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Capital Punishment Arguments

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Capital punishment is the most severe sentence imposed in the United States and is legal in thirty-eight states. The death penalty is a controversial subject, especially because the U.S. is the only western democracy to retain this consequence (Scheb, 518). I personally believe that the death penalty is a valid sentence for those who deserve it. Some believe it is not constitutional, but those who face this penalty are clearly suspect of a savage offense and therefore should be at a loss of certain rights. The arguments don't end there once one considers that "the controversy over capital punishment becomes more heated when special circumstances arise" (Sternberg, 2). This issue brings up more arguments against the death penalty because of the constitutionally protected ban on cruel and unusual punishment which is protected by the Eighth Amendment. There have been nearly 15,000 executions that have taken place in America, the first in 1608 with the death of Captain George Kendall (Siegel, 410). Most of these were sentenced to death because of their own action of killing others. However, more and more crimes are now able to be punishable by death. This is the result of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which "dramatically increased the number of federal crimes eligible for this sentence" (Scheb, 520). Even so, the federal government has yet to put someone on death row for a non-homicidal case. The arguments for and against capital punishment are lengthy and strictly opinionated, but are also important to see the evolution of our society as the majority view changes and new influences come about.

The main dispute for those who favor capital punishment is due to the fact that death is the "ultimate incapacitation" (Siegel, 411). I think that this is the quintessential reason why the United States should continue to allow the death penalty. Without it there are ways of mitigating ones sentence, making it unfair to the victims. Sternberg states that taxpayers "should not bear the costs of keeping [those on death row] alive in prison" (Sternberg, 5). I agree with this statement because once a person is convicted of a harsh enough crime to be condemned to life in prison they should not be dependent on society's hard earned cash. Not only does capital punishment clear up room in our already overcrowded prisons, but it also gives the victim's family a better sense of justice. This could act as a deterrent for future criminals who can recognize that their acts could cost them their life in the short run, not dying from old age by life imprisonment. "The phrase Ð''eye for an eye' is usually considered synonymous with justice Ð'... [but] now some say two states have gone a step beyond that standard and violated the U.S. Constitution by making some rapes punishable by death" (Higgins, 30). While most of those who support the death penalty do so because of their "eye for an eye" view on this subject, some supporters take on a neutral stance when it comes to killing a rapist or other offender. Higgins mentions Louisiana and Georgia as the states that have gone too far by passing statues that allow "capital-rape" laws (30). I do not know what outlook I hold on this topic; rape is certainly a serious crime, but since it is such a traumatic experience for the victim that I would not necessarily be against it, but impartial. The true test of law is when it is appealed to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court. "If the Supreme Court upholds the death penalty for child rapists, more states may follow," Higgins states, "If the Court strikes down the law, the ruling could cast doubt on other statues that allow the death penalty for non-killings" (30). I believe that the States, more so than its constituents, tend to follow in line with the Court's rulings because of how carefully each case is scrutinized under the supreme eye of the law. Once enough states follow in line with one another it starts to show a societal standard from which we grow on and evolve. While the Eighth Amendment protects the execution of mentally retarded and insane people, it does not protect juveniles from receiving the death penalty. While I do not believe that juveniles should be sentenced to death, this is a contentious issue that the Supreme Court has had split decisions on. While the Court ruled that you may not execute someone under the age of fifteen, they also ruled that someone age sixteen or older may be executed, proving there is no national consensus on this subject (Scheb, 522). A matter of one or two years of age, while still being under twenty-one, should not influence a decision one way or another, but by the same token juveniles should not simply be let off. They should receive a lengthy sentence, if not a life sentence, for a crime in which an adult would receive the death penalty (or a life sentence). I support the death penalty in many aspects, but it does have its cons and I respect the opinions of those who do not advocate capital punishment. Capital punishment has been used in America for hundreds of years, and while I don't see it going away soon, there are many strong cases against it.

The strongest case against the death penalty is that it "is unfairly administered and has resulted in the execution of innocent defendants" (Roberts, 3). Unless the person being executed is not guilty, I do not see how it can be administered unfairly. Nearly all of those who have died by capital punishment have killed others, and I am sure that their victims suffered much more pain than the defendant would when the states perform their executions. The argument remains valid, however, because "scientific advances in DNA testing have already proven cases of mistaken identity involving prisoners" and thus shows a weakness of capital punishment. Support of the death penalty has been waning in the recent years. Many believe this drop in support is due to the "collapse of public confidence in the relative deterrent advantage of capital punishment" (Roberts, 2). I can honestly state that I understand where these doubts could arise. While being on death row is probably more terrifying than living day to day in a cell, the only person it can deter is that person alone. Having one million people on death row might not keep another million from committing a heinous crime themselves, but it cannot hurt. Of the ten thousand people convicted of homicidal cases each year, less than three-hundred are sentenced to death (Siegel, 417). This means that many murderers are being let off easy. Those who do as they should and cooperate with law enforcement often alleviate their sentence from death or life in prison to lesser sentences with the chance of parole. Should the court system be of assistance to killers who



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