The criminal justice system is an integral part of modern society. Through this institution, penalties are imposed on individuals who break the law. The criminal justice system serves society by creating an incentive for people to obey the law and providing a means for those who disobey to be legally punished. Of all the punishments issued to criminals by the Criminal Justice System, the death penalty stands out due to its severity and finality. For this reason, the issue of the death penalty has continued to be divisive in our society for decades.
On one end, advocates of this penalty declare that it is a necessary tool that judges can use to punish the most vicious offenders in our society. On the other end, opponents of this form of punishment argue that it is an inhuman and degrading punishment, which has no place in our modern civilization. This paper will argue that the death penalty should be discarded since it is unethical, goes against the international norms on criminal penalties, and it holds the country from making further cultural advancements.
Why the Death Penalty Should be Discarded
From an ideological point of view, capital punishment is wrong since it entails taking the life of a fellow human being. Amnesty International declares that the death penalty can never be considered human since it is a violation of the individual’s right to life (Bannister 166). A civilized society should not allow the judicial killing of one of its members. It will also be hard for the government to convince its citizens that killing is wrong if it continues to implement the death penalty.
The morality of capital punishment is further challenged by the fact that it is likely that imposing this punishment might result in the killing of an innocent person. Recinella declares that capital punishment presents a moral dilemma since it can only be justified in a system that does not permit error (par. 5). However, the US justice system is flawed, and there are chances of innocent individuals being wrongly convicted. Given this reality, the death penalty cannot be moral since there is a probability of taking the life of an innocent.
The continued application of the death penalty might alienate the country from its Western earlier or create rifts due to a difference in opinion on this issue. The death penalty debate is not only a matter of US domestic policy. The international community has also debated upon this issue. By a large margin, the international community is moving towards abolishing the death penalty. There has been a global trend favoring the abolishment of capital punishment.
The United Nations, which is the most influential international organization, is against the death penalty. On December 2007, the General Assembly voted in favor of a moratorium on executions with the hope that there would be a total abolishment of this punishment in the future. Bannister reports that within the last 30 years, over 135 countries have done away with capital punishment either in law or in practice (165).
The EU has stood out as the organization offering the greatest advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty on a global scale. Babcock confirms that there is a growing gap in opinion between the US and the EU on the issue of capital punishment (2). The EU is very vocal about its opinion that the death penalty should be abolished.
The union declares that the universal abolition of the death penalty would enhance human dignity and contribute to the progressive development of human rights (Ford par. 7). Due to the perceived ethical problem created by the death penalty, the EU has taken steps to deter executions in the US. This has been through the enforcement of embargos on the exportation of drugs that are used to prepare the cocktail used in the legal injection.
While the opinions of the EU do not control the actions of the Supreme Court in the US, they can serve as instructive tools in the Court’s deliberations on some matters. Babcock notes that the American Supreme Court has historically considered the practices of the international community when evaluating the efficacy of its punishments (8).
The US Supreme Court has used the amicus curiae briefs of the EU to help in its decision-making process on the issue of the death penalty. The US should, therefore, consider abolishing capital punishment in order to be in harmony with the policies of the Western world. Such a move will remove any ideological rifts that might arise between the US and its allies on the issue of capital punishment.
Abolishment of capital punishment will be a step towards ensuring equality in the application of punishments in the Criminal Justice System. The ideal justice system is one where punishments are meted out uniformly regardless of the race or socioeconomic status of the defendant. In spite of the claim that the death penalty is applied uniformly among convicted individuals, research shows a different picture.
A study by Radelet and Borg showed that the death penalty was more likely to be imposed on the defendant in cases where the victim was white rather than black (47). In addition to this, black defendants were more likely to receive death penalties than white defendants in similar cases were.
A study by Shatz and Dalton confirms that there is racial discrimination in the usage of the death penalty in the US (1281). Therefore, in spite of the US reinstating the death penalty in the hope that it would be unbiased, this punishment still has connotations of racial bias and discrimination (Recinella par. 1).
Public opinion on capital punishment in the US has changed, and Americans today do not favor this method in the same way that they did in the past. Proponents of the death penalty frequently cited public support as one of the reasons why the punishment should be maintained (Sunstein and Vermeule 850). While the public support for capital punishment in the US was high in the past, this is not the case today. Research indicates that there has been a steady decline in the support for the death penalty among US citizens.
