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Death Penalty

"I really don't have a problem seeing it. It's more like watching an animal die."
(K. Runnels, waiting to witness the execution of her father's murderer)

“Executions do not have to cost that much. We could hang them and re-use the rope. No cost! Or we could use firing squads and ask for volunteer firing squad members who would provide their own guns and ammunition. Again, no cost.”
(Ch. Clem, Tennessee House Representative)

"You always lose some soldiers in any war."
(Sen. D. Jaye, R-Washington Township, commenting on the risk of executing an innocent)

A Bit Of History

The history of the death penalty begins in the territory now known as the United States of America with the first known execution of Daniel Frank who was put to death in 1622 in the Colony of Virginia for the crime of theft.
From 1930, the first year for which statistics are readily available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, to 1967, 3,859 persons were executed under civil jurisdiction in the United States. During this period over half (54%) of those executed were black, 45 % were white, and the remaining 1% were members of other racial groups - American Indians (a total of 19 executed from 1930-1967), Filipino (13), Chinese (8), and Japanese (2). The vast majority of those executed were men. 32 women were executed from 1930 to 1967.
By the end of the 1960s, all but 10 states had laws authorizing capital punishment, but strong pressure by forces opposed to the death penalty resulted in an unofficial moratorium on executions for several years, with the last execution during this period taking place in 1967.
In 1976 the Supreme Court in the Gregg vs. Georgia decision reinstated the capital punishment.
From 1977 to 1999, a total of 598 executions took place. Of the executed prisoners during this period, 374 were white, 213 were black and 11 were of other races (see picture 1). By the end of 1997, 38 states and the federal government had capital punishment law, 12 states (Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin - and the District of Columbia) had no death penalty.

Proponents And Opponents

Every coin has two sides and speaking about the death penalty, there are also two groups of people that
provide antagonistic opinions on this subject. In a very simple way these two groups argues whether it is “good
or bad” to execute a person for a crime. Here are some of their main opinions:

Deterrence: Death penalty proponents argue that the execution of convicted murderers deters others from committing murder for fear that they will also be executed, and also that murderers will be incapacitated: once dead, they will have no opportunity to commit additional murders. Death penalty opponents dispute the deterrent effect of capital punishment, arguing that few murderers rationally weigh the possibility that they might face the death penalty before committing a murder. The majority of murders are committed in the heat of passion and/or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, when there is little thought given to the possible consequence of the act. Finally, death penalty opponents do not dispute that execution incapacitates executed murders, but argue that life imprisonment without possibility of parole is equally incapacitating.
II. Retribution: Death penalty proponents justify capital punishment under the principle of retribution -"an eye for an eye" - the belief that punishment should fit the crime. However we do not punish rape with rape, or burn down the house of an arsonist. Therefore we should not punish the murderer with death. Death penalty opponents emphasize the sacredness of life, arguing that killing is always wrong whether by individual or by the state.
III. Judicial error: Death penalty proponents argue that there are sufficient safeguards against executing persons and that the danger of executing the innocent is small. Death penalty opponents argue that there is a danger of executing innocent persons, and cite actual cases in which defendants were erroneously convicted of, and sometimes executed for, capital crimes. They view recent laws, which restrict the appeals process as equal to increasing the potential for executing innocent people. A great example of judicial errors is a study published in 1982 in the Stanford Law Review, which documents 350 capital convictions in which it was later proved that the convict had not committed the crime. Of those, 23 convicts were executed and others spent decades of their lives in prison.
IV. Cost: Death penalty proponents argue that the death penalty is a cost-effective alternative to life imprisonment. Death penalty opponents argue that capital punishment is expensive, costing more than it would cost to imprison murderers for life. Factors Determining Whether A Defendant Dies

Whether or not a death sentence is handed down are not the facts of the crime, but the quality of the legal representation. The overwhelming majority of death row inmates receive substandard legal representation at trial. Almost all capital-crime defendants are indigent when arrested, and are generally represented by court-appointed lawyers, who are inexperienced and underpaid.

The National Law Journal, reviewing capital cases in six Southern states, reported that defense lawyers are often “ill-trained, unprepared and grossly underpaid”.
Whether someone convicted of a capital crime receives a death sentence depends greatly on the state or county in which the trial and conviction takes place. In some states a death sentence is rare. Connecticut had 5 people on death row in 1999 and Kansas only 2. Southern states, particularly Texas (443 death row inmates in 1999), hand down significantly more death sentences than those in the rest of the country do. California, the state
with the largest penal system, had 513 inmates on death row in the spring of 1999.
In some states, inmates can be executed for crimes they committed at the age of 16; in others, only those who committed murder at age 18 or older are eligible for the death penalty. Some states, but not all, ban the
execution of people with mental retardation.
Finally, when a person who had committed a crime is sentenced to death, he/she can be executed by using 1 of 5 methods of execution that are currently authorized by states and federal government.
I. Lethal injection: As of yearend 1998, execution by lethal injection was authorized by statute in 34 states and by the federal government.
II. Electrocution: As of yearend 1998, execution by electrocution was authorized by statute in 11 states.
III. Lethal Gas: As of yearend 1998, execution by lethal gas (gas chamber) was authorized by statute in 5 states.
IV. Hanging: As of yearend 1998, execution by hanging was authorized by statute in 3 states.
V. Firing Squad: As of yearend 1998, execution by firing squad was authorized by statute in 3 states.

The Future Of The Death Penalty

I cannot imagine myself being in a position of the relative of a murdered person. I cannot imagine what my feelings would be like in this situation and therefore it is difficult to say whether the death penalty is or is not appropriate solution for a person who had committed a crime. However, in a very theoretical way (supposing there are no personal feelings that could be taken into consideration) I am strongly opposed to it. Although I am not a religious man I know that the way of a person endowed with life should not be ended by another person or a group of persons who called themselves the state, county, society etc. However, the reality is different – not all people think of it in the same way. Speaking about the USA, in numbers of people executed annually, it far exceeds the other 94 documented countries and territories that continue to deliver the death penalty. However, according to one research made among American people, not all of them stand for a capital punishment.

In fact, majority of them would like an alternative punishment (for example life imprisonment without possibility of parole) instead of the death penalty (see picture 2). It is only a small majority but it is there. Millions years ago, our predecessors were full of passion, hate and aggression. In those times, speaking about mating, it was a way of selection of the strongest father; and “a bit of” aggression was an important way to get food, space and less difficult way of life for the progeny. However, nowadays the aggression of this type is nonsense and we cannot tolerate it. People must realize the importance of life of a human being, they must try to forgive each other and they must stop the act of killing because there is no other way how to make the world and ourselves better. I feel that the contemporary human aggression has lost its original sense – nowadays it is contrary to preservation of human species.



www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/death -
www.fdp.dk -

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