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Judicial Error and the Death Penalty

The death penalty phenomenon remains a matter of public concern and has promoted many disputes and debates. At present, its relevance is related to the fact that many states are seeking to relax legislation by imposing moratoriums or even authorizing the abolition of the death penalty as an instrument of punishment. This raises a large number of issues that are not only legal but also philosophical. Discussions concerning such a penalty are complicated by the topic of the innocence of victims or the deliberate death penalty. This research paper provides a critical analysis of the feasibility of stopping the death penalty in the United States through the lens of the innocence of victims.

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The death penalty as an instrument of justice is of particular importance to public consciousness. Execution can be perceived not only as an instrument of criminal policy but also as a socio-cultural phenomenon. The attitude of an individual or the entire public can serve as an indicator of justice, humanism, and civilization, as well as a reliable determinant. Today, due to the profound world processes of integration and globalization, the legal position of the individual cannot remain static (Garrett 201). Fundamental rights are recognized in the legislation of the majority of developed countries. Notwithstanding, on the path towards full recognition of the right to life and the removal of the death penalty, a large number of States execute death sentences.

The exclusion of the death penalty from contemporary international law is linked to the affirmation of respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms as a fundamental principle and the general recognition of the absolute right to life. Many states around the world have already introduced restrictions on the death penalty as a judicial tool. (“Issue Overview”). The death penalty runs counter to international human rights law and violates the universally accepted rule on the right to life (Garrett 214). The question of the death penalty is, therefore, inseparable from and incompatible with the general concept of human rights, as it violates people’s rights and, above all, violates people’s right to life.

The death penalty is a phenomenon of injustice and also demonstrates the executioner’s bloodthirstiness through killing methods. The most common methods of execution are injection, electric shocks, placement in a gas chamber, hanging, or shooting (“Issue Overview”). Such methods raise doubts about the validity of their application. It was initially assumed that lethal injection would be a more humane method of execution than an electric chair or a gas chamber. However, the action of the injected drugs caused agony in many convicts for several hours. In search of an alternative to the aforementioned inhumane method of execution, the United States attempted to use the nitrogen inhalation method. Therefore, most states had approved the death penalty but had limited its enforcement mechanisms. Since January 2018, the death injection has been used unless a prisoner chooses nitrogen hypoxia or electric shock as an alternative (Brown and McGee 229). From a humanistic point of view, however, neither injection nor electrocution makes a big difference.

The central phenomenon of the death penalty is the dispute between its proponents and opponents over the existence of such a tool for crime control. The position of maintaining the death penalty is supported by many modern legal scholars who claim that the killer deserves the death penalty, even if it can be changed. However, as evidence of the efficiency of the execution, such people cite the warning effect of the death penalty on the rest of society. One of the most significant and necessary pieces of evidence of the ineffectiveness of the death penalty is the matter of a miscarriage of justice. In essence, an innocent person may be executed as a result of an error (Garrett 202). There are many cases in modern court history where an accidental or deliberate mistake by a prosecutor resulted in the death of innocent people (Bishop and Osler 1031). However, scandals involving the unjustly imposed but still executed death penalty had erupted in the United States before. One textbook example, cited by almost all adversaries of the death penalty in the United States, was the conviction in South Carolina of the Griffin brothers (Warden and Lennard 284). Research shows that slippage in cases of crimes for which the death penalty is established by law as an exceptional sentence of death is not as rare as many authors claim (Garrett 214). This eventually results in the death of a large number of wrongly convicted prisoners.

In discussing the possibility of a miscarriage of justice, the underlying meaning of truth is not to convict a guilty person but to prevent the conviction of an innocent person. It is impossible to speak in such categories as “abstract” errors or even “minor” errors because the price of such failure is exceptionally high. Moreover, referring to the topic of the absolute irreversibility of the death penalty, it should be noted that in the execution of the sentence of death against an innocent person it seems impossible to compensate for the loss of the relatives and friends of the executed person, let alone the executed person themselves (Bishop and Osler 1045). The maximum that the state can do is to carry out postmortem rehabilitation, but it is unlikely to make up for the loss of human life. Therefore, in this case, life imprisonment and long-term imprisonment will undoubtedly win.

Moreover, it is wrong to compare the miscarriage of justice that led to the death of a prisoner with other errors in human activity. Indeed, everyday mistakes are made, and as a result, patients die, or construction workers die, or passers-by die. It is essential not to go into the very emotional protection of the death penalty by justifying judicial errors but to strive to optimize the legal system. Judicial activity, however, like any other related to the fate of the individual or his or her life, is fundamentally different from other human activities in that it should not allow for ways of achieving its goals that inherently jeopardize the existence of human life. Such methods should be avoided as far as possible, and the death penalty could be detached from the arsenal of the judicial system without any dangerous consequences, which was not the case with the instruments used by a physician in a surgical operation.

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In modern society, with the rapid development of technology, it is possible to reduce the number of court errors as much as possible, but unfortunately, not possible to get rid of them completely. In addition to the already studied ways of solving this problem, such as improving the preliminary investigation and creating additional guarantees, new technologies to accurately determine the guilt of a person in the commission of a crime (Dror and Morgan 8) should appear. Everyone who is arrested or otherwise subjected to state coercion and who has not done what he or she is accused of doing should have the right to refute the conviction.

In the continuation of the topic of the inadmissibility of the death penalty as an instrument of justice, it should be noted that a direct link between failures of justice and the elimination of the death penalty in the United States can be made by analyzing recent judicial sentencing trends. In past years, the number of death penalty cases in the United States has been decreasing, as jurors are often offered an alternative to life imprisonment without parole (Waldo and Wesley 537). However, based on the U.S. experience with capital punishment, it is difficult to change the current system, if only because a state decision is required. Although the death penalty is legal at the national level, in the United States, while maintaining the death penalty in criminal codes, some states do not apply it because of the possibility of making a mistake. In Illinois, the death penalty moratorium has existed for seventeen years and was imposed by Governor George Ryan, struck by the number of convicted prisoners on death row who were found not guilty on appeal or after new evidence emerged (Waldo and Wesley 556). In New Mexico, Governor Bill Richardson, the convinced supporter of the death penalty and the ex-presidential candidate of the Democratic Party of the USA nevertheless imposed a moratorium after the release from custody of four innocent people who spent some years on death row.

Works Cited

Bishop, Jeanne, and Mark Osler. “Prosecutors and victims: why wrongful convictions matter.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, vol. 105, no. 4, 2015, pp. 1031-1047.

Brown, Lauren and Sarah Graham McGee. “Social Work and Capital Punishment: A Call to Action.” Journal of Human Rights and Social Work, vol. 3, no. 4, 2018, pp. 229-239.

Dror, Itiel and Ruth Morgan. “A Futuristic Vision of Forensic Science.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol. 65, no, 1, 2019, pp. 8-10.

“Issue Overview: Death Penalty.” Infobase, no date. Web.

Garrett, Brandon. “Innocence and the global death penalty.” Comparative Capital Punishment, edited by Carol S. Steiker and Jordan M. Steiker, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019, pp. 201-215.

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Waldo, Gordon and Wesley Myers. “Criminological Research and The Death Penalty: Have Research by Criminologists Impacted Capital Punishment Practices?” American Journal of Criminal Justice, vol. 44, no. 4, 2019, pp. 536-580.

Warden, Rob, and Daniel Lennard. “Death in America Under Color of Law: Our Long, Inglorious Experience with Capital Punishment.” Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy, vol. 13, no. 4, 2017, pp. 194-306.

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