Death penalties have been significant in curbing serious criminal offenses such as murder. The international law is often considered to favor capital punishment. However, it is evident that most international states have outlawed capital punishment. The death penalty is no longer encouraged in many countries. To that end, approximately seventy countries have signed treaties to outlaw the death penalty. For instance, the European Convention of Human Rights has prohibited capital punishment among the member states. It is also opined that customary law is against the death penalty. However, the opinion is mistaken and rather premature. However, the continuing developments indicate that capital punishment would be abolished in the near future.
There are many arguments cited in Supreme Court in support of capital punishment, however, there are many against it. Evolving standards of decency formed the basis on which the court cites arguments for or against capital punishment. The arguments, according to the evolving decency standards, focus on determining whether the contemporary conscience is offended by death penalties. Public opinion towards the death penalty is relevant in the determination of whether capital punishment is unconstitutional and cruel or not. The court measures public attitudes by considering opinions provided by state courts, state legislatures and polls. More opinions of Americans in regard to capital punishment can be obtained from television, novels, nonfiction works, movies and journals. It suffices to state that many individuals have not witnessed a public hanging event; thus lack first-hand experience (Atwell, 2004).
According to Atwell, popular culture is the avenue through which most individuals in America encounter capital punishment. Capital system inequalities have been raised by the media. The inequalities are based on class, gender and race. Legal processes have also yielded discussions concerning capital punishment; especially in the event that some innocent people are convicted to the death penalty. Traditionally, opinions regarding capital punishment were drawn from literature. The literature contained thousands of execution summons. Readers memorized the last words of such sentences and suspects` confessions and repentance prior to executions.
Place New Order
The first examples of opposition to the death penalty can be seen in the 19th century when John Greenleaf Whittier wrote poems that advocated against the death penalty. Capital punishment was referred to as the crime of law. In 1845, a popular magazine published The Dialogue requesting to abolish capital punishment. Initial methods of execution raised concerns among the jurors. For instance, electricity was used as the first method of execution. The question concerning whether the jurors understood their actions in authorizing executions raised concerns. Only photos of the crime scene were shown excluding occupied gurney, gas chambers and electric chairs. They only trusted that the execution methods produced painless and instantaneous deaths; though other reports indicated the contrary.
Pain resulting from the use of gas chambers and electrocutions was accompanied with doubts thus little efforts were made to change the methods of execution. In the twenties and thirties prominent cases resulted in heated debates concerning the issue. For instance, in1921 Dickie Loeb and Nathan Leopold were arrested for murder. The defendants were accused of murdering Bobby Frank, a twelve year old boy. Since it was a senseless murder, their lawyer Clarence Darrow advocated for not convicting the criminals to the death penalty on the basis that boys, who had homosexual tendencies, suffered from mental illnesses. Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicolas Sacco were executed for payroll robbery and murder in 1927 (Atwell, 2004).
Following their death sentences, there were protests within the United States based on the idea that Vanzetti and Sacco were executed due to their opposition to politics as opposed to the crime itself. Moreover, eight African-American young people were to be executed after having raped two white Alabama women. They were spared only after the United States Supreme Court opposed the convictions. The role of the death penalty continued to be questioned by scholars. There were multiple reasons behind the opposition to death penalties. Individuals raised questions as to whether retribution was the best mode of punishment for a civilized society. Capital punishment was considered to be ineffective. Numerous arguments against capital punishment compelled many jurors to vote against the punishment.
The issue was revisited by the Supreme Court. This led to the determination of certain constitutional statutes. The standards of decency met public opinions about the appropriate execution methods to be used. Witnesses considered the use of a lethal gas too painful when executing a criminal. Electrocution was also identified to be painful and violent. Consequently, the end of the twentieth century saw certain countries adopt the use of a lethal injection as a human way of carrying out the executions. The change was meant to save the capital punishment itself rather than increase the decency of condemning the accused. There was little evidence as to whether the use of a lethal injection was the least painful method of execution. The tranquility of a lethal injection was noted to surpass other execution methods such as shooting, burning, gassing and strangling. It was deemed to be a medical procedure characterized by misleading painlessness that could eventually lead to heart failure.
