Two murder cases, one occurring in 2001 and another in 2003, have cast serious doubts on the correctness and the morality of the imposition of the death penalty in the United States. The first case was that of James Elledge, who confessed to murdering a woman in 2001, was consequently sentenced to death, and finally executed.
The second case happened in 2003 when one Gary Ridgway admitted to killing 48 women but was only imprisoned for life. (Amnesty International) Comparing and contrasting the two cases is an elementary task: first, the two offenders similarly pleaded guilty to their crimes; second, the first felon killed one woman and was executed for his crime, while the second murdered 48 women but escaped with a verdict of life imprisonment. And this is only the tip of the iceberg!Comparatively speaking, were the rulings handed down in the two foregoing cases reasonable? Was the American justice system fair in both cases? Absolutely not! It does not take a brilliant legal mind to discern that justice was not served properly, that a very grave error was committed in either one or both of the cases. A grade school pupil, applying simple arithmetic, could tell everybody that 48 is a lot more than 1, and even a simpleton could be expected to observe that a man who killed 48 women is “badder” than he who killed a lone woman.
With respect to the case of James Elledge, if indeed he was sentenced incorrectly and punished with such finality as death, one is left to wonder: could something be done to right the wrong? The answer is a heartbreaking negative – the penalty had been severely final, and it was already executed; Elledge could no longer be brought back to life. After Elledge was executed, could we possibly locate someone involved in prosecuting him to at least admit to the likelihood that the convict might, indeed, have been mistakenly sent to his death? The answer to this is: most probably not. In this country, nobody is expected to worry over spilled milk (in this case they might even refer to it as “spoiled” spilled milk)! It is because of these reasons that I am strongly recommending that death penalty be abolished in the United States of America.
Death penalty should be abolished because innocent people face a serious risk of being executed due to a flawed U.S. criminal justice system. The prevalence of evidence pointing to a flawed system of criminal justice administration has rendered it immoral for this country to insist on imposing the capital punishment.
The comparative cases of Elledge and Ridgway provide a jarring microcosm of this flaw. Just because Elledge chose not to offer any mitigating factors, he was meted the capital punishment for that single murder. Ridgway, on the other hand, who had been described in the Supreme Court opinion as “the most prolific serial killer” in the history of the state of Washington, was awarded the sentence of life imprisonment simply because he was able to work out an agreement with his prosecutors which resulted to the recovery of the corpses of his victims. (FindLaw) Do we need vivid imaginations to visualize the enormity of the blunder committed by the government prosecutors in that case? They had to engage in a plea bargaining agreement which involved the offering of a lesser punishment, just to enable the criminal to “prove beyond reasonable doubt” that he indeed murdered 48 women by begging him to lead them to their burials! And to think that this is only a microcosm – the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There is no way of telling how many miscarriages of justice resulted to the deaths of innocent men since the death penalty was re-instated in 1977 in Utah when Gary Gilmore faced the firing squad. (Master’s Girl 2005) Gross (1998) claimed that no less than fifty-five convicts (mostly accused rapists) have been freed from 1992-1998 because DNA evidence cleared them after they had already spent several years in prison. Ballard, on the other hand, reported on February 24, 2003, that before relinquishing office, Governor George Ryan of Illinois released 167 death convicts because he found out that the penal system in his state was “broken.
” Reiterating my point, the government of the United States has no business consigning people to the death chamber for allegations of crimes that it cannot even prosecute and try properly – lest people will continue to die without reason.Death penalty is a senseless killing, a vengeful punishment which serves no apparent purpose except to add one more death every time an execution takes place, ending still another life which might yet belong to an innocent man or woman. It does not even serve its purported reason for its being, which is to deter crime. Deterrence in this context is discouragement or warning by example.
In other words, what they are saying is that government is in the business of executing criminals because it wants to scare similar-minded people from committing crimes, or else they suffer the same fate. It should be noted, however, that contrary to claims made by proponents of the death penalty, not all crimes could be deterred by death penalty.Perpetrators of felonies not punishable by death, for instance, are not concerned with whether capital punishment is in force or not.
