Capital Punishment

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Chris Schmidbauer Capital Punishment Since the beginning of the formalized justice system, there has always been a heavy debate over the issue of criminal deterrence in the Church. Many different ideas have come around as a proper punishment for those who have committed crime. The main question is how should criminals be treated. Yet the biggest topic in this area concerns Capital Punishment. Let s examine the history of capital punishment. Capital punishment has been around since the dawn of the organized civilization. It has been the most common form since the Middle Ages, and it was inflicted for the most minor offenses involving property. Most of the death sentences then involved torture too. Such severe punishment began to die out during the 18th century. The number of offense punishable by death was reduced because of a humanitarian movement swept through governments. Back then there were normally five styles of execution practiced. These were the guillotine, hanging and the garotte, burning at the stake, and the headman s axe. The guillotine was a popular form of execution in France. This was a machine used to decapitate. This was used because at the time it was thought to be the least cruel and painful of the tortures. It was invented by Dr. Joseph Guilliton. Hanging and the garotte is the only form of punishment from the Middle Ages still practiced today. Although back in the Middle Ages, it wasn t as scientific. It was seen as the perfect execution because it was a form of torture and death in one. This is because a prisoner would suffocate and sustain heavy cuts and pain during the death process. The headman s axe was a form quite popular in Germany and England. This was a style which is seen as the father of the guillotine. It basically is where a prisoner is decapitated. An executioner, usually hooded, would chop a prisoner s head off with means of an axe or sword. The earliest form of execution was that of burning at the stake. Then a prisoner was tied to a mast of wood. Then kindling for a fire was assembled at the base of the wooden mast. Fire was slit to the kindling and a person would first suffocate from the smoke intake, and then the dead corpse would by burned. This was typically used for heretics, accused witches, and suspicious women. The wheel was probably the most gruesome of all the forms of early capital punishment. The wheel was used in two typical fashions. One was the person would be attached to the outer rim of the wheel. The they would be rolled down a hill or they would be rolled continuously over sharp spikes. The other way consisted of a prisoner being tied to wheel. Then the wheel would be laid on its side like a turntable. The prisoner would be beaten profusely with iron bars. This caused broken bones, much bloodshed, and eventually death. With greater interest in humanitarianism, capital punishment has waned from a torture standpoint. Today governments choose more humane forms of punishment for the prisoner. There are typically five forms of capital punishment today. These are electrocution, lethal injection, gas chamber, firing squad, and hanging. In a typical electrocution, a prisoner is trapped to a chair built specifically. Their heads and body hair is shaved to provide a better conductor for the moistened copper electrodes that the executioner attaches. Then a button is pushed by the executioner. The jolt power varies from state to state. However it is normally determined by body weight. The first jolt is followed by several more at a lower voltage. For example, Georgia executioners apply 2,000 volts for four seconds and 1,00 volts for seven seconds and 208 volts for two minutes. Electrocution provides obvious bodily destruction. It burns internal organs. The prisoner usually leaps against the restraints when the switch is thrown. The body changes color, shape, and size. It may also catch fire. Today the electric chair is used in eleven states, and four states use it as their sole method of execution. In lethal injection, death is obtained by the continuous intravenous injections of a lethal quantity of three different drugs. A prisoner is secured to a gurney by ankle and wrist restraints. A cardiac monitor is attached as well as a stethoscope. Then two saline intravenous lines a re started, one in each arm. Then the inmate is draped with a sheet. Then the saline lines are stopped, and Sodium Thiopental is injected, causing the prisoner to fall into a coma like sleep. Next a chemical agent called Pancuronium Bromide is injected. This is a muscle relaxer. This will cause the inmate to stop breathing due to paralyses of the diaphragm and lungs. The last agent, Potassium Chloride, is injected. The gas chamber requires that an inmate be restrained and sealed in an airtight chamber. When given a signal, an executioner opens a valve. This allows hydrochloric acid to flow into a pan. Upon a second signal, an executioner will then have either potassium cyanide or sodium cyanide into the acid by a mechanical machine. This will produce hydrocyanic gas. This gas destroys the body s ability to produce hemoglobin, and the unconsciousness can occur within a few seconds if an inmate takes deep breaths. However if he or she holds their breath, the death takes much longer. This usually brings the prisoner to convulse wildly. Death typically occurs within six to 18 minutes. When it comes to death by firing squad, there is no real procedure that is followed. Basically a team of five executioners takes aim at a convict s trunk, and some shooters will fire blanks so that the identity of the killer is unknown. This is an uncommon form of capital punishment. Only two inmates have chosen this form of death since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1977. Hanging is probably the oldest method of execution. This was originally a way to desecrate the body of a criminal after death. But today it is used as a form of capital punishment. The procedure starts by the prisoner being weighed. The drop for the prisoner must be based on the prisoner s weight. This is because 1260 pounds of pressure must be delivered to the neck in order for instant death. The prisoner s weight divided by 