Essay, Research Paper: Capital Punishment`s Cost

Legal Issues

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do you feel about the saying, “an eye for an eye?” Do you feel that it
is a good saying to run a nation by? Or do you agree with Gandhi who added to
that statement, “--and everyone is blind?” There have been many
controversies in the history of the United States, ranging from abortion to gun
control; however, capital punishment has been one of the most hotly contested
issues in recent decades. Capital Punishment is the execution of a criminal
pursuant to a sentence of death imposed by a competent court. It is not intended
to inflict any physical pain or any torture; it is only another form of
punishment. This form of punishment is irrevocable because it removes those
punished from society permanently, instead of temporarily imprisoning them, this
is the best and most effective way to deal with criminals. The usual alternative
to the death penalty is life-long imprisonment. Capital punishment is a method
of retributive punishment as old as civilization itself. The death penalty has
been imposed throughout history for many crimes, ranging from blasphemy and
treason to petty theft and murder. Many ancient societies accepted the idea that
certain crimes deserved capital punishment. Ancient Roman and Mosaic Law
endorsed the notion of retaliation; they believed in the rule of “an eye for
an eye.” Similarly, the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, and Greeks all executed
citizens for a variety of crimes. The most famous people who were executed were
Socrates (Saunders 462) and Jesus. Only in England, during the reigns of King
Canute (1016-1035; Hoyt 151) and William the Conqueror (1066-1087; Miller 259)
was the death penalty not used, although the results of interrogation and
torture were often fatal. Later, Britain reinstated the death penalty and
brought it to its American colonies. Although the death penalty was widely
accepted throughout the early United States, not everyone approved of it. In the
late-eighteenth century, opposition to the death penalty gathered enough
strength to lead to important restrictions on the use of the death penalty in
several northern states, while in the United States, Michigan, Wisconsin, and
Rhode Island abandoned the practice altogether. In 1794, Pennsylvania adopted a
law to distinguish the degrees of murder and only use the death penalty for
premeditated first-degree murder. Another reform took place in 1846 in
Louisiana. This state abolished the mandatory death penalty and authorized the
option of sentencing a capital offender to life imprisonment rather than to
death. After the 1830s, public executions ceased to be demonstrated but did not
completely stop until after 1936. Throughout history, governments have been
extremely inventive in devising ways to execute people. Executions inflicted in
the past are now regarded today as ghastly, barbaric, and unthinkable and are
forbidden by law almost everywhere. Common historical methods of execution
included: stoning, crucifixion, burning, breaking on the wheel, drawing and
quartering, beheading and decapitation, shooting, and hanging. These types of
punishments today are banned by the eighth amendment to the constitution (The
Constitution, Amendment 8). In the United States, the death penalty is currently
implemented in one of five ways: firing squad, hanging, gas chamber,
electrocution, and lethal injection. These methods of execution compared to
those of the past are not meant for torture, but meant for punishment for the
crime. For the past decades, capital punishment has been one of the most hotly
contested political issues in America. This debate is a complicated one. Capital
punishment is a legal, practical, philosophical, social, political, and moral
question. The notion of deterrence has been at the very center of the practical
debate over the question of capital punishment. Most of us assume that we
execute murderers primarily because we believe it will discourage others from
becoming murderers. Retentionists have long asserted the deterrent power of
capital punishment as an obvious fact. The fear of death deters people from
committing crimes. Still, abolitionists believe that deterrence is little more
than an assumption and a naive assumption at that. Abolitionists claim that
capital punishment does not deter murderers from killing or killing again. They
base most of their argument against deterrence on statistics. States that use
capital punishment extensively show a higher murder rate than those that have
abolished the death penalty. Also, states that have abolished the death penalty
and then reinstated it show no significant change in murder rate. They say
adjacent states with the death penalty and those without show no long-term
differences in the number of murders that occur in that state. And finally,
there has been no record of change in the rate of homicides in a given city or
state following a local execution. Any possibility of deterring a would-be
murderer from killing has little effect. Most Retentionists argue that none of
the statistical evidence proves that capital punishment does not deter potential
criminals. There is absolutely no way to prove, with any certainty, how many
would-be murderers were in fact deterred form killing due to the death penalty.
They point out that the murder rate in any given state depends on many things
besides whether or not that state uses capital punishment. They cite such
factors as the proportion of urban residents in the state, the level of economic
prosperity, and the social and racial makeup of the populous. But a small
minority is willing to believe in these statistics and to abandon the deterrence
argument. But they defend the death penalty base on other arguments, relying
primarily on the need to protect society from killers who are considered high
risk for killing again. Incapacitation is another controversial aspect of the
death penalty. Abolitionists say condemning a person to death removes any
possibility of rehabilitation. They are confident in the life-sentence
presenting the possibility of rehabilitating the convict; however,
rehabilitation is a myth. The state does not know how to rehabilitate people
because there are plenty of convicted murderers who kill again and again. Some
of these murderers escape and kill again or they kill while still in prison.
While reading different articles both on the internet and in magazines I came
across many stories of inmates who kill another inmate for a piece of chicken,
how pathetic is this “rehabilitation” system? The life-sentence is also a
myth, because of overcrowding in prisons early parole has released convicted
murderers and they still continue to kill. Incapacitation is not solely meant as
deterrence but it is meant to maximize public safety by removing any possibility
of a convicted murderer to murder again. The issue of execution of an innocent
person is troubling to both abolitionists and Retentionists alike. Some people
are frightened of this possibility enough to be convinced that capital
punishment should be abolished. This is not true at all! The execution of
innocent people is very rare because there are many safeguards guaranteeing
protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. There is legal
assistance provided and an automatic appeals process for persons convinced of
capital crimes. Persons under the age of eighteen, pregnant women, new mothers,
or persons who have become insane cannot be sentenced to death. Capital
punishment saves lives as well as takes them. We must accept the few risks of
wrongful deaths for the sake of defending public safety. Abolitionists say the
cost of execution has become increasingly expensive and that life sentences are
more economical. A study of the Texas Criminal System estimated the cost of
appealing capital murder at approximately $3.2 million. This high cost includes
$265,640 for the trial; $294.240 for the state appeals; $113,608 for federal
appeals (over six years); and $135,875 for death row housing. In contrast, the
cost of housing a prisoner in a Texas maximum-security prison single cell for 40
years is estimated at $535,000 ( This is a huge amount of
taxpayer money but the public looks at it as an investment in safety since these
murderers will never kill again. Retentionists argue that these high costs are
due to the lengthy time and the high expenses result from innumerable appeals,
many over technicalities which have little or nothing to do with the question of
guilt or innocence, and do little more than jam up the nation’s court system.
If these frivolous appeals were eliminated, the procedure would neither take so
long nor cost so much. The moral issues concerning the legitimacy of the death
have been brought up by many abolitionists. They think that respect for life
forbids the use of the death penalty, while retentionists believe that respect
for life requires it. Abolitionists usually cite the Bible saying, “To me
belongeth vengeance, and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the
day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make
haste” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Whereas the retentionists usually cite, “Whoso
sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed…” (Genesis 9:6). Both
of these verses are good arguments and seem contradictory; however, many
religious people say that God works in mysterious ways and one thing He works
through is the government so the sentencing of criminals could be God working
his vengeance through our court systems. The latter of the two verses is many
people’s moral justification for supporting the death penalty, and “let the
punishment fit the crime usually goes right along with the verse also. All three
of these quotes could imply that the murderer deserves to die and it was his own
fault for putting himself on death row. Supporters of capital punishment say
that society has the right to kill in defense of its members, just as an
individual has the right to kill in self defense for his or her own personal
safety. In the United States, the main objection to capital punishment has been
that it was always used unfairly, in at least three major ways. First, females
are rarely sentenced to death and executed, even though 20 percent of all
murders that have occurred in recent years were committed by women. Second, a
disproportionate number of nonwhites are sentenced to death and executed. A
black man who kills a white person is eleven times more likely to receive the
death penalty than a white man who kills a black person (
In Texas in 1991, blacks made up twelve percent of the overall population, forty
eight percent of the prison population, and 55.5 percent of the population on
death row ( Before the 1970s, when the death penalty for
rape was still used in many states, no white men were guilty of raping nonwhite
women, whereas most black offenders found guilty of raping a white woman were
executed. This data shows how the death penalty can discriminate and be used on
certain races rather than equally as punishment for severe crimes on both races.
And third, poor and friendless defendants, those who are inexperienced or have
court-appointed counsel, are most likely to be sentenced to death and executed.
Defenders of the death penalty, however, argue that, because nothing found in
the laws of capital punishment causes sexist, racist, or class bias in its use,
these kinds of discrimination are not a sufficient reason for abolishing the
death penalty on the idea that it discriminates or violates the 8th Amendment of
the United States Constitution. Opponents of capital punishment have replied to
this by saying that the death penalty is subject to miscarriage of justice and
that it would be impossible to administer fairly. In the 1970s, a series of U.S.
Supreme Court decisions made the death penalty in the U.S. unconstitutional, if
it is mandatory, if it is imposed without providing courts with adequate
guidance to make the right decision in the severity of the sentence, or if it is
imposed for a crime that does not take or threaten the life of another human
being. The death penalty was also confined to crimes of murder, including a
felony murder. A felony murder is any homicide committed in the course of
committing another felony, such as rape or robbery. After the 1972 court ruling
that all but a few capital statutes were unconstitutional, thirty-seven states
revised and reinstated their death penalty laws. In 1989 the Supreme Court
decided that the death penalty could be used on those who were mentally retarded
or underage (but not under sixteen) at the time of the killing. A trend that the
Supreme Court is following is making a cut back on the appeals that death row
inmates could make to the federal courts. I feel strongly toward using the death
penalty as punishment for unspeakable crimes. I feel that it is a deterrent for
criminal activity because of its severity and it will never allow a murderer to
kill again and destroy another family. The death penalty is not a problem if all
avenues have been investigated and nothing is questionable. I do, however, feel
that restrictions should be put on its uses. Not all crimes deserve the death
penalty. Let the punishment fit the crime, if a person performs a premeditated
heinous murder he should be put to death. It is that simple. If the convicted
offender shows no remorse for his actions, then the decision should be even
easier. Repeat offenders and people who enjoy killing do not deserve to walk our
streets; this method of punishment will prevent that from ever happening. I fell
that it is important to send a message to all future “thrill-killers” that
taking the life of another human is wrong and if they decide to try it, they
must face the consequence of death.

BibliographyElectric, Inc. “Death Penalty Statistics.” 1998. Online
Hoyt, Robert S. “Canute.” World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: Childcraft
International, Inc. 1981. Miller, Jane K. “William I.” World Book
Encyclopedia. Chicago: Childcraft International, Inc. 1981. Saunders, J.L.
“Socrates.” World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: Childcraft International, Inc.
1981. The Holy Bible. Old King James Version. 1988 Dugan Publishers, Inc. United
States. The Delegates to the Constitutional Convention. “The United States
Constitution”. 1787.
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