Thursday, June 2, 2011


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The Death Penalty

Today in our society the dispute over capital punishment has become one of the most talked about moral and judicial controversies. Capital punishment, the death penalty, has always existed in American history, and unfortunately it is still being used today. Even though polls and statistics have proven that capital punishment is inefficient, the government still insists that it is a just way to punish criminals and deter crime.

The judicial inefficiency of capital punishment has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and it has cost some innocent men their lives. Most Americans believe that the death penalty is a cheaper way of justice, and they argue, “Why should we waste our tax money keeping criminals in jail opposed to executing them?” The financial expense of the death penalty is a weak case when talking about the value of a human life. Even so, the truth to the common myth of the death penalty being cheaper than imprisonment is that keeping criminals behind bars, and out of trouble, actually adds up to only a fraction of what it would cost to execute them. A New York study shows that the average amount of money for sentencing a criminal to death is $1,800,000 as opposed to $660,000 for keeping the prisoner alive and in jail for forty years. Due to the appeals of the courts’ rulings, court time, and legal histrionics by defense attorneys, the process of execution may take up to several years, in which during that time period the criminal may have already died of natural causes while on death row. Recently, the


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state of Florida spent $5,700,000 to execute eighteen criminals. This cost is six times greater than what it would have cost ($50,000) if the state were to have kept them in jail for the rest of their lives.

Not only is capital punishment inadequate and inconsistent in financial expenses, it also costs the lives of innocent men. Between the twenty-three year time span of 17 to 15 there were approximately five thousand five hundred capital convictions in the United States. Of those, an estimated report entitled “Error Rates in Capital Cases, which was put out by Professor James S. Liebman of the Columbia Law School, suggests that at least sixty-eight percent (,740) of those cases have had critical errors before they even make it into court. These are errors that are prejudicial, which means they were serious errors, and they were reversible. Although they were not all caught during the first review of the case, they were still all prevalent and ended up causing the end of a man’s right to live. As Professor Liebman stated, American capital sentences are persistently and systematically fraught with serious error. Indeed, capital trials produce so many mistakes that it takes three judicial inspections to catch them, leaving grave doubt whether we do catch them all. With this statement in mind, one can only begin to imagine exactly how high the percent of errors in capital sentencing might be if all the errors were found.

The three most common errors found in the study were “egregiously incompetent defense lawyers,” 7%; “faulty instructions to jurors,” 0%; and “prosecutorial misconduct, often the suppression of evidence of innocence,” 1%. Using only those three categories, already seventy-six percent of the cases have errors in them. Since the


beginning of this study began twenty-three years ago, there have been nineteen years in which over half of the convictions made have had errors in them, which caused the original ruling to be overturned. Last year over sixty percent of the cases had errors in them, and ninety percent of the states that use the death penalty had over one half of their convictions overturned. The whole idea of innocent lives being taken can best be summed up by the words of Professor Liebman; The death penalty system is one in which lives and public order are at stake, yet for decades has been fraught with more mistakes than we would tolerate in far less important activities.

The ineffectiveness of capital punishment goes beyond the ridiculous expenses of the taxpayers and the injustices done to innocent men. The death penalty promotes the immoral account of revenge to society. This raises the question of, “Whose right is it to give a human life as retribution to those who seek vengeance?” The threat of a convicted criminal behind bars is no less of a threat than that of an executed convict, yet the government and public remain unsatisfied. There is a fine line between justice and revenge, which appears to be blind to society. Even the families of some of the victims feel that jail time is preferable to that of the death penalty. Even in one of the most surprising, uncalled-for murders in the last century the widow of the victim felt that “as one whose husband and mother-in-law have both died the victims of murder assassination, I stand unequivocally opposed to the death penalty… An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation.” These words were proclaimed by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr.

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In a country that values inspirational leaders so greatly, the death penalty would seem less likely to survive for as long as it has. With around one fourth of the country directly following the orders of the Pope and that of the Catholic Church, one would suspect the people would share Pope John Paul II viewpoint on the death penalty. He holds the position of the death penalty being “cruel and unnecessary,” and he expresses opposition to its use “even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” Considering the proclamation issued by Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, which instructed Catholics to take part in their government by voicing the Catholic Church’s perspective on issues in which the Church has taken a stance. Even the non-Catholic Christians should follow the ideas of Mother Teresa who stated, “Remember what you do to these men, you do to God.” With these words in mind, everybody should fear taking the life of a man because, in essence, they are taking part of God away from this earth. And in the world that exists today, the last thing we need on earth is to have less God than what is currently present.

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