they introduced the concept of Capital Punishment. It was followed by the abolitionist movement of colonial times and nineteenth century. The death penalty was reinstated and suspended several times before it was put into practice at the federal level in the USA. (Bohm, 1999)
As time passed, there was a consensus established within the international system of nations that the death penalty would no longer be tolerated.
Nation-states started to abolish it on moral and legal grounds. The most populated country in the world, China, and the most powerful country in the world, the USA, uses the death penalty to execute thousands of people annually.
The death penalty in the USA intersects with the human rights and international laws. There were different reasons that all countries used to abolish the death penalty. For some, it was the understanding and realization of human rights. Spain, Switzerland and South Africa, for example, ended the death penalty because it ran counter to the right to life and dignity of every human being. It is now viewed as an international problem; European Council has threatened that the observer status of the USA would be suspended if death penalty would still be practiced in its full form. (Dieter)
The death penalty is constitutionally illegal as President Bill Clinton has signed an order on the 50th anniversary of UN Charter of Human Rights that states that the USA would always work to promote human rights. It is undeniably in contradiction with the charter of human rights. The UN general assembly has called to put an end to the death penalty. The USA ratified a treaty ‘Convention against Torture’ in 1994. According to this convention, the suffering inflicted on anyone as a punishment is illegal. It apparently terms the death penalty to be illegal. (Meeropol)
During the last few years, some progress has been made with regards to the amendment to the death penalty. In 2002, Atkins vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision concluded that death penalty would not be given to anyone who is medically declared to be mentally challenged.
Similarly, in 2005, capital punishment case of Roper vs. Simons it was stated that anyone under the age of 18 would not be charged with a death penalty. But, still, it is highly criticized that the prisoner of Guantanamo Bay are given death sentences despite the fact that the evidence is collected through torture and hearsay. (Gerbasi & Scott, 2003)
If people know about the punishment of the crime they are committing, why do people still are charged for committing 1st-degree murder? Around 15,000 people were murdered in 2012 alone. Capital punishment does not seem to be that effective. It is not a strong measure of deterring people from their crimes. (Flamehorse, 2013)
There are five proper methods of causing death in the USA; hanging, through gas chambers, electrocuting, firing and through lethal injections. John Wayne Gacy, who was charged with the sex-related murder of thirty-three people, was given a death penalty. He was injected with lethal injections, but things didn’t go as planned. Something went wrong, and his death took seventeen minutes as compared to seven. The death was miserable. Even the legal methods of execution are painful are torturous. (Kifner, 1994)
The death penalty violates the dignity of human life. If abortion is illegal in several states – death penalty should be unlawful too. Legal status of the death penalty in Utah forced a suicidal person Gary Gilmore to murder two people so he could demand sentence for his death. (Kozel)
Most of the death penalties are charged because of lack of defense assistance. The defense council is not efficient enough. Therefore several cases that appear in front of us are those where the decision has been reversed, and death penalty decision has been reinforced. Furthermore, out of every ten people that are executed, one is mentally challenged. There are countless cases where mentally ill people are put on death row as the jury rejects the insanity defense. When the death penalty is made so common, it desensitizes the community and makes them devoid of emotions. It increases the current high levels of anxiety and depression.
The average time for a death penalty trial to reach the final verdict is over 12 years on average. It is extremely expensive as compared to a sentence of life imprisonment as it requires more papers work and hiring an expensive attorney. It has been reported that death penalties have cost over $135 million annually to California Justice System. Similarly, in Kansas and Maryland, a death penalty case costs 70% times more than a non-death penalty case. (Maxfield, 2017)
Statistics reveal how the minorities are higher recipients of death penalties as compared to the white majority. Professor Katherine Beckett from the University of Washington concluded in his studies that blacks were fours time more likely to receive a death penalty than a white convicted murderer. In a revised edition of the same study, it was said that the jury was three times more likely to sentence a death penalty is the defendant was black. So, it can be clearly stated that marginalized racial minorities are victimized in the name of capital punishment. (Evans & Beckett, 2014)
There is always a margin for an error of judgment. There is always a possibility that the evidence provided is forged. Even if that rarely happens, a person’s life is at stake. Once killed for punishment, the act is reversible. Cameron Toddy, the father, was accused of the murder of his three children. After a death penalty was given and he was murdered; evidence revealed that his children died in a fire. An innocent life was lost.
