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Death Penalty

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Death Penalty

Throughout the years there has been many debates surrounding the death penalty. Some of these debates support it and some have taken the latter approach. No matter what your side is, there is much to be said about the topic of the death penalty. In the following pages we will look at how the death penalty came to be part of some of our states legal process, the pros and cons of the death penalty and discussion around the topic if there should or should not be a death penalty at all. One of the questions we will look at is the death penalty consistent with the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments? I am personally of the opinion that the death penalty should be abolished on the basis that it is not supported by the bible and it is not ethical for the state to take a life for a life. I will present evidence that unequivocally supports abolishing the death penalty, the impact of such an act and what we should be doing in place of this act.

The death penalty dates as far back as the Ancient Laws of China the 18th Century BC. In fact, the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon put people to death for twenty-five different crimes including insulting songs, perjury, and even for stealing grapes, surprisingly though; murder was not one of the crimes. The very first historical recording of a death sentence came in 16th Century BC Egypt where a noble was accused of using magic. Since the wrongdoer was of noble blood he was ordered to take his own life, non-nobles were often killed with an ax. Other codes which cited forms of the death penalty include the Hittite Code in the 14th Century BC, the Draconian Code of Athens in the 7th Century BC and the Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets in the 5th Century BC. The most influential to the early English American colonies, however, was Britain with its long history of crimes punishable by death and creative ways of carrying out the executions (Death Penalty Information Center).

Each colony created their own set of laws depicting which crimes would be punishable by death. For example, Virginia implemented the Divine, Moral, and Martial Laws in 1612, which enforced the death penalty for the most minor of offenses such as killing chickens or trading with Indians. Between 1626 and 1647 New England implemented the Capital Laws for offenses such as pre-meditated murder, sodomy, and witchcraft (Exploring Constitutional Conflicts). In 1780 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts only recognized severe capital crimes such as murder, arson or rape under their new laws and the New York colony instituted Duke's Laws in 1665 which recognized the crimes of denying the "true God" and raising arms to resist authority as death deserving crimes.

Cesare Beccaria wrote and essay in 1767 On Crimes and Punishment. Beccaria wrote there was no justification for the taking of a life by the state, stating the death penalty was "a war of a whole nation against a single citizen" (Death Penalty Curriculum). This essay was the start of the abolitionist movement against the death penalty and helped pave the way for reform attempts. Including the first attempted reform by Thomas Jefferson who believed the death penalty was only appropriate for crimes of murder or treason. Unfortunately, legislature did not agree and it was defeated by only one vote.

Today there are only 13 states that do not appear to take part in the death penalty, my home state of Wisconsin being one of those (Death Penalty Information Center). So what then are some of the arguments that would support the death penalty? One of the most compelling arguments in support of the death penalty is based on the idea of "an eye for an eye". This argument, I believe, is based on the assumption that people fear death more than they fear anything else. If this is true then why on the 2006 FBI Uniform Crime Report published in September 2007 was the average murder rate of states with the death penalty at 5.9%, while the average murder rate of states without the death penalty was only at 4.22% (Death Penalty Information Center). A panel of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association were surveyed overwhelming majority did not believe that the death penalty was proven to deter offenders from murder or other violent crimes. In fact, over 80% believed the existing research failed to support any type of deterrence justification for the death penalty (Nathanson, 1987). Similarly, over 70% of those surveyed did not believe that increasing the number of executions, decreasing the time spent on death row, or allowing more appeals before the execution was carried out, would produce any kind of positive affect toward the current murder rate.

The next argument we will explore is the economic argument. I do not think any debate would be complete without look at the overall financial impact. The economic argument for executions seems simple. Many argue that it cost much more to imprison murderers for life than it does to execute them. Stated like this, the economic argument seems to reveal a disturbing lack of any moral sensitivity. The reality is on the surface one would think the cost of execution would be less expense than housing someone for years and years (Nathanson, 1987). This does not appear to be true, in fact at the trial level, death penalty cases cost approximately $470,000 more to prosecute than trying the same case as an aggravated murder without the death penalty. On direct appeal, the cost of appellate defense averages $100,000 more, and public defense costs rise an additional $137,000 in cases seeking the death penalty. A New Jersey Police Perspectives report concluded that the state's death penalty had cost taxpayers $253 million since 1983, a figure that is over and above the costs that would have been incurred had the state utilized a sentence of life without parole instead of death (Death Penalty Information Center). The truth, regardless of what we think, is that the death penalty cost far more than jailing someone for life.

There is another perspective that many people seem to think is a viable reason to have the death penalty and that is to "give people what they deserve" (Nathanson, 1987). To me this is a morbid argument, who decides what a person "deserves". The question here is even if people who commit murder deserve to die, is it wrong for the state to execute them? Many experts suggest that if state representatives dealt with the environmental and social issues in their state, then the violent crime rates would drop drastically. It has been proven that areas with the highest crime rates are those in the worst socio-economic health. Not only was the murder rate highest



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