The figure of Lady Justice is a fixture in courtrooms around the U. S. She is blindfolded, representing justice as impartial and holding a scale, giving weight only to the evidence in a trial, not to the stature of the accused. On her right hand she carries a sword, signifying the power of those who make decisions.
While Lady Justice symbolizes impartiality and strength in the American justice system, two important traits the courts should possess, justice itself is served in the courts in two main ways: restorative ly or retributive ly. As justice is being served, defendants should not be given sentences that impede on their fundamental rights nor should defendants receive sentences that are disproportional to their crime. This idea of "equal justice for all" is one of the strongest beliefs held by the American people. Capital punishment does not always provides "equal justice for all" with its high statistics in mistakes, These mistakes lead to the execution of the innocent and, denies the right to life based on fallible human judgment. American justice, based on retribution, gives way to the use of capital punishment, a flawed system that does not answer to the idea of "equal justice for all"; while it might inflict cruel and unusual pain to the wrongdoer, it is just and easy way out of reparation. In the courts today, retributive and restorative sentences exist and are given to the defendants by the discretion of the judge (s) or jury.
Restoration, either in monetary damages or some action that needs to be done by the guilty defendant, often tries to compensate the victims through victim-offender mediation (O'Connor 1). While restorative justice may be more helpful to the victim and tries to right the wrong, it is clear that America is a country that uses retributive justice. America currently has the highest incarceration rates in the world, with over two million humans behind bars. (O'Connor 1). Looking at American justice through the idea of retribution, the courts must decide what punishment the guilty should receive in relation to their crime. The punishment that most criminals receive is jail time.
Murderers and the most offensive crimes have the chance of being charged with capital sentences, the most permanent form of retributive justice. This popular process of retributive justice is flawed from its foundation to its execution and creates a problem when put up against the "equal justice for all" motto so dear to the American people. This process begins unequally since it is up to prosecutors to decide which cases get capital charges and it is up to attorney generals approve death penalty charges based on their own discretion. A giant flaw with the capital punishment system surfaces as not all murders and high crimes may receive capital charges.
Crimes with less standing are susceptible to getting a capital sentence charge solely at the prosecution's discretion. There is proof of this in the 2002 and 2003 investigations in Illinois and several other states, where misconduct on the side of the prosecution using perjured testimony and manipulated evidenced just to get death penalty sentences were revealed (Amsterdam, 2). DNA testing was used to prove the innocence of death row inmates who were later released after spending years in prison. Despite that fact that there has been reversals due to mistakes, "DNA testing is often of no use in the kind of case that gives rise to most of the worst errors in capital cases: a conviction based on perjured testimony, incompetence of the trial attorney, unavailability of expert witnesses, or racial bias in the police station, prosecutor's office, or jury room" (2). Lawyers are more intent on getting the death penalty sentence, by any means necessary, instead of obtaining a sentence fit for the crime solely because ascertaining a death penalty charge is considered a prestigious thing in the law community (Liebman 2058). The trial itself then, cannot be equal since the players in the trial are seeking only the ends and not looking towards the means.
Adding to the inequality at the trial level is the effect race and social status has on capital cases. Lawyers appointed to handle capital trials for defendants, who lack the monetary resources to hire specialized capital crime lawyers, receive government paid lawyers who often lack the expertise necessary to appropriately defend capitally charged defendants (Swans, 1). If 'any misstep along the way can literally mean death for the client," the professional help appointed to defendants may actually be incriminating innocent people if they are incapable of rendering the appropriate services (1). Race also plays an important factor. In a 2000 study by the U. S.
Department of Justice, the attorney general approved 72 percent of the cases for death penalty prosecution involving defendants of color even though statistics show that there were relatively equal numbers of black and white homicide perpetrators (2) With this realization of inequality, the idea of serving retributive justice with equal justice for all no longer applies with the death penalty. Every year, defendants receive capital sentences and wait on death row for years before receiving a reversal from death row due to error. The United States adversarial judicial system allows for appeals to state and federal courts after being sentenced to death row. A long fight begins after their sentencing as a process that lasts an average of 12 years (Liebman 2052). The courts give special consideration to the death row inmates by giving them this long and tedious process to check for "error" before really being sentenced to death.
