The Just and Fairness of the Death Penalty
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Is the death penalty just and applied fairly? One of the great debates of our time is the legality and use of the death penalty. The death penalty is something that many people do not have a clear decision on. Some insist that the death penalty acts to deter a capital crime, while others feel that it has not effect whether a capital crime is still committed.
My personal look at the death penalty is that it should be administered only in cases of particularly cruel crimes or serial crimes such as serial murder. If we administered the death penalty when the death penalty is called for maybe then people would stop before they commit the ultimate sin. If a person murders some other person then that person who is the murderer must not hold any value to the concept of life. Why should we let these people spend useless time in our prisons if we know beyond a doubt that they have indeed committed murder? If the death penalty is administered for the cases of the heinous crime of intentional murder, then maybe we can deter others from following in the same steps.
Many people pose the question in that how can we punish a murderer by putting that person to death. The answer to this question is, there really is not easy answer. No matter how much a person can explain it there is always someone else there to will argue the point and try to show how justification can be or cannot be.
U.S. Supreme Court, in Booth v. Maryland 482 U.S. 496,107 S. Ct 2529, 96 L.Ed.2d 440(1987), initially forbade the use of victim impact statements in death penalty cases. The Court reasoned that the imposition of the death penalty could be based on subjective feelings for the victim rather than the objective criteria indicating the defendant’s guilt and culpability. However, in Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808,111 S. Ct. 2597,115 L.Ed.2d 720(1991), the Court reversed itself and held that the Eight Amendment does not bar the jury from considering victim impact statements. It is believed that victim impact statements help victims overcome the emotional trauma associated with their experience by allowing them a forum in which to express their feelings. In addition, advocates of allowing statements hope that criminal offenders will realize the terrible effects that their actions have. (Group, In World of Criminal Justice, 2002) So my question that arises because of this statement is, “What do we do if they express their feelings, but still have no remorse, on the act of which they committed?” Do we just say it is okay for a murder just to say I am sorry and not punish them with more extensive punishment?
Quite possibly the biggest question about the death penalty is whether or not it deters serious crimes. Groups that support the death penalty often say that it is a deterrent for the future criminals who are thinking of committing murders or other heinous crimes. To many, this is the biggest justification for or against capital punishment. It the death penalty acts as a deterrent to serious crime, then why isn’t it more widely used? If the death penalty doesn’t act as a deterrent to serious crime, then why not do away with it altogether? (Schaefer, 2009). There are many who argue that the death penalty is not a deterrent. Quite honestly, they are not thinking about what a deterrent is. The mere fact that the criminal was put to death means that they are no longer alive to commit the crime again. That is the first step of deterrence.
Retribution is another strong argument for capital punishment. Contrary to popular belief, retribution when applied to capital offenses is not the act of seeking revenge against the perpetrator. Rather, it is the theory that the punishment needs to fit the crime. If a person takes the life of another, that person‘s life should be forfeit. (ProCon.org, 2009).
It is the responsibility of the state through the use of due process of law to punish a criminal according to the nature and severity of their crimes. If the state fails in its duty and execution of this responsibility, there lies the possibility that the population will lose faith in the state and will begin to take the law into their own hands out of a need for justice to be served. This leads to vigilante justice and lynch mobs.
By definition, every punishment for crimes committed is an act of retribution. While society might be outraged by certain heinous crimes, the state has no such outrage, but rather, should enact the will of the people. There is a big difference between vengeance and justice. We as a society should stick together and make sure that justice is given fairly to each individual and that if a crime has been committed that it should be punishable by the just means, not a slap on the hand.
When it comes to minors and the death penalty, the issue in the public forum becomes very cloudy; however my opinion as to whether a minor should be subject to the death penalty also is very cloudy. This is a hard area to debate, because there are so many different scenarios to look at in the form of maturity. What is the right age in which to try someone for the death penalty? As in the school shootings, was that child mentally capable of knowing what he was doing right or wrong? Did that child have any remorse? Was that child a victim of some sort of abuse? Yes, I do understand that many people feel that when an incident like this happens the person that is behind the killing should be held accountable for their decisions to hurt others, but this is a child, so do we not hold this person accountable?
