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Death Penalty Essay, English Composition Writing on Death Penalty
Capital punishment has been part of the criminal justice system since the earliest of times. The United States remains in the minority of nations in the world that still uses death as penalty for certain crimes. In recent times opponents have held the death penalty to be barbaric, racist, and against American values. On the other hand, many see it as a necessary tool in fighting violent pre-meditated murder. It seems that both sides have good arguments and it is hard to determine which one is more important and should be upheld. I have to admit that I did not have a stand on capital punishment, and the issue seems to be a very serious one and at the same time quite controversial. Society’s support for the death penalty is waning, but there is still enough support in the United States to keep it legal in many states. In our country, dozens of people are put to death every year, and the method of capital punishment vary greatly.
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No matter if it is a firing squad, gas chamber, electric chair, lethal injection, or guillotine, each and every way designed to kill a person is immoral and cruel. We criticize Saddam Hussein for killing his own people, yet we allow similar conduct in our country. Our society punishes a murderer by murdering him, as capital punishment is nothing but a legal murder. At the same time it tries to teach us that violence is wrong and does not solve problems. Yet our highest form of punishment is no different than the crime it is supposed to punish. There should always be accountability for crime and an effective deterrent in place, but killing someone who killed does not make much sense.
The “eye for an eye” way of thinking does not seem to be appropriate one. I see a lot of fundamental inconsistency in that approach, as with that state of mind we should steal from thieves in order to punish them and find a way to rape rapists in revenge, and so forth. In turn, the idea of killing another for killing sounds hypocritical. The fact that we feel such disgust toward murderers is common, yet to punish the criminal in exactly the same way that made us hate him sounds ridiculous. Wouldn’t it be more suitable to sentence the criminal to life in prison, which is certainly not a pleasant experience by any means? Then we could consider ourselves as a civilized, not primitive society. As history has taught us, striking back at an enemy solely for revenge is only making things worse.
Many believe that removing criminals from our society permanently will satisfy our need for safety, as the criminal will never be able to kill again. What about the value of human life though? Do we have the right to take someone’s life away? God gave us life, and He should be the only one to take it away from us. I understand that one may argue that murderers deserve no better fate than their victims, but on the other hand do we want to get down to the criminal’s level and behave like he did? Do we want to take the responsibility for it then? Besides, I believe that the death penalty may not be harsh enough for these criminals. One should realize that if the terrorists had a choice they would definitely prefer instant death than humiliation of lifelong prison. With a death sentence, the suffering is over in seconds, while life in prison inflicts punishment for years, during which time they experience violence on a daily basis and cannot escape from it.
Our justice system is not perfect in determining guilt and innocence. Sometimes the worse criminal will go free, but inevitably mistakes are made in the other direction and innocent person may be put to death. Capital punishment has a tendency to discriminate against the poor, who cannot afford expert attorney’s fees and have to be represented by court-appointed public defenders. These defense attorneys are not paid well and are probably working on several cases simultaneously, consequently they are unlikely to do their best. It is almost obvious that death penalty affects poor people more often than the wealthy ones. It seems to me that if you only have money you can “get away with murder” literally. A perfect example of that was the O.J. Simpson case. First of all, it is unusual that the District Attorney in California did not seek the death penalty in a double first degree murder case. Furthermore, how can it be that he is a free man today? Maybe the fact that this multi-millionaire was able to afford the best attorney, plenty of investigators, and experts of his choice had something to do with it.
In addition to discriminating against the poor, capital punishment is also racist. It looks like it is more probable to end up on death row while being of color. If two people of different race are on trial for similar crimes, the colored one will be more likely to receive a death sentence.
There is no evidence that the death penalty deters killers, since they might as well be killed while committing the crime. That is actually one of Albert Camus’s observations. We all want to live, but at the same time we do a lot of things to jeopardize our lives. Everybody has instinct for life but we also do risky things. For example, people drink and drive knowing it might cost them their life, but they still exhibit that irrational behavior. Therefore, why would the possibility of death penalty discourage that kind of people? One should realize that human beings are very complicated and capital punishment does not necessarily scare everyone. Moreover, it is reasonable to conclude that the infinite number of murders involve passions of the moment, violent conflict, and other similar circumstances where the killer does not think about the consequences of his crime. Furthermore, the murderer may have such a strong desire to end someone’s life that he does not really care about the punishment that will be due. And even if one would be afraid of loosing his own life, I believe that most of the criminals think that they will not be caught and will not have to suffer the consequences. So if capital punishment does not serve one of its main purposes, i.e. a deterrent, is it necessary?
Supporters of capital punishment might argue that this kind of punishment is important for the family of the victim of a crime as it will bring them closure and the feeling that the status quo has been restored. But how can we talk about any kind of restoration if nothing can bring their family member to life and nothing will soothe the pain of their loss. Anger, hate, and revenge are not able to heal the emptiness of a lost loved one. The only way to get through this difficult time is not by vengeance but through forgiveness.