In fact, it includes at least 28 steps leading up to the actual execution. It makes no sense for the government to go through such extraneous efforts just to release more than half of those convicted to the death penalty. Up until 1999, statistics show that 68%, more than two out of every three death row inmate's judgments were fully reversed (2054). Even if an inmate was still found guilty, the inmate still only had a one in eleven chance of getting executed (2056). It is impractical to have convicts on death row waiting on sentences that are likely to be reversed.
In recent years, the amount of people that support the death penalty has risen steadily. The numbers of supporters may have gone up, but this does not make the system flawless. Putting convicts on death row is a process that wastes time and tax payer money. The death process is violent and gives no punitive or retributive aspects except for a dead body.
If and when these death row inmates finally reach their end, the resulting process of capital punishment contains dire inequalities which may cost innocent people their lives, a price too high to pay if it is a mistake or inequality stemming from the system itself. In order for justice to prevail, unequal and cruel punishments such as lethal injections and electrocutions need to end. The last step to this long process is painful and often full of problems. Death row inmate, Robin Parks had a violent reaction to the drugs used in the lethal injection. Two minutes after the drugs were dispensed, the muscles in his jaw, neck, and abdomen began to react spasmodically for approximately 45 seconds. He gasped and violently gagged until death came, about eleven minutes after the drugs were first administered.
(Green) Often times, it takes over 30 minutes for non-physicians to find a vein and administer the drugs. (Green) There is no reparation for damages by the guilty. Not only is nothing being done to repair the damages they have caused, they are wasting tax-payer money every minute they sit inside the gated walls. The government spends enormous amounts of money on the necessary protocol to ensure that the convict should be put to death. Having a long process which just may acquit the convict of the death penalty becomes a frivolous use of tax payer money.
Death row sentencing may be popular but all it creates is a long line of prisoners that use more tax payer money in their appellate process. Neither does the prisoner nor the victims or the community gain anything in return except for wasted time. Although convicts may feel short term physical cruel and unusual punishment, putting these inmates onto death row actually allows those who are guilty of their crimes an easy way out of jail. For a guilty person to be sentenced to the death penalty, the crime must perfectly fit a rigid list of requirements. These requirements are set to ensure that those put onto death row are considered menaces to society and have no respect for life. If fulfilling these requirements does prove them as people with no respect for life, then keeping them alive would be a harsher punishment for the defendants than the easy way out of just allowing them to die.
Retributive justice, would be served better keeping them alive than dead. By treating them with respect in some regards it becomes more difficult for the guilty who do not respect life. Instead of killing convicts it would be better to make them work for society. Since they have damaged society in some way they should make reparations for their crimes to the community. not crimes the tax-paying population committed so they should be made to work to pay for their stay. That way, life sentences would not only be harder for criminals, but they can pay for their stay so that their punishment, down to how they serve their crime, is a burden on themselves and not on society.
This also fulfills "equal justice for all" since all murders and felons guilty of crimes worthy of capital sentences can serve these terms. This idea of "with liberty and justice for all" is ingrained in the minds of Americans from an early age and yet, when speaking about the death penalty, justice for all falls short. The disadvantages of the poor and of minorities put them closer to the chair. Some prosecution lawyers will go to any lengths to hear the death sentence and there is no justice in those intentions.
The actual execution is violent and goes against the ideas of the constitution disapproving cruel and unusual punishment. Ultimately these death sentences give nothing back to the community and just burns tax payers' money. Instead, there are alternative to the death penalty including making the jail process more productive by mandating the inmates to work to pay for their own stay. If American justice is symbolized by Lady Justice and affirmed by the saying "equal justice for all" then capital punishment will need to be removed.