Death Penalty Is a Subject Term Paper

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The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that people convicted of crimes should not be subject to excessive bail or fines, and that authorities may not inflict 'cruel and unusual punishments' (Eighth Pp). Ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, this amendment has been cited as an argument against capital punishment (Eighth Pp). In the 1972 United States Supreme Court case 'Furman vs. Georgia, three men who were sentenced to death argued that the death penalty violated their Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and the Court ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual in this case because it was not applied fairly or objectively (Eighth Pp). This decision affected six hundred people already on death row and since then, several states have adoped new laws to prevent arbitrary use of the death penalty (Eighth Pp).

In 2002 United States District Judge Jed Rakoff ruled that the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act had created a system that "is tantamount to foreseeable, state-sponsored murder of innocent human beings" (Bowles Pp). Rakoff said that too many innocent people have been executed in state-court jurisdictions around the country (Bowles Pp). Rakoff, believed to be the first federal judge to rule the law unconstitutional, said that recent studies of death penalty cases in state court indicate that "innocent people are sentenced to death with materially greater frequency than was previously supposed...Convincing proof of their innocence often does not emerge until long after their convictions" (Bowles Pp). Defense attorney Gerald Shargel hailed the ruling as "enormously bold but obviously correct" and added that it had been learned "with disturbing frequency that innocent people have faced execution" (Bowles Pp). "Rakoff found that evidence often collected decades after the crime, including DNA, exonerated dozens of individuals who otherwise would have
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been executed" (Bowles Pp). Under the Federal Death Penalty Act, capital punishment is permitted in cases "involving murder to benefit a drug-dealing conspiracy, murder of a witness, murder in aid of racketeering and terrorist murder" (Bowles Pp).

As of mid-2002, 76 countries had entirely abolished the death penalty, including the members of the European Union, while several other countries retained capital punishment only for treason and war crimes (Capital Pp).

Many countries in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia are among those who retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes, while the United States and China are believed to impose capital punishment most frequently (Capital Pp). Today, thirty-eight states and the federal government have reinstituted the death penalty (Capital Pp).

Numerous studies have shown disparities in the practice of capital punishment, such as the fact that it is most likely to be used if the victim is white and the defendant is black, while it is least likely imposed if both victim and defendant are black (Capital Pp). The use of DNA fingerprinting to exonerate persons falsely convicted of rape and other crimes also has led to for the reexamination of the use of an ultimately irreversible sentence (Capital Pp). In 2002, Illinois governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of all the state's death row inmates, saying that conviction errors and unfair imposition make capital punishment "arbitrary and capricious" (Capital Pp).

Works Cited

Van den Haag, Ernest. "The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense." Copyright

1986 Harvard Law Review Association

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/procon/haagarticle.html

Greenberg, Jack. "Against the American System of Capital Punishment."

1986 Harvard Law Review Association

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/procon/greenbergarticle.html

Eighth Amendment. The Hutchinson Dictionary of World History; 1/1/2002; Pp.

Bowles, Pete. "Strike at Death Penalty / Judge, citing wrongful executions, rules it unconstitutional." Newsday; 7/2/2002; Pp.

Capital punishment. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition; 4/22/2004; Pp.

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Van den Haag, Ernest. "The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense." Copyright

1986 Harvard Law Review Association

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/procon/haagarticle.html

Greenberg, Jack. "Against the American System of Capital Punishment."

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