It is clear that the victim’s family always goes through a lot of suffering. One should also notice that when the murderer is put to death by state his family is also forced to suffer. It is already hard for them to acknowledge that their loved one had committed a crime, so why double their pain by putting their family member to death if it does not have to be that way? Taking of an innocent life cannot be compensated, so why more pain should be inflicted by another life being taken away?
Furthermore, if the government executes that murderer it is telling his family that he was less of a human being. Even though the criminal committed terrible crimes, he is still no less human than any other citizen. If we can justify killing him and allow his dignity to be destroyed, what is stopping us from justifying other situations? Therefore, I believe that the government should never have such an absolute power that would allow it to kill its subjects. This kind of attitude does not support democratic principles and borderlines tyranny.
Since there is a lot of people who oppose the death penalty, and when these same people are sitting on a jury, they may be hesitant to convict if it means taking someone’s life away. Many times the choice is between death or acquit, and even though the jury is convinced that the defendant is guilty, they will find him not guilty since being against death penalty they will not want to kill someone. As one can see, in this situation justice cannot be served, and a person who deserves life in prison goes free as the prosecutors only give a choice of death penalty or acquit.
I would not want to put a price on human life, but there seems to be an important argument between pro and con death penalty parties regarding the financial matters of the issue. Many will say that we, the taxpayers, should not pay for criminal’s life in prison. Instead we could get rid of murderers permanently and use our scarce resources in other areas. It seems to me that most people do not realize that execution actually costs more than lifelong imprisonment. A while ago I was reading an article in a credible magazine that in our country it is not unusual for the prisoner to be on death row for up to fifteen years. What makes the process so long are the endless appeals, motions, briefs, and additional required procedures, which are to determine if the criminal really deserves the death penalty. All of the judges, attorneys, court fees, and other related costs need to be paid. The article that I had read indicated that the cost of a capital trial combined with the jail term and execution is significantly higher than supporting the prisoner for the rest of his prison life. Moreover, while being in prison he could be engaged in some kind of beneficial activity. That way his life would not be wasted and he would have a chance to give back to society as a way of his retribution.
Considering the long process of waiting on death row, I also should point out that it clogs our court system tremendously. So, instead of wasting time and money on determining if one deserves capital punishment, we could send him to prison for life and use the saved resources to solve other legal matters.
I realize that today we have too many prisoners and not enough facilities to keep them all, which contributes to early releases for lack of space. One could argue that if the death penalty was more popular we would not have to be afraid that criminals will be let free from jail, as there is not enough room for them, but instead the worse of them will be removed from the society permanently. I do not agree with that viewpoint. I cannot imagine that in today’s world killing thousands of people just because of lack of space in prisons would advance the cause of justice.
There is one last issue concerning capital punishment, which I believe needs to be pointed out when deciding if the death penalty should exist in our country. The fact is that the United States is one of a few nations where capital punishment still exists. This policy portrays the country as violent and immoral, and in turn triggers anti-Americanism around the world. An unfavorable image of the U.S. is growing among nations, especially since more and more countries are joining the European Union, which bans death penalty. Whether that fact should influence our stand on the issue, I do not know, but I believe it is always good to live in harmony with others if possible.
The problem of capital punishment has still not been resolved in the United States. The fundamental question in this matter is whether any kind of murder, regardless of reason, can be accepted. Before writing this paper I was not sure on which side of the argument should I be, as I truly believe that both parties to this dispute can have strong arguments. Going over all the above facts I must conclude that taking someone’s life, unless in defense of ones own life, is immoral, no matter the circumstances. It sounds ridiculous to me that more “humane” methods to kill criminals are constantly being developed. The outcome is still the same, legal murder. In my opinion capital punishment lowers the value of a human life and violates morality of our society. One also should realize that criminals are real people who are able to experience the feeling of fear, pain, and other emotions just as we all can. It is easy to push aside that thought when talking about heartless, pre-meditated murder, but what about juveniles who commit the crime at a young age? Did they realize what they were doing? Can we take away their lives that actually are just starting? Considering the trauma and suffering of the criminal’s family, it just does not sound right to sentence someone to death. I believe that no reason can be proposed to justify the death penalty.
Taking the life of another is considered the most terrible of crimes, and I agree that it deserves the harshest punishment; but at the same time I do not think that taking a life for a life is the right solution. Execution cannot be morally justifiable and should not be allowed. I feel that by killing someone we make ourselves even worse than the convicted killers. And by abolishing the death penalty we can prove that we are better people than these criminals. We are civilized human beings who can solve problems in more moral, less barbaric and better ways.
Supplemental Reference Material : Can the Death Penalty be Justified.
Edward I. Koch uses his essay “The Death Penalty: Can It Ever Be Justified?” to defend capital punishment. He believes that justice for murderous crimes is essential for the success of the nation. The possibility of error is of no concern to Koch and if would-be murderers can be deterred from committing these heinous crimes, he feels the value of human life will be boosted and murder rates will consequently plummet (475-479). Koch makes a valiant effort to express these views, yet research contradicts his claims and a real look at his idea of justice must be considered in order to create a fair nation for all.
