Death Penalty Essay

Outline 1608 Captain George Kendall becomes the first recorded execution in the new colonies 1632 Jane Champion is the first woman executed 1767 Cesare Beccaria’s essay On Crime and Punishment, theorizes that there is no justification for the state to take a life Late 1700’s United States abolitionist movement beginsEarly 1800’s many states reduce their number of capital punishment crimes & build state penitentiaries 1834 Pennsylvania becomes the first state to move executions into correctional facilities 1846 Michigan becomes the first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason 1890 William Kemler becomes the first person executed by electrocution Early 1900’s beginning of the Progressive Period of reform in the United States 1907-1917 Nine states abolish the death penalty for all crimes or strictly limit it 1920s-1940s American Abolition movement loses support 924 The use of cyanide gas introduced as an execution method 1930s Executions reach the highest levels in American History- Average 167 per year 1966 Support of capital punishment reaches an all-time low A Gallup poll shows support of the death penalty at only 42% June 1972 Furman v.

Georgia. Supreme Court effectively voids 40 death penalty statuses and suspends the death penalty 1976- Gregg V. Georgia Guided discretion statutes approved.Death Penalty reinstated January 17,1977 ten year moratorium on execution ends with the execution of Gary Gilmore by firing squad in Utah 1977 Oklahoma becomes the first state to adopt lethal injection as a means of execution 1977 Coker V Georgia held death penalty is an unconstitutional punishment for rape of an adult woman when the victim is not killed December 7 1982 Charles brooks becomes the first person executed by lethal injection 1986 Ford V Wainwright Execution of insane persons banned 988 Thompson V Oklahoma Executions of offenders age 15 & younger at the time of the crime is unconstitutional 1989 Stanford v Kentucky & Wilkins v Missouri 8th amendment doesn’t prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed at age 16 or 17 1989 Penry v Lynaugh executing persons with “mental retardation” is not a violation of the 8th amendment 1994 President Clinton signs the Violent Crime Control & Law enforcement act expanding the federal death penalty November 1998 Northwest University Holds the first ever National Conference on Wrongful Convictions & the death penalty January 1999 Pope John Paul II visits St.Louis, Missouri & calls for an end to the death penalty 2002 Atkins v Virginia The execution of “mentally retarded” defendants violates the 8th amendments ban on cruel & unusual punishment June 2004 New York’s death penalty law declared unconstitutional by the states high court March 2005 Roper v Simmons, Supreme court ruled death penalty of those under 18 years of age is cruel & unusual December 2007 The New Jersey General Assembly votes to become the first state to legislatively abolish capital punishment since its reinstatement February 2008 The Nebraska Supreme Court rules electrocution to be cruel & unusual, freezing all executions in the state March 2009 Governor Bill Richardson signs legislation to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico March 2011 Governor Pat Quinn signs legislation to repeal the death penalty in Illinois, replacing it with life without parole History… Abolitionist movement -Finds its roots in the writings of European theorists Montesquieu Voltaire & Bentham along with English Quakers John Bellars & John Howard -It was Cesare Baccaria’s essay on crimes and punishment that had the most impact -gave abolitionist’s an authoritative voice and renewed energy -From 1907- 1917 6 states completely outlawed the death penalty & three others limited it -5 of 6 states reinstated their death penalties by 1920 1920’s-1940’s had resurgence in the use of the death penalty -There were more executions in the 1930’s than during any other decade in American history Furman V.

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Georgia -argued that capital cases resulted in arbitrary and capricious sentencing -in 9 separate opinions and by a vote of 5 to 4, the court held that Georgia’s death penalty statute could result in arbitrary sentencing -the court held that, the scheme of punishment under the statute was therefor “cruel & unusual” and therefor violated the 8th amendment -June 29 1972 the Supreme Court effectively voided 40 death penalty statutes -Commuted the sentences of 629 death row inmates around the country and suspended the death penalty because existing statutes were no longer valid Reinstating the Death Penalty Overall holding in Furman was that specific death penalty statutes were deemed unconstitutional -The court essentially opened the door to the states to rewrite their death penalty statutes -These guided discretion statutes were approved in 1976 by the Supreme Court in Gregg V. Georgia, Jurek V. Texas & Proffitt V.

Florida collectively referred to as the Gregg decision Deontology -Immanuel Kant -Retributivism -“A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody elses life is simply immoral” – In Kant’s view, a wrongdoer’s voluntary choice to commit a crime justifies the infliction of a parallel evil in return; respect for the autonomy of the wrongdoer requires that “the undeserved evil which any one commits on another is to be regarded as perpetrated on himself. – He argued that even a society on an island that was about to disband and scatter throughout the world would have a duty to execute “the last murderer lying in the prison” -Some retributivists argue that it is not respect for the wrongdoer’s autonomy, but rather respect for the equality of the victim that gives rise to duty to punish. – In this view, punishment is required to “annul” the wrong done to the victim or “restore the Equilibrium of benefits and burdens” Teleology -Aristotle, Plato & Socrates -Moral choice is that which produces the best result or outcome is the “moral” choice -focuses on good outcome, not obligation, duty, or process Goodness is the consequences of our behavior and not the behavior itself -The concept of retribution is easily distorted in contemporary society -Retribution is not vengeance -Teleology is against the death penalty Common Arguments for and against the death penalty For: – “The crimes of rape, torture, treason, kidnapping, murder, larceny, and perjury pivot on a moral code that escapes apodictic [indisputably true] proof by expert testimony or otherwise. But communities would plunge into anarchy if they could not act on moral assumptions less certain than that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. Abolitionists may contend that the death penalty is inherently immoral because governments should never take human life, no matter what the provocation. But that is an article of faith, not of fact.

