The Debate over the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Quiz

Appeals judges scrutinize death penalty cases to make sure that they meet constitutional standards. These include the Eighth Amendment which bans cruel and unusual punishments.

Many states use the electric chair to execute prisoners. Others use lethal injection. Both of these methods can cause severe pain and torture. The Supreme Court has found that these methods violate the Constitution.

What is the purpose of the death penalty?

The death penalty is used to punish those who commit the most severe crime of all, capital murder. Many who support the death penalty claim that it serves as a deterrent to prevent further killings. However, studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter crime, whereas incarceration does.

The majority of federal crimes that are prosecuted as a capital offense do not have a direct relationship to the killing of a person. The decision whether to pursue a capital sentence is made on a case-by-case basis by U.S. Attorney offices, which are required to follow a strict procedure before seeking the death penalty in cases involving capital charges.

The most popular rationale for the death penalty is that it serves a purpose of vengeance for victims’ families. This is a dangerous proposition, since it can lead to a cycle of violence where the punishment does more harm than good. In addition, it can result in innocent people being executed.

Why is the death penalty used?

Many people support the death penalty because they believe it deters murder. This is known as the deterrence theory.

A related argument is that punishment can serve as a kind of communication. For example, punishments such as hard treatment, deprivations, and incarceration are understood as communicating to the community that murder is wrong. Some people have argued that the death penalty conveys a similar message, though others have questioned whether it can effectively communicate denunciation.

Those who are against the death penalty argue that it wastes lives. Those sentenced to die can never contribute to society in the same way that they would have been able to had they been allowed to live. Additionally, the death penalty often results in the execution of innocent people. This ruins the life of those who were wrongfully killed and it damages society as a whole. It is also very expensive for societies to execute people.

Why is the death penalty unconstitutional?

The death penalty violates basic constitutional principles of due process and equal protection. It denies an offender the right to an attorney, and imposes a penalty that is irrevocable, forever barring a defendant from benefiting from new evidence or laws that might warrant reversal of a conviction or setting aside of a death sentence.

It is arbitrary, and often racially biased. Executions are disproportionately imposed upon victims who are white and offenders who are black. It also deprives courts of the ability to exercise their discretion based on facts and circumstances in individual cases, rather than on a sweeping legal principle rooted in centuries of moral, social and cultural tradition.

Moreover, executions impose cruel and unusual punishments. The Supreme Court has found certain punishments – such as the rack or thumbscrew – to be unconstitutional, but it has allowed execution by lethal injection even though the procedure can cause severe pain and suffering. We believe that no amount of procedural regulation can remedy the inherent constitutional defects in the death penalty.

Why is the death penalty harmful to society?

Many people who are against the death penalty argue that it is harmful to society because it cheapens the value of life. By allowing the state to kill convicted murderers, it sends a message that some lives are more valuable than others. This, they argue, is a violation of the right to life and the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.

Furthermore, they argue that the execution process is arbitrary and discriminatory. They point out that the entire series of decisions involved in capital cases, from the choice of a charge to the decision whether to impose the death penalty, leaves room for unconscious racial bias and even blatant discrimination.

Finally, they argue that the death penalty does not actually deter crime. They point out that studies have shown that the murder rate in jurisdictions with and without the death penalty is similar. Furthermore, they argue that other measures, such as reducing unemployment or increasing police presence, have more effective deterrent effects than the death penalty.

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