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Essay/Term paper: Capital punishment

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Politics

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Capital Punishment

After centuries of nearly universal implementation, the death penalty
remains a deeply debated political issue. While one execution takes place, other
murders occur, and the question still stands: Will the death penalty safeguard
society and deter murder, or will it not? The death penalty cannot be considered
a proper economical and moral means of punishment to deter those who might
commit capital offenses, or can it?

In the past, capital punishment horrified people, which deterred them
from committing crime. In England, the country from which the United States
adopted the death penalty, the death penalty was imposed for a rather large
number of offenses in an effort to discourage people from committing crimes.
Methods of inflicting the death penalty have ranged "From stoning in biblical
times, crucifixion under the Romans, beheading in France, to those used in the
United States today: hanging, electrocution, gas chamber, firing squad, and
lethal injection"(Bedau 124). There were drastic penalties for such serious
crimes as homicide. Execution was a suitable punishment for those times. Today,
though, the law is not as strict. This leads potential criminals not to fear the
death penalty because government today uses more "humane" methods of execution,
rather than the brutal punishment that history portrayed.

People who oppose the death penalty say that "there is no evidence that
the murder rate fluctuates according to the frequency with which the death
penalty is used" (Masur 153). It is more likely that the convict would be
paroled instead of being executed because of the present practice of allowing
unlimited appeals. Convicted criminals are not exposed to cruel punishment, but
rather given a long waiting period. If the criminal is put to death, it is
usually done as mercifully as possible.

One problem with the death penalty, presently, is that crime is not
decreasing, but rather increasing. If capital punishment is supposed to deter
crimes such as murder, it is not serving its purpose. Even philosophers, such as
Beccaria, Voltaire, and Bentham of the Enlightenment Period, argued that "the
death penalty was needlessly cruel, overrated as a deterent, and occasionally
imposed in fatal error" (Fogelson 89).

Another problem with the death penalty is the enormous amount of money
being spent on implementation. It costs taxpayers millions of dollars more to
execute a criminal than to lock him up for life. The number of prisoners on
death row has been steadily increasing and will soon meet all time highs. This
fact brings up the question of economic feasibility of the implementation, as
well as the question of weather the death penalty is actually an effective
deterrent to crime.

Currently, Texas leads the nation in both death row population and in
the number of executions. Texas has 351 condemned men and 4 women awaiting
sentence, and has had 46 executions since 1977. These prisoners spent an average
of eight years on death row and cost Texans an average of 2.3 million dollars
per case ("Execution" B8). The legal process a condemned prisoner goes through
is very lengthy and costly.

A person is only given the death penalty for certain crimes in Texas. A
death sentence is handed down if a person is convicted of the murder of a police
officer or fireman, murder during certain felonies, murder for pay or reward,
multiple murders, or murder during prison escape. Once a criminal has been
sentenced, he or she can appeal the decision.

In addition to the courts appeals, the cost of an average of $180,000
per case, the $150,000 prison cost also escalates the economic burden to the
state. This cost does not include the $21,000 execution cost or the $19,500
needed for extra security (Van den Haag 123). To have a death row prisoner means
that the state must provide police, fire, and public safety protection. They
also require special housing units, extra guards, food, and around-the-clock
security (Van den Haag 123).

To cut down costs, several alternatives to the death penalty have been
discussed by public officials. One alternative is to sentence criminals to life
imprison without possibility of parole instead of execution. Although this plan
would save millions of dollars, it would create problems in the prison system.
The end result would be killing each other and killing prison guards without the
threat of serious consequences ("Execution" B8).

In the following interview with the U.S. Attorney, Demetrius Bevins'
aide, some interesting responses were made:

Q: What do you think about the death penalty?

A: Depending on the circumstances of the crime, on some criminals it should
be enforced. On others, they should just get life in prison.

Q: What do you think is the best method of execution?