While 50% of Americans supported capital punishment in 1994, only 47% supported it in 2006. In addition to this, the number of people who favor life without parole to the death penalty increased to 48% in 2006 compared to only 32% in 1994 (Recinella par. 4). The opinion of the citizens should be reflected in the practices of the justice system. The US should, therefore, start taking steps to abolish capital punishment in accordance with public opinion on this issue.
There is a real risk that the US will move backward regarding how executions are carried out in spite of the monumental progress made in our civilization. Sepkowitz articulates that execution methods have undergone significant evolution over the centuries (par. 10). Attempts have been made to modernize the execution process, and therefore make it more human. At the start of the 20th century, the electric chair was used in place of the old ways such as burning at stake and using the guillotine.
The electric chair was followed by the gas chamber, which involved introducing poisonous gas in a sealed chamber where the person to be executed was placed (Banner 54). This method was considered an improvement from the electric chair since it resulted in the quick death of the victim. Further refinement of the execution process occurred when the lethal injection was introduced in the 1970s. Sepkowitz reveals that this method was modern, efficient, and considerably humane to the victim.
The convicted individual is dozed with an anesthetic before being given the lethal combination of the drug to paralyze his muscles and induce a heart attack. However, the future use of the lethal injection method cannot be assured since there is a shortage in the availability of the necessary drugs. Due to pressure from advocacy groups, pharmaceutical companies are stopping or suspending their production of these drugs. The US is, therefore, being forced to seek alternative methods for execution. Some states are contemplating resorting to old execution methods such as hanging and use of a firing squad.
By perpetuating capital punishment, the international image of the US is tarnished. The US is considered a global leader, and the country has long established itself as the most influential country in the world. The cultural norms and traditions of the US have spread to most countries in the world, and many countries regard the US as a standard-setter in cultural and social issues. The US risks losing this position if it continues to insist on using the death penalty.
The international community has already recognized that a death penalty is a cruel form of punishment that should not be used in the civilized world (Yost 329). Killing individuals in the name of retribution is a practice that has no place in a civilized society. By hanging on to the death penalty, the US is acting out of phase with the rest of the civilized world.
The country should, therefore, follow the rest of the world in getting rid of this form of punishment. By doing this, the US can reinforce its position as the country with ideal norms and traditions that can be followed by the rest of the world.
In addition to ethical and diplomatic considerations, the death penalty should be discarded on economic concerns. Historically, capital punishment was preferred since it made better economic sense than its alternative; life without parole. Advocates claimed that the death penalty was a cheap means of dealing with vicious criminals instead of spending significant funds confining them in prisons indefinitely (Sarat and Martschkat 35).
While this was true in the early years when capital punishment cases were dealt with in the same manner as other non-capital offenses, the situation has changed dramatically. Today, the death penalty system is expensive since capital offenses are dealt with differently from other cases. Thorough procedures, including making use of expert witnesses, have to be followed to ensure that the defendant is rightfully sentenced (Radelet and Borg 45).
Both the prosecutor and the defender have to be extra attentive in these cases, and the defendant is given a chance to make numerous appeals. For these reasons, capital punishment is expensive, and at times, the cost incurred is several times higher than the cost that would have been incurred if the defendant had been sentenced to life without parole.
This paper has argued that the US should discard the death penalty since this punishment is unethical and in order for the nation to galvanize its image as a global leader. The paper began by highlighting that the death penalty has continued to be controversial in the US with some people supporting it while others are opposing it. The paper has argued that from an ideological point of view, capital punishment is immoral since it deprives an individual of his right to life.
In addition to this, punishment creates a chance for the killing of an innocent person. The paper has also shown that by clinging on to the death penalty, the US creates a strain on the relationship with its allies. The US is also cast in a negative light to the international community since capital punishment reflects badly on the US and its citizens.
The US is also at risk of moving back to barbaric means of carrying out the death penalty as other nations make it harder for the US to obtain the drugs needed to implement lethal injections. From the arguments presented in this paper, it is evident that the US and its citizens will be better served by abolishing the death penalty.
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Sarat, Austin, and Jurgen Martschkat. Is the Death Penalty Dying? Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Cambridge Books Online. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.
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