A limited guidance was offered by the Supreme Court on the appropriate method of execution. The neglect on the part of the Supreme Court was based on the fact that the eighth amendment permitted botched executions. It was also as a result of the unavailability of clear methods to meet public opinion of being human. Florida and other states maintained painful methods of execution amidst the vast opposition. This symbolized a moral outrage displayed by the community to offenders. Changing standards of decency with regard to capital punishment were also evidenced by the selection of less violent execution modes. According to Lifton, the use of lethal injection provided a better execution method for the offenders. The method eliminates the distinction between killing and healing; thus is considered a better method. A study conducted in California on the effect of lethal injection indicated reduced support of death penalty among the viewers.
However, despite the ongoing opposition to capital punishment, the death penalty is still popular in the United States. There are a number of reasons for its continued popularity. Increased crime incidences and the associated public concern about criminal activities have escalated reasons for supporting capital punishment. Following the reduced trust in American justice system, individuals supported the idea that the penalties were just a slap on the wrist; thus contributing to the escalating levels of criminal incidences.
Bedau (2004) indicates that a lot of individuals are in favor of capital punishment. The past five decades saw America ignore the death penalties. However, the Republican Party has been noted to favor the penalty. This is evidenced by the use of the bully pulpit by five Republican presidents to favor the death penalty. For instance, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon extended the support by criticizing rules made by the Supreme Court aimed at introducing justice measures to the law governing capital punishment. The 1988 election campaigns greatly revolved around the issue. This was evidenced by the election of George W Bush as the president of the United States even after having presided over multiple executions. This created the idea that most individuals in the USA favored capital punishment. The mid twentieth century witnessed the dismissal of any juror who opposed capital punishment.
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The impact of death penalty on individual races led to heated debates during the last half of the 20th century. The whites threatened to lynch blacks; hence used executions as one of the approaches towards their goal. The relations were governed by Jim Crow. As a matter of fact, black males, found guilty of raping white females, were subjected to death penalties. It was apparent that a victims race played a great role towards deciding whether a person would be sentenced to death or not. In 1993-2002in approximately 80 per cent of the executions the victims were white. Execution of white offenders for offenses committed to non-white victims was not been a common event in the United States. Towards the last quarter of the 20th century, the Supreme Court rejected an argument that viewed the death penalty as an unusual and cruel punishment (Bedau, 2004).
However, death penalties have been observed to include two aspects: sentencing mentally retarded offenders to death and sentencing young individuals aged 17 and below to death. In 2002, it was concluded that death did not suffice to be a suitable punishment for the mentally retarded offenders. Other crimes were also included in the death penalty scope, for example, kidnapping, aircraft hijacking and drugs-related homicide incidences. According to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act supported by Congress in 1988, in case of any drug-related homicide cases the offender was to be convicted to the death penalty. By 1990, approximately 200 prisoners/per day were executed. Currently, in about 24 American prisons, there are approximately 3,700 prisoners convicted to death sentences. Some prisoners have been waiting for the execution for over ten years. This proves to be the highest number of individuals awaiting death penalties, not mentioning the Stalin and Hitler eras in Europe (Bedau, 2004).
The Legal, Moral and Social Perspective of Capital Punishment
By 1994, the federal crimes punishable by death in the United States included: drive-by shooting that resulted into a victims death, drug trafficking irrespective of whether it resulted in deaths, attempting, advising or authorizing murder of any public officer, killings conducted in an airport in the United States, murder committed by a federal prisoner following his/her escape from a prison, murder committed by a life-term federal prisoner among many other crimes that result in deaths (Bedau, 1997).
