The Solution to the Death Penalty

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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There has never been a time when the United States of America was free from criminals indulging in killing, stealing, exploiting people, and even selling illegal items. Naturally, America refuses to tolerate the crimes committed by those who view themselves as above the law. Once these convicts are apprehended, they are brought to justice. In the past, these criminals often faced an ultimate punishment: the death penalty. Mercy was a foreign concept due to their underdeveloped understanding of the value of life. Now, in the twenty-first century, needless killing is widely viewed as unsuitable for society. The importance placed on every life, from the affluent to the homeless, is shared. However, the discussion point remains: how equal are the lives of offenders on death row? They exist in a society that assigns value to life, yet they are condemned to death. America is aiming for moral righteousness; however, as a nation that predominantly employs the death penalty, this goal seems elusive. “The death penalty’s stronghold is in the Middle East and North America, where death penalty statutes exist in 90 percent of countries” (Anckar, “Why We Choose”, 10). Capital punishment doesn’t merely affect the convict but also everyone connected to them, including the executor of the punishment. Due to the numerous negative consequences of ending a human life, capital punishment should be entirely abolished in the United States of America.

Research found that the first recorded execution was in North America in 1608, Jamestown. “The first recorded execution in the New Colonies was that of Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown Colony of Virginia in 1608. Kendall was executed for being a spy for Spain” (DPIC, “Facts”). Back in the colonial days, there was only one method of execution, hanging, where the criminal’s neck would have a rope around it, and they would hang on their neck, leading to either a broken neck or strangulation. It is believed that hanging was one of the most brutal ways to die, as it is slower than the methods used today. “Until the 1890s, hanging was the primary method of execution used in the United States. Hanging is still used in Delaware and Washington, although both have lethal injection as an alternative method of execution” (DPIC, “Facts”). As America grew, more execution methods were developed with the intent to ensure the swiftness of death, knowing that hanging rarely killed the prisoners instantly. The state of New York found another way to execute human beings in the late 1880s. This method was hoped to be more considerate of the pain in the process of being executed for the inmates on death row. This method was electrocution. The prisoner would be strapped in many areas of the body. The chest, arms, legs, and groin would be fastened with a leather belt, then a metal cap is attached to their head. The inmate would be blindfolded the entire time, and when the strapping is done, the execution team goes to the observing room. The warden of the prison would signal when a lever is to be pulled, releasing between 500 and 2000 jolts, shocking the inmate for 30 seconds. The doctor would check the body after it has cooled down to ascertain if the inmate is dead or not. If the prisoner is not dead, the process continues until they are. “Seeking a more humane method of execution than hanging, New York built the first electric chair in 1888 and executed William Kemmler in 1890. Soon, other states adopted this execution method. Today, electrocution is not used as the sole method of execution in any state. Electrocution was the sole method in Nebraska until the State Supreme Court ruled the method unconstitutional in February 2008” (DPIC, “Facts”).

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The next method of execution is one that was also used in World War II to execute children and elderly people in concentration camps: the gas chamber. There have been a small number of inmates executed with this method. Some states in America still employ the gas chamber, but not as their primary means of execution – it would be used if the main method of executing people cannot be carried out due to lack of resources. This method could arguably be the least humane way to kill a human being.

The process involves placing the inmate in an airtight chamber, strapped to a chair with sulfuric acid beneath them. A stethoscope is attached to the inmate to enable a doctor to confirm death. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), “For execution by this method, the condemned person is strapped to a chair in an airtight chamber. Below the chair rests a pail of sulfuric acid. A long stethoscope is typically affixed to the inmate so that a doctor outside the chamber can pronounce death. Once everyone has left the chamber, the room is sealed” (DPIC, “Facts”).

Research from this source also reveals that some inmates are reported to scream due to the agonizing pain caused to them. It has also been found that some inmates experience such extreme physiological responses as their eyes bulging. Clifton Duffy, a former warden at San Quentin Penitentiary in California, stated: “At first there is evidence of extreme horror, pain, and strangling. The eyes pop. The skin turns purple and the victim begins to drool” (DPIC, “Facts”).

