Cruel and Unusual Punishment: the Death Penalty
Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Death Penalty I remember watching the movie Dead Man Walking; it was about this man named Matthew Poncelet who allegedly raped a girl and killed a teenage boy. Poncelet pleaded not guilty, but was convicted as a murderer and put on death row. He asked for several appeals stating that Carl Vitello, the man he was with at the time, was the one that should be at fault. Poncelet seems very convincing that it wasn’t him, but at the end, the courts had enough evidence to grant Poncelet the retribution of execution.
The movie has me questioning America’s justice system; what if someone was actually innocent? Is it right to kill someone as a consequence for their wrong doing? To some, it seems like the right thing to do. If someone breaks the rules you simply punish them. But how should we carry out these punishments? When eight-year-old Billy steals a candy bar from Seven Eleven, you can bet that one of the parents will deliver some whippings. In Texas, when I was in elementary school, I started a fight, and as a result I got sent to the principal’s office and received three licks with a paddle.
So where do we draw the line? At a higher level, what happens to me if I kill someone? Since the beginning of time, societies in almost every culture and background have used capital punishment or physical chastisement as a consequence for the killing of others. But, we shouldn’t be doing this anymore; life is too valuable. Even though some people have made mistakes in their lives, its time for the United States to free the judicial systems from their power to take peoples life’s as a consequence for people taking the life of another. In 1972, with the Furman v.
Georgia case, the Supreme Court recognized that capital punishment was indeed a roll of the dice, and as a consequence held that as practiced it violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. Justice Stewart declared that the death penalty was cruel because it is “wantonly and freakishly imposed,” and it was like “being struck by lightning” (Hull). Justice Douglas, agreed and stated that the death penalty was unusual because “it discriminates against someone by reason of his race, wealth, social position, or class” (Hull).
Justice Byron White, a man who favored more executions, agreed that he noticed, that among the hundreds of federal and state criminal cases that could have resulted in the death penalty, “only a handful of defendants were actually selected for execution” — making the system “so totally irrational as to be based on luck” (Hull). The decision removed power from the states to enforce the death penalty, and moved the 629 inmates off death row.
For a few years, the death penalty remained illegal because the Justices that were on the Supreme Court at the time concluded that executions violated the Eight and Fourteen Amendments, citing cruel and unusual punishment. However, with different terms, in 1976, the Supreme Court reversed itself with Gregg v. Georgia and reinstated the death penalty to state hands. Nevertheless, this is a prime example of how the Supreme Court can change laws and set precedents by the way they interpret our Amendments.
The Supreme Court is in place to dissect, and analyze the Constitution to decide what the Framers meant, and in 1972, the perspicacity of the Justices resulted in the most humane decision ever made; people where being deprived from life by serving life imprisonments instead of being executed. Since 1976, the United States has executed 1,295 people, and there are currently 3,189 people on death row (DPIC). But all murderers haven’t had the same fortune, because of Gregg v. Georgia, some states enforce the death penalty and others don’t. There are currently 33 states in the U. S. ho currently support and implement capital punishment, and 17 states who oppose. (DPIC). Murderers in non-capital punishment states can kill with the highest punishment being life in prison; but if that same murderer resided in another state, he would have the opportunity, depending on the case, to be sentenced to execution, via lethal injection. The problem here lies, that there is no consistency when it come to punishing the murderers. If a murderer lives in the U. S. the reprimands should remain the same for everyone; the penalties shouldn’t differ because what climate a killer prefers living in.
The laws that we have in place now, means that if I wanted to go on a killing spree, and I didn’t want to die because of it, I would simply move from a death penalty state to a free death penalty state and make my moves there. It’s not right to pick and choose something of this magnitude. Everyone in this nation should be treated equally when it comes to a life or death situation. In 2007 at the State Bar of Wisconsin Annual Convention in Milwaukee, pro- and anti-death penalty activists gathered to debate over the death penalty. During this debate, James P. McKay Jr. an assistant state’s attorney with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago, and a pro-death penalty supporter, stated in defense that he “absolutely believes that the death penalty brings justice to a murder victim’s family” (Pribek), and that he has “never called for the death penalty in a case for political purposes” (Pribek). Professor John C. McAdams, a political science professor of Marquette University in Milwaukee, and an anti-death penalty supporter, fired back with, “The state should not implement the death penalty because of its irrevocability.
Whether the state is literally taking a prisoner’s life, versus locking him or her up for life, the state has taken that person’s life by vanquishing his or her freedom” (Pribek). Moments after, McAdams closed out the debate with the crowd on his side, stating, “If I were on the Supreme Court, I’d say that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment” (Pribek). Although some death penalty advocates consider themselves the voice of the innocent victims and their families, McAdams made a very notable point.
