Is the Death Penalty “Humane”

What’s the first thing that pops up in your mind when you hear the words Capital Punishment? I’m assuming for most people the first thing that pops up is a criminal sitting on a chair, with all limbs tied down, and some type of mechanism connected to their head. Even though this really isn’t the way that it is done, I do not blame people for imagining that type of image because that is how movies usually portray capital punishment. As of recently, the U.S has imposed the death penalty very minimally.

The death penalty is something that is only done if the person who is being tried committed a crime that is very illegal. “Data tracking the final dispositions of cases in which Pennsylvania prosecutors had provided notice of intent to seek the death penalty showed that between 2011 and 2017, 98.7% of the 225 cases in which Philadelphia prosecutors had sought the death penalty ended with a non-capital outcome.”(1) This quote explains how Pennsylvania prosecutors sought the death penalty in the final dispositions of their cases but lost. The death penalty was given to 1.3% of the 225 cases in Pennsylvania. I think that it’s good that the death penalty was only given to that many people.

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Different people might interpret these numbers differently. Some people might think that it is good that these prosecutors are being denied of the death penalty because it seems like they are just throwing that option out without actually considering what exactly they are asking for. I feel like a lot of the times the prosecutor who is suggesting the death penalty only is doing so because he or she thinks that it is right. I think that judges really do a good job with only having to assign the death penalty to a few people out of hundreds. “Death sentences imposed in Philadelphia peaked in the first term of District Attorney Ronald Castille’s administration in 1986-1989, when an average of 11.25 death sentences per year were imposed.”(1) Back then people didn’t really care that they were killing people as punishment. As you can see from this quote, the death penalty average was quite high. Things have changed obviously changed since then. Now we hardly hear of someone who is on death row.

Times have definitely changed since then, we no longer have hundreds of inmates on death row. In 2001 we had the most African American inmates on death row than any other country in the world. “Since then, death sentencing rates have plummeted, falling to 1.5 per year in 2006-2009, the final term of District Attorney Lynn Abraham’s administration, and to fewer than one a year this decade, during the administration of Seth Williams.”(1) This shows just how drastically our ideas and views on the death sentence changed. In 1989 we had an average of 11.25 death sentences per year but only twelve years later we have reduced that average to 1.5 per year death sentences per year. I think that this change is for the best because you do not have to kill a criminal to make them face the consequences in my opinion.

Others might have different opinions on the death penalty. Some might weigh out the pros and cons to taking someone’s life as a consequence to their actions. And some people might ask the question “Should the death penalty be allowed?”. Let’s assess this question by laying out some pros and cons. “In our experience, most survivors want ‘justice’ for the murderers of their family members. Repealing the death penalty will not heal these people’s’ wounds; it keeps them permanently open…”(2) This quote is a pro that explains how some people think the death penalty should not be repealed because mourning families want justice for their family members murderer. I think that this is a good argument for why the death penalty should not be repealed but there can also be a good argument on how we should not sentence murderers to the death penalty.

Other types of people who would not exactly agree with the quote above would definitely agree with the following. “The death penalty has no deterrent effect. Claims that each execution deters a certain number of murders have been thoroughly discredited by social science research…”(2) The argument here is that we are basically doing what the criminals do to their victims. The penalty for rape should not be rape, the penalty for arsin should not be burning the home of the criminal, so why should the penalty for murder be murder? A lot of people stand by this and simply want the death penalty to be repealed. Honestly, I see where they’re coming from and I do not think that all murderers should be placed on death row. But, I do think that if there is a criminal who has murdered multiple innocent people for no reason then that criminal should be sentenced to the death penalty.

Now we know the average amount of people that are sentenced to death row every year and we also know how different people may feel about capital punishment, but we do not exactly know how it is done. The way it was done a long time ago was questionably inhumane in my opinion. There used to be public hangings where the town would all meet up and watch the criminal who was sentenced to capital punishment die. Another method of capital punishment that I find quite brutal is electrocution. To electrocute the criminal they would strap them down to a chair and fasten electrodes to the head and left ankle. Now we use something called lethal injection. “In Baze v. Rees, 553. U.S 35 (2008), the Supreme Court held that the lethal injection does not constitute a cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court in Baze also applied an “objectively intolerable”(3) test to determine if the method of execution violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.” This quote explains how the Supreme Court said that lethal injection was not a “cruel and unusual punishment” and they also applied a test to see if lethal injection violates the eighth Amendments ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

Lethal injection is the most common way to kill a criminal who was sentenced to the death penalty in the U.S. “32 states plus the US government use lethal injection as their primary method. Some states utilizing lethal injection have other methods available as backups.”(4) This quote explains how 32 states in the U.S use lethal injection to kill criminal sentenced to the death penalty. It also states how some U.S states have other methods to use as backups if the lethal injection does not fully kill the criminal. The states that have other methods as backups are Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

I think the last thing that needs to be talked about is one question that some people may ask. Is the death penalty “humane”? Some may argue that the lethal injection is not humane and some of the procedures have been botched. “Lethal injection can cause excruciating pain… Some executions have lasted between 20 minutes to over an hour and prisoners have been seen gasping for air, grimacing and convulsing during executions. Autopsies have shown severe, foot long chemical burns to the skin and needles have been found in soft tissue.”(5) This sounds very brutal in my opinion but I do not think it is as brutal as the electrocution method. The way they botched this procedure is by not giving the prisoner enough of the lethal injection. This causes the injection to slowly go through the veins and kill the prisoner slowly and painfully. When the lethal injection is done right the prisoner is still in some pain and discomfort but the prison would die rather quick. This quote also shows the carelessness of the person responsible for giving the lethal injection because as the quote states, needles have been found in the soft tissue of the prisoner.

I think the real question is, “Is any of this humane?” Is killing another human being considered humane? It doesn’t matter how someone kills a human being, that human is still a person being stripped of their life. If a murderer killed dozens of people in a mass shooting then i think that it would be acceptable to sentence him/her to the death penalty. I do not think it is necessary to sentence someone who killed one person to the death penalty. I think in that case the murderer should be sentenced to life in prison without parole. In conclusion, I think that a person should not be sentenced to the death penalty if it is not necessary. If that person can just face life in prison instead, than why not strip them of their freedom instead of their life?

Works Cited

  1. “What’s New.” Millions Misspent: What Politicians Don’t Say About the High Costs of the Death Penalty | Death Penalty Information Center, deathpenaltyinfo.org/.
  2. “Death Penalty ProCon.org.” Should the Death Penalty Be Allowed?, deathpenalty.procon.org/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_Muo3_re3gIVCwBpCh3QIQbuEAAYAiAAEgKhjvD_BwE.
  3. LII Staff. “Death Penalty.” LII / Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 2 Sept. 2018, www.law.cornell.edu/wex/death_penalty.
  4. State Court Web Sites | National Center for State Courts, 30 May 2012, www.ncsc.org/Topics/Criminal/Capital-Punishment/Resource-Guide.aspx.
  5. “Lethal Injection – Amnesty International USA.” Amnesty International USA, www.amnestyusa.org/issues/death-penalty/lethal-injection/.
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