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Capital punishment injustice of society

Capital Punishment:

Injustice of Society

Looking out for the state of the public's satisfaction in the scheme of

capital sentencing does not constitute serving justice. Today's system of

capital punishment is frought with inequalities and injustices. The commonly

offered arguments for the death penalty are filled with holes. "It was a

deterrent. It removed killers. It was the ultimate punishment. It is

biblical. It satisfied the public's need for retribution. It relieved the

anguish of the victim's family."(Grisham 120) Realistically, imposing the

death penalty is expensive and time consuming. Retroactively, it has yet to

be proven as a deterrent. Morally, it is a continuation of the cycle of

violence and "...degrades all who are involved in its enforcement, as well as

its victim."(Stewart 1)

Perhaps the most frequent argument for capital punishment is that of

deterrence. The prevailing thought is that imposition of the death penalty

will act to dissuade other criminals from committing violent acts. Numerous

studies have been created attempting to prove this belief; however, "[a]ll

the evidence taken together makes it hard to be confident that capital

punishment deters more than long prison terms do."(Cavanagh 4) Going ever

farther, Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Montgomery based

Equal Justice Initiative, has stated that "...people are increasingly realizing

that the more we resort to killing as a legitimate response to our

frustration and anger with violence, the more violent our society becomes...We

could execute all three thousand people on death row, and most people would

not feel any safer tomorrow."(Frame 51) In addition, with the growing

humanitarianism of modern society, the number of inmates actually put to

death is substantially lower than 50 years ago. This decline creates a

situation in which the death penalty ceases to be a deterrent when the

populace begins to think that one can get away with a crime and go

unpunished. Also, the less that the death sentence is used, the more it

becomes unusual, thus coming in conflict with the eighth amendment. This is

essentially a paradox, in which the less the death penalty is used, the less

society can legally use it. The end result is a punishment that ceases to

deter any crime at all.

The key part of the death penalty is that it involves death -- something

which is rather permanent for humans, due to the concept of mortality. This

creates a major problem when "...there continue to be many instances of

innocent people being sentenced to death."(Tabak 38) In our legal system,

there exist numerous ways in which justice might be poorly served for a

recipient of the death sentence. Foremost is in the handling of his own

defense counsel. In the event that a defendant is without counsel, a lawyer

will be provided. "Attorney's appointed to represent indigent capital

defendants frequently lack the qualities necessary to provide a competent

defense and sometimes have exhibited such poor character that they have

subsequently been disbarred."(Tabak 37). With payment caps or court

determined sums of, for example, $5 an hour, there is not much incentive for

a lawyer to spend a great deal of time representing a capital defendant.

When you compare this to the prosecution, "...aided by the police, other law

enforcement agencies, crime labs, state mental hospitals, various other

scientific resources, prosecutors ...experienced in successfully handling

capital cases, compulsory process, and grand juries..."(Tabak 37), the defense

that the court appointed counsel can offer is puny. If, in fact, a defendant

has a valid case to offer, what chance has he to offer it and have it

properly recognized. Furthermore, why should he be punished for a misjustice

that was created by the court itself when it appointed the incapable lawyer.

Even if a defendant has proper legal counsel, there is still the matter of

impartiality of judges. "The Supreme Court has steadily reduced the

availability of habeas corpus review of capital convictions, placing its

confidence in the notion that state judges, who take the same oath of office

as federal judges to uphold the Constitution, can be trusted to enforce

it."(Bright 768) This makes for the biased trying of a defendant's appeals,

"...given the overwhelming pressure on elected state judges to heed, and

perhaps even lead to, the popular cries for the death of criminal

defendants."(Bright 769) Thirty two of the states that impose the death

penalty also employ the popular election of judges, and several of these even

have judges run with party affiliations. This creates a deeply political

justice system -- the words alone are a paradox. Can society simply brush

off mistaken execution as an incidental cost in the greater scheme of putting

a criminal to death?

"Revenge is an unworthy motive for our society to pursue."(Whittier 1) In

our society, there is a great expectation placed on the family of a victim

to pursue vengeance to the highest degree -- the death penalty. Pat Bane,

executive director of the Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR),

stated, "One parent told me that people made her feel like she was betraying

her son because she did not want to kill the person who murdered him."(Frame

50) This creates a dilemma of morality. If anything, by forcing families

to seek the death penalty, their own consciences will be burdened by the

death of the killer. Furthermore, "[k]illing him will not bring back your

son[s]."(Grisham 402). At some point, man must stop the violence. Seeking

temporary gratification is not a logical basis for whether the death penalty

should be imposed. Granted, revenge is easily confused with retribution, and

most would agree that the punishment should fit the crime, but can society

really justify murdering someone else simply on the basis that they deserved

it? Government has the right and duty to protect the greater good against

people who jeopardize the welfare of society, but a killer can be sentenced

to life without chance of parole, and society will be just as safe as if he

had been executed.

A vast misconception concerning the death penalty is that it saves society

the costs of keeping inmates imprisoned for long periods. In the act of

preserving due process of justice, the court appeals involved with the death

penalty becomes a long, drawn-out and very expensive process. "The average

time between sentencing and execution for the 31 prisoners put on death row

in 1992 was 114 months, or nine and a half years."(Stewart 50) "Criminal

justice process expenses, trial court costs, appellate and post-conviction

costs, and prison costs perhaps including years served on death row awaiting

execution... all told, the extra costs per death penalty imposed in over a

quarter million dollars, and per execution exceeds $2 million." (Cavanagh 4)

When you compare this to the average costs for a twenty year prison term for

first degree murder (roughly $330 thousand), the cost of putting someone away

for life is a deal. Is it really worth the hassle and money to kill a

criminal, when we can put them away for life for less money with a great deal

more ease?

In earlier times--where capital punishment was common, the value of life was

less, and societies were more barbaric--capital punishment was probably quite

acceptable. However, in today's society, which is becoming ever more

increasingly humanitarian, and individual rights and due process of justice

are held in high accord, the death penalty is becoming an unrealistic form of

punishment. Also, with the ever present possibility of mistaken execution,

there will remain the question of innocence of those put to death. Finally,

man is not a divine being. He does not have the right to inflict mortal

punishment in the name of society's welfare, when there are suitable

substitutes that require fewer resources. I ask society, "...why don't we

stop the killing?"(Grisham 404)


Bright, Steven B., and Patrick J. Keenan. "Judges and the Politics of Death:

Deciding Between the Bill of Rights and the Next Election in Capital Cases."

Boston University Law Review 75 (1995): 768-69.

Cavanagh, Suzanne, and David Teasley. "Capital Punishment: A Brief

Overview." CRS Report For Congress 95-505GOV (1995): 4.

Frame, Randy. "A Matter Of Life and Death." Christianity Today 14 Aug.

1995: 50

Grisham, John. The Chamber. New York: Island Books, 1994.

Stewart, David O. "Dealing with Death." American Bar Association Journal

80.11 (1994): 50

Tabak, Ronald J. "Report: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and Lack of Due

Process in Death Penalty Cases." Human Rights 22.Winter (1995): 36

Whittier, Charles H. "Moral Arguments For and Against Capital Punishment."

CRS Report For Congress (1996): 1

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