Criminal Justice: The Death Penalty Reasons For Capstone Project


Criminal Justice: The Death Penalty Reasons for topic selection

Causes of racial prejudice and discrimination

Juvenile in delinquent society theory

Culture and values

Official and unofficial values

The effectiveness of the death penalty

The death penalty is irreversible

The death penalty is barbaric

Changes to the death sentence

Implemented changes

Sentencing guidelines

Bifurcated trials

Automatic appellate conviction review

Proportionality review

The importance of proposed changes

Anticipated outcome

Life imprisonment; alternative to death sentences

The costs

Decency standards

Overall efficiency

Policies in support of incarceration




Despite the controversy over how effective it is as a deterrent to criminal acts regarded serious, capital punishment is still actively used in the United States (Amnesty USA, 2014). In fact, the United States is one of four countries that still execute people under the age of eighteen, despite the fact that international law prohibits this (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). It is important to note that in essence, the death sentence could take one of five lawful forms; firing squad, gas chamber, lethal injection, hanging and electrocution (The Legal Dictionary, 2014).

The death sentence was first inflicted in Jamestown colony in the seventeenth century; in 1608 to be precise. 162 executions are documented to have take place during 18th century revolutionary war, at the end of which all the eleven colonies drew up new constitutions authorizing capital punishment (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). The first significant capital punishment-related legislation was enacted by Congress in 1790, requiring the implementation of capital punishment for crimes including but not limited to public security, forgery, murder, rape and robbery (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). This triggered a sharp rise in capital punishment utilization; a record 1,391 executions were documented in the subsequent 19th century (the Legal Dictionary, 2014).

Midway into the 20th century, concerns were raised that the sentence was being applied in a racially discriminatory manner, forcing the Supreme Court to place a national Moratorium on capital punishment as it evaluated its constitutionality (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). The Supreme Court, in 1972, delivered the landmark ruling that was thought to have brought to an end capital punishment in the U.S., in the famous Furman Vs Georgia case (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). The death sentence was declared unconstitutional, unusual and cruel punishment because jurors were applying it capriciously and arbitrarily (the Legal Dictionary, 2014).

The relief was short-lived; within four years, the states of Texas, Florida and Georgia had formulated new laws with regard to the death penalty, which were upheld by seven of the nine Supreme Court judges (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). This marked the conception of the modern death sentence regime; "death sentence had survived, and so had the controversies surrounding it" (the Legal Dictionary, 2014).

The acceptance of the death sentence as a constitutional form of punishment did not, however, convince its critics of its fairness. Opponents of the death sentence opine that it is not only cruel and unusual, but also wrong, lacking of a deterrent effect, and open to racial discrimination (the Legal Dictionary, 2014).

1.2 Reasons for Selecting this Topic

The issue of capital punishment gives rise to a variety of moral issues and opinions. Some feel that "an-eye-for-an-eye" is the best way through which justice can be realized, but others think capital punishment is cruel and should be replaced with a more humane system (Beck, Britto & Andrews, 2007). Whereas it may seem reasonable to punish a murderer with death, it would be prudent to also consider the damage that extends to his family, relatives, associates, to mention but a few (Beck, et al., 2007). The death sentence's horror is compounded by years of waiting (Beck, et al., 2007). During this period, inmates on the death row are confined in isolated cells for approximately twenty three hours each day, almost totally prevented from interacting with the rest of the community (Beck, et al., 2007). Moreover, the family of such an inmate faces irreparable damage brought about by their connectedness to crime and referred guilt (Beck, et al., 2007).

The costs that accrue to the U.S. taxpayer as a result of capital punishment cannot be overlooked. It is possible that, thanks to a death sentence, a murderer would get what he deserves - but does the taxpayer who finances the process get value for his money (the Legal Dictionary, 2014)? Ted Bundy, for instance, was executed by the state of Florida in 1989, following his confession to twenty-eight counts of murder within and without the state. Bundy had, however, spent nine years in waiting; an execution that cost the taxpayer five million dollars (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). This incorporates the purchase of the inmate's burial attire and associated expenses, the last meal, and...


