Discrimination within the Death Penalty





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“They [prisoners sentenced to death] are almost all poor, usually white, often high school dropouts. Most have never killed before. Most are from the South” (Benac).
Introduction:
Opponents of the death penalty have said that capital punishment does nothing to deter crime. There is some critical information that is important to know before going more in depth on this discussion. The purpose of this paper is not to discuss whether capital punishment is effective in deterring crime nor does it present any ethical arguments regarding it. It is to discuss whether it is used in a universally just and fair manner. Presently, approximately 3, 565 prisoners are living on death row. The costs for death penalty cases are enormous, possibly soaring in to the millions. (National Association…) “Since 1973, over 160 children [defined as anyone under the age of 18] in the U.S. have been sentenced to die” (National Association…). It is possible that ten percent of death row inmates are mentally retarded. “Approximately 90% of those whom prosecutors seek to execute are African-Americans or Latino” (National Association…). Considering all of the above facts, there are obviously some distinct problems with the manner in which the death penalty is imposed. In particular, class differences along with race can drastically affect the manner in which death penalty cases are handled.
Costs:
Lower class people get a worse defense than wealthy people. The costs for a capital defense case can add up quickly: DNA tests, experts, background and psychiatric investigations. Many lower class people have to “depend upon public attorneys who are not really qualified” (ABCNEWS.com…). There is a bill in Congress that would
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regulate state standards for appointed defense attorneys for capital cases but it is doubtful that this will be a quick solution. There is also a bill in Congress that would guarantee DNA analysis for inmates, both federal and state, after their convictions. (ABCNEWS.com…) The awareness of this problem is even occurring in the Supreme Court.
Problems:
There have been many attempts to fix what is wrong with capital punishment and sentencing. According to Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackman in the Collins versus Collins 1994 decision, “the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice, and mistake…” (Culver). It has to be admitted that race plays a part as well as class since normally the two social aspects go hand in hand. Not only race of the defendant but of the victim have to be considered when understanding the idiosyncrasies of sentencing. While race may be focused on more in the media, class or socioeconomic status controls the reins even more. “The vast majority of people executed since 1977, when employed, worked in menial or low-paying jobs at the time they committed their capital crimes” (Culver). Not only is income level influential but educational level is as well. The average educational level for prisoners on death row in 1996 was only the 11th grade with 15% of them having less that an 8th grade education. (Culver)
Defense:
One of the chief concerns in the sentencing phase is that of the defense attorney. Lower class people cannot afford high-profile lawyers or those experienced specifically
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in capital cases. The attorney may not have a great deal of competency when it comes to criminal law. The accused also may not be able to help provide resources for such things as analysis and/or research that would aid in defense. “The attorney who is inexperienced and who represents an indigent accused of a capital crime is unlikely to command the resources needed to assemble a panel of mental health professionals and verify the extent of the problems maintained by the defense or to persuade a jury of the important absence of other compelling evidence” (Culver). This also helps explain why the mentally retarded do not get fair trials either and, even with the mentality of a child, can end up on death row.
The astronomical costs of representation in federal death penalty cases stems from the sever pressure the cases place on the attorneys along with several other factors. These factors may include the following: skill of the counsel, the amount of time the lawyer has to spend on the case, the hourly rate of the lawyer, and the additional expert