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Capital Punishment

Unlike popular belief, the death penalty does not act as a deterrent to
criminals. As stated by Alfred Blumstein, “Expert after expert and study
after study has shown the lack of correlation between the treat of the death
penalty and the occurrence of violent crimes.” (Blumstein 68) Isaac
Ehrlich’s study on the limiting effects of capital punishment in America reveals
this to the public. The study spans twenty-five years, from 1957 till 1982, and
shows that in the first year the study was conducted, there were 8060 murders
and 6 executions. However, in the last year of the study there were 22,520
murders committed and only 1 execution performed. (Blumstein 54) This clearly
shows that many violent criminals are not afraid of the capital punishment.

Abolitionists believe the offenders should be required to compensate the
victim’s family with the offender’s own income from employment or community
service. There is no doubt that someone can do more alive than dead. By working,
the criminal inadvert-ently “pays back” society and also their victim
and/or victim’s family. There is no reason for the criminal to receive any
compensation for the work they do, because money is of no jail time. This could
be considered a form of slavery to some, but it is no different from the days of
being sent to the “yard” to break stone. One of the most well-known
examples of the criminal contributing to the betterment of society is the case
Leopld and Loeb. They were nineteen years old when they committed “The
Crime of the Century.” In 1924, they kidnapped and murdered a
fourteen-year-old boy just to see how it would feel to kill someone. They were
both spared the death penalty and sentenced to life imprisonment. (Bedau 78)
Together their accomplishments included working in hospitals, teaching the
illiterate how to read, creating a correspondence school, writing a grammar
book, and making significant developments in the World War II Malaria
Project.(Bedau 193) “An inestimable amount of people were directly helped
by Leopold and Loeb, Both of tem made a conscious commitment to atone their
crimes by serving others.”(Bedau 217) The most widely used form of
execution has been electrocution. With this method of executing a prisoner, the
individual is strapped to a chair along with electrodes attached all over the
body. The executioner then proceeds to “throw the switch” sending vast
amounts of electricity flowing throughout the prisoner. During this period, the
prisoners flesh burns and the body shakes violently from the overdose of
electricity. When it is all over, smoke is often seen coming from the head of
the corpse. (Ernest Van den Haag 135) Officials often defend this punishment as
not being cruel and unusual, but how can they defend the opinion in the case of
John Evans who was executed by electrocution in 1983? According to witnesses at
the scene of the death of Mr. Evans, he was given three charges of electricity
over a period of fourteen minutes. After the first and second charges, Mr. Evans
was still conscious and smoke was coming from all over his body, as a result
from his flesh burning. An official at the prison even tries to stop the
execution on account of it being cruel punishment, but the man was unsuccessful.

