Legalized Murder

July 8, 2010
By zekephoto SILVER, Vancouver, Washington
zekephoto SILVER, Vancouver, Washington
9 articles 69 photos 20 comments

“Legalized murder” seems to be a contradictory phrase. How could murder, an act held so highly condemned by law, be legal? Yet just last year in 2009 fifty-two issued death penalties were executed in the United States; fifty-two acts of legal murder. So far in 2010 thirty others have joined the statistics. Another eighteen are scheduled to occur by mid November this year. Two more have already been planned in 2011. [3]

Whether capital punishment is viewed as being right or wrong, justified or unjustified, the fact remains that capital punishment is murder. When the death certificates of those who have been killed by capital punishment are filled out, the cause of death is marked as ‘homicide’, because it remains just that; the act of killing another human being. [1]

So how can taking another human’s life, under any circumstances, be ethically correct or justifiable? Simply, it cannot be. Not only is capital punishment ethically wrong (for who are we to decide who dies and who lives?), yet the system also fails to produce anything positive or progressive.

Capital punishment exists in several forms; decapitation, hanging, firing squad, electric chair, poisonous gas, stoning, and lethal injection, are among the most widely known methods. Today in the United States, the grounds for the death penalty differ from state to state, but most commonly people are convicted and sentenced for aggravated first-degree murder and the molestation or rape of a child. In some states and cases first-degree kidnapping, capital drug trafficking, and the hijacking of an aircraft may also warrant the death penalty. Among reviewing the methods of how to carry out capital punishment, many people argue that the more primitive methods, such as stoning or decapitation, are no longer used today, or at the very least are not practiced in the United States, a fully developed nation, while we have created what have been deemed as “humane methods”, such as lethal injection. Indeed, the stoning method is not permitted in the United States today, although it is still in use in a few countries such as Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Still, even today, lethal injection is not the only form of capital punishment used in the United States. On March 18th, 2010 in Virginia, Paul Powell died in the electric chair. Three months later in Utah, Ronnie Gardner’s life was taken by firing squad. [3]

So why should we grant forgiveness and mercy to those who have caused so much pain to others? The greater portion of the public believe that the guilty deserve the punishment they receive, that they should suffer the consequences that their actions have brought upon them. For some, capital punishment serves as justice. For others, revenge. But for those using the death penalty to determine a person’s fate, and ultimately take another’s life, they become no better than those they seek to reproach. The prosecutors become hypocrites in themselves, reprehending others for acts of crime as they are committing homicide all the while. Capital punishment fails to serve as a remedy for high crime, but just executes crime in a different fashion, thus solving nothing.

Aside from the hypocrisy and breach of ethic standards, more problems arise from the use of the death penalty. While the invention of lethal injection was intended to make death as painless as possible, there remain numerous problems and controversies with this approach. During a 2006 execution in Florida the administration of the lethal injection drugs, a series of three specific chemicals used in specific order, failed to kill the convicted and were re-administered a second time. What should have taken around two to four minutes to complete ended up as a thirty-four minute process, although the victim, Angel Diaz, could not physically register signs of pain, having been already administered pancuronium bromide (two doses at that), which is designed to paralyze the subject. Furthermore, as the length of the procedure was extended for so long outside the estimated time the drugs are supposed to act in, there have been protests that the eight amendment, pledging to protect against cruel or unusual punishment, has been violated by capital punishment. After the incident with Diaz, Florida and nine other states suspended further executions temporarily. [2]

Another issue raised by the death penalty is false convictions. Needless to say, once the process of the death penalty is followed through, there is no going back. Death is final. The pain family and friends endure from people being falsely accused of a crime and then sentenced to death for something they did not do is unfathomable. “By 2005, DNA testing has proven that fourteen inmates awaiting execution on death row were innocent”. The causes for false convictions range from eyewitness error to government misconduct, yet whatever the reason, the possibility always remains that an innocent person may be put wrongly to death. Luckily DNA testing has aided in discovering the innocence of numerous lives. Unfortunately, many cases are found to have flaws or inadequate evidence to support the death penalty sentence only after the person’s execution. It has been estimated that there have been thirty-nine people wrongly executed on death row in the United States, but the true number will never be known. [2, 6]

Above all though, I consider the worst fault of capital punishment being the waste of a human life. If the convicted are to be punished for their crimes, then let them repay society with labor and other services. Instead of adding on to the death toll, allow a positive contribution to be made. In many cases rehabilitation is extremely plausible, so why is capital punishment continually sought out without even considering other options? Moreover, if it were the case to seek out an option such as life without parole instead of the death penalty, the state budget would feel less of a strain, “the average [death penalty] case cost $449,887, while the average cost of life without parole case was only $42,658”. [3]

All in all, capital punishment succeeds in doing little to improve the state and the safety of society. While some claim capital punishment should act as a deterrent for future crime, there is no substantial evidence to support this. In fact a study in 2008 concluded that “88% of [surveyed] criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent”. The death penalty does not serve to cease crime, and has not even been a proven way to decrease crime rates. [3, 4]

Opposing views for capital punishment are often directed at the fact that the people convicted must pay for their actions, which I cannot argue against. By all means there must be structure and the law must be upheld. Crime cannot go unnoticed and unpunished, yet resorting to killing is a rash and imprudent solution. “Arguing for capital punishment, the Clark County, Indiana Prosecuting Attorney writes that ‘...there are some defendants who have earned the ultimate punishment our society has to offer by committing murder with aggravating circumstances present. I believe life is sacred. It cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. In my view, society has not only the right, but the duty to act in self defense to protect the innocent.’ ” With this statement the goal of capital punishment is said to be to prevent harmful criminals from doing further harm, but alternate solutions to sentencing people to death never seems to arise in the discussions. Instead, capital punishment is wielded thoughtlessly as a simple solution to not eliminating the problem of crime, but to sweeping it under the carpet so as to not go through the trouble of figuring out a better and more useful solution. With capital punishment is committed the very act that we seek to combat against, and because of this, we succeed in nothing other than marking off another death. [5]

There is no doubt that I am able to view the issue of capital punishment from the perspective of the victims and their families. Often, justice is sought out to put right all of the needless and horrific pain that has been caused. Retribution in some form is owed, but killing in the name of justice does not serve to justify anything. It does not lessen the crime that was committed, and it does not serve to correct all of the wrongdoings. Taking a life for a life only adds up to two murders, nothing more.

1. “Misfits”. Taboo. 6 July 2010. Television Documentary
6. “Executing the Innocent”

The author's comments:
I first began thinking about and forming my opinion on capital punishment when I caught the last half of a Taboo documentary. 24 hours later and this is the result.

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