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Death Penalty In The United States: Pro And Contra

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Since 1967, a total of 1392 executions have occurred in the United States (“Executions by Year”). What a shocking amount! This staggering number creates questioning on the topic of capital punishment. Is the death penalty really constitutional? Research and study over the topic leads to the conclusion that capital punishment should not be instituted in the United States for various reasons. The death penalty is immoral, unconstitutional, and inaccurate due to human errors.

Throughout America’s history, capital punishment, or the death penalty, has been used to punish criminals for murder and other capital crimes. In the early 20th century, numerous people would gather for public executions. The media described these events gruesome and barbaric (“Infobase Learning”). People began to wonder if the capital punishment was really constitutional.

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In the early 1950’s, the number of executions sharply declined. Opponents of the death penalty claimed that it violated the Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. Opponents also claimed the death penalty violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that all citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law. In early 1972, William Furman was convicted of burglary and murder. While Furman was burglarizing a home, a resident arrived at the scene. Startled, Furman tried to flee, but tripped and fell in the process. The gun Furman was carrying discharged, killing the resident in the process. Furman did not believe he deserved the death penalty. The constitutionality of capital punishment in this circumstance was considered in the supreme court case, Furman v. Georgia. The Supreme Court Justices concluded that the death penalty was unconstitutional, and overruled any state law that allowed it (“FURMAN v. GEORGIA”).

It wasn’t until 1976, Gregg v Georgia that the death penalty was considered again. Gregg was convicted of burglary and deliberately murdering another citizen. The Georgia Supreme Court sentenced Gregg to death. Gregg took his sentence to the United States Supreme Court. The Court decided that capital punishment “did not violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments under all circumstances” (GREGG v. GEORGIA”). The death penalty may be employed if used under the correct circumstances. After the Gregg v. Georgia case, many states chose to restore their death penalty laws. As of now, a total of 33 states allow the death penalty (“Infobase Learning”)

The death penalty should not be employed because it is immoral. Deliberately killing another human being is gruesome and barbaric. There are numerous practices that are no longer tolerated, including human sacrifices, physical torture, and even slavery (Dieter, “The Death Penalty” 1). Why should the United States continue employing the death? A variety of countries have already outlawed the use of the death penalty as well. This is due to one critical belief: every human has one right that no one should take away– the right to live.

In addition to being immoral, the death sentence is unconstitutional. There are currently five legal execution processes, but all of them are flawed in some way. In some instances, criminals have survived their executions, experiencing great physical pain. Generally, medical personnel are not permitted during the executions. The execution is performed by inexperienced technicians or orderlies. This creates room for countless flaws. If a member of the execution team “injects the drugs into a muscle instead of a vein, or if the needle becomes clogged, extreme pain can occur” (“Descriptions of Execution Methods”).

Electrocution is another method used. Inmates are electrocuted for 30 seconds. The inmate is then cooled down so medics can check for a pulse. If there is still a pulse, the method is repeated until the inmate is dead. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan gave the following description of an execution by the electric chair: “…the prisoner ‘s eyeballs sometimes pop out and rest on [his] cheeks. The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool. The body turns bright red as its temperature rises, and the prisoner ‘s flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking. Sometimes the prisoner catches fire….Witnesses hear a loud and sustained sound like bacon frying, and the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh permeates the chamber” (“Descriptions of Execution Methods”). No human being should ever have to suffer something like this.

Execution by lethal gas is also used today. According to former Warden Clifton Duffy, “there is evidence of extreme horror, pain, and strangling. The eyes pop. The skin turns purple and the victim begins to drool” (“Descriptions of Execution Methods”). In 1960, Caryl Chessman told reporters that he would nod his head if the execution hurt. Witnesses testified that Chessman nodded his head for several minutes. Dr. Richard Traystman of John Hopkins University School of Medicine claims that “the person is unquestionably experiencing pain and extreme anxiety… The sensation is similar to the pain felt by a person during a heart attack, where essentially the heart is being deprived of oxygen” (“Descriptions of Execution Methods”). Intense physical pain is certainly evident in the execution process. This is considered “cruel and unusual punishment” as described by the Eighth Amendment. In this sense, executions are unconstitutional.

Furthermore, the death penalty should not be employed in the United States because of human errors. Since 1973, a total of 69 people have spent numerous years on death row for crimes they never committed. DNA testing has cleared their names. There have been numerous executions in which the victims were most likely innocent. About five innocent people each year are convicted each year in capital cases (Dieter, “Innocence”). Killing an innocent person is irreversible. There is no chance for the victim to receive exoneration if they are dead. No one should suffer this gruesome fate for something they never did. This comes to show that the foundation of our justice system just is not accurate enough to sentence people to execution.

Some may argue that innocent convicts being executed is just an accident, and shouldn’t be worried about, because accidents happen all the time. I disagree. The government is choosing to execute this person. Whether they have the knowledge of their innocence or not, they are purposely choosing to execute him. Sentences for crimes should not be carried out until 100% evidence is used to prove them guilty.

Others argue that the death penalty gives people what they deserve: an eye for an eye. But if it is wrong to murder someone, does this make executions right? If someone killed a loved one, would it be acceptable to personally find and kill the murderer? No. You would be held accountable for your murder. So why is execution any different?

In conclusion, the death penalty should not be administered under any circumstances. Deliberate killing of another person is not morally acceptable. Taking the life of someone is wrong, no matter what they did. Capital punishment is unconstitutional. In a majority of cases, there is extreme pain involved with executions, which acts in violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, or torture. There are also too many flaws in our justice system to execute people. A portion of victims have been proven innocent, and forced to pay for crimes they never committed. It is for these reasons the death penalty should not be used in the United States.

Works Cited

  • “Death Penalty.” LII / Legal Information Institute. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. .
  • “Descriptions of Execution Methods.” DPIC. Death Penalty Information Center. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. .
  • Dieter, Richard C. “The Death Penalty and Human Rights.” Web. 12 Dec. 2014. .
  • Dieter, Richard C. “Innocence and the Death Penalty: The Increasing Danger of Executing the Innocent.” DPIC. Death Penalty Information Center, 1 July 1997. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. .
  • “Executions by Year.” DPIC. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. .
  • “FURMAN v. GEORGIA.” Furman v. Georgia. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. .
  • “GREGG v. GEORGIA.” Gregg v. Georgia. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. .
  • “Infobase Learning – Login.” Infobase Learning – Login. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. .
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