A: I think the best method is lethal injection. Is is the most humane, and
in my opinion, the least expensive. It involves much less preperation than the
electric chair, and it is safer and cleaner.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for alternative solutions to the death

A: Yes. Life in prison with absolutely no possibility of parole.

The following is an interview with local attorney Chuck Hardy.

Q: What do you think about the death penalty?

A: I think it serves its purpose. I think it cuts down on crime, and from
my experience with the prisoners I have met, most if not all are scared of the
lethal injection method used here in Texas.

Q: What is the best method of execution?

A: The electric chair. It is scarier than lethal injection because one must
first go through intense pain. With the lethal injection, one just goes to sleep
and never wakes up.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for alternative solutions to the death

A: Doing hard time in a maximum security prison and never seeing the light
of day.

In legal history there is a tendency "to leave cruel executions behind
and to "humanize' capital punishment by the pursuit of technical perfection"
(Bockle 43). The death penalty is a form of torture trying to be justified with
advanced technology. How does this form of torture differ from the torture that
takes place in "Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, South America, Guatemala, Bangladesh,
Afganistan, and even Israel?" (Bockle 4). The techniques in those countries
would certainly be considered to go against human morality, but the end result
is the same, a man dies. In this country, the debate goes on as to weather or
not the death penalty is in fact going against human morality regardless of hoe
"humanly" it is done.

Some people turn to the Bible to determine what is right, but the Bible
can be interpreted as arguing either way. The Old Testament can be interpreted
as arguing for the death penalty. This interpretation is formulated from the
passage in which God sentences Cain to walk the Earth without food or human
contact. Cain killed his brother Able, and therfore was punished by banishment.
This type of punishment would be impossible to impose on an individual at this
day and age. Those for the death penalty justify the use of capital punishment
as a necessary for the preservation of the society of the twentieth century.

The same Old Testament can be interpreted as against the death penalty.
The quotation, "Vengeance said the Lord, is mine, and if anyone kills Cain, it
shall be taken on him sevenfold," is most accurately interpreted as anti-death
penalty (Berns 11). This statement steers society into allowing God to take care
of the sinful individual in His own manner. Cain was banished and considered an
outcast just as the prisoner is an outcast from society.

Many questions have been raised as to the effectiveness of the death
penalty, and whether it should still be used today. Everywhere in the United
States the death penalty has been under fire. The awareness of the people and
arguments made by lawmakers have led to an anti-death penalty sentiment in the
United States. Arguments in favor of the death penalty, such as "the punishment
fitting the crime" and the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent
against crime, are made. These ideas are the basis for pro-death penalty views
among the population and court systems of America.

Important legal arguments against the death penalty are usually made
from what is stated in the Constitution. Many people believe that the death
penalty is unlawful because it violates the cruel and unusual punishment clauses
under the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution (Punishment 82).
Another argument that the abolitionist group make is that the death penalty
violates the discriminatory clause of the Constitution. Of all executions that
took place in the United States between 1930 and 1966, over half of those who
died were black (Punishment 2).

The controversy over capital punishment began in the eighteenth century
and continues today. Throughout the world innocent people are executed in
several inhumane forms which the United States should not follow. Today there
exists a raging debate on wether the death penalty is economically, morally, and
legally justifiable, or still just cruel and inhumane.


Bedau, Hugo Adam. "Capital Punishment." Collier's Encyclopedia. 1990.

Berns, Walter. For Capital Punishment. New York: Basic Books, 1979.

Bockle, Franz, and Jacques Pohier. The Death Penalty and Torture. New York: The
Seabury Press, 1979.

"Execution Costs an Average $2.3 Million in Texas." San Antonio Light. 9 Mar.
1992, B:8.

Fogelson, Robert M. Criminal Justice in America. New York: ARNO Press, 1974.

Masur, Louis P. Rites of Execution. New York: Oxford U.P., 1989.

Van de Haag, Ernest. Punishment of Criminals. New York: Basic Books, 1975.


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