A man sitting in a dark room is blindfolded. His legs and his hands are tied. 2, 000 thousand volts of electricity rip through his body. It only takes five seconds for this man to be dead.
He wasn't a victim of a random crime nor is he sitting in a casino basement. This scene that I just described is perfectly legal in America. He just received the harshest penalty the American justice system can administer. Capital punishment continues to be a controversial topic in American culture. In this paper I will analyze the economic and emotional costs associated with the death penalty both within the United States and throughout the world. This paper will also review the current statistics concerning this issue and develop reasonable arguments as to whether or not capital punishment is an effective and ethical solution to the problems of crime in America.
The earliest records indicate that the death penalty first became a common practice in the Eighteenth Century B. C. under the codified laws of King Hammurabi of Babylon. Twenty five different crimes were formally punishable by death.
The practice of death penalty was continued in the Seventh Century B. C under Draconian rule in Athens. Under this code, the death penalty was imposed for all crimes committed. By the 10 th century A. D.
, capital punishment became the standard practice in England. Hanging became the accepted method of death, and by the 16 th century, as many as 72, 000 people were executed in England under Henry VIII (History of death penalty, 2000: 2). England influenced America's use of the death penalty through their colonization of the continent. The first recorded execution in America occurred in Virginia in 1608 when Captain George Kendall was executed for treason. In 1612 the divine, moral and martial laws were enacted, which allowed the death penalty to be issued for other minor offenses (History of death penalty, 2002: 1). Thus, the stage was set for the issuance of the death penalty in America.
Currently not all states practice capital punishment. As of 2002, only 38 of the fifty states legally permit the death penalty. From all the states that permit the death penalty, Texas leads the nation in the number of people executed per year. In 2002, Texas executed more people than any other state. Figure 1 illustrates the states that permit the death penalty and the number of prisoners executed from each state. States such as Washington, New Mexico and New Jersey execute very few people, while states like Alabama, California and Texas have very high executions rates.
As shown in figure 1 a states geographical location influences its execution rate. According to the death penalty year end report, 86% of the executions in 2002 occurred in the South, 13% and 1% in the Midwest. There were no executions recorded in the North East. A report released on September 12, 2000, found that of the 682 cases sent to the justice department for review 40% were scene by five jurisdictions (The Federal death penalty, 2003: 4). I As a whole, there has been a change in both the number of people sentenced to death and those that are actually executed. The complex bureaucratic structure of the justice system, and the slow process involved in actually carrying out an execution has influenced the disparity between those sentenced to death and those that are actually executed.
Figure 2 illustrates that 159 inmates had received a sentence of death in 2002. This chart also demonstrates the number of people sentenced to death in America since 1994. As the data show the number of persons sentenced to death has decreased steadily since 1994, with the exception of a slight increase in 1998. The figure also illustrates the profound drop in inmates under the sentence of death since the year 2001. A possible reason for such drop was the response to the terrorist attacks on September 11.
It is my opinion that this drop can be attributed to America shifting its focus from a domestic perspective to an international one. However, in examining this topic on a broader scale the disparity is even more pronounced. Figure 3 clearly explains the sharp divide between the number of people sentenced to the death penalty and the number of people executed. This study is interesting because it tracks the data as far back as 1980 until the present and allows us to analyze the information over a much broader span of time. Many opponents of the death penalty contend that a number of the sentences are racially motivated. In fact, the U.
S. general accounting office found "a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty" (Racial Prejudices, 2003: 1). This is especially highlighted in a recent study conducted in the city of Philadelphia, which found that the odds of receiving a death sentence is nearly four times higher in the city if the defendant is black (Racial Prejudices, 2003: 1). Many critics also contend that the majority of the studies show that the most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim. Table 1 Race of defendants executed Race/ Ethnicity Percent of defendants executed Black 34 Hispanic 6 White 57 Other 2 Source: Death Penalty Information Center (web) Table 2 Race of Victims in death penalty cases Race/ Ethnicity Percent of victims in death penalty cases White 81% Black 14% Hispanic 4% Other 2% Over 80% of capital cases involve white victims, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims are white. Source: Death Penalty Information Center (web) Since 1997, 290 blacks have been put to death since America begun resuming judicial killing in 1977 (Amnesty International, 2003: 2) While blacks make up 12% of the national population, they account for more than 40% of the current death row inmates (Amnesty International, 2003: 2).
