The Death Penalty: An Extraneous and Cruel Punishment

July 24, 2012
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In discussions of the death penalty, the issue remains whether or not the forcible killing of convicted felons is civically humane or an extraneous and cruel punishment. I contend that the Death Penalty is unjust when mentally ill individuals are sentenced while unable to comprehend the crime or fatal punishment, it contains unfair representation from attorneys due to an individual’s lack of funds to hire a solid, well organized one, and it has been proven to have a vast amount of room for errors in the state direct-appeal and the post-conviction process.

I strongly believe that the death penalty is unjust when it is sentenced to mentally ill inmates due to their inability to comprehend the death penalty’s explicit meaning and outcome. The inmates classified as ‘mentally ill’ are also commonly unaware of the outcomes of their hurtful or deadly actions due to their inability to connect with reality. Inmates with illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Major Depressive Disorder, or Schizoaffective Disorder may experience hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and manic, hypomania, or mixed episodes. These symptoms severely affect one’s ability to distinguish reality from unrealistic events due to a loss of contact with reality. Their motives for a crime are likely a direct outcome of persistent voices in their heads, dictating their every move. It is proven that some patients have become so delusional and paranoid that there was no way to cease their fatal actions. In one case, Singleton v Norris, Charles Laverne Singleton was executed although he had Schizophrenia, a severe mental illness that was forced to subside with antipsychotic medications.
Mr. Singleton’s attorney argues that "the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution only of those who are unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it." The court’s unanimous decision permits the “State to forcibly administer antipsychotic medication to a prisoner whose date of execution has been set and whether the State may execute a prisoner who has been involuntarily medicated under a Harper procedure.” The medication was also administered so that “if the insane inmate becomes ‘cured of his disease’…the State is [then] free to execute him.” Although the court renders that "procedural protections must be examined in terms of the substantive rights at stake," I strongly disagree to this statement due to the fact “that the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution of a prisoner who is "artificially competent."” Clearly, Singleton was under the influence of antipsychotic medications and was unable to realize and comprehend his death sentence due to the fact that, “in 1991…he was observed stripping off his clothes and speaking in a strange language. He became paranoid and delusional, and believed that he had already been executed,” revealing that Mr. Singleton was mentally unstable.

My opposition towards the Death Penalty reinforces the belief held by many citizens that the death penalty contains unfair representation of attorneys for an individual being tried in court. If a convicted felon cannot pay for their own attorney, a court-appointed lawyer will be assigned. These lawyers are commonly overworked or inexperienced, resulting in a poor representation on the defendant’s case. It is proven that these court-appointed attorneys have failed to call witnesses, prepare for a trial, and only gathered a minimal amount of facts pertaining to the investigation. Furthermore, it is revealed that a number of attorneys have appeared in court sleeping, drunk, and overburdened while on the case. In some cases, lawyers have been “disbarred shortly after finishing a death penalty case, failed to show up for hearings, and even failed to investigate alibis.” If one is not given an adequate and stable amount of representation, the defendant may be convicted guilty due to a lack of evidence from the attorney. The lack of solid, quality work on the attorney’s part too commonly results in an innocent person dying. One case reveals that Jimmy Ray Bromgard was convicted of a crime he did not commit. Although he did not die, “Bromgard was arrested when he was 18 and served 15 years in prison” due to a poorly-planned trial. His “trial attorney performed no investigation, filed no pre-trial motions, gave no opening statement, did not prepare for closing arguments, failed to file an appeal, and provided no expert to refute the fraudulent testimony of the state’s hair microscopy expert.” It was later discovered by post-conviction DNA testing that he did not commit the crime.

The appeal system involved in death penalty cases has continually revealed a vast amount of error within capital judgment cases. “Even before federal courts become involved, state courts across the country found serious error in close to half (at least 47%) of the capital judgments that reach their two checkpoints.” To make matters worse, even at the third inspection point, “federal courts found serious error in 40% of the capital judgments [cases] they reviewed.” If the government cannot catch mistakes even past the third inspection point, there are bound to be many wrongly-accused inmates being convicted due to a poor and unorganized inspection process. In fact, “in two-fifths of the study states, federal courts detected error rates of 50% or more at this third inspection.” Also, “nationally, over the entire 1973-1995 period, the overall error-rate in our capital punishment system was 68%.” These statistics prove that a vast amount of mistakes have occurred within the court system nationally.

Many supporters of the death penalty suggest that the death penalty is humane because it “serves as a deterrent and helps in reducing crime” and “it is not murder, but justice.” Those who view the death penalty as humane and fair agree that the punishment is vital for a society to continue to be peaceful and equally fair. Crime is viewed as deterrence in the sense that, by punishing one for a crime, it instills fear in others. The death penalty is also viewed as a “reflection of how the community conceives the crime.” By observing felons being forcibly killed, the community is able to decide how it should respond appropriately.

Decisively, I disagree with the Death Penalty for three collective reasons. First, it is unjust when mentally ill individuals are sentenced while unable to comprehend the crime or fatal punishment. Secondly, the punishment contains unfair representation from attorneys due to an individual’s lack of funds to hire a solid, well organized one. Lastly, the death penalty has a far too great number of cases in which error was revealed during the state-appeal or later found in post-conviction.

Works Cited:

Innocence Project, Innocence Project and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, IP

Singleton v Norris. 267 F.3d 859 United States Court Of Appeals For The Eighth Circuit, 2001. 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 2198, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, 31 Jan. 2002.

Budau, Hugo Adam. “Capital Punishment and Social Defense.” Reserved reading for Philosophy 203.

1dpt., Web

Columbia Law School. “Percent of Capital Judgments Reviewed on Federal Habeas Corpus in Which Reversible Error Was Found, 1973-1995.” Chart. Columbia Law School.

Columbia Law School. “State-by-State Comparisons of Rates of Error Detected by All State Courts (State Direct Appeal and State Post-Conviction).” Chart. Columbia Law School.

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ScriptorC said...
Aug. 16, 2012 at 8:58 am
Hey, I just read your article, and while I thought that it wa very well written, I would just like to point out a few things. Concerning your arguement that the Death Penalty is unjust when administered on a mentally ill person: mentally ill individuals who commit homocide are usually not administered the death sentence. In the case you provided, The court was not debating whether or not they could administer the Death Penalty to a mentally ill suspect, but wether the suspect in question was com... (more »)
countrygirl28 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm
I don't agree that the Death Penalty should be sentenced to anyone. I was only allowed to use three reasons, and those are the three I chose. I do see the point you are making, though. I should have included more specific details pertaining to cases that did not include mental illness, denfense systems, and evidence. Thank you for your wonderful reasoning and opinion. While I still believe that the death penalty is unjust, thank you for showing me another point of view.
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