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Capital punishment as a deterrent of capital crimes in America

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I. Introduction The United States has long been an exceedingly strong and guiding force in the international community. As a dedicated moral leader, the U.S. has stated its utmost support for international human rights conventions. These documents are integral to the objectives of the United Nations and its member states. Yet, despite the fact that the United Nations has stated directly, through such documents as the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the "enhancement of human dignity and progressive development of human rights", the United States remains among the retentionist states. In a world where human rights standards are becoming more and more accepted, what is the justification for the use of the death penalty in America? Furthermore, upon analysis of the United States' rationalizations, are they consistent with the United States' stated position on human rights? These questions will be answered through a careful examination of the moralistic contributions to the debate, the effectiveness and practicality of the use of the death penalty, and the United States' agreed upon international human rights standards. Consideration will also be given to the current public opinion on the subject. Through the examination of these factors it will be shown that the use of the death penalty in America is not justifiable, nor is it in concord with our stated human rights objectives. The Morality Argument Many supporters of the death penalty will claim that their personal religious or moral beliefs support the use of the death penalty. As Christianity was the most clearly impacting religion on the formation of the United States, and is the most identifiable religious influence in the political institutions of America today, a careful inspection will be given to the common views attributed to it. A more secular moral approach is also relevant in this debate, though. ...read more.


Then in 1968 the death penalty was abolished. Between the years of 168 and 1977 murders reached an all time high of 20,600 in 1974 (Kronenwetter 21-22). Another noteworthy study was performed by the LAPD in the early 1970's. They interviewed 99 criminals who did not carry lethal weapons during their crimes. Of these nearly half said that a fear of the death penalty is what prompted them to not carry one (Kronenwetter 20). These studies, like any other empirical analysis, are highly dependent on the methodological approach to it. Therefore, these are quite difficult to take as fact or even as highly consequential. But, if we look at these studies as individual attempts at determining effectiveness, and try to take a larger look at them as a whole we see definite trends. Comparative studies tend to show that there is not a relationship between the practice of capital punishment and homicide rates (Hood 166). Yet, more sophisticated studies employing econometric theories state that there is a "trade-off" of anywhere between seven and twenty-four fewer homicides per execution. Overall, virtually all of the deterrence studies done in the past 25 years have failed to support the hypothesis that the death penalty is a more effective deterrent to criminal homicides than long imprisonment. As two of this country's most experienced deterrence researchers conclude after their review of recent scholarship, "The available evidence remains 'clear and abundant' that, as practiced in the United States, capital punishment is not more effective than imprisonment in deterring murder" (Bailey & Peterson 155). The Practicality of Enforcing Capital Punishment Another key debate is over the practicality of applying the death penalty. To verify its effectiveness, a guideline must be established. So the question must be asked; is our legal system able to apply capital punishment in a fair, costly, or even an accurate manner? First, many of the legal scholars who have dedicated themselves to this subject criticize the actual definitions of capital murders in statutes designed to restrict and guide discretion in the application of the death penalty as "subjective and unreliable" (Hood 165). ...read more.


It has been made evident that capital punishment is given out in an arbitrary and capricious manner, rooted in the fact that the death penalty has long been an instrument of class control and racism. Capital punishment is costly and it violates America's own agreed upon standards for the protection of human rights. Public opinion polls indicate that the American public supports reform of the capital punishment conventions. So what are the possible alternatives to capital punishment? Lewis E. Lawes, as Warden of Sing Sing Prison in 1929 made a proposition for legal reform, which is still valid today. He stated that a comprehensive alternative to the death penalty for first degree murderers includes: (1) Life imprisonment, (2) no time allowance for commutation, or compensation until commuted to a definite term, (3) at least twenty year of actual time for current death row inmates, (4) appeals based upon post hoc evidence or executive clemency, (5) eligibility for pardon or parole only after at least 20 years, and (6) a substantial percent of the earnings of the prisoner go the dependants of those killed (Bedau 228). Hopefully this research paper has provided an ample discussion of the reasoning, or lack thereof, for America's choice to retain the death penalty. The only hope for the future is that Americans will become educated on the issue, so that a fact-based decision on this subject can be made. The words of Justice McKenna, which advocate our self-determinism as a people, should not be soon forgotten: "Legislation...should not, therefore, be necessarily confined to the form that evil had theretofore taken. Time works changes, brings into existence new conditions and purposes. Therefore, a principle to be vital, must be capable of wider application than the mischief which gave it birth. This is peculiarly true of constitutions...the future is their care, and provision for events of good and bad tendencies of which no prophecy can be made. In the application of a Constitution, therefore, our contemplation cannot be only of what has been, but of what may be..." ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 ...read more.

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