The Death Penalty
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Capital punishment and the death penalty have been used throughout the world for thousands of years. During recent times it has become a much scrutinized topic of interest here in the United States. Throughout recent history there have been many highly publicized trials that have brought capital punishment and the death penalty into the national spotlight of the United States. Some of the most notorious trials dealing with capital punishment were the Nuremberg trials of the 1940’s and the Rosenberg trial and execution of the 1950’s. High profile cases such as these and many others have created a huge debate about the legality and morality of capital punishment and the death penalty. There are many people at all levels of society who strongly oppose the death penalty saying that it is against human rights and is also unjust. I believe that in the United States, the death penalty is not just and is not applied fairly.
There are so many factors that need to be considered when trying to find out if the death penalty is being applied fairly. Should we consider all the statistics from the 1950’s till present day? I believe that the statistics from the convictions of the 1950’s and 1960’s would be truly different when compared to the convictions from 2000 to present day. The reason for the complete difference is because of racial discrimination. Although racial discrimination is not as openly visible as it once was in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and even the 1970’s, racial discrimination still exists in the United States. The NY Times has many statistics that show the percentage of people who have been sentenced to death. “In 173 cases between 1990 and 2010, the study examined decisions involving 7,421 potential jurors (82% were white, and 16% were black)”, (NY Times, Feb 2012). Looking at this statistic alone, it shows a complete imbalance when jurors are selected to hear a case that involves the death penalty. The percentage of white jurors vastly outweighs the percentage of black jurors. If the death penalty is supposed to be decided fairly and justly, then the selection of white jurors should never be allowed to exceed the selected number of jurors of other races by more than 50%. The fact that it does on a regular basis shows that the death penalty is not applied fairly or justly.
Most people who support the death penalty say that our justice system is perfect and does not require any changes. They support this statement by stating that it is better to have a justice system that will convict a person with a small margin of error, rather than having a system that does not punish those who are guilty of serious crimes. Many of the people who commit serious crimes such as murder are not innocent, and most of the people who are convicted of these crimes are also 100% guilty, but some of these people are not guilty at all of any of the crimes that they are being accused of. Innocent people have been sentenced to death by unbalanced juries who have found them guilty of heinous crimes. Even after these cases have been appealed and reviewed by a judge, these innocent people remain on death row.
In some instances, law students and even journalist have studied some of the cases of people being wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to the death penalty. These people have been able to find evidence that would overturn a ruling in some cases, but still the innocent person in the case that is being studied remains on death row. The courts are not investigating these allegations of innocent people being sentenced to death when the question of a person’s innocents is in question. So this raises the question again, is the death penalty being applied fairly and justly?
I think not. At times the only time these innocent people get off of death row is purely by chance. The death penalty in the United States will never be applied fairly or justly because people who are convicted of murder or any other heinous crime are sentenced primarily on how much money they make, how skilled there attorney is, the race of their victim, and even where the crime took place. African American’s are far more likely to be convicted and sentenced to the death penalty than Caucasian American’s, especially if the victim is Caucasian. The only way that the death penalty can be applied fairly or justly is if everyone who has committed a heinous crime is of the same social class, same race, if every state in the United States has the death penalty, and if a person is truly convicted by a jury of their peers, meaning same race, gender, and social status. Seeing how this is impossible, the death penalty being applied fairly and justly is impossible.
Many people say that the United States should ban the death penalty from our justice system. I believe that the death penalty should be used sparingly and under the most extreme circumstances. There are many cases that have overwhelming evidence against a person who has committed a truly heinous crime against another person. Cases where a person has murdered their wife or child, raped a person, or committed an act of sexual assault against a person and especially a child, the death penalty should diffidently be on the table and is warranted. In extreme cases such as these, the death penalty should be considered. The severity of the crime and the evidence presented should be enough to convict a person of the crime and sentence them to death. All heinous crimes against children should use the death penalty as an option for punishment when a person is tired and convicted of such a crime.
The problem that is being found with convicting and sentencing the people who commit these crimes is that the justice system has not always applied the death penalty equally or fairly. This fact is true because not all states support the death penalty. If a person commits these same crimes in the state of Texas or Maryland, they will be put to death, but that is not true in all states. In order for the death penalty to be applied fairly and justly, the same punishment for the same crime should be handed out no matter where the crime was committed. It is not always the worst cases that get the death penalty. For example, if there are multiple people involved in a homicide, the person who is the quickest to make a deal with the prosecuting attorney, turn state’s evidence, or give testimony against the others, are the ones who get sentenced to twenty years in prison with the possibility of parole. This happens even if the person selling out everyone else was the mastermind of the whole crime.
