“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” are three important words to every American. These three concepts are given to every person that is an American citizen through the United States Constitution; with this in mind, what are the guidelines of being a citizen when he/she does not abide by all rules and regulations given by the government onto its people? Should a person that breaks the law be given a second chance or shall his/her freedom be taken away? “Capital Punishment is punishment that takes someone’s liberty and life away because they have committed a crime that other Americans can not seem to justify as being righteous. Some of these cases involve gangland killings, air piracy, drive-by shootings, and kidnapping for ransom are a few of the continuously committed crimes”(Bedau, 1999). Throughout the world there are many different views on how criminals should be treated, either with some kind of assassination or seclusion away from others. Capital Punishment is sought over many people around the world with both pros and cons on each side on the argument, but which side is right?
Although the states Alaska, Maine, Minnesota, Vermont, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, North Dakota, West Virginia, Iowa, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin do not have capital punishment the other thirty-seven states in the United States do. As in every state when a crime is committed the criminal is placed in front of a jury and given a “fair” trial because every person is “innocent until proven guilty”. In all the states that do not have capital punishment the criminal would be sentenced an amount of time that the jury feels the accused deserves. In the other states though the jury still decides if the criminal is innocent or not, then another trial date is set to justify if the crime was so unlawful that the accused should be executed. Some people object to this because innocent person may be put on death row for a crime they did not commit. Today though, the number of appeals (to call upon a higher authority to review) can be up to twenty times. (Justice Served, 1999) So it is very unlikely that a person will be convicted of a crime more than twenty times by twenty different juries if they are innocent.
Firstly, if a person is going to kill, they will not put into consideration that he/she may be put on death row for committing murder. He/she will not think about being put onto death row by the government because he/she thinks that they will not get caught or have been let go before on a previous occasion. Almost one in ten death row inmates has been convicted of murder at least once before in previous trials and has been let go after fifteen years. (Brinker, 1999) Capital Punishment is the only way to truly convince the criminal of his wrongdoing. If he/she is let go after so many years he/she will not feel as though they did something wrong because they were released from jail.
A question that opposers have brought up is that capital punishment goes against the eighth amendment of the United States Constitution that states, “…nor cruel and unusual punishments” should be “inflicted.” But as in the Supreme Court cases in 1976: Greg v. Georgia, Profit v. Florida, and Juke v. Texas the court held that the punishment for the first degree was not a cruel and unusual punishment. (Justice Served, 1999) Ever since 1622 in Virginia where the Daniel Frank, the first person ever to be executed, viewers have come to watch the criminal receive his punishment (Brinker, 1999). Americans go and view an execution every day therefore this kind of punishment is not too harsh to watch or be charged of.
One thing that holds opposers of capital punishment is that new evidence for the defendants’ case may come up and then the convicted can not be let free. The very thought of capital punishment is that the criminal may not be given the chance to harm another innocent human being again. By getting rid of the criminal the world will be a safer place to live. After all, “A man of great anger shall bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again.” (Proverbs 19:19)
On the other hand, there are contrasts to capital punishment. One of the leading oppositions to capital punishment is that it is not a deterrent to criminals. For capital punishment to work properly it would have to be consistent in every state and be promptly employed; because it is not, it can not be an effective deterrent. Between the years of 1990 and 1994, the homicide rates in Wisconsin and Iowa (non-death penalty states) were half the rates of Illinois, which sentenced two hundred and twenty-three persons to death and carried out two executions. (U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1994) Suicide-by-execution syndrome wants to die so they decide to murder someone else so they would not have to commit suicide (Capital punishment, 1984).
Secondly, capital punishment among race and sex is considered to be unfair. In the case, McCleskey v. Kemp, McCleskey (an African American) was convicted of murdering a Georgian police officer and was sentenced to death. In a writ of habeas corpus, he argued Georgia was, racist within their death penalty towards African Americans because of their color. The Supreme Court said that, since McCleskey could not prove that the court was discriminating towards him in his trial, he was guilty as charged. Although in McCleskey’s case, he could not prove racism, 4220 prisoners were executed between 1930 and 1996 in the United States and fifty-three percent of, which were black. (Sorensen, 1994) A study of the death penalty in Texas shows that the states capital punishment system is an outgrowth of the racist “legacy of slavery”. (Bureau of Statistics, 1996) Women are less likely to be executed than a male criminal is. During the 1980’s and the early 1990’s only about one percent of all the women on death row were committed, while roughly fifteen percent of all criminal homicides are done by women, (U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Capital Punishment,” 1980-1994).
Thirdly, capital punishment can not be irreversible. Although it is said that capital punishment is done to help keep safety in America, it also convicts many innocent people and puts them to death. For instance, Perry Cobb, Darby Tillis, Verneal Jimerson, Dennis Williams, Anthony Porter, and Steven Smith were on death row in Cook County, Ill but then had their sentence revoked by (now mayor of Chicago) state’s attorney general Richard M. Daley. In fact sixty-six percent of all the capital convictions won by Daley’s prosecutors were reversed when they retried them. (Zorn, 1999)
Criminals should be given another chance. For instance, in the case McKinney v. Shepard: Aaron McKinney and his friend Russell Henderson lured Matthew Shepard, a twenty-two year old college student, from a bar in Laramie, Wyoming to beat, burn, and hung Matthew from a prairie fence to die. Shepard was hung there for around eighteen hours in below freezing temperature before being found. But Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthews’ parents, decided not to put him to death because they felt it was not right to kill another soul because it would send the wrong imagine to McKinney. Because the Shepards are strongly against capital punishment Aaron McKinney was given another chance at life. Although he was not given his freedom he was given his life, one that Matthew Shepard could never have again.
Finally, capital punishment is showing the wrong image to all Americans and foreigners. It sends out the opinion that we should do onto others as they do onto us. It should be seen as not humane to say that once a murderer always a murderer and that they should not get another chance. There are many reasons why someone might kill, such as someone whom has suffered often from neglect, emotional trauma, violence, or cruelty and some of these factors should be taken into account. The bible gives guidelines about capital punishment and one states that any decision on capital punishment should be made judiciously, impartially, and not to be administered in maliciousness or vengeance. It also states that there should be a clear distinction between involuntary manslaughter and premeditated murder. (Demar, 1982) Government should not play the role of God by deciding who should live and who shouldn’t.
In conclusion, Capital Punishment is a wide topic to discuss and not every American feels the same way about it. On the positive side, it is righteous punishment, not a cruel or unusual punishment, and protects the innocent from repeating criminals. On the opposers side though, it is not a deterrent to criminals, unfair among race and sex, is not irreversible, and can not give a person another chance. Many different people around the world can fight it over in many different ways but any way everyone else stands I will always stand on the opposing side.
Barlett, Matthew D. “Capital Punishment, Justice Served.” 1999.
Bedau, Hugo Adam. “The Case Against the Death Penalty.” 1999.
Brinker, Steve. “Capital Punishment: Give it a Chance.” 1999.
Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Capital Punishment 1977″; Death Row USA,” summer
“Capital Punishment,” Biblical Principles, (Plymouth Rock Foundation), 1984, p.17.
Demar, Gary, God and Government (American Vision Press: Atlanta) 1982, p.viii.
Marguart, Ekland-Olson, and Sorensen, The Rope, the Chair, and the Needle: Capital
Punishment in Texas, 1923-1990(1994).
Pfaff, William. Act of Mercy For Killer is Baffling. November 16, 1999. Knight Ridder
Zorn, Eric, Daley’s Oversight of Prosecutors Didn’t Do Justice to the Job, Chicago
Tribune, Nov. 16,1999.