Saturday, March 17, 2012

Law & Society: Is the Death Penalty good, or even necessary?

In this latest installment of Law and Society, in which I have a chance to explore and ponder my response to some of the issues we face today, in the form of a law class homework response, one of the questions I received was this: Is the Death Penalty good, or even necessary? The following is my response to this question, and hopefully, it will cause some questions or debates to go off inside your head. Enjoy.

Question: Is the Death Penalty good, or even necessary? 

Response: The use and effect of the Death Penalty has been debated ever since it has been used, in essence, form the beginning of time. However, as time progressed, opposition against the death penalty has grown, and today, there is huge debate whether to continue applying the penalty or to abolish it. Most states today have abolished the death penalty, or have not applied it to use in along time. New York State, for example, has outlawed the death penalty since 2005. Some states continue to allow the active use of the death penalty, and some take their relaxed restrictions to the extremes (see Texas). Globally, the United States is part of shrinking group of countries that actively uses the death penalty, and the countries we share company with in that group are the complete opposites of us, such as Iran, North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Belarus and Indonesia, to name a few, and almost all have serious human rights violations. 

The Death Penalty is an unnecessary, barbaric, and unjust way to punish crime and their results. As Justice William Brennan stated in his concurring opinion in the case Furman v. Georgia
Death is truly an awesome punishment. The calculated killing of a human being by the State involves, by its very nature, a denial of the executed person's humanity. The contrast with the plight of a person punished by imprisonment is evident. An individual in prison does not lose "the right to have rights." A prisoner retains, for example, the constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion, to be free of cruel and unusual punishments, and to treatment as a "person" for purposes of due process of law and the equal protection of the laws. A prisoner remains a member of the human family. Moreover, he retains the right of access to the courts. His punishment is not irrevocable. Apart from the common charge, grounded upon the recognition of human fallibility, that the punishment of death must inevitably be inflicted upon innocent men, we know that death has been the lot of men whose convictions were unconstitutionally secured….the punishment itself may have been unconstitutionally inflicted….yet the finality of death precludes relief. An executed person has indeed "lost the right to have rights." As one 19th century proponent of punishing criminals by death declared, "When a man is hung, there is an end of our relations with him. His execution is a way of saying, `You are not fit for this world, take your chance elsewhere.'” 
In essence, while death is an extreme punishment, the very notion of the state planning the death of one person is virtually denying their humanity. And the death penalty isn’t applied equally. A study known as the Baldus Study has shown that minorities who have committed a violent crime and face the death penalty have a bigger chance of being punished with death the white and Caucasians criminals do. It also discovered that minorities who were accused of killing a white person also had a great chance of receiving the death penalty then did a white person who was accused of killing a minority. As Justice William Murphy said, 
“Only by zealously guarding the rights of the most humble, the most unorthodox and the most despised among us can freedom flourish and endure in our land....” 
Death as a punishment does not guard our freedoms- it revokes them from us, and we need to protect our rights, even if it means guarding the rights of the most violent criminals. And the death penalty doesn’t address the root cause of crime in the first place- most criminals come from poor, broken families, and killing the guy doesn't pull the person out of poverty. When people are poor, they will do anything to get out, and some will resort to crime. Instead of executing, we need to help those families who are poor and need assistance, to help receive a good upbringing, with a quality education, without the stigma of being poor. And the death penalty doesn’t do that. It doesn't solve anything- if one guy is executed, another will be there to take his place. It is barbaric, inhuman, and it is cruel and unusual punishment for any crime, even for murder. I therefore respectfully dissent against the use of the death penalty, and in favor of repealing it as a method of punishment.     

Law and Society: This the second in a series of articles in which we explore the effects of law on society, and the effects of society on the law.