I.After spending ten long years on death row, he is escorted today by the warden down the dimly lit white hallway to the room in which judgement day will finally arrive. As he moves closer, he begins to regret having led a violent life of crime and murder that had caused him to be sentenced to death so long ago. The door finally opens, and there he stands face to face with old sparky, a.k.a. the electric chair. He is strapped in and a leather helmet containing a wet sponge is placed over his head along with a brass liner that functions as an entry electrode through which nearly 2500 volts of electricity will pass. The exit electrode- a band of brass also with a soaked sponge- is attached to the prisoners shaved calf. As a final preparation, a leather hood is placed over his face.
The switch is then pulled and 2,350 volts strike though the inmates body for eight seconds, followed by 22 seconds of one thousand volts. The cycle is repeated immediately. This high-voltage electrocution raises the temperature of his brain to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and fries his internal organs (Freedberg 2).
The passage above describes a typical criminal execution by the electric chair, one of the various methods of capital punishment, otherwise known as the death penalty. The sentence of death has long been an accepted form of justice, yet today, capital punishment has remained a hotly debated issue. Some believe this punishment to be cruel and unusual and therefore violating the United States Constitution, while in reality the death penalty is fair and just punishment for murder and other extremely violent crimes. With these clashing viewpoints, there are also differences in the policies of various states, with some states supporting the death penalty, and others not. This serves as an injustice because murderers convicted in states such as Texas or Florida, which support the death penalty, will truly be brought to justice, while murderers in states such as North Dakota or Wisconsin will not (Staletovich 5-6). It is with this reasoning that the death penalty should undoubtedly be implemented in all fifty United States and the District of Columbia.
II.In the United States today, capital punishment is an integral part of the criminal justice system, and has been an accepted form of justice through the ages. During the Colonial era the English Penal code, which prescribed death for14 offenses, was enforced in the American colonies. Generally, colonies authorized capital punishment for a smaller number of offenses than English law allowed, but all colonies authorized public execution as mandatory punishment for some crimes against the state, people, or property. Massachusetts was the first American jurisdiction to prohibit cruel and unusual punishments with its adoption of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties in 1641. The Puritans, however, did not consider execution cruel and unusual punishment, and even authorized it for some religious offenses (Smith 2).
III.Even though capital punishment has been practiced in the US since Colonial times, many people believe that the death penalty is unconstitutional and should be completely abolished in the United States. They believe that one of the alternatives to death sentencing is jailing offenders for the rest of their lives without the chance of parole, commonly known as life without parole or LWOP. However, capital punishment contains many advantages over LWOP and other forms of punishment for murderers.
IV.The death penalty is both constitutional and morally right. It is true that prisons serve in reforming criminals, but in certain cases where the offender is unmistakably guilty and has a history of violent behavior, society has the right to demand the ultimate punishment to ensure their own safety. It is all too frequently that someone who has been convicted of murder is given the chance to commit another. For example, in April of 2000 in Minneapolis, a 32 year-old man was arrested for the murder of a woman. The same man had been convicted of a third-degree murder in 1987. In Texas, Algernon Doby, only seven months after being paroled for a previous murder, was captured after shooting a pregnant woman and killing her boyfriend (Barry 2). With failures such as these in our criminal justice system, Americans deserve to know that murderers will face the same fate as their victims. Capital punishment is the only way to ensure that this will happen.
The death penalty will not only bring justice to murderers, but will also cause incapacitation- the disabling of a criminal to murder again. An example of this effect is provided by James Marquart and Jonathan Sorenson, sociologists at Sam Houston State University. They examined the histories of all those resentenced after the Supreme Court emptied state death rows with a decision made in the 1972 trial of Furman vs. Georgia. Seven of those released prisoners committed another murder after leaving prison (Smith 11).
The implementation of capital punishment functions as a deterrent to the committing of violent crime. In one study, Stephen Layson, an economist at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, showed that each execution in the United States from 1933 to 1969 resulted in 15 fewer homicides. As the appeals process continues to be shortened, criminals will begin to see the death penalty as a likelihood, rather than a slight risk, if they commit homicide. Death rows must be emptied by execution to show criminals that society will not show mercy to murderers. If this is done, the deterrent effect will become much more apparent by the reduction in violent crime incedents in death penalty states (Smith 12).
V.Opponents of my position believe that the death penalty is morally wrong and in violation of the sixth commandment, which reads, Thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13). However, the Hebrew equivalent to the word kill in this verse is used 49 times in the Old Testament of the Bible, and in every relevant usage it means to murder, especially with premeditation, according to biblical scholar Charles Ryrie. Furthermore, when the sixth commandment is repeated in the New Testament a word is used that never means anything else than to murder. Therefore, the sixth commandment is clearly a prohibition against murder, not an injunction against capital punishment.
In addition, capital punishment is what God demands for the murder of a human being by man or beast. In Genesis 9:5-6, God says to Noah and his family,
And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; and at the hand of every mans brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth a mans blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
This verse simply implies that murder is forbidden, and that any person or beast who murders a human is to be killed. Killing a man is an offense against almighty God, for man is made in Gods image. Anyone who commits this offense deserves the ultimate punishment. (Brown 3).
However, death penalty opponents believe that the misery and suffering of spending life in prison without parole serves as a better, less expensive punishment than an actual execution of the offender, and that there is no need for the state to kill merely to achieve incapacitation- murders within prison walls are extremely rare and do not warrant incapacitation (Smith 13).
Opponents are correct in saying that the death penalty is expensive. Sentencing a defendant to death is much more expensive than sentencing him to LWOP. A study by the New York Defenders Association reported that the average death penalty case costs three times as much as it would to keep the prisoner in prison for life (Smith 13). What the opponent does not realize; however, is that cost comparisons of today do not account for inflation over the course of a lifetime. The medical costs required to care for aging prisoners have not been accounted for. If LWOP is given to all murder convicts, murders will be freed from prison because taxpayers will grow tired of paying for their care. In addition, the cost of executing versus jailing a prisoner for life cannot be measured exclusively in dollars. Capital punishment has moral value for society and emotional value for families of victims- both unquantifiable (Smith 11).
VI.The death penalty, as you can see, should not be viewed as an act of killing people who kill people just to show that killing people is wrong, but as an act of safeguarding our society from potential or previous murderers and delivering justice to those who kill.
Barry, John. Is the Death Penalty Cruel and Unusual? 4 Dec. 2000
Brown, David L. The Bibles Teaching on Capital Punishment. 5 Dec. 2000
Freedberg, Sydney. Bloody Execution Leads to Stay for 2nd Inmate. St. PetersburgTimes. 9 Jul. 1999, Newsbank. CD-ROM.
Smith, Sharon C. Capital Punishment in the United States. 6 Dec. 2000
Staletovich, Jenny. The Electric Chair Power Struggle. Palm Beach Post. 2 Jan. 2000, SIRS Researcher. CD-ROM. Winter 2000.