Witnesses later called the whole incident “a barbaric ritual”. (Haag
221) Another method of execution is the gas chamber; during this procedure a
prisoner is put in a closed chamber and forced to inhale lethal fumes from a
sulfuric acid and a cyanide chemical reaction. (Haag 243) According to a
statement given by the U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens concerning
the 1992 execution of Donald Harding, there did not seem to be any civilized
aspect of the gas chamber method of executing prisoners. (Haag 259) According to
the report, Harding tried to hold his breath inside the chamber. When he finally
began to take in fumes, his body started going into convulsions and the muscles
and veins under his skin were twitching in a wave-like motion. This execution
took over eight minutes to complete, and Mr. Harding was writhing in pain for
most of the time. According to officials, Harding did not fall unconscious until
right before his death. (Haag 262) The latest method of execution has been
lethal injection. It has become deemed as the cleanest form that a prisoner can
die. It s thought to be the cleanest because it does not maim the body, unlike
all of the other methods of execution. Nonetheless, it is in the opinion of this
author that this is still another unjust form of punishment. At the 1988
execution of Raymond Landry, persons at the scene had to repeatedly puncture him
because he had very small veins. In addition to this cruel treatment, during the
procedure, the tube attached to the needle leaked and the harsh chemicals used
to kill Landry were sprayed into the direction of the witnesses. (Haag 307)
Besides this case, there have been cases where the victims were not given a
strong enough dosage and writhed in pain for several minutes while still
conscious. In a statement to the Associated Press, many police officials who
have been witnesses to the death penalty, they say it should be abolished
because they are sick of having to watch it and it does not deter violent
criminals from lashing out against society. The belief that execution cost less
than imprisonment is absolutely false. As Haag states “The cost of the
apparatus and maintenance of the procedures attending the death penalty,
including the actual stay on death row, and the endless appeals and legal
machinery, far out-weigh the expense of maintaining in prison the tiny fraction
of criminals who would otherwise be slain.” (Haag 38) The strongest
argument against using capital punishment for retributive purposes is the
dispute that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth
Amendment of the United States Constitution, condemning cruel and unusual
punish-ment, is used to protect the death penalty. The fallacy of this argument
is that it appears to be a “red herring” argument, one that takes
attention away from the facts of the case. When the constitution was drafted,
capital punishment was practiced widely in this country, yet was not specified
as wrong of cruel and unusual. Many of the framers of the constitution endorsed
the death penalty, as did philosophers from which the constitution draws from.

John Lock went s far as to say, “…that murder is not intrinsically wrong.

Man, as he is bound to preserve himself and not quite his station willfully, by
the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he,
as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind.” (Bedau 277) An
argument against the death penalty is the basic moral issue of conservation of
human rights and humanity. The argument of retribution would be even easier to
dismiss if it consisted only of a basic thirst for revenge. As stated by Bedau
“Society must manifest a terrible anger in the face of a terrible crime,
for nothing less will suffice to remind us of the moral order by which alone we
can live as human beings.” (Bedau 121) This is a serious moral argument.

Opponents of capital punishment must be willing to answer it on its own terms.

They say that “… the death penalty demeans the moral order and execution
is not legalized murder, nor is imprisonment legalized kidnapping, but it is the
coldest, most premeditated form of homicide. It does something almost worse than
lowering the state to the moral level of the criminal: it raises the criminal to
the moral equality with social order.” (Haag 280) Indeed, one of the
ironies of capital punishment is that it focuses attention and sympathy on the
criminal. How can murder not be immoral? Citizens under a social contract agree
not to kill only because others also agree. In an attempt to try and stop the
public from taking the law into their own hands, the judicial system must
convince society that it is not in their best interest to murder. So how can the
constitution be brought into this argument, since it makes no mention of capital
punishment? These are a few of the questions that we must ask ourselves when we
try to form and develop our own opinion on the subject of the death penalty.

Even though the retentions pose some interesting arguments, I myself feel that
the abolitionist outlook contains much stronger support and more reasons for
opposition. The first of which is the death penalty is wrong morally because it
is the cruel and inhumane taking of a life. The methods by which most executions
are carried out can involve physical torture. Haag states “Electrocution
has on occasion caused extensive burns and needed more than one application of
electric current to kill the condemned.”(Haag 137) To many opponents,
capital punishment is a euphemism for legally killing people. And no one, not
even the State, has the authority to play God. Despite the moral argument
concerning the inhumane treatment of the criminal, we return to the
“nature” f the crime committed. Can society place an unequal weight on
the tragically lost lives of murder victims on the criminal? This is not an exam
question in a Thiel philosophy class, but a moral puzzle at the center of
perhaps the most interesting issue facing the Supreme Court today. Punishment is
meted out because of the nature of the crime, without any reference to social
identity of the victim. Compassion and political calculations have combined to
transform victims and their advocates into a way to sway voters by their
feelings. Beginning in California in 1987, the Supreme Court carved out a
crucial exception: Neither the life of the victim or the suffering of his
survivors could be a factor in any state or federal case punishable by death.