Crimes of passion, no matter how brutal, could not be deterred by death penalty either, because they are committed at the spur of the moment, before the offender could even think of the consequences. The warning emanating from death penalty could only be expected to be heard, if it could be heard at all, by those who are contemplating murders – in other words, premeditated murders. So in this context, deterring crimes by death penalty is such a restricted concept. Even so, many of those who are planning murders believe that by meticulous planning, they can outsmart the law – thereby further diminishing the preventive influence of death penalty. Looking at actual statistics, what happened after the re-instatement of the death penalty in 1977 confirms this.
The rate of murder in the United States per 100,000 inhabitants in 1977 stood at 8.8, while rape was at 29.4. During the succeeding three-year period from 1978-1980, murder steadily climbed to 9.0 in 1978, 9.8 in 1979, and 10.2 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1980; rape similarly rose, from 29.
4 in 1977 to 31.0 in 1978, 34.7 in 1979, and 36.8 in 1980.(The Disaster Center. 2006) Clearly, the re-instatement of death penalty did not at all deter the commission of murder and rape. Again reiterating my argument, death penalty should be abolished because it does not deter crime.Proponents of the death penalty argue that it is not true that death penalty kills innocent people.
They like to believe that the jury system which tasks twelve carefully chosen people to determine whether a defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, allows very little possibility for error. Others who grudgingly admit that the possibility of inadvertently sending a few innocent men to the death row still exists, they contend that the risk have to be taken because more people could get killed in case a convicted murderer succeeds to set himself free, either by escaping, or via the system of parole.There are also those who believe that death penalty deters crime. According to these people, executing a murderer deters or prevents crime because a dead murderer could no longer kill, while a murderer who is simply sentenced to life imprisonment could still find opportunities to kill again, even in confinement. They like to cite instances where prison guards and even inmates are killed during prison riots.
I beg to disagree with those who think that the jury system is infallible. Twelve heads do not guarantee a fair judgment. Jurors are human beings with individual weaknesses and personal prejudices, dormant or otherwise, and the dynamics of the discussion allows everything into play, including said prejudices. If it happens that a prejudice directed against the defendant is adopted by the majority, then most often than not, the defendant is denied a fair and impartial judgment. Moreover, many, if not most of the defendants in capital cases especially murder, are poor people who cannot afford to hire good lawyers. They are assigned court-appointed lawyers who do the job of defending them half-heartedly. This lackadaisical performance of the defense lawyer defeats the defendant’s case even before it goes to the jury for deliberation. Another very critical aspect of the jury system which works against the defendant is the jury selection.
While the prosecution employs qualified people to support the prosecutor in selecting probable jurors with backgrounds and circumstances deemed sympathetic to their cause, the slapdash performance of a court-appointed lawyer once again loses points for the defendants. I also would like to take exception to the argument that executing the convict deters crime because it prevents the dead to commit more crimes. Everybody knows that this distorts the issue because incarceration effectively denies a convict the opportunity to commit crimes. Prison riots are problems affecting prison administration and not judicial process. Escape should not be made a reason either because prison security is another matter altogether. Parole, on the other hand, is an indication that the penal system works. The granting of parole means that the penal system succeeds in reforming convicts and preparing them for a new life outside the prison walls. The argument that many freed convicts go back to committing crimes is more a product of discrimination against ex-convicts perpetuated by society.
In view of the foregoing discussion, I believe that the time for the United States to abolish death penalty has arrived. Death penalty represents the most graphic example of society’s cruelty to poor people who, because of their inability to utilize every protection accorded them under the constitution, are often consigned to death row even if they are innocent of any crime. The history of the U.S.
criminal justice system is replete with instances of innocent people being sent to the death chamber. Killing, aside from employing the barbaric dictum of “an eye for an eye,” achieves nothing productive. It even defeats the ultimate purpose of the U.
S. penal system of correcting and reforming wayward members of society. Worse, death penalty has already proven to all and sundry, that it does not serve its purported purpose of deterring crimes. It is time that we join the rest of the “civilized world” in repudiating the death penalty. Britain already did it in 1971, Canada in 1976, and France in 1981. (News Batch 2006)