I’m sure that everyone believes that a guilty person should be punished, but it seems that the punishment for the same crime needs to be universal. Many people feel outraged about a person who is wrongly put to death, but society feels more outraged about the death of some people, not all people. A study of a case in North Carolina showed that where a juror who supported the death penalty could be swayed either for or against the death penalty based on the circumstance or act alone, race played an important role. The North Carolina study showed that African American people were 3.5 times more likely to receive the death penalty. The study also found the attitude of the community to be different under different circumstances. When a crime by an African American was committed and a Caucasian victim is murdered, the community was outraged, and the prosecuting attorney worked hard to push for the death penalty. When the crime was committed by an African American against another African American, the common sentiment from the community was, “It’s just killing among black folks,” (Unah, 2001).
These statistics show that the death penalty is not applied fairly or justly. They also show that discrimination is also involved when applying the death penalty. The simple fact that a person can commit a murder in one state that does not support the death penalty, their sentence could me lighter than if they committed the crime in a state that does support the death penalty. In a country where racism still exist and has not been fully extinguished from our society, it is impossible for justice to be equal for all those convicted, especially with those people of color. Currently, death row has a very disproportionately large population of African Americans, in comparison to the rest of the prison population. Currently, African American’s only make up about 12% of the total United States population. According to a study done by the Governor of Maryland, “between 1930 and 1976, 455 men were executed for rape. Of these men 405 of them or 90% were African American” (Smith, 2011).
This does not show fairness or equality among those who are convicted of murder. African Americans and Caucasians are both almost equal when it comes to being victims in a crime. This is why the death penalty will never be applied justly or fairly. There are just too many factors to be considered. “An investigation done during capital appeals have revealed intentional wrongdoing by state agents. In one case, the prosecution withheld evidence for 14 years that pointed to the defendant’s innocence,” (Independent Weekly, 1996). In order for the death penalty to be applied fairly and justly across the board, police and prosecutors should be required to share all evidence. It should be against the law for a prosecutor to attempt to convict someone they themselves believe is innocent, especially if they are the ones who hold all the keys to that person’s exoneration. If we do this we can reduce the number of death penalty sentences, leaving it for only the most extreme circumstances.
We also need to define what an extreme circumstance is where the death penalty should be used. A jury should never be a majority of any one race of people. Imagine a Caucasian man convicted of murdering an African American man, and ten of the twelve jurors are African American. We need to fix our justice system and have mandatory yearly reviews of all cases that have the death penalty as punishment. These cases need to be reviewed by a committee that their sole job is to review these cases and find all the necessary evidence and decide if these cases are deserving of the death penalty or not. Finally, we need to review all the cases that are currently on death row. We need to see if any of these cases have been either overlooked, weakly presented, or racially bias.
I believe that if a person supports or is against the use of the death penalty, that they most likely believe that it should be used in the absolute worst cases of crimes committed. I also believe that people think that if it is used then is should be used equally across the board for the same offense, and the state that the crime was committed and the race of the person who committed the crime should not matter. A person should not be able to get life in person for a murder and someone else gets the death penalty for the same exact crime. However, there is overwhelming evidence that supports the fact that this is not the case and that the death penalties use in the United States judicial system is broken and cannot be applied fairly or justly.
Costantinou, M., & OF THE, E. S. (1999, May 04). About 700 hold candlelight vigil more death-penalty opponents drawn by babbitt’s case; THE BABBITT EXECUTION. San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/270504363?accountid=32521 Independent Weekly, Dec 16, 1998, retrieved from http://www.indyweek.com/ Smith, P. (2011, Apr 18). The death penalty debate. New York Times Upfront, 143, 12-15,TE6-TE7. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/862157379?accountid=32521 The New York Times, (Feb 5, 2012). Race and Death Penalty Juries. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com Unah, Isaac, Dr. (April 16, 2001). The Common Sense Foundation North Carolina Council of Churches Race and the Death Penalty in North Carolina. An Empirical Analysis: 1993-1997. Retrieved from http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/race-and-death-penalty-north-carolina.