Even if proven guilty, it is the time that we question the sanity of capital punishment and death penalties. James Holmes has been guilty of cold-blooded, first-degree murder of 12 people in a movie theater in Colorado in 2012. A jury discarded his insanity defense. Now, it is under debate that whether he shall be charged with life imprisonment or a death penalty. Even the thought of putting him on a death row is embarrassing for the USA being the flag bearer of human rights.
On average, a typical person on death row is expected to wait for 12 years for his death penalty. This wait for death causes ‘Death Row Syndrome.’ A psychological disorder of severe anxiety and depression attacks from waiting for death. It is a psychological trauma given to the prisoner and runs in counter to many law injunctions.
It has been revealed that death penalty leads to an increase in the murder rate. According to various studies, the death rate in 2010 in states where the death penalty was suspended was much lower as compared to states where death punishment was legal.
The death penalty is supported by many because they believe; death as a punishment is not cruel and is given to only those who deserve it. Scholars also argue that the death penalty is not unlawful as it was given a legal status as it is drafted in the 7th amendment in 1791.
Many people support capital punishment because of religion. They argue that Christianity calls for capital punishment instantly if a murder is committed. They give the reference stated below:
Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his image.”
But it is not true for American cases of capital punishment. Bible has set very high standards for the murder penalty. Eyewitness statements, proofs and evidence of the crime, make the accounts of capital punishment very rare.
The biblical injunction holds true for deterrence from crime if and only if the death penalty is correctly given out. If given wrongly, it results in even a more disastrous society. (Mohler, 2014)
Some say that the criminals shall pay for their crime. The larger the crime, the greater is the punishment. Hence, as justice should be served to the family of the victim, the criminals must be executed. It is also argued that Death penalty is sure to deter the criminals from committing murders. It is said that executing convicted murders would prevent other criminals from doing the same. It is termed necessary as it discourages the instances of crime. (Sage, 2006)
But, I believe that retribution is confused with revenge. To put the criminals through rehabilitation will not only make them realize their mistake but also make them a better social being. They will contribute more the betterment of the society.
And even if not, the state does not have the right to take someone’s life away. Above all the UN Declaration of Human Rights declares the death penalty to be inhumane and illegal. So, it shall be abolished in the USA without further delay.
Everyone has an alienable right to live, sentencing to death and taking that right runs in counter to the human rights charter. Retribution is immoral, vengeance is flawed and sooner or later an innocent will be killed because of the flaws that exist within the justice system of the USA.
It death penalty is abolished altogether, what is next? Well, there is an alternative that the USA shall embrace with open arms; ‘life without parole.’ It costs less; there is enough time to correct the mistakes made. It certainly values life and the dignity of a human being. It is much better and sane than taking someone’s life for a crime they committed. Nobody wants a rapist or a serial killer back on the streets, life without parole may not be the perfect solution, but it is the best alternative to the death penalty.
Bohm, M. R. (1999). Deathquest: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Capital Punishment in the United States. National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 225.
Dieter, R. C. (n.d.). The Death Penalty and Human Rights: U.S. Death Penalty and International Law. Oxford Round Table.
Evans, H., & Beckett, K. (2014). The role of race in Washington State capital sentencing. Washington: The Washington Appellate Project.
Flamehorse. (2013, June 1st). Five Arguments For And Against The Death Penalty. Retrieved from List Verse: http://listverse.com/2013/06/01/5-arguments-for-and-against-the-death-penalty/
Gerbasi, J. B., & Scott, C. L. (2003). Atkins v. Virginia: Execution of Mentally Retarded Defendants Revisited. The Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 201-205.
Kifner, J. (1994). Gacy, Killer of 33, Is Put To Death as Appeals Fail. The New York Times.
Kouzel, D. (n.d.). Eighteen Arguments against the Death Penalty.
Maxfield, I. (2017). The Evidential Argument Against The Death Penalty. Huffington Post.
Meeropol, R. (n.d.). The Death Penalty is a Human Rights Violation. Center for Constitutional Rights.
Mohler, A. R. (2014). Why Christians should support the death penalty. CNN.
Sage, B. (2006). Does the Death Penalty Deter? Wilson Quarterly.