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A look into the flaws of the death penalty

A Look Into The Flaws Of The Death Penalty

Introduction

"Capital Punishment", by definition it is the legal killing of an individual. Now, you might be wondering how could someone be killed legally when murder is almost universally recognized as a violent and serious crime. Traces of capital punishment can be dated back to the dawn of civilization. However, it was widely practiced during the times before and after medieval England when executions were conducted publicly to provide a display of the result of criminal acts or treason to other criminals. Since then, the death penalty has been a topic of many debates covering a range of issues from ethical reasonability, to violation of constitutional rights. Today all but thirteen states practice capital punishment. For the most part, the death penalty fails as a deterrent. It is commonly reserved for treason and crimes society considers heinous. Very rarely does an execution have an effect on the crime rate.

You can find separate views on this topic almost anywhere you look. Religious and political groups, different races, and entire states all hold different and conflicting views on capital punishment. With issues such as racial disparities and innocent people executed, the death penalty should certainly be questioned. "Perhaps the bleakest fact of all is that the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent."(Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. 1994)

Topic Overview

Since 1976 there have been 739 executions, 253 of which have been in Texas, more than any other state. As with many topics there are people who support it and those who do not. Capital punishment is no exception. It is evident by show of the 37 states that support the death penalty that many Americans are in agreement with it. As an adversary to those states, this paper will side with those who feel that capital punishment itself is a crime.

The most common arguments against the death penalty are related to the use of cruel and unusual punishment as a means of execution. This paper looks into the technical flaws of capital punishment, such as; why African Americans are increasingly the majority of death row inmates, why many of the criminals sentenced to death are of the lower class, why the death penalty fails as a deterrent, and why more men are later being found innocent. This paper will utilize these issues, through the use of information gathered from the Internet, to help support the serious flaws of capital punishment. Hopefully, based on the information I provide, these injustices of capital punishment will be understood more thoroughly.

Literature Review

Given the allotted time for my research I found that the fastest way for me to gain information on the death penalty was by using secondary data. The internet proved to be the most useful tool in gathering my information with literally thousands of websites pertaining to the death penalty all that need to be done was select which information best suited my purpose.

Sites such as The National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty, found at www.ncadp.org, although it is clear that this site holds a bias to the death penalty, it has provided recent statistics on the death penalty as a deterrence, executions of innocent men, and the executing of minorities. In reference to capital punishment as a failing deterrence, this website suggests that states with the death penalty have higher rates of murder, stating that the average murder rate per 100,000 people in states with capital punishment is about 8%, while it is only 4.4% in those states without it. They continued by showing that in California, between 1952 and 1967 there was an average of one execution every two months. From 1968 until 1991 there were no executions. The homicide rate was twice as high in the earlier period than in the latter. Based on the information from this site, Florida executed a man by the name of Willie Darden for a crime he couldn’t have committed. The conviction was based on a gun that could no way be traced to Willie. Key witnesses were not allowed to testify in the case. The person who identified Willie in a line up admitted that all blacks looked alike to her. Willie was the only black person in the line up. Supreme Court Justice Blackmun noted. "If ever a man received an unfair trial, Darden did." Also according to this site, African-Americans make up half the death row populations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Delaware, Mississippi, and Virginia. Over two-thirds of the people on death row in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Louisiana. More than 3 out of four people waiting to be executed in Federal and U.S. Military prisons are African-American. And, 90% of the people U.S. Government prosecutors seek to execute are Black or Latino.

During my research through the Internet, I came across, The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney: The Death penalty (www.clarkprosecutor.org). This website has information on executions from 1977. According to this site 35.8% of the people executed were black males, and, that they make up 42.9% of people on death row. To help support this information I continued my search. To help support the fact that the death penalty is in fact racists, I found information on the website www.thegully.com that stated African Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but are 43 percent of prisoners on death row. Although Blacks constitute 50 percent of all murder victims, 83 percent of the victims in death penalty cases are white. Also, since 1976 only ten executions involved a white defendant who had killed a Black victim.

