US must abandon death penalty


The Tuning Fork

Capital punishment has long been a controversial issue in the United States. There are currently 34 districts that have outlawed via legislation the application of capital punishment in any case, including aggravated murder. However, some states, like Texas, continue to employ the death penalty for criminals and add cases in which capital punishment may be applicable. There are certainly positive and negative aspects to the death penalty, which will be explained later, but it is in the opinion of this author that the death penalty is a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The United States cannot continue executing prisoners if it wishes to progress further in humanitarian terms, especially while acting as global arbiter for human rights violations.

The first documented case of the death penalty in the United States occurred in 1608, when a military captain accused of spying for Spain was put to death. The captain was executed by firing squad in Jamestown with no recorded trial. From that point on, capital punishment became a staple for severe crime punishment. In a compilation made by two researchers on capital punishment, a few incredible facts were discovered. From 1930 to 2002, 4,661 executions have been carried out within the United States, although the majority of these executions were carried out between the ’30s and ’50s. Roughly one-third of all executions were carried out in the past 60 years.

The United States did take some action to confront executions in the 1970’s. A four-year moratorium was placed on capital punishment as a result of the Supreme Court case Furman v. Georgia, which required consistency in application of the death penalty. In 1976, the power was restored to the states under the stipulation that certain factors are consistent in the judgment of character and the severity of crime under scrutiny, as per Gregg v. Georgia. Since capital punishment resumed, 1,271 criminals have been executed. Of those, 1,012 were carried out in nine states, eight of which are below the Mason-Dixon line. Texas alone carried out 475 executions, meaning the lone star state averaged slightly more than one prisoner executed per month for the last 35 years.

Capital punishment is most fervently supported by supposed pro-life conservative Christians, ignoring biblical messages of “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) and the sixth commandment of Judeo-Christian belief, “Thou shalt not kill.” There appears to be a fundamental gap in understanding of both scripture and ideological consistency in this constituency. It seems as though the irony is lost on those that would protest abortion clinics but support a statute that murders individuals for crimes — albeit normally heinous, but we’ll touch on that later — who could just as easily be “saved” or counseled into contributing members of society. If the proponents of this logic would equate what is, in early stages of pregnancy, a lump of unformed and unspecialized cells with a human life, how could they possibly justify ending another life prematurely by acting as supreme judge of their conceptions of justice?

A capital punishment can only be carried out if one has committed a capital crime, normally displayed as aggravated (first-degree, pre-meditated) murder, treason, war crimes, etc. However, what constitutes a capital crime is completely up to the jurisdiction of the state. In some states, a capital crime can be apostasy, adultery, blasphemy, witchcraft, prostitution or drug possession. In Georgia, for example, any offenders who commit such acts while “previously convicted of a capital felony” or “[creating] a grave risk of death to others” are considered capital criminals. Under such guidelines, if a defendant had previously been arrested for possession of marijuana or witchcraft, and then committed any crime that caused grave risk to others (drunk driving, perhaps), that defendant could be awaiting a syringe filled with potassium and barbiturates while strapped to a table. The absurdity is palpable, and it seems that the southern states of Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and both Carolinas cannot get enough of executing their prisoners.

While proponents of the movement claim that the death penalty offers closure to victims’ families, serves justice better, acts as a crime deterrent and contributes to depopulating prisons, it is almost patently wrong to claim the sating of an animal reaction for revenge as justice. A prisoner on death row costs two to five times as much as a prisoner with a life sentence, appeals waste time and resources in our judicial system, and capital punishment has invariably put to death at least one innocent person. Kirk Bloodsworth, an honorably discharged Marine, was exonerated from death row – after nine years in prison — when DNA fingerprinting proved him innocent of the rape and murder of a child. Even one wrongful execution should be a tragedy to the nation, and chances are that at least one of the 475 executed Texans was innocent.

In a modern society, a nation should not use murder as a means to convince others that murder is wrong. Even Justice John Stevens believed that the current system is flooded with racism and politicking that invariably kills too many people. According to Stevens, it is possible with modern sensibilities and technology to ensure that the death penalty is no more.

Cody Gorman is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and Middle Eastern studies with a minor in history. His column, “The Tuning Fork,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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