Friday, October 7, 2011

The Death Penalty

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What is Capital punishment? Capital punishment is the death penalty. It is used today, just as it was used in ancient times to punish criminals convicted of a variety of offenses. Even the bible advocates death for murder and other crimes like kidnapping and witchcraft. When the death penalty is debated, it has a tendency to provide plenty of yelling and screaming from both sides of the argument. One side may say deterrence, while the other side may say, but you may execute an innocent man. Today, one of the most debated issues in the Criminal Justice System is the issue of capital punishment or the death penalty.

Capital punishment was legal until 17, when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in Furman v. Georgia stating that it violated the Eight and Fourteen Amendments citing cruel and unusual punishment. However, in 176, the Supreme Court reversed itself with Gregg v. Georgia and reinstated the death penalty but not all states have the death penalty. Twelve states currently do not have the death penalty Alaska, District of Colombia, Hawaii, Iowa, Main, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (Deathpenalty info).

As citizens of the United States we expect our justice system to be fair and depend on the government to ensure that it is fair. Our pledge of allegiance contains four very important words, ¡§¡Kand justice for all.¡¨ But is it justice for all or only for those that can afford it? This is just one of the arguments against the way that capital punishment is used. As children, we are taught that all people are created equal. Race is another, and maybe the biggest argument that is used by opponents of capital punishment. These points will be discussed at greater length later in this paper.

The death penalty has been around since the beginning of time. Throughout history people have been put to death for various forms of crimes. Executions in the early United States were made public affairs and the bodies were often put on display for days. Although the death penalty was largely accepted throughout the early United States, everyone did not approve. Founders of the United States like Thomas Jefferson had serious doubts about the death penalty and hoped that it was severely limited in the new nation. Others like Dr. Benjamin Rush, the Surgeon General of the American Forces during the Revolutionary War, called for it to be abolished altogether (Kronenwetter 10-1). Murder is the only crime considered a capital offense in most states. The Supreme Court requires that two conditions must be met for a specific murder to warrant the death penalty. The murder must be first-degree and one or more aggravating circumstances must be present. Aggravating circumstances are defined in the applicable death penalty statute.

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Circumstances considered for murder include

„h The crime was particularly vile, atrocious, or cruel.

„h There were multiple victims.

„h The crime occurred during the commission of another felony.

„h The victim was a police or correctional officer in the line of duty.

„h The offender was previously convicted of a capital offense or violent crime.

The offender directed an accomplice to commit the murder or committed the murder at the direction of another person (Flanders 1).

It would be easy to associate cultural transmission and differential association with the criminal behavior that warrants the death penalty. ¡§Cultural theorist claim that deviance is learned through the same fundamental process as conformity that is, through socialization¡¨(Curry,Jiobu,Schwrian 86). Yet, this is not the only sociological term that is applicable. Social stratification has a unique place in this argument. Proponents of the death penalty could also use the cultural transmission theory as a basis for their argument. ¡¨The theories of cultural transmission and differential association provide a basis for understanding why attempts to resocialize or rehabilitate deviants so often fail¡¨ (Curry, Jiobu, Schwrian 87). Retribution could also be considered a major factor in the use of capital punishment. Proponents of capital punishment believe strongly in retribution. Igor Primoratz said, ¡§punishment is morally justified insofar as it is meted out as retribution for the offense committed¡¨(Retributive justice).

Both sides of the issue could easily use social stratification to argue their point. ¡§The vast majority of people executed since 177, when employed, worked in menial or low-paying jobs at the time they committed their capital crimes¡¨ (Culver). Throughout my research, I have yet to find a child from a predominately wealthy family on death row. Proponents for capital punishment argue that this should not make a difference. The cost for a capital defense can add up quickly DNA tests, experts, background and psychiatric investigations. Many lower class people have to depend upon public defenders that are not as qualified as some high profile attorneys. It is not possible for an individual making nine dollars per hour, to hire an attorney charging two hundred dollars per hour. All of these factors play in the hands of the conflict theorist.

Conflict theorists believe that power is a tool that should be wielded by one group to implement their will upon others. Is this not what the death penalty is all about? Is this not the same as the upper echelon of society tipping the scales of justice? The proponents of the death penalty would definitely fall into this category. Fortunately for the poor, the laws of gravity say that what goes up must come down. And slowly, society is starting to take a harder look at the way capital punishment is implemented. The poor and impoverished are the ones that are most susceptible to the concept of social power. Yet, this is the very heart and soul of the conflict theorist.

We as Americans, are conspicuously indecisive about the most decisive punishment in our criminal justice system. ¡§Nearly three-quarters of the population support the death penalty, yet nearly half the country is willing to consider eliminating it¡¨ (Mathew Pearl). Scholars, activists, and lawyers have built up several effective arguments against capital punishment that it violates the Constitutions prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, that it is distributed capriciously along racial and class lines, and that an innocent person could be put to death. Both sides of the argument use Biblical scriptures to bolster their beliefs.

