An Eye For an Eye
The punishment for especially heinous crimes has always been death. A Christian proverb says, “An eye for an eye.” In early civilization, the guilty were killed with crude weapons, or stoned. Then were firing squads, and gallows. We consider these deaths justified because we have evolved into civilized murderers. In America, “…the death penalty was usually reserved for kidnapping, armed robbery, murder, and treason. Methods have included hanging, firing squad, the gas chamber, and the electric chair” (Wilmore 2). Today’s weapons of choice are electrocution and lethal injections. However, in order to consider ourselves a “civilized” society, the death penalty should be banned. Though I concede that some crimes deserve very harsh punishments, I still insist that all human life has value and taking that life corrupts the justice system.
Would it be right to reprimand a child for stealing while you stand with a backpack full of stolen products? In the same light, is it right to create laws making it illegal to take a life, yet take a life on the ground that it is “the right thing to do”? The answer is simple: a life is a life and every life deserves a certain degree of respect, no matter what acts the person has committed.
Without the justice system of laws and punishment, society would be chaos, perhaps even nonexistent. People commit crimes, a jury of peers tries them, and then they receive a sentence to fit the crime. However, there should be a limit to the penalties the law can assign. For a man guilty of murder, is life without chance of parole not enough? What about a double or triple life sentence? There are ways to ensure that a person who is a danger to his peers will never have a chance to bring harm to society. No good can come from taking his life. His death will be the reason for the tears of another mother, wife, or child. In addition to the other horrors of lethal injections, real doctors do not perform the injections.
The Founding Fathers made an effort to put a limit on punishment into the Constitution. In the Eighth Amendment, they mandated that there be no “...cruel or unusual punishment.” (Constitution). It is extremely immoral to take a human life. The circumstance of the punishment does not give “justice” the right to kill another human being. A life is a life, no matter what, and it is always precious. What gives a judge or jury the power to take that away from anyone?
While the public may believe that it is considerably less expensive to give the death penalty rather than life without parole, they are mistaken. In more than one situation, an appeal in a capital case has cost more than the amount required for life with no chance of parole. Duke University conducted a study in 1993 and found that on average, the cost of the death penalty is $2.16 million more than life in prison (Zimring 4). In other words, it would cost the nation much less to give a guilty person life with no chance of parole than it would to give the same person the death penalty and then proceed through the appeals.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court has finally placed limits on the people eligible for the death penalty. In several cases brought before the nine Supreme Court justices, it has been ruled that juveniles and (in some cases) the mentally ill are exempt from the death penalty. Countless times, the investigators reopened cases after the conviction and execution of the original suspect. The investigators must have been stunned to find that the original suspect was innocent. The real perpetrators remained free while the innocent men died in prison. However, it has been said, “…let us pause and say a prayer for ‘the 600,000 innocent [people] who have been brutally murdered across America in the time that 1,000 killers have faced justice’…” (“In the Hot Seat” 2). Maybe a small sacrifice is necessary to prevent even more murders.
The particularly horrific crimes crate a “gray area” to people who oppose the death penalty. While supporters of the penalty believe in order for justice to be given to the victims of crimes, the predator must be killed. Some opposers would argue that this is not enough; some would argue that life behind bars is more difficult than an “easy way out”. Yet other opposers of the penalty believe that life behind bars is a better option than a death sentence becausethey value human life. These people desire for all people to be treated with respect, despite the disgusting acts committed by some people on death row. Some of the convicted murderers may deserve death in the eyes of the public. But in the end, is it fair to sentence another man to death? Is it fair to outlaw murder, only to turn around and murder murderers? The death penalty is an atrocity in the American justice system, and should be banned.
Supporters of the death penalty reason that capital punishment saves money for the nation by clearing the prisons of some long-term inmates. By removing these people, the costs of feeding and providing the salaries of prison officials, taxes are lowered. America would be pleased with lower taxes, especially in the recession. John McAdams said, “If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers and in doing so would have in fact have deterred other murderers, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former” (“In the Hot Seat” 2). Basically, the death penalty will either deter crime or kill murderers.
People who support the death penalty usually argue that it discourages crime, imprisons criminals, and allows justice for serious crimes (Bedau 1). Supporters of the penalty also argue that anyone who would take a human life once would also take a human life twice, even three times. The public is protected if these criminals are taken off the streets. This argument is the most logical. With fewer criminals on the streets, and the death penalty in effect, the crime rate will be lower. However, “statistics and history, in fact, show that just the opposite is true; when the death penalty is used, it tends to brutalize society, not make our lives any safer” (Bessler 2).
Still more people argue that capital punishment allows the government to ration money to other programs. These other programs, such as welfare nursing homes, and other forms of financial aid, can be considered more vital to society. With the death penalty legalized, the country can take better care of the elderly, the needy, and the ill. If it were banned, thegovernment would need to select where to spend money. These choices couldgreatly influence the next generation of people living in nursing homes andsupported by the government’s money. Defenders of capital punishment also point out the fact that when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, the deathpenalty was a common punishment for crimes (Eddlem 3). Since the Founding Fathers used this form of punishment, it must be constitutional.
The problem with these arguments is that they are flawed. Firstly, it costs a great deal of money to provide a legal team for a defendant in a capital case. Often, the price of life behind bars is considerably less than the cost of the appeals for a capital case. It costs approximately $800,000 to keep an inmate on death row (Dicks 1). Secondly, it is in the nature of humanity to commit crimes. Be it a crime of opportunity or an intentional and methodical, crime has always been around and it will always be around. Killing criminals will not rid the world of crime. The world will never be rid of crime, because there will always be evil people. Lastly, the government would still need to choose where to spend money even if death sentences were illegal. Why is there a need to kill when there are other options?
While maintaining my opposition, I understand why capital punishment has countless supporters. Exterminating ruthless and hopeless criminals provides more oppurtunites for the government to help the elderly, the weak, and the needy. The death penalty is harmful to American society because it shows people, especially youth, that killing those who commit crimes will rid America of all its crime problems (Bessler 2). It opens up space in prisons for other short-term or long-term inmates. However, no argument is perfect, and the supporters of the death penalty are no exception. Supporters seem to think that killing a relatively small amount of dangerous criminals will greatly lower the rates of violent crime. Theoretically, the crime rate is lowered just the same as long as the same criminals are off the street, dead or alive. The death penalty has been a controversial issue in America for decades, and I believe it will remain so for decades to come.