The next method of execution that was used in the history of the United States was the firing squad. The firing squad included soldiers, a few of them standing in a straight line with rifles. The prisoner would be tied to the post, blindfolded, and unable to move. The prisoner would not know when the soldiers would shoot him dead. This method of execution is rarely used today, but nonetheless, it is still used in the states of Utah and Oklahoma. The last method is the primary method of execution that is used in many states; if they don’t have the resources to use this method, they would resort to the ones previously described. The primary method of execution in every state in the United States is lethal injection. It would involve the prisoner being strapped to a table. The executioners would have what they call a three-drug protocol. The first drug is harmless, which is a saline solution. It would be injected into the prisoner as soon as they were strapped onto the table. The next two drugs would not be injected until the Warden gives the signal to execute the prisoner. When the signal is given, the prisoner would first be injected with the second drug, sodium thiopental. This drug is an anesthetic that puts the prisoner to rest. The following drug is injected soon after, which is pancuronium bromide. This paralyzes the prisoner’s muscles and stops their breathing. The prisoners die from an overdose of anesthetic and cardiac arrest while asleep. “…the inmate is injected with sodium thiopental – an anesthetic, which puts the inmate to sleep. Next flows pavulon or pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the entire muscle system and stops the inmate’s breathing. Finally, the flow of potassium chloride stops the heart. Death results from anesthetic overdose and respiratory and cardiac arrest while the condemned person is unconscious.” (DPIC “Facts”) These methods are believed by the justice system to provide a swift, painless end for the criminals who have committed crimes against the United States. However, some people argue that it does not. The death penalty causes the prisoner to suffer, in every shape and form. It results in mental and physical suffering for the prisoner, and mental suffering for the executioner as they take another person’s life. It also brings suffering to the family, as they watch a loved one be killed. “Death is today an unnaturally severe punishment, unusual in its pain, in its finality, and in its enormity. No other existing punishment is comparable to death in terms of physical and mental suffering.” (“The Death Penalty” 40 – 41)

For a long time, the debate on capital punishment has been argued over and over throughout the 1900s. Both sides present valid points in every category, providing a logical explanation. However, here is why it is important to be against the death penalty in the United States. The first argument pertains to the morality of the death penalty. Advocates of the death penalty argue that it is morally just. They contend that the murderer knew the possible consequences and should therefore face the consequences of their actions. “The death penalty honors human dignity by treating the defendant as a free moral actor able to control his own destiny for good or for ill; it does not treat him as an animal with no moral sense,” (ProCon “Should”). Conversely, opponents of the death penalty argue that no human being should have the power to decide the life or death of another individual, for either ill or justice. They believe that a person’s life is subject to divine judgement. They maintain that no one has the right to take another life, even if they have committed a crime against humanity. “We play a role of God by judging who will die and who will live…” (Dutta, “Kill” 8). Additionally, they argue that a leading and respected religious institution, the Catholic Church, condemns the death penalty. The church opposes the idea of executing human beings in the name of justice. They believe it to be an incorrect method of delivering justice in a society and does not align with American values. “The church teaches that the death penalty should not be used unless there is no other way to protect innocent life in society – a situation that in modern American society is simply unimaginable,” (Recinella “Ending” 14). As stated earlier, the act of killing someone should not be mistaken for justice; it is an unethical act of revenge.

As is widely accepted, the citizens of the United States possess certain rights. These rights provide individuals with autonomy over their lives. These rights were established long ago when the United States was first formed. Those who oppose the death penalty argue that it violates one of our constitutional amendments, specifically the 8th amendment. The 8th amendment states “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Opponents of the death penalty argue that it constitutes an excessive and inhumane form of punishment. Some say it involves swift execution which may inflict pain, and is thus cruel. Capital punishment, they contend, does not treat prisoners as human beings but rather as things to be disposed of. “The fatal constitutional infirmity in the punishment of death is that it treats members of the human race as nonhumans, as objects to be toyed with and discarded,” (ProCon “Death”). Supporters of the death penalty argue that it does not violate the constitution. They believe that capital punishment guarantees swift death and does not inflict unnecessary harm. “Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of objectively intolerable risk of harm,” (ProCon, “Death”).

While the justice system maintains that the execution meted out to prisoners is swift and painless, some dispute this claim. No matter how precise the information is regarding the execution process, one can never truly understand what the prisoner feels during that moment. It may be pain, nothingness, or something else entirely, but one cannot guarantee either way. “Although our information is not conclusive, it appears that there is no method available that guarantees an immediate and painless death. Since the discontinuation of flogging as a constitutionally permissible punishment, death remains the only penalty that may involve the conscious infliction of physical pain” (“The Death Penalty” 42). This implies that death inevitably involves conscious physical pain, and there is no guaranteed method to nullify the pain associated with executing a prisoner.

