by Ian Robinson
The United States is known across the world as a country that highly values freedom and justice for all. The way that we want to interpret this justice and freedom though is up to the citizens of the U.S. No matter where you live in the United States, a debate has been brewing for centuries and that debate is over the death penalty. As of the year 2014, currently 32 states have the death penalty while 18 states have decided to abolish the death penalty. This is a debate that is not decided by the central government but rather it is decided state by state what their solution will be. This is what makes it such a serious issue, it is literally beginning to divide the country in half. On the one hand people think that criminals who have committed a serious crime deserve to be put to death. The opposition to the death penalty do not think this is a fair way of justice and do not think it is necessary for the death penalty to be implemented. The debate has surged on for years and is not slowing up but rather only has gained momentum and has been pushed to the forefront of people’s minds.
I decided to choose this topic because i think that it is a very important issue that might not effect everyone directly but plays a huge role in the way our court systems and central government is run. It is an issue that many people most likely do not stop to think about because it may have no affect on them they think. Whether or not you are the person that has committed a crime that potentially deserves the death penalty, this is an issue that has an effect on everyone. The way that our criminals are treated and put to justice is a reflection of our society itself. I think the way that our country has progressed from the time the death penalty was first implemented has shown the progression of the citizens and ultimately the United States as a whole.
The use of the death penalty is an action that dates back to 1700 B.C. to the time of Hammurabi’s Code. Since that time people have been debating with each other whether or not they think that death is an ethical punishment for a crime. Since the time of Hammurabi when 35 crimes were punishable by death (not including murder), the use of the death penalty has gone through a great deal of reform in regards to under what circumstances it is used and how. The death penalty was first legally introduced to the American public with the publication of the United States Constitution in 1790. At that time the crimes that were punishable by death included treason and counterfeiting of federal records, murder, disfigurement, and robbery committed in federal jurisdictions or on the high seas. Since 1790 when this was first introduced, the death penalty has gone through a great deal of reform because of the opposition of the general public. Since that time the ways of execution have ranged from hanging, firing squad, the electrical chair, and to what we use now the lethal injection. Although the ways that criminals are being executed have progressed and become more humane, people are still not convinced that this is the ethical way to punish any criminal. As time has gone on more and more people are starting to see a fault in the death penalty, which is shown by Maryland becoming the 18th state to repeal the death penalty in May of 2013. The debate is heating up with citizens showing support on both sides and ultimately dividing the country.
The death penalty has been around since the United States was first formed and many people think that it should remain as a punishment for capital crimes. One of the main arguments that are made in support of the death penalty is that a person who commits a capital crime is in turn deserving of the same kind of punishment. In the eyes of the family of the victim, they want to know that justice has been serve. It is only natural that the family would want the crime to go punished but to what extreme; that is where the debate stems from. Many people think that the extreme punishment of capital crimes will in turn act as a deterrent to help control crime in the United States. This is a logical thought but as studies have shown since the death penalty is not carried out swiftly and criminals usually spend decades on death row, most of them feel that they will never be put to death. This in turn shows that it has not been a deterrent because most criminals think that it will never come down to actually being put to death.
The other side of the argument, deciding to abolish the death penalty is what the growing trend has been through the last decade. Over time more and more support has been shown to get rid of the death penalty, including 18 states that have already abolished the punishment. Although the amount of people who are in favor of the death penalty is more than those opposed, the gap between those have shrunk significantly. Many people think that the death penalty is a punishment that is only seeking revenge and is not fueled by justice. At the time of Hammurabi, “an eye for an eye” was the way that people handled transgressions of the law. Centuries later we are essentially doing the same thing in the minds of many people.
One of the other biggest arguments for the death penalty is that it will cost less to kill an inmate than for them to be imprisoned for life. This though is not true, it actually costs more for a criminal to be put to death. In cases where the death penalty is involved costs a great deal more money, something that many people just do not have their facts straight about. The greatest argument of the abolition of the death penalty though is the fact that many criminals that are on death row are wrongfully convicted. As of 2013, 147 criminals have been exonerated of the death penalty in 26 different states. These numbers show that it is more than likely that people have been put to death that were innocent. A country that is ready to have crimes punishable by death but not ready to give fair trials is something that we have to be worried about. Overall it is a debate about morality more than anything else.
While thoroughly researching the debate of death penalty, I came to the conclusion that I am with the growing number of the general in thinking that the death penalty should be abolished. The point that jumped out to me in this debate and really swayed my decision was the thought of the morality of the punishment. I understand that the family of a victim who has been murdered would want death for the criminal who did so but is this really the moral solution? In 1976 William J. Brennan stated in the case of Furman v Georgia, “The fatal constitutional infirmity in the punishment of death is that it treats ‘members of the human race as nonhumans, as objects to be toyed with and discarded. [It is] thus inconsistent with the fundamental premise of the Clause that even the vilest criminal remains a human being possessed of common human dignity.” A human being is a human being no matter what they have done and in turn I agree that they should be treated as a human being. I do not think that it is moral to punish someone by death but I think it is rather out of revenge that most people look for this verdict, they are not actually looking for justice to be served. The fact that many criminals have been wrongfully convicted and exonerated of the death penalty also shows how much of a problem it is. The thought that an innocent person is being put to death for the crimes of another is a very scary thought. Without the death penalty these cases would have much more of a chance to be overturned and true justice to be served for the actual person who commits a crime. I think that the United States has been moving in the right direction in the last decade and I think that more states will continue to move with the trends and eventually there will be no more death penalty used as punishment of crimes in our country.
The death penalty is part of society that was first introduced to the world at the time that written records first emerged. From that time until now, people have debated over whether they think that the death penalty is a fair punishment for capital crimes. It is clear that in the past the majority of the public thinks that the death penalty should remain, but trends in our country have shown that numbers are shifting towards abolishment of the death penalty. This shift is due in part to the growing awareness of the death penalty in recent years, the public is finally seeing the true facts of the debate and in turn many opinions are being changed. The debate of the death penalty is of growing concern and is a problem that will be discussed until it is no longer present in the laws of the United States.