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Death Penalty Is Cruel

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Death Penalty Is Cruel

Post  Admin on Thu Feb 04, 2010 5:47 am

At the onset of this assignment, I believed that capital punishment was wrong for many reasons. At the conclusion of this assignment, I believe even more strongly that the death penalty is wrong, and have come upon more reasons for my belief. It is extremely difficult, however, to find case law that endorses the abolishment of capital punishment, since capital punishment has not been yet overturned. From a legal point of view, the best argument against capital punishment is that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. Most people would agree with the statement that the Constitution, and the amendments that follow it, is a dynamic document. In Trop v. Dulles (356 U.S. 86), the Supreme Court stated that the eighth amendment contained “ an evolving standard of decency that marked the progress of a maturing society”. Basically, what the Court was saying that while the Constitution was up for interpretation, that interpretation should be looked at as time goes along to ensure that that interpretation is still valid. In 1972, the landmark case of Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S.238, 33 L Ed 2d 346), the Supreme Court effectively suspended the death penalty by finding death penalty statutes around the country unconstitutional. The Court stated that when the “death penalty ceases realistically to further (the aims of deterrence and retribution) its imposition would then be the pointless and needless extinction of life…”. Basically, the Court found that the death penalty is cruel and unusual if the punishment was too severe for the crime, if it was arbitrary, or if it was no more effective than a less severe penalty. Unfortunately, the opinion given by the Court in the Furman case just allowed the states to draw up new statutes that were made sure tin follow the new guidelines set forth by the court. In the case of Gregg v. Georgia (428 U.S. 153,96 S.Ct.2909), the Court found, as a majority that the death penalty did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment as a whole. Justice Brennan, however disagreed, and stated that the consideration of “evolving standards of decency” required focusing upon the essence of the death penalty itself and not primarily or solely upon the procedure under which the determination to inflict the penalty upon a particular person was made. Additionally, Justice Brennan pointed out that the death penalty did not serve any penal purpose more effectively than a less severe punishment, and that our civilization and the law had indeed progressed to the point where the court should hold that the punishment of death, for whatever crime and under all circumstances, was cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. In 1995,the Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case of Lackey v. Texas (514 U.S. 1045; 115 S. Ct. 1421). In this case, Lackey stated that his spending 17 years on death row constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Stevens stated that the death penalty might serve “ two principal social purposes: retribution and deterrence”. He agreed that neither of these purposes had much value after spending some 17 years on death row. Another case, which was denied certiorari by the Supreme Court, was Campbell v. Wood (511 U.S. 1119; 114 S.Ct.2125). In this case, the petitioner was to be executed by hanging and stated that it was cruel and unusual punishment to be executed in this way. Justice Blackmun, in his dissenting opinion, stated “the eighth amendments prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment draws it’s meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society”. He stated that a good way to obtain a sense of the standards of decency of a society was to look at the legislative action that is occurring. He stated that 46 out of the original 48 that allowed hangings had outlawed them for the basic reason that they were considered inhumane. The Court states that the death penalty should allow some form of retribution and deterrence. The Court also states that when the death penalty ceases to get these two points across, it is a useless waste of a life. Most inmates who are sentenced to die appeal their sentences continually, which is understandable. The system, in an effort to promote the fair implementation of the death penalty allows this to occur to a certain degree. Unfortunately, the longer the stay of execution, the less retribution and deterrence play a role in the inmate being put to death. Putting more restrictions on the appeals process would certainly lean more towards retribution and deterrence, but would take away from the fairness of the process. Another point brought about by the court is that if a less severe punishment will have the same effect as the inmate being put to death, the death penalty is a moot point. Given the choice between life in prison without the chance of parole and being put to death most would choose life in prison, however, the deterrence factor between the two is much less than most will admit. Certainly a person being tortured on public display serves a much better role of deterrence than the death penalty as it now stands. The Court would undoubtedly find that to be cruel and unusual, however, and the deterrence of it would not even come into play, because it would be so horrible to the general public.

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