The next argument concerns the death penalty’s prevalence in the United States today. The frequency of the death penalty around the world has been in a gradual decline over the years. Currently, the death penalty is less frequent than it was in the 1990s. For instance, in 1999, there were a total of 99 executions. Halfway through 2008, there were only 37 executions, and this year, only 17. From 1976 to 2016, there were a total of 1,438 executions. Conversely, in the 1930s, there were 167 executions per year, equating to approximately 1,670 executions from the 1930s to the 1940s— a number far greater than the current rates. As of now, 30 states in the US adhere to the death penalty policy. However, the existence of the policy in a state does not necessarily equate to its use. This year, only five states—Florida, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, and Texas—enforced the death penalty. This is primarily due to the decreasing societal acceptance of the death penalty. “I turn, therefore, to the third principle. An examination of the history and present operation of the American practice of punishing criminals by death reveals that this punishment has been almost totally rejected by contemporary society” (“The” 46). Additionally, recent trends reveal a shifting population preference from execution to lifetime imprisonment for criminals. “A Gallup poll in 2006 showed that the percentage of Americans who prefer life without parole instead of the death penalty has grown from 32 percent in 1994 to 48 percent. Americans who favor the death penalty dropped from 50 percent in 1994 to 47 percent in 2006.” (Recinella, “Ending” 16)

This argument concerns the justice system in the United States of America: Is it accurate in terms of prosecution? Research indicates that the American justice system is not 100 percent accurate. This implies that innocent lives are put at risk. Some even acknowledge that the criminal justice system sometimes unjustly victimizes innocent individuals. “No system of justice can produce results which are 100% certain all the time. Mistakes will be made in any system which relies upon human testimony for proof” (ProCon, Death). This suggests a minimal likelihood of someone being found guilty simply for being at a crime scene at the wrong time. It implies that the justice system can, at times, be faulty, jeopardizing innocent lives. There have been cases where individuals have perished as a result of others’ crimes. For example, consider the case of Carlos DeLuna. Carlos was convicted of stabbing a store clerk and was executed by the state of Texas in 1989. However, subsequent investigations raised doubts regarding the accuracy of the verdict, pointing instead to Carlos Hernandez. “A Chicago Tribune investigation revealed groundbreaking evidence that Texas may have executed an innocent man in 1989. The defendant, Carlos DeLuna, was executed for the fatal stabbing of Texas convenience store clerk Wanda Lopez in 1983. New evidence uncovered by reporters Maurice Possley and Steve Mills casts doubt on DeLuna’s guilt and points towards another man, Carlos Hernandez, who had a record of similar crimes and repeatedly confessed to the murder” (DPIC “Reports”). Furthermore, research has uncovered potential corruption within the justice system that exploits the innocent. “Our criminal justice system does have corrupt prosecutors, lying crime lab analysts, crooked cops, and blind judges who railroad innocent people onto death row” (Dutta “Kill The Death Penalty” 8). This is one of many reasons why the death penalty should not be utilized as a form of punishment in the United States.

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The last argument pertains to the cost of the death penalty. This argument is critical because most cases and execution processes are funded by taxpayer money. The death penalty is more expensive than its solution, which is sentencing a person to life in prison without parole. A regular case would cost about $714,000, while a death penalty case would cost about 1.2 million dollars. This expense goes toward the attorneys, the judge, the trial, and the lengthy investigation. Furthermore, each year the prisoner is kept in prison, it costs the state $90,000, which is significantly more than the normal sentencing of life in prison. “One of the most common misperceptions about the death penalty is the notion that the death penalty saves money because executed defendants no longer have to be cared for at the state’s expense. If the costs of the death penalty were to be measured at the time of an execution, that might indeed be true. But as every prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge knows, the costs of a capital case begin long before the sentence is carried out. Experienced prosecutors and defense attorneys must be assigned and begin a long period of investigation and pretrial hearings. Jury selection, the trial itself, and initial appeals will consume years of time and an enormous amount of money before an execution is on the horizon…[A]ll of the studies conclude that the death penalty system is far more expensive than an alternative system in which the maximum sentence is life in prison” (ProCon “Death”).

In conclusion, the solution to the death penalty is to ban it as a punishment in the United States. Instead of killing human beings, which would cost more money, imprisonment proves more tolerable. As fellow human beings, no system has the right to judge whether they live or die, as it is immoral to do so. Research shows that the Catholic church also supports abolishing the death penalty, insisting that it is never right to take a human life, even in an advanced society where people can be protected in other ways. The research also indicates the small but real possibility of an innocent person being executed for a crime they did not commit in the first place. It demonstrates that the alternative – life imprisonment – is better than executing people and is more appropriate for our modern society. The research shows fault in the cost of life in prison rather than executing one; life in prison does not violate our 8th amendment. This research goes in depth on how execution rates have been declining over the recent years as society increasingly rejects it, proving that the death penalty should be removed from sentencing options.

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The Solution to the Death Penalty. (2019, Jan 21). Retrieved from