The Babylonian Hammurabi Code(ca. 1700 B. C. ) decreeddeath for crimes as minor as the fraudulent sale of beer(Flanders 3). Egyptianscould be put to death for disclosing the location of sacred burialsites(Flanders 3). However, in recent times opponents have shown the deathpenalty to be racist, barbaric, and in violation with the United StatesConstitution as “.
. . cruel and unusual punishment. ” In this country,although lawsgoverning the application of the death penalty have undergone many changessince biblical times, the punishment endures , and controversy has never beengreater. A prisoner’s death wish cannot grant a right not otherwise possessed. Abolitionists maintain that the state has no right to kill anyone; .
The rightto reject life imprisonment and choose death should be respected, but it changesnothing for those who oppose the death at the hands of the state. The death penalty is irrational- a fact that should carry considerableweight with rationalists. As Albert Camus pointed out, ” Capitalpunishment. .
. . has always been a religious punishment and is reconcilable withhumanism. ” In other words, society has long since left behind the archaic andbarbous” customs” from the cruel “eye for an eye” anti-human caves of religion-another factor that should raise immediate misgivings for freethinkers. State killings are morally bankrupt. Why do governments kill people toshow other people that killing people is wrong? Humanity becomes associated withmurderers when it replicate their deeds.
Would society allow rape as the penaltyfor rape or the burning of arsonists’ homes as the penalty for arson?The state should never have the power to murder its subjects. To givethe state this power eliminates the individual’s most effective shield againsttyranny of the majority and is inconsistent with democratic principles. Family and friends of murder victims are further victimized by statekillings. Quite a few leaders in the abolishment movement became involvedspecially because someone they loved was murdered. Family of victims repeatedlystated they wanted the murderer to die. One of the main reasons- in addition tojustice- was they wanted all the publicity to be over.
Yet. if it wasn’t for thesensationalism surrounding an execution, the media exposure would not haveoccurred in the first place. Murderers would be quietly and safely put away forlife with absolutely no possibility for parole. The death penalty violates constitutional prohibitions against crueland unusual punishment. The grotesque killing of Robert Harris by the state ofCalifornia on April 21,1992, and similar reports of witnesses to hangings andlethal injections should leave doubt that the dying process can be-and often is -grossly inhumane, regardless of method(Flanders 16).
The death penalty is often used for political gain. During hispresidential gain, President Clinton rushed home for the Arkansas execution ofRickey Ray Rector, a mentally retarded, indigent black man. Clinton couldn’ttake the chance of being seen by voters as ” soft on crime. ” Political Analystsbelieve that when the death penalty becomes an issue in a campaign, thecandidate favoring capital punishment almost inevitably will benefit. Capital punishment discriminates against the poor.
Although murdererscome from all classes, those on death row are almost without exception poor andwere living in poverty at the they were arrested. The majority of death-rowinmates were or are represented by court-appointed public defenders- and thestate is not obligated to provide an attorney at all for appeals beyond thestate level. The application of capital punishment is racist. About 40 percent ofdeath-row inmates are black, whereas only 8 percent of the population as a wholeare black(Flanders 25). In cases with white victims, black defendants were fourto six times more likely to receive death sentences than white defendants whohad similar criminal histories.
Studies show that the chance for a deathsentence is up to five to ten times greater in cases with white victims thanblack victims(Flanders 25). In the criminal justice system, the life of a whiteperson is worth more than the life of a black person. The mentally retarded are victimized by the death penalty. Since 1989,when the Supreme Court upheld killing of the mentally retarded, at least foursuch executions have occurred. According to the Southern Center for Human Rights,at least 10 percent of death row inmates in the United States are mentallyretarded(Long 79).
Juveniles are subject to the death penalty. Since state execution ofjuveniles also became permissible in the decision cited above, at least fivepeople who were juveniles when their crimes were committed have executed(Long79). Innocent people can-and have been- executed. With the death penaltyerrors are irreversible. According to a 1987 study, 23 people who were innocentof the crimes for which they were convicted were executed between 1900 and1985(Long 79). Until human judgement becomes infallible, this problem alone isreason enough to abolish the death penalty at the hands of the state morededicated to vengeance than to truth and justice.
Executions do not save money. There are those who cry that we, thetaxpayers, shouldn’t have to “support” condemned people for an entire lifetimein prison-that we should simply ” eliminate” them and save ourselves time andmoney. The truth is that the cost of state killing is up to three times the costof lifetime imprisonment(Long 80). Judges and others are reluctant- as theyshould be- to shorten the execution process for fear that hasty procedures willlead to the executions of more innocent people. The death penalty has been imposed most for murders committed during thecourse of another felony.
Aggravating circumstances for murder are defined inthe applicable death penalty statute. Circumstances considered for murderinclude:-The crime was particularly vile, atrocious, or cruel. -There were multiple victims. -The crime occurred during the commission of another felony. -The victim was a police or correctional officer in the line ofduty. -The offender was previously convicted of a capital offense or violent crime.
-The offender directed an accomplice to commit the murder or committed themurder at the direction of another person. (Flanders 12)In the novel, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, the main charactersDick and Perry were guilty of several of the circumstances that eventually ledto their demise:-The multiple victims included all four of the Clutter family. -The event occurred during an attempted robbery. -Both were former inmates and had previous dealings with the law. -Dick had chosen Perry for his instinct as a “Natural Born Killer”. Further,it seems that both Dick and Perry fell almost directly under thecommon background of one convicted of death.
The death penalty is flawed in manyfacets. Juries in rural counties are more likely to impose the death penaltythan those in urban areas. Dick and Perry were convicted in Garden City, a smallto moderate sized town. Both Dick and Perry were unemployed, poor, whitecriminals whose actions wrecked havoc not only on the remaining Clutter familyand relatives, but on the entire town of Holcomb and surrounding areas. Thisonly justifies and reinforces the points stated above that capital punishment isbiased, racist, and is harmful not only to the offenders themselves, but to theentire community.
Opposition to the death penalty finally acheived its goal when in 1972the Supreme Court struck down death penalty laws, finding fault not with thetheory, but with the method. However, all was lost when four years later, thedecision was once more revised and ruled the death penalty once more legal. Death row will continue to expand. It is almost certain that the risinglevel of executions will be widely condemned. The future of capital punishmentmay finally come down to the question of expense. A single capital trial nowcosts millions of dollars.
The enormous volume of continuing appeals strain bothfederal and state court systems. Unless workable solutions are found to thepractical difficulties involved in the administration of the death penalty. American society eventually may decide to significantly restrict or evenabandon capital punishment. Works CitedFlanders, Stephen A. Capital Punishment.
New York, NY: Facts on File, 1991. Long, Robert Emmet. Criminal Sentencing. New York, NY: H.
W. Company, 1995.rLaw