Capital punishment has been administered and accepted in this country for over 200 years, however, some states have now abolished the practice, while others continue with sanctioned executions. In 2000, Governor George Ryan of Illinois suspended executions in that state and “commuted the death sentences of all Illinois death row inmates in 2003” (Wolfers 791). Following Ryan’s lead, in 2004, New York’s highest court ruled that the state’s death penalty statute was unconstitutional. Although prisoners still sit on California’s death row, executions in that state are virtually nonexistent, however, executions in Texas continue at an even pace (791).
There are those who claim that the procedure is biassed and must be limited before certain questions can be examined, but I will say that notwithstanding the prejudice towards enforcing the death penalty, most of the prisoners actually placed on death row are convicted of the offences they have perpetrated and should see their punishment brought to life. Those seeking to abolish the death penalty in this nation point believe that the issue of ethnic bias remains throughout the government. The Baldus research of the 1970s was the most prominent statistical study undertaken on ethnic bias in death penalty evaluation. David Baldus, a researcher at the University of Iowa Law School, “tried to assess the influence of race and other illegitimate factors on the selection of murder suspects for death sentences” (Howe 2085). The test findings showed that if the perpetrator of a murder was white, the pace at which the victim was sentenced to death was far greater than if the victim was black (2085). In a more recent study commissioned by the former governor of Maryland in 2000, capital sentences were investigated between 1978 and 1999 in that province. The analysis noticed “pronounced bias against white victim killers, and additional bias against black offenders within the white-victim cases” (2090). In terms of race and capital punishment, lawyers Stephen Bright, Ira Glasser, and Bryan Stevenson have become outspoken regarding the injustice that occurs. They insist that the courts appear to “condemn the murderers of white victims to death while sentencing those who kill blacks to jail” (Haines 165). I am of the view, however of Ernest van den Haag, an academic who promotes the death penalty and believes.
The guilt of any one murderer (and the justice of imposing the death penalty on him) is not diminished if other, equally or more guilty, murderers are not convicted or executed, whether because of racial discrimination, accident, or sheer capriciousness (166).
Additionally, a 2001 study of 900 death penalty cases indicated that racial bias is not a factor in capital sentencing. It stated “differences in state criminal laws, prosecutors; decisions and geographical factors, not intentional racial bias, account for the fact that the majority of offenders with death sentences are minorities” (Klug 1). Additionally, the majority of executed death row inmates since 1976 have been white, even though a slight majority of murders are committed by blacks. (Eddlem 24). I would agree that in the past, racial bias may have been a major factor in the administration of the death penalty in this country, however, today, with a bevy of civil rights and many other safeguards built into the system, being sentenced to death due to the color of one’s skin is a very unlikely, if not impossible, scenario.
The Death Penalty as a Deterrent
Another claim used by some opposing the death penalty is that on the ground, executions do not prevent offenders from performing further actions of disorder, murder, and abuse (citing Death Penalty Focus; Eddlem 25). To bolter their arguments, such critics appeal to useless empirical research, but the reasoning is faulty in their argument. C.S. according to. Lewis,’ If punishment is all that counts, it will be entirely reasonable to kill an innocent individual, provided the public thinks him guilty (Eddlem 25). As Eddlem (2002) says Men should be punished for their own crimes and not just to deter others In some cases, the death penalty will undoubtedly deter them.” To start with, the executed will no longer be around to perform any more offences’ (26). Additionally, all those strongly committed to the death penalty would accept its deterrence influence. A prestigious associate of the O.J. A powerful critic of the death penalty, Simpson’s “Dream Team” of prosecutors, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, also acknowledged, “Of course, the death penalty deters some crimes….” That’s why in a death penalty regime, you have to pay higher for a hitman than for a non-death penalty state (citing Dershowitz 1995; Bedau & Cassell 191). My argument is that if only a handful of criminals are deterred from taking the innocent life of another, the deterrent effect of the death penalty is priceless. Therefore, the true question is not “whether the death penalty deters every murder, only whether it deters some murders” (Bedau & Cassell 190). Furthermore, those executed represent the loss of one less violent predator on the street, making our neighborhoods safer in the process.
DNA and the Death Penalty
Finally, there are those who claim that death row is full of innocent men and recent releases due to new DNA evidence is proof of this assertion. In fact, according to ABC News (2000), “618 prisoners have been executed across the nation and about 80 have been exonerated…. Those disturbing odds beg the question: If the chances of executing an innocent person are so high, should we have capital punishment?” (citing ABCNews.com, March 6; Eddlem 24). This claim also reinforces the pro-death penalty argument, that if DNA can prove a convict innocent of wrongdoing, it can also prove guilt, then society can feel much more confident that there are rightfully many on death row. Additionally, after 1976, “as a result of DNA evidence, not one person in the United States was later proved innocent” (Eddlem 24). I will argue it is the unusual occasion that DNA truly exonerates a death row prisoner, as ABC’s numbers indicate only 13 percent of death row inmates across the country in 2000 was found to be innocent via this testing. Nonetheless, I am in favor of this testing because just as it exonerates the innocent it seals the fate of the guilty predators waiting for their turn to meet their ultimate fate.
As human beings, whether it is through nature or nurture, we all have biases that we harbor. However, the justice system was designed to set these biases aside and deal with all individuals equally, being fair and impartial. I would argue that safeguards built into the legal system have allowed the courtrooms of today to be places where true justice is meted out in a fair manner. This would include the introduction and subsequent testing of inmates with new DNA technologies, which can determine both innocence and guilt. Furthermore, the deterrent affects of the death penalty, although a hot topic of debate, cannot be denied. The fear of punishment and death is akin to all human beings and criminals are no exception to this rule. Of course, although extremely rare, there will always be those exceptions to this rule, and when these exceptions occur, I agree wholeheartedly they should be examined with a societal microscope. I believe such exceptions are few and far between, and although the death penalty is not “pretty” or pleasant to think about, it is a necessary evil in our society to punish, deter, and eliminate those who would unjustly take the life of another.
- Bedau, Hugo Adam, and Cassell, Paul G. Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Best Case. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
- Eddlem, Thomas R. “Ten Anti-Death Penalty Fallacies: The Case Against Capital Punishment Relies on Myth, Misinformation, and Misplaced Emotionalism.” The New American 18.11 (2002): 23-26.
- Haines, Herbert H. Against Capital Punishment: The Anti-death Penalty Movement in America, 1972-1994. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Howe, Scott W. “The Futile Quest for Racial Neutrality in Capital Selection and the Eighth Amendment Argument for Abolition Base on Unconscious Racial Discrimination.” William and Mary Law Review 45.5 (2004): 2083-2166.
- Klug, Elizabeth A. “Inter Alia. (Study of Racial And Geographical Disparities in Federal Death Penalty System)(Brief Article)(Statistical Data Included).” Corrections Compendium 26.7 (2001): 1-2.
- Wolfers, Justin. “Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate.” Stanford Law Review 58 (2005): 791-846.