Penitentiaries don’t have to eradicate the murderer to serve justice. But you can end a life; sentence the murderer to serve permanent incarceration, and you will deprive them from freedom, or in other words, life; which in return satisfies the amendments. Yet, “we the people”, continue to put the power of life or death into the hands of fallible, sometimes prejudiced, narrow-minded people and ask them to play God and determine who’s worthy to live a life that we did not bestow upon them.
Sentencing someone to life is the most reasonable solution in more ways then one. There have been 140 exonerations since 1972, and from 2000 to 2007 there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year — innocent people suffering for no reason (Woodford). The average time between the sentencing to death of the once sought guilty, to their proven innocence, is 10 years. If U. S. citizens could find it in their hearts to come together and drop down to the humanitarian level, there could be change in the system with awareness, and spread of word.
There has to be other people who share the same feelings, and cringe at the thought of possible government killings toward non-guilty — it’s unsupportable. Its mind boggling to note that there has been 140 non-guilty offenders put in prison with the presumption that they are going to die, and then some years later, they are freed. The probable innocent killing can easily be solved by sentencing presumable murderers to life without parole. The death penalty is much more expensive than life without parole because the Constitution requires a long and complex judicial process for capital cases.
If the death penalty was replaced with life without parole, an immense amount of money would be saved. According to a California Commission report in 2008, California could save $1 billion over five years by replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment (Woodford). The report stated — with reforms to ensure a fair trail to the current system in place, the death penalty would cost California an estimate of $232 million a year and the cost for a system that imposed lifetime incarnation instead of the death penalty would only cost $11. 5 million a year (Woodford). Two birds with one stone.
The evidence for capital punishment as an uniquely effective deterrent to murder is especially important, since deterrence is the only major pragmatic argument on the pro-death penalty side. The theory is, if murderers are sentenced to death and executed, potential murderers will think twice before killing for fear of losing their own life; what is feared most, deters most. In 1973, Isaac Ehrlich, statistician who, after looking at national homicide rates between 1930 and 1970, established an analysis which produced results showing that for every inmate who was executed, 7 lives were spared because others were deterred from committing murder.
But this however, has been proven inconclusive, and results cannot be duplicated by other researchers. Then in 1997, George Pataki, the Governor of New York state at the time, stated during the anniversary of reinstating death penalty, “To fight and deter crime effectively, individuals must have every tool government can afford them, including the death penalty” (Paraki). The governor made strong relations with the death penalty and the potential of installing fear in other potential murders.
Pataki continued with strong regards to the deterrence theory after mentioning that the death penalty was a key contributor to the recent dramatic drop in violent crimes — “In New York, the death penalty has turned the tables on fear and put it back where it belongs-in the hearts of criminals. I know, as do most New Yorkers, that by restoring the death penalty, we have saved lives” (Pataki). I do not feel that execution best punishes criminals for their acts.
Instead, in my opinion, the administration of the death penalty should end because it does not deter crime, it risks the death of an innocent person, it costs millions of dollars, it inflicts unreasonable pain, and most importantly it violates moral principles. The inconsistency doesn’t make sense either, according to Nearly everyone that has been summoned to death row, is spurred from to According to our Bill of Rights, I cannot be deprived of life without due process of law (US Const. , amend. V). So if the process of law is carried out, the courts can decide to kill me if my crime is severe enough to correspond with capital punishment.
But, according to the eighth amendment, I’m protected from cruel and unusual punishment ? isn’t killing someone cruel and unusual? Did our Framers mean that the death penalty has to be humane, or did they mean the person has to be imprisoned for life? Is it right for someone you have never met to define these so called “rights” and never be consistent with their definitions? So here we are with a lot of questions and no right answers! Yes, Poncelet did commit a crime and he should pay; but how can someone that didn’t put you in this world, take you out?
The death penalty is cruel and unusual. Why can’t the court system just sentence someone to life in prison? I believe if you take the life of another, it is a form of cruel punishment. In my eyes, it could be a violation of the eighth amendment. Our fifth amendment states, that with the processes of due law, they can deprive us of life. But how can someone construe that as killing us and taking our life? The judicial courts should have interpreted this as putting someone in prison until they die. If you’re imprisoned for the rest of your life, then you have been deprived of life.
This should be enough justice. It’s not like someone will be enjoying their time. I don’t see how the people that operate the death penalties can sleep at night; killing someone because they killed just isn’t right. They should actually make a certain prison for those who have been deprived of life, the ones who have killed. The prison should have the inmates locked up in a small dark room for 24 hours a day with no contact with anyone, no bed, no blanket, just a toilet and pictures of the victims engraved into the walls of their cell.
