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Essay/Term paper: Capital punishment

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Politics

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Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is the legal infliction the death penalty. It is obviously
the most severe form of criminal punishment. (Bedau1) Capital punishment is a
controversial way of dealing with violent criminals. The main alternative to
the death penalty is life in prison. Capital punishment has been around for
thousands of years as a means of eradicating criminals. A giant debate started
between supporters and opposers of execution, over the morality and
effectiveness of the death penalty. The supporters claim that if you take a
life you should pay with your life or "an eye for an eye". Opposers of the
death penalty bring up the chance of sentencing the innocent and how the death
penalty is inhumane. The purpose of this paper is to examine the process of
capital punishment and the moral viewpoints on the death penalty.

The first evidence of capital punishment is from Hammurabi's code, a book of
Babylonian law, from 1700BC. (http://www.schoolsucks) The Bible mentions that
execution should be used for many crimes. (Bedau1) One example of the death
penalty in the bible is "Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to
death." (Exodus 21:12). The bible also suggests stoning a woman if she
unmarried sex and had "wrought folly on Israel by playing the harlot in her
father's house" (Deuteronomy 22:21) England recognized seven major crimes that
called for execution by the end of the 15th century. These crimes were: murder,
theft (by deceitfully taking someone goods), burglary, rape, and arson. As
time went by more and more crimes were believed to deserve the death penalty and
by 1800 more than 200 crimes were recognized as punishable by death. (Bedau2)

It was not long before capital punishment met opposition. The Quakers made
first movement against execution. They supported life imprisonment as a more
humane justice. Cesare Beccaria wrote On Crimes and Punishment, a book
criticizing torture and the death penalty, in 1764. Cesare drove many other
philosophers, like Voltaire and Jerry Bentham, to question the validity of using
capital punishment. (Bedau2)

Contrary to what some may believe the process of sentencing a defendant is a
very arduous and time-taking ordeal. After he has been arrested as the suspect
of a crime the defendant will either tried in a state or federal court system.
The lowest court that a litigant can be sent to is the Court of General
jurisdiction (state level) or the US District Courts (federal level). Any time
in the trial the defense may choose to appeal. Even if a suspect is sentenced
to a crime the case may be appealed for a variety of reasons. The defendant's
lawyer could claim that the defendant's rights were violated when he was
arrested, that the defendant received an unfair trial, or new evidence that
could prove the defendant's innocence has surfaced. (Guernsey,16) Next the
appeal is taken to the Intermediate Appellate Courts (state) or the US Courts of
Appeals (federal) who will decide if the trial court has erred in some way. If
the appeal is granted In the state court system the appellate will be sent to
the State Supreme Court, or in the federal system, to the supreme. From the
State Supreme Court the case may be appealed again to the Supreme Court. Once
the case has reached the supreme court the verdict is final. (Guernsey,15) This
monotonous appealing process is the reason for the excess of inmates on death
row today. An inmate can spend 6-10 years on death row during the appellate
process. (Guernsey, 20) In fact only about one in 1900 prisoners (.053%) on
death row have served the death penalty. (http://www.hotsites) "Alabama,
Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas have carried out about three-quarters of
all executions since 1976." (Guernsey,22)

There has been a controversy over the death penalty ever since the Quakers
fought for reform in the 1700's. (Bedau1) This conflict has two sides: those in
favor of capital punishment, and those who view life without parole (LWOP) as a
more humane alternative.

Supporters of the death penalty rationalize executing because if a man takes a
life he should pay for it with his own or "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a
tooth." They also use verses from the Bible like, "Whosoever sheds a man's
blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:6), and Exodus 21:12 to show
that Christianity supports it. They claim that executions deter other criminals
from killing in fear of being executed. However, this could never been proven
since it would be very difficult to link a drop in murders to knowledge of
recent executions.

Those who oppose the death penalty have come up with many reasons that life in
prison without parole, or LWOP, is a better means of dealing with violent
criminals. One reason is the risk of executing the innocent. (Bedau1) This
risk is very small considering that since 1900 only 23 people, who were possibly
innocent, were executed. (http://www.hotsites) Those who oppose the death
penalty claim that the number of blacks is disproportionate to that of women and
white men. (Bedau1) This has been proven to be true and is the most vital
argument of the opposers. Wealth and fame take a pivotal part in the trial of
a defendant. Poor defendants are give court-appointed lawyers; however, rich
and famous defendants can afford fancy lawyers. (Bedau1) One example of this is
the OJ Simpson trial. If OJ was a normal middle to lower class person he would
not be able to afford lawyers like Johnny Cochran and would probably have been
found guilty.

There are many forms of execution. Some have been labeled barbaric and
forbidden nearly everywhere. Currently the only accepted means of execution are:
electrocution, the gas chamber, firing squad and lethal injection. (Bedau1) The
firing squad is only used it Utah upon request. (Guernsey, 54) Montana, New
Hampshire and Washington are the only states that allow hangings. (55)

The electric chair was introduced in New York in 1890 and is now used in
24 states. (Bedau2) The criminal is seated in a chair. Electrodes are attached
to the head and a leg. Pulses of 2000 volts are sent through his body for about
three minutes or until he appears to be dead. The fact that the electrodes
reach 1900°C and the brain reaches the boiling point causes one to doubt the
humanity of this practice. (Guernsey, 53)

Lethal injection is thought to be the least painful method of execution.
The person is strapped down and a given a deadly dose of barbiturates via IV.
(Bedau2) However this process also has its flaws. "It took technicians 45
minutes of sticking to find a proper vein for the injection"(Guernsey, 59) on
Peter Morin. Needles have also been know to fly out in the middle of the
injection. (59)

The gas chamber was first used in Nevada in 1924. (Bedau2) The prisoner
is strapped into a chair and cyanide gas is administered through a hole in the
floor. Death takes from three to four minutes, but prisoners have been known to
go into convulsions or choke to death on the gas. (Guernsey, 59)

After learning about our modern methods of execution one wonders if
these methods are humane. Is being struck with enough electricity to cause the
eyeballs pop out of their sockets any better than being beheaded? (Guernsey, 59)
Is the death penalty "cruel and unusual punishment'? We must devise more sane
methods of execution which are quick and efficient. Most importantly we must
make the appeals process more orderly to cut down on the glut of inmates on
death row, and therefore cut down on the money wasted housing prisoners during
the appeals process.

Works Cited

1. Bedau, Hugo Adam "Capital Punishment" Encarta 96 Encyclopedia
(CD-ROM) Microsoft Corporation, 1996.

2. http://www.schoolsucks.com/papers/law/dp.txt (website)

3. The Holy Bible

4. Bedau, Hugo A. "Capital Punishment" Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia
(CD-ROM) Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc. 1995.

5. Guernsey, JoAnn Bren. Should We Have Capital Punishment?. Minneapolis:
Lerner Publications Co., 1993.

6. http://www.hotsites.com/fightback/jfa/DP.html (website)

7. Bender, David L., and Bruno Leone. The Death Penalty Opposing Viewpoints.
San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1991.


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