The catch is that every cutback in the complex legal process has evolved to
ensure that only the guilt die, increasing the chance that an innocent person
will be subjected to this most irreversible and final of punishments. (Bedau
298) The possibility of an innocent person being put to death is another factor
some people have against the death penalty. According to a 1987 Stanford
University survey, at least 23 Americans have been wrongly executed in the
twentieth century . In case of a mistake, the executed prisoner can not be given
another chance and justice will have miscarried. In the last hundred years,
there have been more than seventy- five documented cases wrongly conviction of
criminal homicide. A death sentence was carried out on eight of these seventy-
five individuals. Surely there are many other cases of mistaken convictions, and
execution occurred and remained undocumented. A prisoner discovered to be
blameless can be freed, but neither release nor compensation is possible for a
corpse. The death penalty should be abolished because it is a barbaric form of
punishment, which should not be allowed in the United Sates, which is supposedly
one of the most civil nations in the world. It should also be abolished not only
because it is barbaric, but it also defies the U.S. Constitution, which most
Americans hold sacred. In addition to this, the death penalty even if it remains
legal in the U.S. would not obtain its goal. The death penalty fails its main
objective and because of the reasons stated above should be abolished. Works
Cited American Civil Liberties Union.Goher:/gopher.pipeline.com:70/00/society/
aclu/publicatios/papers/8. Briefing Paper Number 8. Associated Press. News:death-penalty/[emailprotected]
PD Chiefs: Death Penalty Fails. Bedau, Hugo Adam. Goher:/goher.pipeline.com:70/000society/aclu/issues/
death/case_against. The Case Against the Death Penalty Blumstein, Alfred and
Jacqueline Cohen. Deterrence and Incapacitation: Estimating the Effects of
Criminal Sanctions on Crime Rates. Washington, DC., 1978. National Academy of
Sciences Van den Haag, Ernest. Punishing Criminals: Concerning a Very Old and
Painful Question. New York, NY, 1975. Basic Books, Inc. Why Capital Punishment
Should be Abolished Unlike popular belief, the death penalty does not act as a
deterrent to criminals. As stated by Alfred Blumstein, “Expert after expert
and study after study has shown the lack of correlation between the treat of the
death penalty and the occurrence of violent crimes.” (Blumstein 68) Isaac
Ehrlich’s study on the limiting effects of capital punishment in America reveals
this to the public. The study spans twenty-five years, from 1957 till 1982, and
shows that in the first year the study was conducted, there were 8060 murders
and 6 executions. However, in the last year of the study there were 22,520
murders committed and only 1 execution performed. (Blumstein 54) This clearly
shows that many violent criminals are not afraid of the capital punishment.

Abolitionists believe the offenders should be required to compensate the
victim’s family with the offender’s own income from employment or community
service. There is no doubt that someone can do more alive than dead. By working,
the criminal inadvert-ently “pays back” society and also their victim
and/or victim’s family. There is no reason for the criminal to receive any
compensation for the work they do, because money is of no jail time. This could
be considered a form of slavery to some, but it is no different from the days of
being sent to the “yard” to break stone. One of the most well-known
examples of the criminal contributing to the betterment of society is the case
Leopld and Loeb. They were nineteen years old when they committed “The
Crime of the Century.” In 1924, they kidnapped and murdered a
fourteen-year-old boy just to see how it would feel to kill someone. They were
both spared the death penalty and sentenced to life imprisonment. (Bedau 78)
Together their accomplishments included working in hospitals, teaching the
illiterate how to read, creating a correspondence school, writing a grammar
book, and making significant developments in the World War II Malaria
Project.(Bedau 193) “An inestimable amount of people were directly helped
by Leopold and Loeb, Both of tem made a conscious commitment to atone their
crimes by serving others.”(Bedau 217) The most widely used form of
execution has been electrocution. With this method of executing a prisoner, the
individual is strapped to a chair along with electrodes attached all over the
body. The executioner then proceeds to “throw the switch” sending vast
amounts of electricity flowing throughout the prisoner. During this period, the
prisoners flesh burns and the body shakes violently from the overdose of
electricity. When it is all over, smoke is often seen coming from the head of
the corpse. (Ernest Van den Haag 135) Officials often defend this punishment as
not being cruel and unusual, but how can they defend the opinion in the case of
John Evans who was executed by electrocution in 1983? According to witnesses at
the scene of the death of Mr. Evans, he was given three charges of electricity
over a period of fourteen minutes. After the first and second charges, Mr. Evans
was still conscious and smoke was coming from all over his body, as a result
from his flesh burning. An official at the prison even tries to stop the
execution on account of it being cruel punishment, but the man was unsuccessful.