The final source used in my research that I will discuss is The History of the Death Penalty, (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu,) which provides a vast amount of information on the subject of deterrence, execution of innocent defendants, and discrimination. According to this site, most states without capital punishment have lower murder rates; this is in agreement with the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty who felt the same way. They continued to say that The death penalty is not a deterrent because most people who commit murders either do not expect to be caught or do not carefully weigh the differences between a possible execution and life in prison before they act. Frequently, murders are committed in moments of passion or anger, or by criminals who are substance abusers and acted impulsively. This site also felt that our capital punishment system is unreliable. A recent study by Columbia University Law School found that two thirds of all capital trials contained serious errors. When the cases were retried, over 80% of the defendants were not sentenced to death and 7% were completely acquitted. It was also said that since 1973, at least 88 people have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged. During the same period of time, over 650 people have been executed. Thus, for every seven people executed, we have found one person on death row that never should have been convicted. These statistics represent an intolerable risk of executing the innocent. This site also went on to support the fact that there is discrimination in death penalty sentencing. Almost all defendants facing the death penalty cannot afford their own attorney according to this site. Hence, they are dependent on the quality of the lawyers assigned by the state, many of whom lack experience or are so underpaid that they fail to investigate the case properly. A poorly represented defendant is much more likely to be convicted and given a death sentence as said by this site. With respect to race, this website stated that a death sentence is far more likely when a white person is the victim than when a black person is murdered. It appears that many juries count white lives as more valuable than black lives. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 158 black defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, while only 11 white defendants have been executed for the murder of a black victim (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu). The sad thing is, such racial disparities have lasted over the history of capital punishment.

Theoretical Framework

Independent Variable Intervening Variable Dependent Variable

More African Americans are executed for the murder of whites Most prosecutors tend to target blacks for execution sentences Whites are rarely executed for the murder of blacks

Capital punishment fails as a deterrent to crime Society does not feel affected intimidated by publicly known executions Deterrence of crime

Defendants who are convicted and later found innocentLack of technology to provide sufficient evidence during trialDetermination of guilt

Social, marital, and financial statuses Those members of lower classes a looked upon as disposable members of the community. Race of defendants who are sentenced to death.

Statement of Hypothesis

Hypothesis #1

African Americans are executed at a much higher rate than whites.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 158 black defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, while only 11 white defendants have been executed for the murder of a black victim. 4,016 people were executed between 1930 and 1990; of those 4,016 people 53% of them were African Americans (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu)

Hypothesis #2

The death penalty does not deter crime. In some cases it in creases crime.

The average murder rate per 100,000 people in states with capital punishment is about 8%, while it is only 4.4% in those states without it. This is due to the fact that many jurisdictions with capital punishment seem to have criminals who either do not consider the consequences of their actions, or simply do not think of being caught.

Hypothesis #3

Defendants who are sentenced to death and sometimes convicted are later found innocent.

Since 1973, at least 88 people have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged. Due to the increase in technology, such as new findings in DNA gathering and analysis, it is possible to find evidence that could have possibly been looked over during previous investigations and trials.

Hypothesis #4

Those who receive a death sentence receive one because of their social status, marital status, or financial status.

A majority of the defendants who have received a death penalty are poor, undereducated, unmarried, males. They received the sentence do to lack of money to provide for adequate defense, no family to leave behind in defense, and a lack of an education.

Research Design

I thought to use secondary data as my method of data collection. I chose this method to test my hypotheses because of the time allowed to do the research. I obtained my information from the www.ask.com search engine, which led me to the websites www.ncadp.org, www.clarkprosecutor.org, www.thegully.com, and www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu. From the information found on these websites, I chose to select and discuss the faults in the death penalty. Based on the evidence within these websites, I have been able to create several hypotheses and conclusions.

Methods:

The support for my first hypothesis was found at the website for the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty. This website provided statistics for the race of inmates on death row. Nearly 90% of persons executed were convicted of killing a white person, although African Americans make up over half of all homicide victims. My second source of data was from www.clarkprosector.org. The statistics from this site showed that since 1977, 35.8% of people executed were black, and currently they make up 42.9% of people on death row. To further support my hypothesis I found information on the website www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu. This website stated that since 1976 158 defendants have been executed for the murder of a white.

My second hypothesis was supported with information from the website www.ncadp.org, or the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty. This site supported my hypothesis by saying that 67% of all law enforcement officers do not feel that capital punishment decreases the rate of homicides. Also that the average murder rate per 100,000 people in states with capital punishment is about 8%, while it is only 4.4% in states without the death penalty. This information was also backed by another site, www.deathpenaltyinfo.org. This site supported my hypothesis by also saying that the death penalty is not a deterrent because most people who commit murders either do not think of getting caught or getting the death sentence or life in prison.

Support for my third hypothesis was found at the website www.ncadp.org and www.deathpenaltyinfo.org. These sites, respectively said that 23 innocent people have been mistakenly executed this century. Also that since 1973, of the 650 people executed one out of seven people have been found who should never have been executed.

