Against the Death Penalty

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In American society, the threat of capital punishment stands as the ultimate sentence for a criminal. The moral ramifications of the taking of another life, whether it be by murder or as legally accepted punishment, remains an unresolved conflict between Americans. Despite the fact that capital punishment, otherwise known as the "death penalty", is legal in only a handful of countries in the world, the majority of Americans regard it as acceptable retribution. In the 1981 Gallup Poll, two-thirds of Americans voiced general approval of capital punishment. By 1994, the same poll concluded that a tremendous 80% of Americans approved of capital punishment (Moore, 1994:5). It is no wonder that many of our countries leaders endorse the death penalty. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, believes that mass executions of "27 or 30 or 35 people at a time" would be effective in the reduction of the importation of illegal drugs in to America (Taylor, 1995). In 1972, capital punishment was eradicated in the United States when the Supreme Court declared that under then existing laws "imposition and carrying out of the death penalty... constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th and 14th amendments." (Fruman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238). This decision, however, was repealed in 1976 by the Supreme Court. Advocates of capital punishment claim that it is an effective deterrent against crime and that it is morally just. The statistics, however, point the opposite direction, indicating that capital punishment has little to no effect on the occurrence of crime and is a profoundly discriminatory and a morally conflicting practice. Americans are intimately concerned with crime rates and the safety within their communities. The most widely cited argument for the death penalty is the claim that it is an effective deterrent against the criminal act of murder. The argument suggests that defending one's life against the threat of potential legal execution would override any inclinations to commit the act of murder, also assuming that the potential murderer is of the condition to make rational decisions. Capital punishment simply bears little effect on the occurrence of such crimes. Only a small proportion of first degree murderers are sentenced to death and even fewer are executed. Although death sentences since 1980 have increased in number to about 250 per year , this is still only one percent of homicides known to the police. Of all those convicted on a charge of criminal homicide, only two percent, about one in fifty, are eventually sentences to death. Death penalty states in America as a group do not have lower rates of criminal homicide than non-death penalty states. In the 1980's death penalty states averaged an annual rate of 7.5 criminal homicides per 100,000 population, and abolition states averaged a rate of 7.4. Further more, most deterrence research has found that the death penalty has virtually the same effect as long imprisonment on homicide rates (Paternoster, 1991: 217-45). Former New York Police Chief Patrick V. Murphy wrote, "Like the emperor's new clothes, the flimsy notion that the death penalty is an effective law enforcement tool is being exposed as mere political puffery" (Murphy, 1995). The claim that deterrence of crime is an effect of the practice of capital punishment is simply statistically invalid. Moral justification is also a very socially accepted argument for capital punishment as legal practice. Many Americans feel that the act of murder can only be justified with the loss of the life of the murderer. Murder demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. For this very reason, murder is abhorrent, and any policy of state-authorized killings is immoral. Executions give society the message that human life doesn't deserve respect when it is useful to take it and that homicide is legitimate when deemed justified by pragmatic concerns. Moral justification is also invalidated by the discriminatory nature of the practice in the United States. The death penalty violates the constitutional guarantee of the equal protect

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