Capital Punishment: Is It RequiredLooking out for the state of the public’s satisfaction in the scheme ofcapital sentencing does not constitute serving justice. Today’s system ofcapital punishment is fraught with inequalities and injustices. The commonlyoffered arguments for the death penalty are filled with holes. “It was adeterrent.
It removed killers. It was the ultimate punishment. It is biblical. It satisfied the public’s need for retribution. It relieved the anguish of thevictim’s family. “(Grisham 120) Realistically, imposing the death penalty isexpensive and time consuming.
Retroactively, it has yet to be proven as adeterrent. Morally, it is a continuation of the cycle of violence and”. . . degrades all who are involved in its enforcement, as well as itsvictim.Order now
“(Stewart 1) Capital Punishment has been part of the criminal justicesystem since the earliest of times. The Babylonian Hammurabi Code(ca. 1700 B. C. )decreed death for crimes as minor as the fraudulent sale of beer(Flanders 3).
Egyptians could be put to death for disclosing the location of sacred burialsites(Flanders 3). However, in recent times opponents have shown the deathpenalty to be racist, barbaric, and in violation with the United StatesConstitution as “. . .
cruel and unusual punishment. ” In this country, althoughlaws governing the application of the death penalty have undergone many changessince biblical times, the punishment endures, and controversy has never beengreater. Perhaps the most frequent argument for capital punishment is that ofdeterrence. The prevailing thought is that imposition of the death penalty willact to dissuade other criminals from committing violent acts. Numerous studieshave been created attempting to prove this belief; however, “All the evidencetaken together makes it hard to be confident that capital punishment deters morethan long prison terms do. “(Cavanagh 4) Going ever farther, Bryan Stevenson,the executive director of the Montgomery based Equal Justice Initiative, hasstated that “people are increasingly realizing that the more we resort tokilling as a legitimate response to our frustration and anger with violence, themore violent our society becomes.
“Revenge is an unworthy motive for our society to pursue. “(Whittier 1)In our society, there is a great expectation placed on the family of a victimto pursue vengeance to the highest degree — perhaps 1 the death penalty. PatBane, executive director of the Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation(MVFR), stated, “One parent told me that people made her feel like she wasbetraying her son because she did not want to kill the person who murderedhim. “(Frame 50) This creates a dilemma of morality.
If anything, by forcingfamilies to seek the death penalty, their own consciences will be burdened bythe death of the killer. Furthermore, “Killing him will not bring back yoursons. “(Grisham 402). At some point, man must stop the violence.
Seekingtemporary gratification is not a logical basis for whether the death penaltyshould be imposed. Granted, revenge is easily confused with retribution, andmost would agree that the punishment should fit the crime, but can societyreally justify murdering someone else simply on the basis that they deserved it?Government has the right and duty to protect the greater good against people whojeopardize the welfare of society, but a killer can be sentenced to life withoutchance of parole, and society will be just as safe as if he had been executed. The key part of the death penalty is that it involves death — somethingwhich is rather permanent for humans, due to the concept of mortality. Thiscreates a major problem when “there continue to be many instances of innocentpeople being sentenced to death.
“(Tabak 38) In the United States legal system,there exist numerous ways in which justice might be poorly served for arecipient of the death sentence. Foremost is in the handling of his own defensecounsel. In the event that a defendant is without counsel, a lawyer will beprovided. “Attorney’s appointed to represent indigent capital defendantsfrequently lack the qualities necessary to provide a competent defense andsometimes have exhibited such poor character that they have subsequently beendisbarred. “(Tabak 37). With payment caps or court determined sums of, forexample, $5 an hour, there is not much incentive for a lawyer to spend a greatdeal of time representing a capital defendant.
When you compare this to theprosecution, “aided by the police, other law enforcement agencies, crime labs,state mental hospitals, various other scientific resources, prosecutorsexperienced in successfully handling capital cases, compulsory process, andgrand juries”(Tabak 37), the defense that the court appointed counsel can offeris puny. If, in fact, a defendant has a valid case to offer, what chance has heto offer it and have it properly recognized. Furthermore, why should he bepunished for a injustice that was created by the court itself when it appointedthe incapable lawyer. Even if a defendant has proper legal counsel, there is still the matterof impartiality of judges. “The U. S.
Supreme Court has steadily reduced theavailability of habeas corpus review of capital convictions, placing itsconfidence in the notion that state judges, who take the same oath of office asfederal judges to uphold the Constitution, can be trusted to enforce it. “(Bright768) This makes for the biased trying of a defendant’s appeals, “given theoverwhelming pressure on elected state judges to heed, and perhaps even lead to,the popular cries for the death of criminal defendants. “(Bright 769) Thirtytwo of the states that impose the death penalty also employ the popular electionof judges, and several of these even have judges run with party affiliations. This creates a deeply political justice system — the words alone are a paradox.
Can society simply brush off mistaken execution as an incidental cost in thegreater scheme of putting a criminal to death?In Canada, there were private member’s bills introduced to end capitalpunishment as early as 1914, and again in 1915, 1916, 1917, 1924, and 1950. Allwere defeated. In 1954, the government established a joint committee of theHouse of Commons and the Senate, dealing with capital punishment and other items. The committee recommended abolition of the death penalty for offenders underthe age of 18, and the substitution of the gas chamber for the gallows. Neitherrecommendation was followed.
