Death Penalty Annotated Bibliography Annotated Bibliography

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Death Penalty+ Annotated Bibliography

It has been theorized and even proven that many laws that are in place in America are the product of JudeoChristian religious beliefs, practices and writings, that have over the years been toned down to better meet the needs and standards of the U.S. society. There is a clear sense that some penalties for breaking the law have little if any effect on crime committed in the future, i.e. act as deterrents to crime and penalties for crime range from paying small fines to capital punishment. Opponents of capital punishment have always claimed that it does not deter crime while proponents have claimed that it does. Opponents have also claimed that the death penalty is a violation of the 8th amendment, cruel and unusual punishment and that it does not belong in any civilized society. Proponents on the other hand state that it is important to retain the death penalty for the crime of murder as this crime should be answered with death of the convicted. The debate over capital punishment will likely rage on for a very long time, as there seems to be no end to the evidence and theory surrounding it, but it is time for this nation to accelerate the debate and come to terms with the fact that it is the only western democratic nation that retains the death penalty and that if it is going to continue it needs to more clearly know why.

Remaining in this millennium are scant arguments in favor of capital punishment. The only one that in fact comes to mind is an old adage that argues that the only punishment for the taking of a life or lives is the taking of the life of the individual who knowingly took the life of another. While, on the other hand arguments against capital punishment seem to multiply as the years go by. The least fitting but still timely of those arguments is that the United States is the last Democratic developed nation in the world that still employs capital punishment. Nearly all of the international human rights organizations, many of whom the U.S. is an active, sometimes founding but influential member boast rhetoric that places capital punishment in high disdain, with goals of eradicating it in all the nations of the world. (Joyce, 1961, p. 196) The remaining arguments are grounded and logical. Capital punishment is not a deterrent (and in fact may encourage certain acts). Capital punishment is costly, with regard to legal costs of the state to employ and utilize all appeals options for any individual who has been sentenced to death. Zimring, the author of a book that explores the seemed contradiction of the U.S. acceptance of the death penalty suggests that reasons for the "process" associated with the death penalty and all its appeals is reconciliation for the fact that it is still accepted and legal, a sort of, if we are going to do it we are going to make sure to do it in the most ethical way possible sort of argument. (2003, p.89-118) Capital punishment is employed disproportionately among the races, and those of low socioeconomic status, just as incarceration in general is and lastly capital punishment, (Joyce, 1961, p. 152) by almost any definition constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Capital punishment does not in most case provide resolution for families and individuals who have lost a member or a loved one to murder.

To fully explore the arguments in favor of capital punishment is difficult, as the proponents of the practice often fall back on the biblical, retribution-based idea that one should take an eye for an eye, even though such arguments no longer hold weight in any other area. We no longer feel it appropriate in the modern era to take the hand of a thief, castrate a rapist or any other similar options and yet the death penalty remains as an eye for an eye ideological action. It is also clear that very few of these proponents have witnessed the execution of an individual or had cause to be involved, in any way, in a death penalty case. It also must be said that it is unlikely that many of these proponents have any real understanding of the fundamental detractions associated with the death penalty, not the least of which is the fact that it is
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likely a non-deterrent. One could also argue with regard to deterrence that even in some cases, such as cases of death by cop, where individuals lead police officers into situations where they are obligated to shoot them could occur in a death penalty situation as well. There have been murderers on death row who have demanded the death penalty and refused to file appeals because the goal of their crimes was to be their own death and they did not expect it to take so long. In fact this is a phenomena that represents 1 in 10 death row inmates. "Since capital punishment was reinstated in the U.S. In 1976 after almost a decade, 130 inmates have "volunteered" to be executed before exhausting all appeal rights. This represents one in 10 of the more than 1,100 executed in the U.S. In this period. Five of the 14 states which resumed executions after 1977 - Connecticut, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania - have yet to execute a "non-volunteer." (Carter, 2008) It is also important to note that even those who "volunteer" to be executed before appeals are exhausted must first prove to a judge that they are competent to wave their appeals. (Carter, 2008)

Amnesty International indicates that 111 nations have abolished the death penalty either as a matter of formal law or actual practice. According to Amnesty International, 84 nations retain the death penalty. All European nations have abolished capital punishment with the exceptions of Armenia and the Russian Federation, which Amnesty International lists as being abolitionist in practice since 1996. All Latin American nations, except Cuba and Guatemala, have abolished the death penalty either as a matter of formal law or actual practice. South Africa, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are also among the nations that have abolished the death penalty. See Amnesty International, Death Penalty: Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries, at (last visited Mar. 31, 2004). The United States Department of Justice listed 3557 persons under sentence of death in the United States as of 2002. That number had grown from 134 in 1973, the year after the Supreme Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), which overturned all then-existing death sentences. (Cottrol 1641)

Another issue that requires serious thought, debate and discussion is the disproportionate manner in which death sentences and therefore death penalties are handed out in the U.S. According to Tonry's research incarceration rates for blacks were seven times greater than for those of whites in 1991 and these numbers seem to have grown since then. (4) Without the knowledge to do so an individual might assume that the crimes being committed by minorities are more severe than those being committed by whites and they therefore get tougher sentences, and yet the statistics do not show this, instead they show that crimes are roughly the same but inability to defend oneself and internal and external bias creates tougher sentencing for blacks than whites, almost regardless of the crime. (4) These statistics and trends are supported by other researchers. (Mauer, 1999, pp. 7,19) Economics rule the day when it comes to criminal defense and if an individual is unable to pay for an attorney to help defend and deal with the system they are much less likely to be able to reduce sentencing outcomes, regardless of the stated social responsibility of the U.S. To provide council for those who cannot afford it. (Babcock, 2006) The result is then a system that disproportionately applies the highest possible sentence to those who have the least ability to provide for themselves any defense that goes beyond the most limited offered by the state appointed defense attorneys, all of whom are overbooked and all of whom are underpaid. (Clark, 2010, p. 922) The case loads placed on these individuals almost guarantees that individuals who commit crimes will be offered plea deals and be encouraged to take them, as opposed to further taxing the system by trial and litigation fees. (Appleman, 2010) This system does often reduce the odds that an individual will receive the death penalty, as that is usually the bargaining piece associated with a plea deals. In such cases where capital punishment is on the docket, it does nearly guarantee that such options, if available for sentencing in the state in question will be applied when an individual chooses to exercise his or her right to a trial by jury a serious deterrent to defendants using the trial by jury system. "The guilty plea now disposes of approximately ninety-five percent of all criminal indictments -- a sign of its continuing popularity despite some considerable…

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Tonry's book is a detailed and comprehensive look at racial disparity in the U.S. legal system. The work is troubling but based on serious inquiry and serious thought. In the work he discusses how many experts have convened over the years to determine that there is no reason to believe that capital punishment is more of a deterrent to violent crime that life sentences and yet the U.S. government is still alone among all Western nations to retain its legality.

Zimring, F.E. (2003) The contradictions of American capital punishment. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Zimring's book is a fascinating discussion about the history of capital punishment in the U.S. with comprehensive look at the ebb and flow of the laws that entrench it and the many theories and contradictions that are embedded in it. He is also very effective at providing a relatively balanced look at just why in a social, political and legal sense that capital punishment exists today and especially at the manner in which it is applied, including an extensive look at why the appeals process is so vast and strict. His thesis is basically that the process is so "moral" and "ethical" because it is the stop gap effort of the nation to come to terms with why the death penalty is still on the books at all.

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