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A Contemporary Look At Capital Punishment In America Today

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A Contemporary Look at Capital Punishment in America Today

Capital punishment is a form of punishment that dates back as far as the eighteenth century B.C. It is a form of punishment that is irreversible. The abolitionist movement to cease the use of capital punishment received a big push in 1767. Cesare Beccaria's essay, "On Crime and Punishment" explained why there was no justification for the state to take a life. Since its reinstatement back in the United States in 1977, there have been 1004 executions ("Capital Punishment 2004" 9; "Capital Punishment Statistics" Para. 1). Besides being inhumane abolitionists see capital punishment as a politically fueled bias punishment. This report examines abolitionist views on race bias, deterrence effect, and cost.

Abolitionists believe an underground bias exists in our Criminal Justice system that makes a fair playing ground impossible in deciding who should receive the death penalty. Race has become an issue in who receives capital punishment. Amnesty International reported in 2003 that out of 845 death row inmates, between January 1977 and 10 April 2003, 53 percent were whites convicted of killing whites and 10 percent were blacks convicted of killing blacks (Amnesty International 2). Concerning interracial crimes, reports reveal bias in the outcome of a trial and the race of the victim. As of 21 September 2006, there have been 213 capital punishment convictions where the offender was black and the victim was white, while only fourteen cases have involved a white defendant and a black victim ("Race of Death Row" Para.3). These statistical differences imply that if the victim is white the chances of receiving the death penalty increase tremendously.

Deborah Fins from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) reports, as of 1 July 2006, the following statistics concerning the race of the victim in capital punishment cases: whites 79.35%, Black 13.91%, Latino 4.55%, Native American .32%, and Asian 1.69% (12). This is not an issue that has recently become a concern. Professor David Baldus examined 2500 homicide cases in Georgia, in the 1970's, and found that a person accused of killing a white person was 4.3 percent more likely to be sentenced to death ("Double Justice" Para. 6). In Maryland, criminologist Raymond Paternoster found that race of the victim played a large role in whether or not the prosecutor would seek the death penalty ("Death Penalty Injustice" Para. 2). In 2004 a Supreme Court justice wrote, "Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes, race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall die" (Fins 3). After hearing these words from one of the most honorable persons in our society, capital punishment needs to be re-evaluated, and should be unconstitutional until race bias is cleared.

Deterrence is one of the four different theories behind the effectiveness of punishment. For the most part deterrence does work, except in the matter of capital punishment. In 1977, Gary Gilmore demonstrated that capital punishment was a not a deterrent but a reward (Van Wormer 92). Gary Gilmore, moved from his home state of Oregon, which did not use capital punishment, and moved to Utah were capital offenses were punishable by a firing squad. He killed two random people, and then during his trial, requested the death penalty. During his final moments before being executed, Gary Gilmore's last words were, "let's do this" (Van Wormer 92). In 1992, a fifteen year old boy, who wanted to die and was too scared to do it himself, killed his friend in hopes of being executed by the state (Van Wormer 92). The fact that capital punishment was looked at as a reward means that people who are for the death penalty cannot legitimately argue that it deters crime. In September 2000, The New York Times released a survey that found in the last twenty years, the homicide rate in states that utilized the death penalty was 48 to 101 percent higher than states that did not have the death penalty (Fessenden Para. 2). This survey gives greater reason for the Criminal Justice system to reevaluate the idea of capital punishment as an effective deterrent to crime.

The cost associated with executing a person is much higher than the cost of life imprisonment. In California, the average cost of eleven executions in the past twenty seven years has been $250 million ("Price of Death" Para. 2). The average cost to house an inmate, in California, is $34,150 per year. The cost of the death penalty is so much because of the length of trials and the extra steps that occur in a capital punishment case ("Price of Death" Para. 2). Currently, New Jersey has ceased the death penalty, and has created a commission to investigate the cost of execution compared to life in prison as well as various other aspects of the death penalty

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