Witnesses later called the whole incident “a barbaric ritual”. (Haag
221) Another method of execution is the gas chamber; during this procedure a
prisoner is put in a closed chamber and forced to inhale lethal fumes from a
sulfuric acid and a cyanide chemical reaction. (Haag 243) According to a
statement given by the U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens concerning
the 1992 execution of Donald Harding, there did not seem to be any civilized
aspect of the gas chamber method of executing prisoners. (Haag 259) According to
the report, Harding tried to hold his breath inside the chamber. When he finally
began to take in fumes, his body started going into convulsions and the muscles
and veins under his skin were twitching in a wave-like motion. This execution
took over eight minutes to complete, and Mr. Harding was writhing in pain for
most of the time. According to officials, Harding did not fall unconscious until
right before his death. (Haag 262) The latest method of execution has been
lethal injection. It has become deemed as the cleanest form that a prisoner can
die. It s thought to be the cleanest because it does not maim the body, unlike
all of the other methods of execution. Nonetheless, it is in the opinion of this
author that this is still another unjust form of punishment. At the 1988
execution of Raymond Landry, persons at the scene had to repeatedly puncture him
because he had very small veins. In addition to this cruel treatment, during the
procedure, the tube attached to the needle leaked and the harsh chemicals used
to kill Landry were sprayed into the direction of the witnesses. (Haag 307)
Besides this case, there have been cases where the victims were not given a
strong enough dosage and writhed in pain for several minutes while still
conscious. In a statement to the Associated Press, many police officials who
have been witnesses to the death penalty, they say it should be abolished
because they are sick of having to watch it and it does not deter violent
criminals from lashing out against society. The belief that execution cost less
than imprisonment is absolutely false. As Haag states “The cost of the
apparatus and maintenance of the procedures attending the death penalty,
including the actual stay on death row, and the endless appeals and legal
machinery, far out-weigh the expense of maintaining in prison the tiny fraction
of criminals who would otherwise be slain.” (Haag 38) The strongest
argument against using capital punishment for retributive purposes is the
dispute that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth
Amendment of the United States Constitution, condemning cruel and unusual
punish-ment, is used to protect the death penalty. The fallacy of this argument
is that it appears to be a “red herring” argument, one that takes
attention away from the facts of the case. When the constitution was drafted,
capital punishment was practiced widely in this country, yet was not specified
as wrong of cruel and unusual. Many of the framers of the constitution endorsed
the death penalty, as did philosophers from which the constitution draws from.

John Lock went s far as to say, “…that murder is not intrinsically wrong.

Man, as he is bound to preserve himself and not quite his station willfully, by
the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he,
as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind.” (Bedau 277) An
argument against the death penalty is the basic moral issue of conservation of
human rights and humanity. The argument of retribution would be even easier to
dismiss if it consisted only of a basic thirst for revenge. As stated by Bedau
“Society must manifest a terrible anger in the face of a terrible crime,
for nothing less will suffice to remind us of the moral order by which alone we
can live as human beings.” (Bedau 121) This is a serious moral argument.

Opponents of capital punishment must be willing to answer it on its own terms.