The death penalty honors human dignity by treating the defendant as a free moral actor able to control his own destiny for good or for ill; it does not treat him as an animal with no moral sense. ” – Bruce Fein, JD -“Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of ‘objectively intolerable risk of harm’ [quoting the opinion of the Court from Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U. S.

825, 842, 846 (1994)] that qualifies as cruel and unusual…

Kentucky has adopted a method of execution believed to be the most humane available, one it shares with 35 other States…Kentucky’s decision to adhere to its protocol cannot be viewed as probative of the wanton infliction of pain under the Eighth Amendment… Throughout our history, whenever a method of execution has been challenged in this Court as cruel and unusual, the Court has rejected the challenge. Our society has nonetheless steadily moved to more humane methods of carrying out capital punishment.

” – Baze v. Rees – “[T]he fact that blacks and Hispanics are charged with capital crimes out of proportion to their numbers in the general population may simply mean that blacks and Hispanics commit capital crimes out of proportion to their numbers. Capital criminals don’t look like America…No one is surprised to find more men than women in this class. Nor is it a shock to find that this group contains more twenty-year-olds than septuagenarians.

And if — as the left tirelessly maintains — poverty breeds crime, and if — as it tiresomely maintains — the poor are disproportionately minority, then it must follow — as the left entirely denies — that minorities will be ‘overrepresented’ among criminals. ” – Roger Clegg, JD “Accepting capital punishment in principle means accepting it in practice, whether by the hand of a physician or anyone else..

. If one finds the practice too brutal, one must either reject it in principle or seek to mitigate its brutality.If one chooses the latter option, then the participation of physicians seems more humane than delegating the deed to prison wardens, for by condoning the participation of untrained people who could inflict needless suffering that we physicians might have prevented, we are just as responsible as if we had inflicted the suffering ourselves. The AMA [American Medical Association] position should be changed either to permit physician participation or to advocate the abolition of capital punishment. The hypocritical attitude of ‘My hands are clean — let the spectacle proceed’ only leads to needless human suffering – Bruce E. Ellerin, MD, JD Against: “Ultimately, the moral question surrounding capital punishment in America has less to do with whether those convicted of violent crime deserve to die than with whether state and federal governments deserve to kill those whom it has imprisoned. The legacy of racial apartheid, racial bias, and ethnic discrimination is unavoidably evident in the administration of capital punishment in America.

Death sentences are imposed in a criminal justice system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent. This is an immoral condition that makes rejecting the death penalty on moral grounds not only defensible but necessary for those who refuse to accept unequal or unjust administration of punishment. ” – Bryan Stevenson, JD “Death is…

an unusually severe punishment, unusual in its pain, in its finality, and in its enormity… The fatal constitutional infirmity in the punishment of death is that it treats ‘members of the human race as nonhumans, as objects to be toyed with and discarded. [It is] thus inconsistent with the fundamental premise of the Clause that even the vilest criminal remains a human being possessed of common human dignity.

‘ [quoting himself from Furman v. Georgia, 408 U. S. 238, 257 (1972)] As such it is a penalty that ‘subjects the individual to a fate forbidden by the principle of civilized treatment guaranteed by the [Clause]. ‘ [quoting C. J.

Warren from Trop v. Dulles, 356 U. S. 86, 101 (1958)] I therefore would hold, on that ground alone, that death is today a cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Clause…

I would set aside the death sentences imposed… as violative of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment – William J. Brennan JD “Despite the fact that African Americans make up only 13 percent of the nation’s population, almost 50 percent of those currently on the federal death row are African American. And even though only three people have been executed under the federal death penalty in the modern era, two of them have been racial minorities.Furthermore, all six of the next scheduled executions are African Americans.

The U. S. Department of Justice’s own figures reveal that between 2001 and 2006, 48 percent of defendants in federal cases in which the death penalty was sought were African Americans… the biggest argument against the death penalty is that it is handed out in a biased, racially disparate manner. ” – National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) “The American Medical Association’s policy is clear and unambiguous…

requiring physicians to participate in executions violates their oath to protect lives and erodes public confidence in the medical profession.A physician is a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life…

The use of a physician’s clinical skill and judgment for purposes other than promoting an individual’s health and welfare undermines a basic ethical foundation of medicine — first, do no harm. The guidelines in the AMA Code of Medical Ethics address physician participation in executions involving lethal injection. The ethical opinion explicitly prohibits selecting injection sites for executions by lethal injection, starting intravenous lines, prescribing, administering, or supervising the use of lethal drugs, monitoring vital signs, on site or remotely, and declaring death. ” – American Medical Association (AMA)


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