At least this way, the killer could regret what he/she did and maybe feel some sort of remorse. It would drive the person insane. It’s also messed up for the court system to appoint a state lawyer to defend you and call that a fair trail. No lawyer really cares if you win or lose the case all they care about is the money. If one is well off when it comes to money, then of course one can afford a nice experienced lawyer that would probably bust his ass and do anything to win the case, for the reason that he would probably get more money. But if you can’t afford a lawyer, they will be happy to appoint you one.
He is probably making salary and his pay isn’t justified if you win or not. If your pay doesn’t fluctuate, then there is no drive; he’s not going to work as hard and not give the case as much thought. When it’s all said and done, the appointed lawyer has nothing to lose. Maybe it’s just your luck and he is a newbie and doesn’t have any business in a case involving a murder. If they want to make it a fair trail, why can’t they pay for a top notch individual lawyer who excels in that position? We should be able to pick our own, so then at least the poor person can have a chance.
I mean when you’re talking about someone’s life you don’t want any Joe Blow defending your case. Here is a statistic for you; according to American Civil Liberties Union “Approximately 90 percent of those on death row could not afford to hire a lawyer when they were tried” (Tabak). Is it okay that only some states have the death penalty? I don’t think so. If I live in Washington State and go to Alaska to kill a man, under Alaska law I will not receive capital punishment (DPIC); the worst I would get is life in prison. But if I would have stayed and did my killings in Washington, I would be put on death row (DPIC).
If the United States isn’t consistent with who dies and who doesn’t, then obviously there’s something wrong. It just doesn’t seem right to pick and choose something of this magnitude. Everyone in this nation should be treated equally when it comes to a life or death situation. Here’s yet another problem that I have found: weren’t we all suppose to have unalienable rights– rights that can never be taken away from us; the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? But wait; in some states they can take away our life if the crime seems bad enough.
I’m no law expert, but this doesn’t seem to mesh together either. I thought the government could only suppress these rights by dictators and tyrants under oppressive regimes. The most controversial subject when talking about capital punishment is that the executioners are actually committing a crime that should put them on death row too. It’s probably the most obvious debate, but seriously, how can the same group of people who just told you that killing is illegal, turn around and kill people? That doesn’t sound fair, does it? Shouldn’t the law be equal for everyone?
If murdering is illegal, then how in the hell are these people getting away with this? There’s no reason why they should get exempt from this law. They are just as bad as the criminal who committed crime. There’s another example of how inconsistent this “act of justice” (Volpe) is being used. Two wrongs don’t make a right I don’t care how fucked up the situation may be. This law simply contradicts itself. I know I stated that it was hard to choose a side, but while writing this paper, I am confident that I oppose the whole capital punishment bullshit.
Yeah, I get where people are coming from, but the reasons to not believe in the death penalty overweigh the reasons to believe in the death penalty. The only way to solve this disagreement is to actually go in and define the wording in the fifth and eighth amendments. The Framers left the Constitution open, leaving the interpretations flexible to the generations of justice to come. Once our judicial government can come to an agreement on the wording in the Constitution, then maybe we can decide if we want to continue killing people by stooping down to the criminal level.
Kartha, Deepa. “10 Pros and Cons of Capital Punishment. ” Buzzle Web Portal: Intelligent Life on the Web. 5 Dec. 2009. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. . Tabak. “Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review. ” American Civil Liberties Union. 1984. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. . http://www. jmu. edu/evision/archive/volume2/Volpe. pdf Works Cited DPIC. “Introduction to the Death Penalty. ” Death Penalty Information Center. 2012. Web. 1 June 2012. Hull, Elizabeth. “Guilty On All Counts. ” Social Policy 39. 4 (2010): 11-25. Academic Search Complete. Print.
Pataki, George E. “Death Penalty Is a Deterrent. ” Ed. John Hillkirk. USA Today [McLean] 1 Mar. 1997. Print. Pribek, Jane. “Pro- And Anti-Death Penalty Advocates Square Off At State Bar Of Wisconsin Annual Convention. ” Wisconsin Law Journal (Milwaukee, WI) (n. d. ): Regional Business News. Print. Volpe, Tara. “Capital Punishment: Does Death Equal Justice? ” Jmu. edu. 2002. E-vision. Web. 10 June 2012. Woodford, Jeanne. “10 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty. ” Death Penalty. Death Penalty Focus, 2012. Web. 11 June 2012.