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Death Penalty and the law (Essay Sample)


Review of the connection between law and death penalty

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Death Penalty and the law
Death penalty as referred to as capital punishment is one of the oldest forms of punishing offenders. Ancient communities exercised the death penalty even before the establishment of the formal legal system or formal correctional facilities. In United States, the Death penalty originated from the English common laws. After independence, United States continued to use capital punishment in its legal system even though some states such as Michigan have never used the punishment. The federal government continues to use the death penalty because it is still entrenched in the eighteenth amendment of the United States constitution. The eighteenth amendment defines the “cruel and unusual punishments” and defines which type of crimes qualifies to be punished by death (Alarcon & Mitchell 70). In United States, serious murder cases are the only crime punishable by death. The eighteenth amendment states that the death penalty can only be applicable to mentally healthy adults.
The pressure to abolish the death penalty has been on the rise. Some 18 states in United States, including the District of Columbia have abolished the capital punishment. The United states remain the only country in the G8 that still enforces the death penalty (Amnesty International 2012). Almost all the countries in Europe have abolished the death penalty. Capital punishment is perceived to be a cruel way of punishing offenders. This brings on the debate on the pros and cons of the death penalty. Based on the trend by several countries to abolish capital punishment, it seems there are more opposers of the punishment than supporters. This essay looks at the issues that make the death penalty a good practice and those that make it an outdated practice not fit for the modern society.
Despite the lobbying to stop capital punishment, the 32 states and federal government of the United States that support the death penalty believe that it is the best way to punish murderers(. Those who support capital punishment argue on the basis of three main advantages that they believe outweigh the disadvantages of the practice. The first advantage it serves is that of discouraging people from committing serious crimes that would attract capital punishment. This is a weak argument because few people commit crimes with an intention or thought of being caught and punished. Those who commit murder have their reasons, which may not be deterred by the knowledge of capital punishment being in existence.
The second argument in support of the death punishment is based on the concept of retributive justice. The argument in this concept is that criminals should receive a punishment that is equal to the crime they committed. The concept of retributive justice seeks to balance the scale of justice despite the opinion of the victim or other parties in the case. The state has the responsibility to ensure that criminals receive punishments that equal their crime. Consequently, the application of the death penalty in cases where the convicted is guilty of murder is appropriate. The Furman v. Georgia case of (1972) had elicited a ruling that considered the use of capital punishment as constituting a cruel and unusual punishment. This resulted in a period when the death penalty was suspended until 1976 when the Gregg v. Georgia made it clear that the Supreme Court of the United States was not against the use of the death penalty.
The third argument that supports the use of the death penalty is that of saving costs. It is believed that it would cost the state additional $11.5 million per year to fund a single correctional facility that keeps lifetime prisoners instead of executing them. This means that the cost of sustaining prisoners in the state prisons is quite high. On the other hand, the cost of the death penalty is low because it is a onetime punishment. The death penalty allows the convicted to go through several appeal option before an execution. The cost of appeal is also expensive, and the death penalty ensures that no appeal is made after the execution.
On the other side of opposing the use of capital punishment, rights group argue that the practice violates fundamental human rights. In 1997, the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights made a resolution that supports the abolition of the death penalty on the basis that the move would uphold human dignity and help in the protection of fundamental Human rights (Schabas 1997). The European Union also made it a condition for all its member states to outlaw the death penalty on the same basis of protecting the right to life of all human beings. Many other countries that have abolished the death penalty have done so under pressure from human rights activist who have strongly argued against killing as a form of lawful punishment.
Apart from the moral argument, activist against the death penalty have also argued that the judicial process that culminates into the death penalty is very costly. A study by Alarcon & Mitchell indicated that trials that have the possibility of attracting the death penalty in the States of California cost three times more the cost of life imprisonment of the culprits(69). This is due to additional legal processes such as the costs pre-trial and trial, automatic appeals costs, federal habeas corpus appeals costs, state habeas corpus petitions, and death row incarceration costs. The activists argue that even as the costs of capital punishment are high, the effects are not felt in terms of reduced crime rates. For example, Amnesty international (US) provide data that indicate the murder rates in the state without the death penalty are lower than the states still practicing capital punishment.
One of the main reasons that have led to the abolition of the death penalty in many countries across the world is the fact that some cases are mishandled resulting in wrongful conviction. It is a gross violation of human right to wrongfully send an innocent man to death and no compensation can reverse such an execution. According to Amnesty International (2012), 130 people have been released from death row since 1973 in the United States only. This indicates that even though the judicial system tries to make the conviction of capital crimes offenders as through as possible, there are still so...
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