These costs are further inflated by the complex appeal system that was put in place to resolve the constitutionality of issues that had been raised by the Furman case.
1.3 Problem Statement

Racial prejudice and discrimination can be considered the most significant criticism to capital punishment. This is that white criminal defendants are less likely to receive death sentences, compared to their black counterparts (McGarell & Sandy's, 2008). A perfect example is the 1981 conviction and death sentencing of Clarence Brandley, a black janitor accused of raping and murdering a white schoolgirl - where a police officer argued that Clarence must have committed the crime, simply because he was black. Moreover, the presiding judge, Judge Pickett, stated that "the conclusion is inescapable that the investigation was not concluded to solve the crime, but to convict Brandley" (Goldman, 1998).

A 2010 publication by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Deborah Fins revealed that as at the beginning of that year, 1,888 executions had been made since the 1976 capital punishment re-acceptance, and 3,261 more were still in waiting. 41% of these were black, and 44% white (Morgan, 2008). On average, the murder victim percentage during this period consisted of 49% whites and an equal percentage of blacks (FBI, 2009). In 2009 alone, the victim percentage comprised of 51% whites and 47% blacks (FBI, 2009). The 2008 census revealed that whites made up approximately 72% of the U.S. population, while blacks constituted 12%. Naturally, the death row and victim racial composition would mirror that of the population; it is obvious that this is not the case.

Stemming from these issues are the four research questions for this project;

i) What are the possible causes of racial prejudice in capital cases?

ii) What is the overall efficacy of capital punishment as a tool for crime prevention?

iii) What pending legal instruments are likely to affect the field of capital punishment?

iv) What is the anticipated impact of these pending policies?

1.4 Objectives and Purpose

The objective of this work is to investigate:

i) The possible causes of racial prejudice in capital cases.

ii) The overall efficacy of capital punishment as a tool for crime prevention.

iii) The pending legal instruments likely to affect the field of capital punishment.

iv) The anticipated impact of these policies.

So as to allow for the exploration of the objectives mentioned, this study adopts the hypotheses identified below:

Possible causes of racial prejudice in capital cases

H1. There is a strong relationship between societal and cultural values, and racial prejudice.

The overall efficacy of capital punishment

H2. Capital punishment does little to deter crime.

The pending legal instruments likely to affect capital punishment

H3. Bills, amendments and proposals seeking to either repeal or make changes in the administration of the death penalty

The anticipated impact of these legal instruments

H5. All states will abolish the death penalty from their legal systems.

The purpose of this research is to;

1. Understand the reasons for the prevalence of racial prejudice within the legal system.

2. Show the overall ineffectiveness of capital punishment, and why it ought to be abolished.

The limitations encountered in the conduction of this study include:

1. Lack of sufficient literature on the causes of, and prevalence of racial prejudice.

2. Lack of cooperation from senior judges and police officers.

2 Discussion

2.0 Introduction

This chapter explores the literature review of the research study, and will discuss in detail the possible causes of racial prejudice, the effectiveness of the death penalty and ongoing capital punishment-related legal instruments.

2.1 Racial Prejudice and Discrimination (The Death Penalty is Unfair)

According to a 1983 study by Prof. David Baldus of the faculty of law in the University of Iowa, "between 1973 and 1979, killers whose victims were white were 11 times more likely to be sentenced to death than were killers whose victims were black" (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). Warren McClesky, an inmate on the death row at the time, used Baldus' study results in an appeal in the case of McClesky vs. Kemp. The court found the study valid, but rejected the statistics therein on the grounds that they did not sufficiently demonstrate capriciousness, arbitrariness and irrationality, and hence were not proof enough of unconstitutional discrimination (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). Justice Powell, Jr., whose vote denied McClesky freedom, has since confessed to regretting his decision (the Legal Dictionary, 2014).

The Equal Justice Initiative, in 2012, released a statistical publication terming the death penalty administration in the U.S. As one "highly permeated with racial bias." Despite the fact that black victims were involved in approximately 65% of all documented murders in 2012, 80% of inmates on the death…

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