Between 1957-1963, the Conservative government under John Diefenbakercommuted 52 of the 66 death sentences. In 1961, MP Davie Fulton (Minister ofJustice) piloted a bill through the House which distinguished between capitaland non-capital murder. In 1962, there were three cases of capital murder inwhich the juries recommended mercy. The government commuted all three of thesedeaths.
In two other cases in 1962, the jury did not recommend mercy. RonaldTurpin, convicted of the shooting death of a policeman, and Arthur Lucas,convicted of stabbing a man to death, were hanged on December 19, 1962 in DonJail, Toronto. The attending physician, William Hills, waited on a Stepladder,listening for their heartbeats with his stethoscope, and only after sixteenminutes could he declare their deaths. There have been no executions in Canada since 1962. Between 1963-1967,the Liberal government under Lester Pearson commuted all death sentences.
In 1967, MP Larry Pennell (Solicitor General) Introduced a governmentbill providing mandatory life sentences for capital murder convictions, exceptfor the murder of police officers and prison guards. It became law on December29, 1967. The three sentences of death given during the next five years were allcommuted by the Liberal government, who suspended the use of the death penaltyfor civilian offenses for a trial period of five years (1967-1972). On January1, 1974, Canada temporarily abolished the death penalty for the period up toDecember 1977. This temporary abolition was made permanent in 1976.
The issue of abolishing capital punishment in law was argued in theHouse of Commons under the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau in 1976. Afteran impassioned debate lasting 98 hours, the abolitionists won the vote by 130 to124 (Bill C-84). At the time, there were 11 men on death row across Canada. Ifthe bill to abolish capital punishment had been defeated, some of these men whohad killed policemen and guards would have been subject to hanging. In the 1984-1988 Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, the debatewas once again introduced. The public at first appeared to be overwhelmingly infavour of a return to capital punishment.
In Ontario and Quebec, five policemenwere murdered over a short period of time. There was also a great deal ofpublic outrage following the serial murders by Clifford Olson. From theseevents, which received wide media coverage, many Canadians perceived an alarmingincrease in crime. However, as people were presented with more and more factual information,the numbers who favoured capital punishment decreased. In June 1987, followinga free vote, capital punishment as a response to the crime of murder was againrejected in the House of Commons.
The vote was 148-127 against the return ofcapital punishment. Innocent people can-and have been- executed. With the death penaltyerrors are irreversible. According to a United States 1987 study, 23 people whowere innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted were executed between1900 and 1985(Long 79). Until human judgement becomes infallible, this problemalone is reason enough to abolish the death penalty at the hands of the statemore dedicated to vengeance than to truth and justice.
A vast misconception concerning the death penalty is that it savessociety the costs of keeping inmates imprisoned for long periods. In the act ofpreserving due process of justice, the court appeals involved with the deathpenalty becomes a long, drawn-out and very expensive process. In the UnitedStates, “The average time between sentencing and execution for the 31 prisonersput on death row in 1992 was 114 months, or nine and a half years. “(Stewart 50)”Criminal justice process expenses, trial court costs, appellate and post-conviction costs, and prison costs perhaps including years served on death rowawaiting execution. .
. all told, the extra costs per death penalty imposed inover a quarter million dollars, and per execution exceeds $2 million. ” (Cavanagh4) When you compare this to the average costs for a twenty year prison term forfirst degree murder (roughly $330 thousand), the cost of putting someone awayfor life is a deal. Is it really worth the hassle and money to kill a criminal,when we can put them away for life for less money with a great deal more ease?In earlier times–where capital punishment was common, the value of lifewas less, and societies were more barbaric–capital punishment was probablyquite acceptable. However, in today’s society, which is becoming ever moreincreasingly humanitarian, and individual rights and due process of justice areheld in high accord, the death penalty is becoming an unrealistic form ofpunishment. Also, with the ever present possibility of mistaken execution,there will remain the question of innocence of those put to death.
Finally, manis not a divine being. He does not have the right to inflict mortal punishmentin the name of society’s welfare, when there are suitable substitutes thatrequire fewer resources. I ask society, “. . . why don’t we stop thekilling?”(Grisham 404)Bibliography1) Bright, Steven B.
, and Patrick J. Keenan. Judges and the Politics of Death:Deciding Between the Bill of Rights and the Next Election in Capital Cases. Boston University Law Review 75 (1995): 768-69. 2) Cavanagh, Suzanne, and David Teasley. Capital Punishment: A Brief Overview.
CRS Report For Congress 95-505GOV (1995): 4. 3) Flanders, Stephen A. Capital Punishment. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1991. 4) Frame, Randy.
A Matter Of Life and Death. Christianity Today 14 Aug. 1995:505) Grisham, John. The Chamber. New York: Island Books, 1994. 6) Long, Robert Emmet.
Criminal Sentencing. New York, NY: H. W. Company, 1995. 7) Stewart, David O.
Dealing with Death. American Bar Association Journal80. 11 (1994): 508) Szumski, Bonnie, Lynn Hall & Susan Bursell. Opposing Viewpoints: CapitalPunishment. Greenhaven Press, 19869) Tabak, Ronald J. Report: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and Lack of DueProcess in Death Penalty Cases.
Human Rights 22. Winter (1995): 3610) Whittier, Charles H. Moral Arguments For and Against Capital Punishment. CRS Report For Congress (1996): 111) Last Dance: Murder in Canada. Simon Fraser University: Canadian LearningCompany Inc.