Norm compliance has proven to be the dependent factor affecting death penalties. This entails incorporation of domestic practices and policies into the international norms governing death penalties. Norms analysis depends on three different levels of analysis: norm internalization, norm development and norm emergence. However, with regard to norm implementation, internal conditions of a state have a direct impact on its compliance with international culture and norms governing the death penalty. Member countries that advocated for the abolition of the death penalty include: Ireland, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia and Switzerland. Other countries include Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Moldova, Lithuania, Poland, Albania and Latvia (Bae, 2007).
According to the 1976 ruling of the Supreme Court regarding the Gregg versus Georgia case, some of the constitutional, moral and practical reasons to justify the opposition to capital punishment include a number of aspects.
Capital punishment is unusual and cruel. It does not hold a place in the civilized society due to the fact that it is one of the barbaric practices that were witnessed during the slavery period in the United States. Besides, any human murder is associated with disrespect for human life thus the opposition is not driven by sympathy for the offender.
It is unconstitutional thus its imposition is irrevocable and arbitrary. Capital punishment does not adhere to race equality. This forms the reason behind unfair sentencing of black offenders in the United States.
There are flaws in the laws defining death penalties due to the absence of guided discretion. Executions portray the message that there is no value of human life and the pragmatic concerns of justifiable homicide cases. Concentrating on death penalty averts further scrutiny into the cause of the offense such as determining solutions to criminal activities in the society. Resources are wasted starting from capital punishment proceedings in court to the actual execution.
It is against the morals of humane and decent societies to execute an offender. As a matter of fact, crimes are not deterred by capital punishment. Moreover, the death penalty is theoretically uncivilized and unfair in practice (Bedau, 1997).
Following the emergence of systems for regional human rights the need arose to value human life; thus it led to the abolishment of capital punishment. The European Union also regarded capital punishment as an exception to the right to life. This also conforms to the American Convention on Human Rights. The convention together with the European Covenant limits the extent of applicability of capital punishment. Exceptions include juveniles, pregnant women and old individuals aged seventy and above. The African Charter has also been developed to abolish capital punishments. However, in the Arab Charter, capital punishment is only permitted in serious crimes that entail violation of the general law. The punishment is also prohibited in youths aged eighteen and below, pregnant and nursing mothers until two years pass following the birth of a child (Schabas, 2003).
Capital punishment is considered morally impermissible due to a number of reasons. The executions are deemed barbaric and conducted against the law. The punishment defies moral ethics especially if it results in conviction of innocent individuals. Arbitrariness is also prevalent in cases of the death penalty. However, according to the advocates of capital punishment it is justified for serious criminal offenses, particularly those resulting in the loss of life. Capital punishment is also vital as a result of the associated deterrent effect thus warranting the death penalty. Capital punishment is also considered morally permissible by some individuals as opposed to burdening the moral obligation of the society (Sunstein, 2005).
Therefore, there are retributive reasons for the moral necessity of capital punishments. This is meant to ensure that the lives of innocent individuals are not taken for granted. Addressing state omissions may also avert the death of innocent juveniles. Implications as a result of the government actions may or may not be welcomed by the protagonists of capital punishment. The government should be responsible for the provision of security to its citizens; thus it should not just cower behind omissions and acts (Sunstein, 2005).
It is evident that every individual has the right to life. Consequently, she/he is not supposed to be sentenced to death. However, it defies moral ethics to allow murder in a society based on the fact that the offenders have the right to life thus should not be killed. The fact that the victims lose their lives after having faced the consequences of the crime justifies the fairness that is associated with sentencing the offenders to death. Therefore, the death penalty should not be abolished especially if a victims life has been lost due to the offender`s actions. In the case of juvenile offenders, it is appropriate to state that the death penalty should still be imposed on them to avert their transformation into serial killers in the future. Mentally retarded individuals who commit murder should be sentenced to life imprisonment under a close supervision to avert future repetitions of the crime. Sentencing such individuals to death is unfair since most of the mentally-handicapped offenders are unaware of their fate even on death row.