Death pentaly misc10 Essay

This essay has a total of 2208 words and 11 pages.

Death pentaly misc10



The use of capital punishment has been a permanent fixture in society since the earliest
civilizations. It has been used for various crimes ranging from the desertion of soldiers
during wartime to the more heinous crimes of serial killers. However, the mere fact that
this brutal form of punishment and revenge has been the policy of many nations in the past
does not subsequently warrant its implementation in today's society. The death penalty is
morally and socially unethical, should be construed as cruel and unusual punishment since
it is both discriminatory and arbitrary, has no proof of acting as a deterrent, and risks
the atrocious and unacceptable injustice of executing innocent people. As long as capital
punishment exists in our society it will continue to spark the injustice which it has
failed to curb.

Capital punishment is immoral and unethical. It does not matter who does the killing
because, when a life is taken by another, it is always wrong. By killing a human, the
state lessens the value of life and actually contributes to the growing sentiment in
today's society that certain individuals are worth more than others. When the value of
life is lessened under certain circumstances such as the life of a murderer, what is
stopping others from creating their own circumstances for the value of one's life such as
race, class, religion, and economics? Immanuel Kant, a great philosopher of ethics, came
up with the Categorical Imperative, which is a universal command or rule that states that
society and individuals "must act in such a way that you can will that your actions become
a universal law for all to follow" (Palmer 265). There must be some set of moral and
ethical standards that even the government can not go against, otherwise how can the state
expect its citizens not to follow its own example?

Those who support the death penalty believe, or claim to believe, that capital punishment
is morally and ethically acceptable. The bulk of their evidence comes from the Old
Testament, which actually recommends the use of capital punishment for a number of
crimes. Others also quote the Sixth Commandment which, in the original Hebrew, reads "Thou
Shall Not Commit Murder." However, these literal interpretations of selected passages
from the Bible which are often quoted out of context, corrupt the compassionate attitude
of Judaism and Christianity, second of which clearly focuses on redemption and forgiveness
and urges humane and effective ways of dealing with crime and violence. Those who use the
Bible to support the death penalty are by themselves, since almost all religious groups in
the United States regard executions as immoral.

Those that argue that the death penalty is ethical state that former great leaders and
thinkers such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Kant, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau,
Montesquieu, and Mill all supported it (Koch 324). However, Washington and Jefferson, two
former presidents and admired men, both supported slavery as well. Surely, the advice of
someone who clearly demonstrated a total disregard for the value of human life cannot be
considered in such an argument as capital punishment. In regard to the philosophers,
Immanuel Kant, a great ethical philosopher, stated that the motives behind actions
determine whether something is moral or immoral (Palmer 271).

The motives behind the death penalty, which revolves around revenge and the "frustration
and rage of people who see that the government is not coping with violent crime," are not
of good will, thereby making capital punishment immoral according to ethical philosophy
(Bruck 329). The question of whether executions are a "cruel" form of punishment may no
longer be an argument against capital punishment now that it can be done with lethal
injections, but it is still very "unusual" in that it applies only to a select number of
individuals, making the death penalty completely discriminatory and arbitrary.


After years of watching the ineffectiveness of determining who should be put to death, the
Supreme Court in the1972 Furman v. Georgia decision "invalidated all existing death
sentence statues as violative of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual
punishment and thus depopulated state death rows of 629 occupants" (Berger 352). This
decision was reached not because it was believed that the death penalty was intrinsically
cruel and unusual but because, as Justice Stewart put it, the "death penalty as actually
applied was unconstitutionally arbitrary" (Berger 353). Local politics, money, race, and
where the crime is committed can often play a more decisive role in sentencing someone to
death than the actual facts of the crime. According to Amnesty International, the "death
penalty is a lethal lottery: just one out of every one hundred people arrested for murder
is actually executed" (Death Penalty Focus).

In regards to racial discrimination in sentencing, it has been found that "racial bias
focuses primarily on the race of the victim, not the defendant" (Berger 355). Only 31 out
of the more than 15, 000 recorded executions in this country have been of white defendants
convicted of killing black victims, while black defendants convicted of raping white women
were commonly sentenced to death (Death Penalty Focus). Stephen Nathanson, a professor of
philosophy at Northwestern University addresses the problems of discrimination and
randomness best by saying, "as long as racial, class, religious, and economic bias
continue to be important determinants of who is executed, the death penalty will continue
to create and perpetuate injustice" (Nathanson 346).

Proponents of capital punishment believe that the argument that the death penalty is
discriminatory and arbitrary does not give support to the abolition of capital punishment,
but rather to the extension of it. Edward Koch, the mayor of New York from 1978 to 1989
and death penalty supporter, states that the discriminatory manner of the death penalty
"no longer seems to be the problem it once was," yet in 1987, the Supreme Court case of
McCleskey v. Kemp established that in Georgia someone who kills a white person is four
times more likely to be sentenced to death than someone who kills a black person (Death
Penalty Focus). In response to this, supporters of the death penalty believe that the
death penalty should be extended to all murders. This is what was attempted after the
Furman decision. A number of states sought to resolve the discriminatory and arbitrary
nature of the death penalty by simply sentencing to death everyone convicted of
first-degree murder, but the Supreme Court rejected this proposal saying that "mandatory
death sentence laws did not really resolve the problem but instead 'simply papered [it]
over' since juries responded by refusing to convict certain arbitrarily chosen defendants
of first-degree murder" (Berger 353).

An argument against the death penalty which to sensible and decent persons should seem
undeniable is the fact that innocent people have been murdered by the state in the past
and in all probability more will follow. The wrongful execution of an innocent person is
such an awful injustice that in any civilized society could never be justified, yet this
is the message that the United States is willing to pronounce. Simply put by Professor
Nathanson, "to maintain the death penalty is to be willing to risk innocent lives." In
1987, a study conducted by Hugo Bedau and Michael Radelet appeared in the Standford Law
Review concerning the execution of innocent people. The study concluded that in the period
between 1900 to 1980, about "350 people were wrongfully convicted of capital offenses, 139
of the 350 were sentenced to death, and 23 were actually executed" (Nathanson 344). Over
this eighty year period, this figure averages out to the death of an innocent person about
every 3.4 years. This fact is extremely disturbing and rightfully so, yet death penalty
advocates blatantly disregard the information or attempt to justify it in some way.

Those who support capital punishment claim that such cases of innocent people being
executed have never occurred. For instance, Edward Koch quotes Hugo Bedau in support of
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