One point that Koch tries to address is the value of human life. Koch is noted as believing that “life is indeed precious.” He feels that the death penalty helps to establish this fact by demonstrating that if a person commits a heinous crime such as murder, they will suffer the worst of consequences (476). How, though, does the taking of another life demonstrate that life is indeed so precious? All other facts aside, is it not simply the end to another life? Most citizens would be in agreement that such inhumane crimes deserve severe ramifications, but ending a life to make up for an unlawful death would contradict these principles of the value of life. Bud Welch supports this theory. His daughter, Julie, had her life viciously taken from her in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Welch, although enduring the greatest pain of all, concluded that Timothy McVeigh’s execution “is simply vengeance; and it was vengeance that killed Julie.” Welch understood the true value of all human life and was able to put his natural emotions away and theorize that vengeance has “no place in our justice system” (“In Opposition to the Death Penalty: Retribution”).
Deterrence, in Koch’s eyes, also represents how valuable life is. He believes that capital punishment can prevent future murders by eliminating the murderer and making potential murderers think twice about committing a crime (478). Nonetheless, killing the murderer through capital punishment is not the only means to eliminate the possibility of the killer striking again. For example, a life sentence in a secure jail would ensure that the killer would not be able to take another life. Moreover, it would mean one less death in the end. Also, studies have shown that capital punishment may not be the miracle deterrent that Koch and other capital punishment supporters allege it to be. From the Death Penalty Information Center website, William Bowers, a Northwestern University criminologist, states that “society is brutalized by the use of the death penalty, and this increases the likelihood of more murder.” Along with Bowers, 84% of experts in the academic criminological society say that their research has concluded no proof that the death penalty is a successful deterrent (“In Opposition to the Death Penalty: Deterrence”). Statistics back these criminologists’ statements. A study by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty confirmed that there have been over 750 executions since 1976. That is 750 lives ended in hopes that the killing will stop. Unfortunately, according to the United States Department of Justice, there continues to be a rise in the number of executions (such as 71 in 2002 alone, 5 more than in 2001), and these executions result from the continuing rise in the number of murders. Even more surprising is the fact that there is a 37% higher murder rate in death penalty states than in non-death penalty states (“Innocence and the Death Penalty”). These studies show that not only is the death penalty failing as a means of deterring murderers from performing such crimes, but more lives are being lost with this course of action.
With all of these lives being taken, there is a possibility that mistakes could be made. Koch addresses this issue with the stance that sometimes the risks of error must be overlooked in order to succeed. In one sentence, Koch is claiming that sometimes mistakes are made; nevertheless, he pardons it. In the next sentence, he professes that “human life deserves special protection” (477). Does this statement not include all human life? What about the lives of those wrongly accused, such as the case of Willie Darden. Willie Darden was executed in Florida. After Darden’s execution, claims were brought up that Darden was innocent. Evidence showed that the murder weapon could in no way be traced back to Darden. Attorneys said that key witnesses were not allowed to testify and the one witness that did testify claimed “all black people looked alike to [her.]” She then pointed out Darden from a line-up composed of all white men, except for Darden. Even Supreme Court Justice Blackmun was quoted saying “if ever a man received an unfair trial, Darden did” (NCADP). Darden’s case is not the only one of its kind. Unfortunately, the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty states that 23 innocent people have been executed in this century already. Koch claims that an error here or there is no big deal, but are 23 errors a big deal, not to mention the falsely convicted people who were luckier than Darden? The Death Penalty Information Center’s research shows that since 1973, 111 people have been released from death row after evidence surfaced to prove their innocence (“Innocence and the Death Penalty”). Amendment 6 to the United States Constitution at the Library of Congress states that citizens are innocent until proven guilty, yet these innocent citizens are being accused and executed for crimes they did not commit.
Koch’s main claim lies in the issue of justice when it comes to capital punishment. All of his major points come back to the fact that severe repercussions must result when an innocent life is taken. Most citizens would agree with him that “[we] must be able to punish crimes of cold-blooded murder” (476). Justice is needed for crimes committed in society today. However, his idea that “any other form of punishment would be inadequate and, therefore, unjust” is not as definite (477). Justice refers to fairness, but when innocent lives are threatened, is this fair? Koch argues that all other forms of punishment are insufficient, yet he does not clarify why. One alternative, life imprisonment, keeps murderers off of the streets and prevents them from killing again. This method is as successful at deterring murder as capital punishment, and no more lives are taken. Koch’s concern for justice in America is reasonable, but his means of attaining it are not as effective as he would like to believe.
The topic of capital punishment raises many issues as it deals with the strong emotions of people. Not only are there many factors to consider, but peoples’ values are involved and this increases the intensity of this controversy. Edward Koch is understandably concerned with justice in society and the consequences of those individuals who choose to wreak this havoc upon our nation and its citizens. He is correct in his belief that penalties need to be inflicted upon those guilty, but his manners of carrying them out affect those who are innocent as well. He emphasizes that human life is too valuable to not take the greatest measures in protecting it. On the other hand, he declares that mistakes made when convicting someone of a crime sometimes must occur in order to secure justice. Though Koch’s apprehensions are concerns for many when it comes to capital punishment, his execution solution contains flaws and is not the right answer for solving the murder and justice problems in society.
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