According to figure 3, 1, 554 African Americans were sentenced to death in 2003. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics: table 2, Persons of death by race, 1992-2002 In 1994, a U. S. Supreme Court Justice wrote: "Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes, race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall die." Other issues concerning this topic include gender discrimination. Women currently account for nearly 10% of all murder arrests. But the proportion between women and man on death row remains very large.
Women account for only 1. 9% of all death sentences imposed in trial and only 1. 5% of all people currently on death row (Amnesty International, 2003). It is interesting to note that while nearly 10% of all murders are committed by women, so few of them are sentenced to death. Executions of women are actually quite rare, with only 566 recorded instances of women being put to death since 1632 (Amnesty International, 2003).
Figure 4, outlines the number of white and black women on death row from a variety of different states. The numbers are actually quite shocking. In the southern states, where there are a high percentage of black women, the number of white women awaiting execution vastly outnumbers the number of black women sitting on death row. Conversely, in states such as Nevada and Indiana, the number of black women on death row greatly outnumbers the amount of white women awaiting execution.
From all of the data I've been able to analyze, I could find any scientific correlation linking race and number of women sentenced to die. Figure 4 Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics There are many aspects of this debate which fall under heavy scrutiny, and therefore hold emotional connotations from all parties involved. One such aspect is the issue of whether children should be sentenced to death. The debates on this topic have been analyzed ever since the death penalty has become a common practice of the American justice system. The international community has adopted four human rights treaties of worldwide scope which explicitly exclude child offenders from the death penalty.
Although the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in June of 1992, the United States added an amendment that stated, .".. the United States reserves the right, subject to its constitutional constraints, to impose capital punishment on any person (other than a pregnant woman) duly convicted under existing or future laws permitting the imposition of capital punishment, including such punishment for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age... ." (Amnesty, International, 2003). The table below illustrates that America consistently executes more children than any other country, and is the leader among industrialized nations to execute child offenders. Table 3 Recorded executions of child offenders since 1990 (as of June 1, 2003) Year Recorded Execution of Children Numbers of Executed Children 1990 2 Iran-1, USA-1 1992 6 Iran-3, Pakistan-1, USA-1 1993 5 USA-4, Yemen-1 1997 2 USA-4 Yemen-1 1998 3 USA-3 1999 2 USA-1, Iran-1 2000 6 USA-4, Iran-1, Congo-1 2001 3 USA-1, Pakistan-1, Iran-1 2002 3 USA-3 2003 1 USA-1 to date Source: Amnesty International Between 1994 and 2004, Amnesty International recorded 19 executions of child offenders in five different countries, which accounts for a fraction of the 22, 588 total worldwide executions during the same period. Although the United States consistently executes more child offenders than any other country, the number of children under the age of eighteen that are executed in America has remained relatively low.
Statistics show that although thirteen of the twenty executions of child offenders occurred in the United States this statistic is relatively low considering the number of people executed in North and South America on an annual basis. Currently 22 states have the death penalty against child offenders. There have been 22 executions of children since 1977 (Amnesty International, 2003). Other countries like Pakistan and Yemen have formally stated that their policy regarding the death penalty for minors has changed so that only people who are at least 18 years of age can be given the death penalty. Although there have been reports of sporadic executions of children in Iran, (see above table) Iran has formally denied executing any children. The two child executions that occurred in Nigeria and the Congo were both the result of special military tribunals.
