Capital punishment in the US

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Capital punishment has been practised for a long time, but in the 21st century, the issue has become controversial. In the United States, only 31 states, the federal government, and the U.S military allow capital punishment. From 2009, several states such as Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut have legislated laws to abolish capital punishment replacing it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Several stories have hit the mainstream media regarding the debate whether capital punishment is constitutional and whether it is the best approach to reform the criminal justice system. For example Aramia Ayala; the prosecutor from Florida, declared early this year that she would no longer seek death sentences since she is convinced the sentence is not in the best interests of her community. The incidences of prosecution misconduct have been blamed for wrongful exoneration of convicts thereby posing the questions of whether capital punishments deliver any justice at all. In the United States, the primary method of execution is lethal injection while electrocution, use of firing squad and hanging.

Since the dawn of this century, the Supreme Court has narrowed the application of capital punishment through several rulings. For example, the court abolished capital punishment for mentally disabled convicts (Atkins V. Virginia 2002) as well as for juvenile offenders (Ropev V. Simons 2005) and for the rape case suspects, who had no intention to murder (Kennedy V. Loisiana 2008). These rulings state that the execution of the individuals stated herein as unconstitutional and cruel. Besides, the Supreme Court has required that the juries should find facts that make a convict eligible for capital punishment (Ring V. Arizona 2002). The various case rulings by the U.S Court of Appeal reveal that the court believes that one should face capital punishment if they are of sound mind and if they have reached the age of majority and thereby committed the criminal offence with their full knowledge. Besides, the Supreme Court rulings reveal its deep conviction that there should be irrefutable evidence for a convict to be eligible for capital punishment to prevent against wrongful execution.

Various authors and supporters have put across many pro capital punishments. For example, Earnest van den Haggs makes a strong case for why the death penalty is essential and the reasons why it should continue to be used. His argument is based on retributivism, which posits that criminals deserve to be punished in equal measure for their crime. Therefore based on this argument, if a person committed murder, then the ultimate justice would only occur when the offender is killed (Van den Haag 1985). Van den Hagg argues that retributivism preserves social order in the society and eliminates the possibility of vigilante justice. The other argument is based on the argument of deterrence, which holds that if a punishment is hard enough, then it will deter other people from committing the same crime. Deterrence is educational and acts as a warning for people of what will happen if they commit the crime (Van den Haag 1985). Van den Haggs argues that capital punishment is the best deterrent since even criminals fear death than they fear any humane punishment.

There are various arguments against the death penalty. For instance, there is the possibility of innocent people who will be executed, and once this is done, it cannot be undone even if it is later proven that the people were innocent (Mathias 2013). Besides, the death penalty systems eat up the country’s fiscal budget, and this money could be committed to more economically viable activities while the criminals could serve a life sentence while engaging in activities that build the economy. Besides, the anti-capital punishment movement poses that capital punishment does not deter crime and, therefore, other options should be explored.

In my opinion, capital punishment should be abolished completely. This is because I am convinced capital punishment puts innocent lives at risk. The criminal justice system is not yet perfect, and cases of wrongful conviction are a norm and therefore in such an instance, lives of law-abiding innocent citizens are ended for no reason. Besides, the fact that the ugly face of racism is still staring at us means that those who kill whites are likely to be sentenced to capital punishment than those who kill the other races. The trauma, which the families of murdered victims undergo is severe, and the money that is used in costly executions would be better used if it is directed towards giving counselling to these families. Almost all religions of the world consider executions immoral since they are convinced that life is given and taken away by the creator and therefore not even the criminal justice system has the right to take away the life of another. Besides, the United States prides itself as the champion of human rights, and by advocating for execution, this helps does not enhance human rights. Therefore, capital punishment should be abolished.

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  1. Van den Haag, E., 1985. The Ultimate Punishment: A defense. Harv. L. Rev., 99, p.1662.
  2. Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 125 S. Ct. 1183, 161 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2005).
  3. Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 122 S. Ct. 2242, 153 L. Ed. 2d 335 (2002).
  4. Kennedy v. Louisiana, 128 S. Ct. 2641, 554 U.S. 407, 171 L. Ed. 2d 525 (2008).
  5. Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S. Ct. 2428, 153 L. Ed. 2d 556 (2002).
  6. Mathias, M.D., 2013. The Sacralization of the Individual: Human Rights and the Abolition of the Death Penalty 1. American Journal of Sociology, 118(5), pp.1246-1283.
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