However, the reasons why people commit crime are as different as the individuals themselves. Intentional murder comes in two different flavors. The first is the carefully plotted, well thought out, planned act. In this scenario, motivational theory takes over. The person must feel that they will gain some type of value from the action. It may be that they gain something, such as money, or they may feel that eliminating a person will offer them some type of protection. In any case, the person justifies their actions through a perceived reward in the future (Horisch and Strassmair).
In the case of an intentional murder, the death penalty may deter the action. However, several conditions must be met for the fear of death to act as a deterrent. The person must feel that there is a significant possibility that they will be caught and punished for their crimes. In many cases, they have thought out a plan that they feel will work and result in them escaping punishment. The person must also feel that the punishment is an immediate threat. Criminal minds tend to have a feeling of superiority and do not feel that they will ever be caught or face the death penalty. Therefore, the death penalty is not a crime deterrent in this case.
The other flavor of capital crime is the crime of passion. This is the type of murder that occurs when a person is suddenly angry or frightened. In this case, reasoning does not happen. They do not consider the consequences; they are only concerned with what is happening in the moment. In cases of crimes of passion, the death penalty does not act as a deterrent because the possibility of being caught does not even enter their mind. As one can see, using the death deterrent as a means of curb crime fails in numerous ways.
Thus far, we have examined the topic of the death penalty and the flaws within the system that make it an ineffective means of crime deterrence. The system is laden with injustices and inequalities. Yet, capital punishment continues to be an institution in the United States. One final point in this argument considers the acts involved in the administration of a person's sentence.
Since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, persons have been executed by firing squad (2), hanging (3), gas chamber (11), electrocution (155), and lethal injection (980). Of those methods, lethal injection is promoted as the most "humane" method of execution in the United States. The eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted" (Religious Tolerance). The problem with this amendment lies in defining the terms "excessive fines" and "cruel and unusual punishment." In Wilkerson v. Utah 99 U.S. 130, 135 the court ruled that methods such as drawing and quartering, emboweling alive, beheading, public dissecting, and burning alive all constitute unnecessary cruelty (Religious Tolerance). Most would agree that these practices went out with the Spanish Inquisition. However, we must ask if the methods that we use today are any less cruel than those of our ancestors.
To date, no actual studies exist that examine humane methods of executing a human being. However, the USDA does have laws in place to protect animals being slaughtered for food at the time of their death. Under the 1958 Human Slaughter Act, animals to be slaughtered for food should be stunned into unconsciousness prior to their slaughter to provide a quick and relatively painless death (USDA). This act even outlines criteria that must be met for the animal to be considered fully unconscious.
The only method of executing the death penalty for a human being is lethal injection where the person is anesthetized first. It is against the law to slaughter animals using the other methods used for carrying out the death penalty. This must lead us to the logical question of how we view our fellow humans. Are we less than animals?
Thus far, we have examined the topic of capital punishment from the lens of flaws within the system. In summary, the death penalty was found to have significant flaws in the equitability of administration. Racial biases were found to permeate the system. The number of cases of wrongful execution is shocking, yet little has been done to make certain that these cases do not occur. It is as if we, as a society, are willing to turn a blind eye, unless something directly involves someone that we know, or ourselves.
The argument that capital punishment serves as a deterrent to crime fails miserably on all account. In a recent survey, police chiefs ranked the death penalty as last in its ability to deter violent crimes (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 4). The death penalty is a costly endeavor. In Texas, it costs three times as much to execute a person for their crimes as to imprison them for the next 40 years of their life (Death Penalty Information Center, p. 4).
In conclusion, the arguments presented here support the position that the death penalty is an archaic practice whose time has passed. It does not serve the purpose for which it was intended. It costs taxpayers more money than other, more effective means of crime deterrence. It targets certain segments of the population unfairly. Even animals are treated more humanely at the time of death than their human counterparts, some of which are being murdered by the state for crimes that they did not even commit. These arguments provide strong evidence that the death penalty should be abolished altogether in the United States, in lieu of more humane and more effective means of crime prevention.
Amnesty International. Death Penalty. 2008. www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/page.do?id=1011005).
Death Penalty Information Center. Facts About the Death Penalty. March 1, 2009. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/FactSheet.pdf (Accessed March 10, 2009). (Gumbel, a. The Innocence Project: Guilty Until Proven Innocent. Common Dreams My 4, 2006). http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0504-09.htm (Accessed March 10, 2009).
Horisch, H. And Strassmair, C. An experimental test of the deterrence hypothesis. Discussion Papers in Economics. February 27, 2008. University of Munich. http://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/2139/2/crime_Munich_DP.pdf (Accessed March 10, 2009).
Radelet, M., Bedau, H., and Putnam, C. In Spite of Innocence: Erroneous Convictions in Capital Cases. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992, and Bedau and Radelet, "Miscarriages of Justice in Potentially Capital Cases." Stanford Law Review 40 (1987): 21-179)
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Religious Tolerance. Does execution by lethal injection violate the U.S. Constitution?
http://www.religioustolerance.org/executm.htm (Accessed March 10, 2009).