The death penalty has become archaic. As a society, we have become more civilized. The death penalty is only carried out in an erratic fashion. It has not been shown to be a deterrent to murder. As our society evolves in science, health, and social awareness, it is only right that we should reject the death penalty as the cruel, barbaric, and outmoded vehicle it has become. We, as a society, are becoming more civilized. But we are currently the only nation in the western democratic world that has not abolished capital punishment. According to Amnesty International USA, we are the only country in the western world, since 1977, to execute inmates, who were under 18 years old when they committed their crime.
The United States has not actually executed any child, under the age of 18, because these inmates are actually in their twenties or thirties before all of their appeals have been heard. So we are actually executing them for something they did as a teen, even though the actual execution takes place years later. As awful as this sounds, there are countries in this world that execute teenagers. Yemen executed a thirteen-year-old child, who was found guilty of robber and murder. The former governor of California, Pete Wilson, has suggested that fourteen-year-olds should be eligible for the death penalty. He said that gangs use younger members to kill because they know that they will not be given the death penalty if caught. He believes that this would be a deterrent. Luckily this has not become a law in California, or the rest of the country.
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Pope John Paul II has criticized the United States for embracing the culture of death. Vatican II came out against the death penalty. The council stated that the death penalty may be the “only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” but also goes on the say such circumstances are “practically nonexistent” in today’s world, in view of the resources available to governments to restrain convicted criminals from committing violent acts. The United Nations Human Rights Commission has adopted a resolution urging a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. We, as a country, have reviled China and other countries for human rights violations. Many western democratic countries believe that our death penalty violates human rights. Do we really want to be associated with Yemen, China, Iraq, and other countries that have no consideration for human rights?
The death penalty, in the United States, is carried out in a very erratic fashion. In 1982, The Standard Law Review documented 350 capital convictions that later proved to be innocent of the crime. A Congressional Subcommittee report later reached a similar conclusion. Studies show that status appears to be the key to whether someone gets sentenced to death, in this country. More than 50% of prisoners executed between 1930 and 1996 were African American. A study in Philadelphia showed that black defendants were four times more likely to receive the death penalty than any other ethnic group. Less than half of all murders involve white victims, but 82% of prisoners executed since 1976 were convicted of murdering white victims. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun said, “Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes, race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall die.”
98% of all United States chief district attorneys are Caucasians. These are the people who decide whether to seed the death penalty. Death penalty supporters say, if the death penalty discriminates, it is only because judges and juries do have to give the death penalty in every case. If the death penalty were given in every case, there would be no discrimination. This appears to be too simplistic a view. Americans have long been accused of discrimination and as long as the United States chief district attorneys are mostly white, we will find a way to make sure our “own” are not discriminated against. It has also been shown, that many on death row were represented by poorly paid lawyers. Many of these poorly paid lawyers possessed little or no knowledge of the complex, subspecialty of capital defense. Elisabeth Semel of the American Bar Association states that many convicts lack the means to mount an effective defense. The capital defense can cost as much as $250,000 or more. The prosecution has unlimited resources, but the defense is severely limited by the pocketbook of the offender.
Colorado, Connecticut, and New York have tried to get rid of these problems by creating a state-funded office of defense lawyers who specialize in capital cases. These states recognized that capital law is complex, and if the lawyer is inexperienced he will do a poor job at trial. According to Stephen B. Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and a professor at Yale Law School, Colorado prosecutors seek the death penalty infrequently, mostly because they believe that the Colorado Office of the Public Defender will defeat all but the strongest cases. Since 1975, only five people have been sentenced to death, and only one has actually been executed. The death penalty has not proven to be a deterrent to murder. Many murders are committed in the “heat of passion”. The killer is so emotionally upset, that he or she does not think about getting caught or what the punishment would be.
Most of us cannot imagine spending the rest of our lives in prison. Stephen Nathanson, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, argues this point when he wrote: “For most of us, the prospect of life imprisonment is so dreadful that increasing the penalty for murder from life imprisonment to death would not provide any additional discouragement.” It has also been noted that Texas has executed more people than another state, but its homicide rate remains among the nation’s highest. This same study indicated that there are approximately 20,000 murders annually in the United States, but only 100 executions. It can be shown that the odds of a white murder actually getting the death penalty are extremely rare. The rest of the Western world has abolished the death penalty. We, as a society, need to “evolve” into a more civilized society. If we are to truly consider ourselves to be the guardians of Human Rights in the world, we must start by abolishing the death penalty in our own country. Capital punishment has been shown to be racist. Capital punishment cannot be shown to be a deterrent to murder. We need to rid our country of this Human Rights violation.