Therefore, the United States is the only country that continues to execute child offenders within the framework of their standard criminal justice system (Amnesty International, 2003). As figure 5 shows the United States still sentences a significant number of children under the age of 18 to the death penalty. Although the percentage is small when compared to that of the other age groups, the fact that the U. S. continues to execute children is morally disturbing. Figure 5 Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics As I have analyzed and interpreted all of the relevant data, I have come to the conclusion that the framework of capital punishment needs to be dramatically revamped within the context of the American criminal justice system.
I have decided to concentrate this reasoning to three very distinct aspects of the death penalty, all of which I believe contribute to its ineffectiveness in the American legal system. These are: the high costs needed to implement the death penalty, the issue of whether capital punishment is able to deter additional crime, and the fact that existing flaws in our legal system allow many innocent people to be executed. It remains a simple fact that the death penalty is expensive. Death penalty cases are far more expensive than many other criminal cases and cost more than a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. For example, in California, capital trials are six times more costly than other trials (Vila, Bryan, Morris Cynthia, 1997: 275). Many people are of the opinion that simply executing a person is far less expensive than the costs of incarcerating that person.
But that is simply not the case. Many studies have shown that the review of all the capital cases in addition to the numerous appeals filed, it typically costs more to execute a person than it costs to keep that person in prison for life. For example, A New York study recently found that the estimated cost of an execution is three times that of a case of life imprisonment Another study showed that in Florida, each execution cost the state an estimated $3. 2 million, compare to $600, 000 for life imprisonment (Amnesty International, 2003). Another factor influencing the difference in costs between a capital trial and other trials is the structure in which these trials are conducted.
The greatest costs of the death penalty occur prior to and during the trial. Death penalty cases have two separate phases to their trials-conviction and sentencing. They estimate costs are much higher in death penalty cases, because the inevitable appeals and delays cost the taxpayer much more than if the defendant was simply given life imprisonment (Amnesty International, 2003). Many critics also complain that these costs divert funds away from other issues that states must incur. Certain people assert that the costs used to impose the death penalty could be used more effectively to fight crime. While the costs to impose the death penalty have been steadily rising, certain crime fighting strategies have failed to be implemented due to the budget deficits that many states face.
John Bailey, Chief State Attorney for Connecticut, stated that, "Every dollar we spend on a capital case is a dollar we can't spend anywhere else... We have to let the public know what it costs to pursue a capital case" (Death Penalty Information Center, 2003). Many proponents of the death penalty contend that capital punishment will deter people from committing crimes. Indeed, during the past ten years, the number of executions has increased in the United States while the murder rate has declined.
But these numbers can be deceiving. For instance, the murder rates in states that do not impose the death penalty have been lower than the murder rate in states that do impose the death penalty (Death Penalty Information Center, 2003). In 1990, there was a difference of 4% between the states that practice the death penalty and states that do not. By 2000, the murder rate between these two groups had rose from 35% to 37%. This statistical trend is clearly illustrated in the tables below, which compares the murder rate in states that do impose the death penalty and those that do not. Table 4 Source: Statistical abstract, table 285 Source: Statistical abstract, table 285 As illustrated by the above tables there is strong evidence to support the fact that the death penalty fails to deter crime.
The states that warrant the death penalty have twice the murder rates than states without the death penalty. One reason for such disparity could be the fact that states warranting the death penalty have more criminals than states that do not issue the death penalty. Another possible explanation could be that the police within those states fail to implement programs dedicated to the elimination crime. Many criminologists also believe that the death penalty does not play a substantial impact in deterring crime. According to a recent survey of the country's top academic criminological societies, 84% of experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder (Death Penalty Information Center, 2003). The failure of the death penalty to deter murder is also illuminated when you consider data taken on an international scale.
Data released by the British government in 2002 that analyzes statistics between the years 1997 to 1999 supports this position. This study revealed that the United States, which retains the use of capital punishment, still has a murder rate that is more than three times that of many European countries that have banned the death penalty. This study plainly refutes the claim that the death penalty effectively deters people from committing murder. For example, the average murder rate for the United States during this period was 6.