Race and socio-economic class have a lot to do with determining who receives the death penalty. It is becoming more and more obvious that if you have enough wealth, you can avoid the death penalty. This only goes to show that capital punishment is not being applied equally among the masses. The life of a rich man is worth no more than the life of a poor man.

A major factor that deserves to be examined is poverty. A defendant¡¦s poverty and lack of firm social roots in the community has become a reoccurring theme in capital cases. One concept that could be used to explain how poverty contributes to violent crimes is called ¡§the truly disadvantaged¡¨. This class of people consists of person¡¦s who are hopelessly trapped in a cycle of joblessness, deviance, crime, welfare dependency, and unstable family life. (Curry,Jiobu,Schwrian 87). It is extremely difficult to break this vicious cycle. Through cumulation, the majority keeps the minority in an inferior status. Social inequality has been a constant in our society since the beginning. The minority groups lack the resources that are available to the upper class of America.

Should the color of a man¡¦s skin determine whether or not he lives or dies? Unfortunately skin color has been a deciding factor in the use of capital punishment. Race had become the major player in the debate of the abolishing or keeping the death penalty. Blacks and minorities have been stereotyped to the point that they can not get a fair trial in a society were they are a minority.

Since 176, 5% of the people executed were black. At the same time blacks made up 1.8% of the population. Over 80% of completed capital cases involved white victims, even though, nationally only 50% of murder victims are white. A white man convicted of murdering a black is less likely to get the death penalty than a black man convicted of murdering a white man. Of the interracial murders committed 178 blacks were executed for killing a white person. Only 1 whites were executed for killing a black person. Ninety eight percent of all prosecutors responsible for death sentences are white. (Deathpenalty info)

Everything seems to point to the fact that the death penalty has not been applied equally to all members of society. The minority groups have paid a higher price. The lower a person¡¦s socioeconomic status is, the more likely he or she will receive the death penalty. A lack of education among the poor continues to be a factor in violent crimes. Once a race has been stereotyped it is subject to unfair treatment at all levels of the justice system. It is a foregone conclusion that our justice system is not perfect.

Both sides of the argument use Biblical scriptures to bolster their beliefs. The classic moral arguments in favor of the death penalty have been scriptural. For example, the statement from the Bible that ¡§whosoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed¡¨(Genesis 6) has usually been interpreted as an argument for putting a murderer to death. There are numerous other crimes for which the Bible prescribes death as punishment. Other crimes in the bible that call for death as punishment are;¡¨ adultery (Leviticus 010; Deuteronomy -4), incest (Leviticus 011-1), homosexuality (Leviticus 01), and prostitution¡¨ (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 1- 1). Proponents are quick to avoid these biblical passages.

There are a number of scriptures that repute these passages, depending on each person¡¦s belief. One such scripture is in the Ten Commandments, saying thou shall not kill. The scriptures can be used and interpreted to suit the individual and their moral aspect of life. The death penalty is still the taking of a human life and people will continue to use the scriptures to appease oneself for their own belief or action.

The United States has achieved the status of a civilized nation. Is it proper for a civilized society to accept the legalized murder that is committed when the death penalty is carried out? Other than vengeance for a few people, the death penalty has no positive effect on society. Still, the American public overwhelmingly supports the death penalty. Whether it is a monetary or moral cost, the cost of carrying out the death sentence is an enormous burden on the taxpayers. There has been no concrete evidence that proves that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. All of the facts show that the death penalty is not a equal opportunity killer. Until all of the social problems associated with capital punishment are resolved, I feel that the death penalty should be stopped.



Bedau, H.A. (n.d.). The case against the death penalty. American Civil Liberties Union,

Retrieved May 00, from http//dnai.com/~mwood/deathpen.html.

Bonner, R. (001 August 4). Death row inmate is freed after DNA test clears him.

New York Times, Retrieved 4 May 00, from http//proquest.umi.com/.

Clines, F. (001, September 5). Work by expert witness is now on trial.

New York Times, Retrieved 5 May 00, from http//proquest.umi.com/.

Financial facts about the death penalty. (n.d.). Retrieved 5 May 00, from

http//www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?did=108&scid=7 #financial%0facts

Juveniles and the death penalty. (n.d.). Retrieved 5 May 00, from


Mental retardation and the death penalty. (n.d.). Retrieved 5 May 00, from


Kronenwetter, Michael.(1). Capitol punishment.

Santa Barbara ABC-CLIO.

Mason, M.S. (001 October 1). TV puts death penalty on trial. Christian Science

Monitor, Retrieved 5 May 00 from EBSCOhost

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