Essay, Research Paper: Death Penalty

Legal Issues

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During this class period today, seven adult men will be falsely accused of
committing a serious crime, carrying a penalty of capital punishment. This means
approximately 51,000 adult men are falsely accused of committing serious crimes
each year. This figure is roughly the number of people who attended Super
Bowl-Thirty-Three. Currently, there are 3,500 people on death row in
thirty-eight states that support and carry out the death penalty while only
twelve states have outlawed it. At the same time, more than half the countries
in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Capital
punishment is very relevant to each member of society. It is not just a male
only issue. Every single one of us in this room has a father, brother, or
significant others who could be affected. Capital punishment in America is
morally unjust and should be eliminated because it is cruel and unusual; it
kills innocent people; and it is used in a discriminatory manner. Sometimes
criminals suffer more during their executions than is anticipated or planned.
People sentenced to death are certain to face one of the following methods of
execution still practiced today: firing squad, electric chair, lethal injection,
gas chamber or hanging. But, injecting with poisonous chemicals, smothering with
toxic gases, and electrocuting with high voltage are the preferred methods
because bloody human tissues are not strewn about, as with other methods,
therefore those people assigned to scour the execution site are less likely to
experience psychological trauma. Although tidy, these styles of killing rarely
succeed on the first attempt; instead, prisoners regularly suffer intense pain
for long periods of time before expiring. According to Seideman, the case of
Scotty Sutton is one example of many bungled executions that take place every
month. While administering a lethal injection, all the executioner’s attempts
to find a vein have failed. Scotty started moaning and heaving in agony
signaling a partial dose found his blood stream. Realizing the dose was not
enough to end his life the executioner tried several failed attempts in the neck
area hoping to find a main artery. Meanwhile, 300 pound, Scotty is still
breathing after five minutes into this botched execution. The chemicals that
were prepared and on hand have been seriously depleted. In a last ditch effort,
the executioner signaled for help and directed a prison staff member to cut away
a portion of the thick canvas jacket to expose an area of his chest to deliver a
lethal dose directly into his heart; moments later Scotty expired (3). Another
example that is equally as cruel as lethal injection is the gas chamber. This
method of execution places a prisoner in a cell that fills with cyanide gas. The
symptoms of dying first start with tears falling uncontrollably from the eyes.
Then, snot and bodily fluids run unobstructed from the nose. Also, puss dribbles
out the mouth, and blisters form on the skin about the face. Finally, breathing
is restricted and the heart stops. This process can take eight minutes that may
seem like eight hours to the prisoner. Another account of inhumane punishment
comes from witnessing a prisoner’s execution in the electric chair. Science
has not determined how long an electrocuted individual retains consciousness,
but when the switch is thrown, the body jerks, smoke frequently rises from the
head, and there is a smell of burning flesh (Seideman 4). For example, one case
in May 1990, Jessie Tafero, a Florida prisoner, gurgled and his head bobbed
while ashes fell from it, for four minutes (Seideman 5). Another case in July
1986, Kevin Barnes, an Alabama prisoner, took three jolts of electricity and ten
minutes before being pronounced dead (Seideman 5). In the Chicago Tribune report
on “Miscarriages of Justice,” it was reported that since 1975 at least 381
innocent people have been convicted of capital crimes they did not commit
(Armstrong). Guilty criminals deserve to die for the horrible acts they commit,
not innocent people. The Death penalty practiced is far from humane; in fact, it
is downright torturous in many cases and Heaven forbid if we send an innocent
person to death row. Every time the state kills an innocent person, justice has
failed; sympathy from our hearts goes to families suffering from grief; then,
the peoples’ business is soon back to normal. This tragic cycle will continue
until capital punishment is outlawed. Occasionally killing an innocent person
while in the process of trying to kill guilty criminals is unacceptable. The
Chicago Tribune conducted a study and analyzed thousands of court records from
across the country to find some disturbing news. Research has revealed that,
with impunity, prosecutors across the country have violated their oaths and the
law, committing the worst kinds of deceptions in the most serious of cases
(Armstrong 1). Hiding or presenting false evidence was the prosecutor’s
strategy to deceive the courts and win their case; they knew they would not get
punished. Armstrong reports, “they have prosecuted black men, hiding evidence
that the real killers were white. They have prosecuted a wife, hiding evidence
her husband committed suicide. They have prosecuted parents, hiding evidence
their daughter was killed by wild dogs” (Armstrong). Studies show, since 1975
at least 381 innocent people have had their conviction thrown out (Armstrong 2).
Dishonest lawyers who represent our justice system should be held accountable
for the deaths of those innocent people convicted of crimes they did not commit.
A report released by the Chicago Tribune points out that recent advances in DNA
technology have stirred the hopes of many prisoners that may be innocent and
looking for a loop hole in getting another chance to appeal. As a result, 1000
new cases crowd the courts, and 75 of which are death row prisoners (Armstrong
5). Verneal Jimerson of Illinois and Kirk Bloodsworth of Maryland, both were
later exonerated by DNA tests, but not before spending 5 years in prison
(Armstrong). Capital punishment is prone to killing innocent people. A court
error can be corrected with a pardon but a pardon after death is not valued to
anyone (Seideman 2). Race is an important factor in determining who is sentenced
to die. When dealing with race, statistics are important because they provide
facts that are unbiased and indisputable. Martin Luther King said, “sometimes
a law is just on its face and unjust on its application” (King 159). Meaning
intentions are good but its outcome is unjust. With capital punishment, the
statistics present the big picture by revealing that biased judgments were made
along racial lines and therefore must be examined first. Then, each court case
is examined to enumerate the evidence that supports our conclusion drawn from
the statistics. For example, statistics shows that, during 1997-1998 the
population of our country was 252.7 million. 72.9 percent of this amount was
white, yet whites accounted for only 49.1 percent of prison inmates, while
blacks who accounted for only 15.3 percent of the entire population, accounted
for 47.3 percent of prison inmates. The statistics are similar for the
population on death row and executions (Cabana 1). These statistics suggest a
racial problem does exist but is not enough to make a claim. Each case is now
examined; the evidence that supports the claim is enumerated; the result is a
well thought out explanation of the problem. For example, after carefully
studying the statistics the General Accounting Office released a report in 1990
that insists the race of the victim in capital murder cases influenced whether
prosecutors would pursue the death penalty or not. In particular, it insists
that, a black man who kills a white person is 11 times more likely to receive
the death penalty than a white man who kills a black person (Fernando 1). In
simpler terms, the law does not stand for torture or racism; instead, it honors
due process and equal justice for all. The law promises we punish criminals but
fails to eliminate wrongful convictions. It is not necessary to kill someone as
punishment because when the person is dead, you are not punishing him; you are
punishing only the people who love him. These victims would benefit far more if
the funds used for appeals were diverted to the provisions of counseling and
other assistance. Racism continues to play an unacceptable role in capital
punishment. In death penalty cases the race of the victim is much more important
than the prior criminal record of the defender or the actual circumstances of
the crime. More than half of those on death row are people of color, although
they represent about six percent of the U.S. population, about forty percent of
those on death row are African American. On the basis of race, the death penalty
still discriminates against minorities; therefore, our principles of justice and
fairness are being selectively applied. Currently in America we have not a
system of justice, but injustice. Bibliography*http//* Seideman, David,
(1998, June17-last updated). Executions and Suffering Accessed: March 17, 1999.
*http://ethics/ Fernando, Javier, (1994,
April-creation date). American Justice in America Accessed: March 10, 1999.
** Cabana, Don, (1998-
copyright). Death Penalty Statistics Accessed: March 20, 1999 **
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