Adversaries have called capital punishment cruel and unusual, but I disagree. How can one say that capital punishment is cruel and unusual? Killing of a person being a purposeful act is that not cruel and unusual? If a person takes a life of another and knows that what they are doing is cruel, I feel that we should put forth the use of capital punishment. Why give that person the right to sit behind bars while we feed, cloth, educate and take care of any medical bills that they might occur, is this what we call justice? They did not take any remorse for the person they committed the crime on, or to that person’s family who will be without because of the crime. Why should the as Americans take care of murderers in the prisons? That is just a waste of the American dollars. Those dollars could be used for more constructive needs than that of the needs of murderers. It costs so much more to house the murderer than it costs to put them to death. We need to use the death penalty more on those who are sentenced to life imprisonment or consecutive life’s imprisonment for murder than to keep them in prison and keep them alive. Where’s the justice in keeping them alive, if they will only die in prison anyway for the killing they did?
According to Amendment V in the United States Bill of Rights, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Even with this amendment in place many people question the constitutionally of capital punishment because of Amendment VII which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. I feel that I understand the Bill of Rights, but does are judicial system really put the use of the Bill of Rights in certain cases? Then on the other hand does the judicial system overuse the Bill of Rights in certain cases? Shouldn’t the Bill of Rights be used equally throughout the judicial system and not better for some and worse for others?
Extenuating circumstances are circumstances surrounding the commission of a crime that do not in law justify or excuse the crime, but that tend to make the crime less reprehensible or outrageous. These circumstances must in fairness be considered as reducing the blameworthiness of the defendant. Extenuating circumstances might include unusual factors surrounding the event, such as the mental competency of a defendant. (Group, Extenuating Circumstances, 2002) A judge has discretion to take extenuating circumstances into account when setting bail. A prosecutor may take extenuating circumstances into consideration when deciding what crime the defendant will be charged within court. Prosecutorial discretion, which is one of the most powerful components of the criminal justice system, allows the prosecutor almost total freedom to decide on the severity of the criminal charges.
However, a prosecutor is free to ignore extenuating circumstances and a defendant has no right to assert these circumstances at the charging phase. (Group, Extenuating Circumstances, 2002) A judge may take extenuating circumstances into account when sentencing the defendant. In death penalty cases, defendants are entitled to present such circumstances in mitigation to the jury in an effort to avoid death. However, judicial discretion has been severely limited in the federal court and most state courts by sentencing guidelines legislation. These laws mandate that in felony level cases a judge follow the sentencing described in the guidelines. A judge may use extenuating circumstances to reduce the sentence but must justify the departure in a written order that gives specific reason. Prosecutors are free to appeal such decisions. (Group, Extenuating Circumstances, 2002)
The question has arisen concerning the morality of capital punishment. Capital Punishment is the strongest promoter of moral values. By letting a criminal rot in prison, simply because the victims or affected people want them to suffer, simply causes them to stoop to the criminal’s level of inhumanity. The death penalty is there to eliminate inhumanity in our society, while Life Sentences support it. The Death Penalty also is a strong promoter of moral values. By putting a dangerous criminal to death they are removed from a lawful society where they may re-offend, they are not placed in confinement where they live pointlessly off the community, and their misjudgment of moral values is made public. Whenever the issue of capital punishment comes up, religion is thrown into the works. Religious people argue that their particular god created life and is the only one who has the right to end it.
God instituted capital punishment in the book of Leviticus 24:17 and Leviticus 24:20-21. Verse 17 of Leviticus 24 says, “And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.” Verses 20 and 21 of Leviticus 24 say, “Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.” “And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.” In many cases I feel that the death penalty is just and is applied fairly. If we do not use the death penalty as some sort of deterrent for the death crimes that are committed, then are we saying it is okay to commit them? I believe that the guilt of the criminal should be proven beyond any doubt, which is the constitutional way of life. People who commit heinous crimes deserve to die; they surrender their right to live freely in society by displaying inhumanity towards others.
Group, T. G. (2002). Extenuating Circumstances. Chicago: The Gale Group. Group, T. G. (2002). In World of Criminal Justice. Maryland: The Gale Group. ProCon.Org. (2009, January 1). Should the death penalty be used for retribution? Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://deathpenatly.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001004: http://deathpenatly.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001004 Schaefer, R.T. (2009). Sociology A Brief Introduction 8th edition New York: McGraw Hill