Punishment has remained a subject of debate for political leaders, philosophers and lawyers for a long time. Many theories have been suggested trying to justify a death sentence, while many also contest the punishment. The objectives of punishment had originally the following purposes: rehabilitation, retribution, incapacitation and deterrence.
Death as a form of punishment has been of interest to various stakeholders, namely: the international community, human rights defenders and governments of various states mainly because it concerned three basic norms and human rights such as the right to life, prohibition of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and the concept of human dignity. However, despite the fact that death as a punishment is associated with violation of basic human rights, such as life and human dignity, a report by the Death Penalty Information Center indicates that 33 of the 50 States in the United States have not abolished the death penalty. There are methods of execution which are still in practice such as lethal injection, electrocution, gas chambers, hanging and firing squad (Banner, 25). This paper will focus on the death penalty contention in the United States as well as on the history and arguments of various scholars about the death penalty as a sentence.
Grave crimes are considered to be the historical background to the death as a penalty for crimes in the United States.
The English colonist introduced the death sentence to the United States. He suggested to America their laws for crimes considered grave crimes in England. These crimes include murder, theft, rape, manslaughter, arson and robbery with violence, etc. (Bedau, 53). Over 20 000 executions have been implemented since the death penalty was introduced in the United States (Pratt & Brown, 34). It is fascinating to note that despite campaigns and international legislation supporting abolition of the death penalty, the Criminal Justice System of the United States is not affected. The United States has specifically introduced these laws, such as mentioned in Article 6 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which encourage abolition of the death penalty by delivering wrongful convictions. Further, to appreciate the complexity of the law that governs the right to life in the United States, it is essential to note the lack of uniformity in the law. This is including the variation of the death penalty issue in the different US states.
The Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution provides the presumption of innocent until proven guilty, the right to legal representation and the right to a free and fair trial. Briefly, the Bill of Rights guaranties the United States’ citizens the right to a due process of the law (Radelet, 35). Despite this guaranty, there has been registration of numerous cases on wrongful convictions, and indeed several of them were punishable by death. In their book Wrongful Conviction, they have stated that in the early 1990s there were reports on 400 cases which viewed them as wrongful convictions, 23 executions of the four hundred convicted were reported, while others had spent several years in prison (Radelet, 89).
The aforementioned may justify an argument that the death penalty is cruel and degrading and contradicts the International Convention on Torture, Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Punishment, since it causes ‘death row syndrome’. The circumstances existing after death row and physical deterioration of prisoners serving death sentence and awaiting their execution receive their description using the row syndrome (Sharp 46). This phenomenon is an effect of the callous conditions that an inmate experiences while on death row, the duration when such conditions are experienced, and the anxiety of awaiting one’s execution. The syndrome relates to the prolonged periods on death row which amounts to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. Other scholars have accredited the Death Row Syndrome to the stress associated with death sentences (Radelet, 19). The intensive result observed was that the mental suffering which is inflicted on the condemned prisoner leads to destruction of their spirits, undermining of sanity, and mental traumas(Radelet, 89).
In the year 2000, George Ryan, the governor of Illinois, introduced the death penalty and he expressed his disappointment and disagreement of the high number of exoneration as opposed to execution by the State (Pratt & Brown 25). On the contrary, soon “the U.S Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the Innocence Protection Act and states that miscarriage of justice comes at a high price” (Pratt & Brown, 44). He referred to the consequences of miscarriage in justice which would result in low confidence in the justice system, and at the same time innocent people suffer (Sharp, 18).
Why is Death Sentence at the Center Point of Wrongful Conviction?
Having established that innocent individuals receive death sentences in the United States, it shows whether deaths as a penalty is still valid due to its irreversible nature, and what purpose it has to serve, and if it serves that purpose actually? Abolitionist of the death penalty argue that death as a punishment violates the right to life, the right to human dignity and inflicts torture on the victim due to the method of execution..
On the contrary, the attorneys who support the death penalty argue that it prevents future capital offences due to fear of retribution it instills on the potential murders or criminals. Those who support retribution argue that it is the only way to restore balance between the lost lives , and hence achieve justice, while those who argue for deterrence state that it is the only crime which is serious enough to prevent crimes such as murders.
In response, scholars and international organizations fighting for the abolition of the death penalty argue that executing people sentenced to death does not deter more than a sentence to life imprisonment. Death sentence is barbaric, and advocates support its abolishment. The courts should give correctional sentences to the convicts. The State, acting morally justified, should correct the mistakes by avoiding life sentence where it is possible instead of killing. Execution of a convict or, moreover, an innocent person destroys the life of others by creating malignancy instead of regret. .
Amnesty International has observed that the death penalty in the United States has not led to deterrence of a potential offender. Hence its position that there is no substantiation of crime is deterred more efficiently than other kinds of punishment by the death penalty. The cases of exonerated persons, having been sentenced to death, are increasing in the United States, and this only proves that the Criminal Justice System and Constitution of the United States are not sufficient to protect against execution of the innocent person or intentional mistakes of the law enforcers. It is prudent that the criminal system of each state revises the issues of informants and eyewitness identification. Police officers conspiracy and tampering aiming to get a conviction is a matter that should be focused with urgency. In the United States the federal and the national states which still uphold the death penalty may consider its abolition but try to stop notorious crimes, such as terrorism, with elimination of arbitrariness.
Banner, Stuart. The Death Penalty: an American History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002. Print.
Bedau, Hugo Adam. The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.
Pratt, John, David Brown, Mark Brown, Simon Hallsworth and Wayne Morrison. The New Punitiveness Trends, Theories, Perspective. Uffculme: Willan Pub., 2005. Print.
Radelet, Michael L.. Facing the Death Penalty: Essays on a Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989. Print.
Sharp, Susan F.. Hidden Victims the Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2005. Print.