The death penalty is also referred to as capital punishment and is commonly reserved for capital offenses. Capital punishment involves the execution o an individual who has committed a capital offense by the state. The term capital has its origins in the Latin word capita which literally translates to “of the head.” Therefore a capital offense was originally punished by having the offender’s head cut off. For a long time, many societies used execution as a way of dealing with criminals and politicians who opposed the government of the day. In other countries, crimes of a sexual nature such as adultery, sodomy, and rape are punishable by the death penalty. This also includes religious crimes such as apostasy, where an individual renounces the religion of the state. Drug trafficking is also another crime punishable by death in certain retentionist countries. Retentionist countries are those that still practice capital punishment. China, for instance, punishes crimes like human trafficking and serious cases of corruption by capital punishment. Military justice has also been known to impose capital punishment on things like mutiny, desertion, insubordination, and cowardice. Around the world, many European countries and states in the Pacific Area have abolished the death penalty. Latin American countries have also done away with the death sentence as they have adopted democracy. Brazil is an exception, however, because it retains the death sentence for special circumstances like when someone is guilty of treason during a time of war. Countries that still retain the death penalty include the USA, most Asian and African countries as well as the Caribbean countries. South Africa does not have capital punishment, and this is quite a contentious issue in that country, especially because of the high prevalence of violent crime, murder, and rape. After the Second World War, the trend was towards the abolition of the death penalty. By 2006 92 countries had abolished the death penalty while 62 countries still retained capital punishment. The use of capital punishment is, however, becoming rare even in countries that have retained it are Japan, the US, Taiwan, and Singapore. Capital punishment was for a long time practiced in authoritarian and poor countries where political dissent was not welcome. In the 1980s, most of Latin America became democratic, leading to an increase in abolitionist countries. When communism fell in Eastern and Central Europe, countries aspiring to join the EU had to abolish the death penalty.
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The debate on capital punishment has lasted a long time, and it still remains a bone of contention in many cultures. Those who support capital punishment claim that it serves as a deterrent for would-be offenders. They also argue that it is an appropriate punishment for certain very grievous crimes. The view that capital punishment is less expensive than life imprisonment has also been used to push the agenda in support of capital punishment.
Opponents of the death penalty argue that the death penalty carries with it the danger of wrongful execution of offenders. Further, it has been argued that life imprisonment is far more effective than the death penalty as far as deterrents go. In addition, various lawyers have shown that capital punishment, contrary to popular belief, is actually more expensive than life imprisonment. This is due to the judicial process involved as well as the preparations involved before the execution process. Discrimination against the poor and minorities has also been fronted as an argument in opposition to the death penalty. This is because often, those on death row have been found to be belonging to minority groups and also to be among the poor in society. Often in a crime where there was an interracial murder, the jury is more likely to pass a death penalty against the offender, and this probability increases when the defendant is from a minority group. This is despite findings that most interracial murders usually happen as a result of a felony and not because there was premeditated intent to murder. The death penalty is also considered by many to be a violation of the right to life of the offender.
Surveys done in the US show that the majority of Americans favor capital punishment. This is according to a survey carried out by ABC News in July of 2006. The public, however, seems to be divided on whether a life imprisonment sentence is more appropriate than a death sentence. About six in ten of the people interviewed believed that a death sentence is not a real deterrent for murder, while another significant majority held that about one innocent person might have undergone execution in the last half decade. This is evidently a divided view on the subject, and claiming public support for the death penalty may be misinformation.
The argument that the death sentence is a violation of the right to life has made it necessary for the judiciary to make some things clear by providing an interpretation of the right to life clause in the US constitution. This has often been done by citing the social purpose rule or the mischief rule. This rule allows for one to look at sources outside legal texts and to look at such things as the lawmaker’s intention or what a term meant at the time of formation of a concept. The members of the judiciary cite Locke and/or Thomas Jefferson, stating that by giving the government the right to protect their natural rights, citizens have made a social contract. Abuse of this social contract by violating the government’s right means that an individual has given up their natural rights.
To deal with discrimination and persecution associated with the death penalty, Article 11-02 is used to cover cases in which the judicial process is used for the protection of politicians and minorities. When it is shown that there is an inherent fault in the system or that the decision of a judge was prejudiced, the conviction is reversed. Further, when the public defender appointed is proved to be incompetent, a retrial becomes a valid request. When a particular method of execution is seen to inflict torture, then the court declares the method unconstitutional but not capital punishment.
Advances in forensic science have also helped the judiciary because they have led to a reversal of convictions for those on death row. It is, however, unfortunate for those who are declared innocent after they have already been executed. In the US, the judicial process is such that one can plead guilty to avoid a death sentence. This has several advantages in that it leads to a reduction in the cost of the whole judicial process and investigation. In addition. it encourages accomplices to provide testimonies against other offenders, and as such criminal investigators can find bodies of victims. (Kasten, 2006).
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Though the death penalty has been used for many years, its use is gradually becoming less and less, and the US, like other developed countries, may need to do away with it. Many people argue for its deterrent effect, but the number of murders and the ever-increasing crime rate continue to defeat this argument. In addition, the costs of capital punishment have been proven over and over again to be higher than for life imprisonment. The USA, therefore, needs to review its policy on the death penalty with a fresh look at the merits and demerits of the death sentence. This ought to be done without political involvement since most politicians have a tendency to misrepresent facts.
It is important to collect the views of the people on the subject since most current surveys show an ambivalent position on the issue. More importantly, the public needs to be educated about the issue by presenting the actual facts related to the death penalty, and then they can be asked about their support or lack of support for the death penalty.
Once the necessary information has been collected, action will be dependent on what the public desires as long as it is constitutional. This is because often, the Supreme Court has been known to base decisions regarding issues of public concern on public opinion. Since the law is being made for the public, it is best that the public is not ignored.
Amnesty International, 2006, Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries. Web.
ABC News Poll, 2006, Death Penalty Poll, Support but Ambivalence as well. Web.
Death Penalty Information Center, 2007, Innocence and the Death Penalty. Web.
Delfino M and Day ME, 2008, Death Penalty USA: 2005 – 2006, MoBeta Publishing, Tampa, Florida. Web.
Dieter R, 2007, What Politicians Don’t Say About the High Costs of the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Focus. Web.
Kasten M, 1996, An economic analysis of the death penalty.
Shot at Dawn,2007, Campaign for pardons for British and Commonwealth soldiers executed in World War I. Web.
William, S 2000 The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law, Cambridge University Press.