They say that “… the death penalty demeans the moral order and execution
is not legalized murder, nor is imprisonment legalized kidnapping, but it is the
coldest, most premeditated form of homicide. It does something almost worse than
lowering the state to the moral level of the criminal: it raises the criminal to
the moral equality with social order.” (Haag 280) Indeed, one of the
ironies of capital punishment is that it focuses attention and sympathy on the
criminal. How can murder not be immoral? Citizens under a social contract agree
not to kill only because others also agree. In an attempt to try and stop the
public from taking the law into their own hands, the judicial system must
convince society that it is not in their best interest to murder. So how can the
constitution be brought into this argument, since it makes no mention of capital
punishment? These are a few of the questions that we must ask ourselves when we
try to form and develop our own opinion on the subject of the death penalty.

Even though the retentions pose some interesting arguments, I myself feel that
the abolitionist outlook contains much stronger support and more reasons for
opposition. The first of which is the death penalty is wrong morally because it
is the cruel and inhumane taking of a life. The methods by which most executions
are carried out can involve physical torture. Haag states “Electrocution
has on occasion caused extensive burns and needed more than one application of
electric current to kill the condemned.”(Haag 137) To many opponents,
capital punishment is a euphemism for legally killing people. And no one, not
even the State, has the authority to play God. Despite the moral argument
concerning the inhumane treatment of the criminal, we return to the
“nature” f the crime committed. Can society place an unequal weight on
the tragically lost lives of murder victims on the criminal? This is not an exam
question in a Thiel philosophy class, but a moral puzzle at the center of
perhaps the most interesting issue facing the Supreme Court today. Punishment is
meted out because of the nature of the crime, without any reference to social
identity of the victim. Compassion and political calculations have combined to
transform victims and their advocates into a way to sway voters by their
feelings. Beginning in California in 1987, the Supreme Court carved out a
crucial exception: Neither the life of the victim or the suffering of his
survivors could be a factor in any state or federal case punishable by death.

The catch is that every cutback in the complex legal process has evolved to
ensure that only the guilt die, increasing the chance that an innocent person
will be subjected to this most irreversible and final of punishments. (Bedau
298) The possibility of an innocent person being put to death is another factor
some people have against the death penalty. According to a 1987 Stanford
University survey, at least 23 Americans have been wrongly executed in the
twentieth century . In case of a mistake, the executed prisoner can not be given
another chance and justice will have miscarried. In the last hundred years,
there have been more than seventy- five documented cases wrongly conviction of
criminal homicide. A death sentence was carried out on eight of these seventy-
five individuals. Surely there are many other cases of mistaken convictions, and
execution occurred and remained undocumented. A prisoner discovered to be
blameless can be freed, but neither release nor compensation is possible for a
corpse. The death penalty should be abolished because it is a barbaric form of
punishment, which should not be allowed in the United Sates, which is supposedly
one of the most civil nations in the world. It should also be abolished not only
because it is barbaric, but it also defies the U.S. Constitution, which most
Americans hold sacred. In addition to this, the death penalty even if it remains
legal in the U.S. would not obtain its goal. The death penalty fails its main
objective and because of the reasons stated above should be abolished.
Bibliography
American Civil Liberties Union.Goher:/gopher.pipeline.com:70/00/society/ aclu/publicatios/papers/8.

Briefing Paper Number 8. Associated Press. News:death-penalty/[emailprotected]
PD Chiefs: Death Penalty Fails. Bedau, Hugo Adam. Goher:/goher.pipeline.com:70/000society/aclu/issues/
death/case_against. The Case Against the Death Penalty Blumstein, Alfred and
Jacqueline Cohen. Deterrence and Incapacitation: Estimating the Effects of
Criminal Sanctions on Crime Rates. Washington, DC., 1978. National Academy of
Sciences Van den Haag, Ernest. Punishing Criminals: Concerning a Very Old and
Painful Question. New York, NY, 1975. Basic Books, Inc.


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