26%, while Sweden's was 1. 94%, France's stood at 1. 63%, and Italy had a 1. 56% murder rate (Death Penalty Information Center, 2003). Critics of the belief that capital punishment deters any crime can be found at the highest levels of the United States government. At her weekly Justice Department briefing, former U.
S. Attorney General Janet Reno said, "I have inquired for most of my adult life about studies that might show that the death penalty is a deterrent. And I have not seen any research that would substantiate that point" (Death Penalty Information Center). The most devastating flaw of the capital punishment system is when an innocent person is put to death.
Actually, to call this merely a 'flaw in the current capital punishment system' is a gross understatement. In these unfortunate incidences, there is no way to correct the mistake... the mistake is permanent. The flaws in our justice system can be attributed to the same reason that many current flaws exist. Our criminal justice system was devised by people and is run by people. In a framework such as this, some degree of human error always exists.
Wrong decisions can be made, juries and judges can be manipulated, and other special circumstances can arise that will hide the truth. The consequences of this judicial system in a capital case demand that the defendant pay the highest price for his crimes-his; life. But this judicial system is far from perfect. The death penalty information center concluded that a total of 69 people have been released from death row since 1973 after evidence of their innocence emerged.
Twenty one condemned inmates have been released since 1993, including seven from the state of Illinois. A logical explanation for the rise in the number of innocent cases emerging can be attributed to two specific reasons. First, the fact that the scope of the death penalty in America has been broadening over time increases the likelihood of mistakes being made, since the states and the federal government have been broadening the death penalty to include newer and newer crimes (Death Penalty Information Center, 2003). A second reason is that the issue of capital punishment has become increasingly political over the years. Professionals associated with the judicial system many times make this issue the main platform of their reelection campaigns. This may cause lawyers and judges alike to pursue the death penalty even when faced with weak evidence.
Also, recent changes concerning the appeals process have made it even more likely that executions will proceed even in the face of evidence that raises doubts as to the guilt of a defendant (Death Penalty Information Center, 2003). For many years, the American Bar Association has conducted studies concerning this topic. As a result, the Association has identified numerous flaws in the current practices. These flaws have become more severe in recent years, adding to the complexity of an already complicated problem. The pain and heartache of an innocent man who was sentenced to die can be seen in a statement by Walter McMillan, in a written testimony at a subcommittee hearing on July 23, 1993. He stated, "I was wrenched from my family, from my children, from my grandchildren, from my friends, from my work that I loved, and was placed in an isolation cell, the size of a shoebox, with no sunlight, no companionship, and no work for nearly six years.
Every minute of every day, I knew I was innocent... ." (Death Penalty Information Center, 2003). As the evidence shows the death penalty has failed to be an effective deterrent against crime. The research also shows that capital punishment is considered by many to be an immoral, unethical, and costly solution to the problems of crime in America.
With this in mind, it is my opinion that the death penalty should be abolished. Men, women, and especially children should not be subjected to the heinous and barbaric crimes fathomed during the time of Hamurabie's rule. History of the Death Penalty. Available at: web > The Death Penalty In 2002 Year End Report. Concrete Changes Shape Death Penalty in 2002. Available at: web > Death Penalty Facts.
Racial Prejudices. Available at: web > United States of America Death by Discrimination-the Continuing Role of race in capital cases. Available at: web > The Federal Death Penalty. Available at: web > The Exclusion of Child Offenders From The Death Penalty Under General International Law.
Available at: web > Costs of Death Penalty. Available at: web > Vila, Bryan and Morris Cynthia, ed. Capital Punishment in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1997 Death Penalty Facts. Available at: web > Facts About the Death Penalty.
Available at: web > Facts about Deterrence and the Death Penalty. Available at: web > Dieter, C. Richard. Innocence and the Death Penalty: The Increasing Danger of Executing the Innocent. July 1997. Available at: web > United States.
Cong. Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary. Innocence and the Death Penalty: Assessing The Danger of Mistaken Executions. Oct 21, 1993. Available at: web.