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Research Papers Against Capital Punishment

Those against capital punishment can argue in their term papers that one of the most disturbing issues facing the death penalty implementation is that of innocence. Suppose an innocent man or woman is executed, and then further investigation uncovers the heinous fact that another person committed the crime? In 1985, a study done by Hugo Bedau of Tufts University and Michael Radelet of the University of Florida was released that claimed the following:

  1. 350 innocent people had been wrongfully convicted of capital crimes
  2. 23 innocent people had been put to death.
  3. The story by Hugo Bedau made headlines across the country and aroused death penalty opponents to new heights of fervor.

One of the most highly charged Criminal Justice Term Paper issues raised by death penalty opponents is racism. They maintain that a majority of inmates on death row, or executed in the past, have been black or other minorities. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has maintained for a number of years that nearly 90 percent of persons executed in America were convicted of killing whites, though minorities comprised about half the victims. Thus, they say, the death penalty is racist and heavily weighted against blacks.

The death penalty has been controversial for a very long time. In 1972, Lucy Adams notes, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Furman v. Georgia (1972) invalidated the death penalty statutes of all of the states on the basis that sentencing authorities had too much discretionary authority with respect to its application and that such discretionary power had led to a situation where the death penalty’s application had become loaded with discrimination, such discrimination between at odds with the principle of equal justice under the law. This temporary abolition of the death penalty did not long endure. States responded to the court’s decision by re-doing their death penalty statutes so as to give them the appearance of rationality and non-discrimination. In 1976 the U.S. Supreme Court found, in Gregg v. Georgia (1976), that one of these passed constitutional muster. As of 2005, 40 jurisdictions were making use of capital punishment (383-386). Speaking of Furman and its aftermath, Adams states, Against Capital Punishment

The majority’s opinion in Furman v. Georgia had the potential to alter the legal, political, and social history of the United States. It had the potential to halt the United States in its quest for the title as the only developed democratic nation that still executes its citizens…Rather than unequivocally condemning the death penalty as prima facie ‘cruel and unusual,’ the majority in Furman went no further than holding that it was unconstitutional as it was then employed. It was a lost opportunity.

Adams also noted that the discriminatory nature of the application of the death penalty remains intact in the post-Gregg era; since 1976 38% of those executed were blacks, black people making up only 12% of the population (382).

The controversy over the death penalty continues. At the present time DNA technology has awakened new opposition to this ultimate and irrevocable sanction because it has underscored the point that some people accused of capital crimes are being wrongly convicted and wrongly sentenced. There is an ebb and flow with respect to support of the death penalty and it is something that has been written about by an enormous number of scholars representing an enormous number of academic disciplines. The controversy goes at least as far back as Beccaria’s work in the late 18th century and continues to this day. Michael Foucault, the post-modernist social analyst discussed the peculiarities of the death penalty as a social phenomena in his Discipline and Punish; The Birth of the Prison, in 1977 and the study of, and controversy about, the death penalty remains ongoing almost three decades later. This student is drawn to discuss the issue because of the United States’ employment of the death penalty is rapidly becoming a rarity in the modern world and because this student believes, and believes strongly, that it is socially counterproductive as well as barbarous, and should be abolished.

This business of state sponsored killing by “humane means” is a horror. In a coldly bureaucratic way a human being is muscled into a room, strapped down, and dispatched from this world—often in a way that is very painful and degrading—while the family of the murderer’s victim coldly look on.  Often this human being has lived for a decade or more in anticipation of this event.  Many, many people believe that the whole complex that constitutes capital punishment, when taken in toto, represents a kind of torture. Can we not rise above this?  Most other industrial nations have.  Why cannot we?  Is the transient, partial satisfaction of the ignoble need for vengeance to dominate, to over-ride, our basic humanity, our sense of forgiveness, and our fundamental decency?  When a human being is put to death by society, something decent about society—a hope for the further growth of civilization—is put to death also.

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