1260 determines the height at which the prisoner is dropped. The noose is then placed around the neck, behind the left ear. This placement will cause the neck to snap . The trap door then opens and a prisoner falls to their death. If properly done, death will be caused by dislocation of the third and fourth cervical vertebrae, or by asphyxiation. Traditionally the Catholic Church has taught that any form of taking another human being s life is wrong when it includes intent to kill. So this extends to capital punishment. The Church establishes her official teaching in the section explaining the seventh commandment, which is Thou shall not kill . The Catechism establishes two main points in its stance on the idea of killing of others. The second section is where the ideas of capital punishment are somewhat thwarted. The sections basic summary is the idea of respect for the dead. This is not achieved by the methods of capital punishment. The Church has stated that it feels a rehabbing criminals to return to society is the approach we should take towards criminals. They feel that counseling criminals and releasing them pack to pay their debt to society is the way that most justice systems should follow. The Church also emphasizes God as the judge, not the people. So basically the Church does not believe in capital punishment. I tend to agree with the Church s stance on the issue although I do not agree with her reasons. Capital Punishment seems to a barbaric form of punishment. Although many people who defend capital punishment see it as a fit deterrence, it desecrates the human body. Grant it, a murder has been committed. However, who are we to play God? Capital punishment s often are performed incorrectly and create more pain for the inmate going through death. Hanging, for example, if done improperly, can cause strangulation, severe bruising and bleeding, and can sometimes even decapitate a prisoner. This is much more gruesome then a swift and painless execution that the state strives for today. In 1983, witnesses say that the execution of John Adams was one of the most barbaric rituals ever seen. Mr. Evans was sentenced to death by electrocution. But this was one that went terribly wrong. Mr. Evans was given three charges of electricity, according to witnesses. He was still conscious after the first two charges of electricity. He was also conscious when smoke was starting to come from his body due to the burning flesh. An official reportedly tired to stop the execution, but he was unsuccessful. He then caught flames and began to scream until he finally died. Contrary to popular belief, the death penalty doesn t really deter crime. Many studies have shown that there is a definite lack of correlation between the two variables. One study was done by Isaac Ehrlich. His study began in 1957 and spanned 25 years til 1982. In the first year of his study there were 8,060 murders committed in the United States and 65 executions performed. In 1982, the last year of the study, there were 22,520 murders committed in the United States. There was only one execution performed that year. So clearly there is an absence of deterrence shown. Another problem with capital punishment is that it violates human dignity and human rights. Societies and the state always hold themselves above criminal offenders. Yet by performing premeditated murder in an execution makes us no better than those who are executed for the same crime. It s hard to decipher which is worse. Is it worse that we lower ourselves to the moral standing of a murderer, or is it worse that we raise the offender to our level of moral reasoning? Not only do we violate human dignity by desecrating the body of a human being, but we bring society to the level of a person who we are punishing for the same crime. Society s hypocrisy in this matter is astonishing. We claim that premeditated murder is the coldest, most violent act a human begin can do against another human being. Yet the state, the law that is supposed to be equal and democratic for all, commits the very same act as punishment for the same exact offense. There is no consistency in the state s philosophy on this issue. Execution is extremely expensive to carry out. Estimates for one execution is around one million dollars per execution for a typical lethal injection. It costs close to two million dollars for the state to perform a typical electrocution. For a prisoner to spend life in jail without parole, it would take a prisoner up to 120 years in prison to equal total cost for one execution by the state. Those who support capital punishment would have people believe that it costs much more to house a prisoner for life than execute him. But the reality is when the costs are compared, housing a prisoner for life is only a fraction of the cost than what it takes to house a prisoner for life. The biggest support for abolitionists of capital punishment is the possibility of innocent death. Once a death sentence is carried out, it is irreversible. Justice is not a flawless system. So what happens to those who are wrongly executed? In the last hundred years there have been 75 cases that have been reported in wrongful convictions for homicide. In eight of those cases, someone was already executed for a crime they didn t commit. These are only documented cases. A Stanford University survey tallied at least 23 wrongful executions in the 20th century. It is definitely possible that there are much more wrongfully accused who have been put to death. Mainly because of the state is this the case. Only recently has DNA testing become a possibility to use as evidence in criminal murder trials. Also this process is extremely expensive and most states do not have a mandatory DNA test done between suspects in murder cases. The Supreme Court has opened the door for more wrongful executions too. In 1987, it revoked a crucial exception in the execution proceedings. No longer is the life of a victim nor the suffering of his survivors allowed to factor into the decision in any state of federal case punishable by death. Basically the court is doing away with legal processes that has evolved to ensure only the guilty die increases the chance for more inn

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