My forth hypothesis was supported by information from www.deathpenaltyinfo.org. This site stated that the majority of death row inmates are poor. This site suggests that due to their lack of financial funds, they were unable to receive qualified defense attorneys. Resulting in their current sentence. Which is understandable in the criminal justice system; where you can more often than none, buy your way out of trouble. So it is said that the poor are more likely to receive a death sentence.

Conceptual Definitions:

Capital Punishment – imposition of a penalty of death by the state.

Murder – criminal homicide, distinguished from manslaughter by malice aforethought

Deterrence – the idea that certain punishments send a sign to other criminals influencing them not to commit the same or other crimes

Death row – an area in a prison that houses inmates sentenced to death

Operational Definitions:

These are the steps I took in measuring the variables of my hypotheses.

1) I gathered my information primarily from the Internet and data of secondary nature.

2) Upon obtaining this information I was able to formulate my hypothesis, choose the information related to my topic and incorporate in into my paper.

Findings and Analysis

Support for Hypothesis #1

African Americans are executed at a much higher rate than whites

According to The National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty, African Americans make up half the death row populations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Delaware, Mississippi, and Virginia. Over two-thirds of inmates on death row in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Louisiana. Also more than three out of four people waiting to be executed in Federal and U.S. Military prisons are African American.

From the information gathered, nearly 90% of the people U.S. prosecutors seek to execute are black (www.ncadp.org/html/factsandstats)

The information collected proves my hypothesis correct.

Support for Hypothesis #2

The death penalty does not deter crime. In some cases it increases crime

According to www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu, the death penalty is not a deterrence because many people who commit murders do not think of the consequences or getting caught. Also that the states with capital punishment have murder rates almost 5% higher than those states who do not.

This information proves this hypothesis correct as well.

Support for Hypothesis #3

Defendants who are sentenced to death and sometimes executed, are sometimes later found innocent.

According to www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu, capital punishment in unreliable. A recent study by the Columbia University Law School found that two thirds of all capital trials contained serious errors. Also, since 1973, 88 people have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged.

Support for Hypothesis #4

Those who receive a death sentence receive one because of their social, marital, or financial statuses.

`Based on the information found at www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu, the poor are more likely to receive a sentence of death than those who are financially sound. Furthermore, in 1997, there were 1,561 inmates never married, 744 married, and 1,030 that were divorced. In 1997 most of the death row inmates had nine to twelve years of school.

Suggestions for Future Research

Capital punishment is a vast and much-debated topic. This paper, in no way covered the subject in its entirety. The issue of indigence among death row inmates and the ability to obtain a suitable attorney can be expanded on. Also, the number of white prosecutors who have sought the death penalty and race of those defendants is an issue I would have touched upon if time had allowed.

Cruel and unusual punishment is probably the most debated and popular aspect of the death penalty. It too can be explored to gather depths, or perhaps the failure to utilize recently developed technologies in discovering new evidence in capital cases.

While researching this topic I have discovered many facts that have increased my knowledge of capital punishment. Unfortunately I was unable to discover every aspect of the subject. However, I will continue research on this topic and other related topics in hopes of gaining a much greater insight to our criminal justice system.

Bibliography:

Works Cited

Facts and Stats. The National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty [online]. Available: www.ncadp.org/html/factsandstats.html [2001, October 26]

History. In History of the Death Penalty [online]. Available: www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu/c/about/history/history-1.html. [2000, May]

The Death Penalty in the United States (1977-2000). In The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney; The Death Penalty [online]. Available: www.clarkcountyprosecutor.org/html/death/dpusa.htm [2001, April 2]

Capital Punishment Statistics. In U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics [online]. Available: www.ojp.usdoj.govldjs/cp.htm [2001, June 2]

Executing Minorities-An American Tradition. In The National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty [online]. Available: www.ncadp.org/html/fact2.html [2001, October 26]

Race of Defendants Executed Since 1976. In Death Penalty Information Center [online]. Available: www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/dpicrace.html [2001, may]

Persons Executed for Interracial Murders. In Death Penalty Information Center [online]. Available: www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/dipicrace.html [2001, May 9]

Deterrence...Fact or Fiction. In The National Coalition to Abolish The Death Penalty [online]. Available: www.ncadp.org/html/fact5.html [2001, October 26]

Guilty Until Proven Innocent. In The National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty [online]. Available: www.ncadp.org/html/fact4.html [2001, October 26]

The Death Penalty is Racist. In The Gully [online]. Available: www.thegully.com/essays/america/010115death_penalty.html [2001, August 4]



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