The Excalibur

Pro/Con: Death Penalty

Jacqueline Ohlrich, Staff Writer

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Capital Punishment, or the Death Penalty, is the highest form of punishment the Justice System can give. While this is legal in the United States, the death penalty is utilized in only 31 of the 50 states. Yet, the death penalty goes as far back as being in Hammurabi of Babylon’s code of law, which was used to influence many ancient civilizations. This then led to America’s largest country of influence, Britain, continuing the practice, along with much of Europe. In the 10th century, Britain’s most common execution method was death by hanging. Yet in the next century, William the Conqueror would not allow people to be hanged except in cases of murder, which was innovative at the time. Later, when European Colonizers came to America, they brought the practice of capital punishment with them. Then in 1767, Cesare Beccaria wrote an essay during the Abolishment Movement titled, On Crimes and Punishment. This gave the notion that there is no justification for the state to take a life.

In the early 1800s, many states reduced their number of capital crimes and built more state penitentiaries. In 1847, Michigan became the first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason. Nine states abolished the death penalty throughout 1907 until 1917 for all crimes, which was greatly influenced by the Progressive Period in the early 1900s. The 1930s were when executions reached the highest levels in American history with an average 167 deaths per year. This was due, in part, to the writings of criminologists, who argued that the death penalty was a necessary social measure.

In the 1950s, public sentiment began to turn away from capital punishment. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating a “right to life.” Support of capital punishment reached an all-time low in 1966, as shown in a Gallup poll, with support of the death penalty at only 42%. Then, in 1972, the death sentence was suspended because of Furman v. Georgia. Then in 1976, it was brought back with Gregg v. Georgia. In the case of Ford v. Wainwright in 1986, it was made that the execution of insane persons was banned. Later, in 1988, executions of offenders age fifteen and younger at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional with the Thompson v. Oklahoma case. That number was then increased in the next year by saying anyone under the age of 17 could not be put to death. In November of 1998, Northwestern University held the first-ever National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty. The Conference brought 30 inmates who were freed from death row because of their innocence. January 1999 was when Pope John Paul II visited Missouri and called for the end of the death penalty. June 2004 was when New York’s death penalty law was declared unconstitutional by the state’s high court. Finally, since 2009, more and more states continue to sign legislations to replace death penalty to life without parole.

Pro

About 55% of the American population believes in the death penalty and the effects. The people gave a number of reasons, an eye for an eye is the top reason for people wanting the death penalty. It is felt that if someone kills because of anger, grief, religion, racism, or sexism, then they shouldn’t be able to live. This is caused because of the fact that they took the life of a child, a husband, a wife, and/or a parent. The person must pay for the actions they caused, and if you kill a person then you must be killed. Another reason is that it will save taxpayers’ money; they should not have to pay for keeping killers alive. The fear of the person repeating the crime they committed that got them to receive the capital punishment is another view. After all, it is concluded that we can’t just let killers live because they might escape prison and kill more people. This ties into the idea that a person cannot be rehabilitated once they have committed the crime. We have to keep the public safe, safety should be our top priority. We should also use the death penalty to set an example to other criminals and to deter them from committing the same crime. With the Death Penalty, we affirm to criminals everywhere, that if you are willing to destroy a life, then you must be willing to forfeit yours in turn.

Con

Around 41% of the American population is opposed to the death penalty, the greatest reason for them opposing is that it is wrong to kill a person. This also leads to the next point, which is that there is a possibility that a person who was executed is innocent. Since 1973, 144 people on death row have been exonerated. As a percentage of all death sentences, that’s just 1.6 percent. But if the innocence rate is 4.1 percent, more than twice the rate of exoneration, a study suggests what most people assumed but dreaded: An untold number of innocent people have been executed. Therefore, it is thought that at least one in 25 people sentenced to death is innocent. Another reason, for the religious people, is that the judgment of a person should be left to their God(s). Many people say that the Death Penalty is also hypocritical, after all, we are killing a killer for killing someone. “Why must we stoop down to the level of murder to demonstrate murder is wrong?” (deathpenalty.procon.org) The people on the Con side also say that killing the murder does not take away the pain that the killer gave. Nor does it take away the damage that was caused by the person to the victim or family. Therefore, revenge is not necessary and is just a byproduct of the pain and anger that is within them.

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