What is capital punishment, and what do people do to deserve such a misfortunate fate? Capital punishment is the death penalty and is performed on criminals who have committed heinous acts of murder, rape, or a combination of the two crimes. When the words death penalty are used, it makes activists from opposite ends of the spectrum yell and scream, trying to make their voices and thoughts heard. Some people would say that using the death penalty deters criminals from performing crimes while others disagree and would say innocent people are killed needlessly with the death penalty. Regardless of the great debate, the death penalty should remain legal and be used sparingly on criminals who can be convicted and proven guilty without a reasonably doubt.
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The death penalty has always been a very touchy subject because of the moral obligations humanity has to the treatment of others and the obligation to the victims in acts of animosity. The death penalty was legal up until 1972, when the Supreme Court declared the punishment unconstitutional in Furman vs. Georgia (Liptak, 2007). In this particular case, Furman was burglarizing a home when the family members discovered him. In an attempt to flee, Furman tripped, and the gun he was carrying went off and killed a member of the house. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death (Oyez Project, n.d.). However, the Supreme Court ruled that in cases similar to this one, like Jackson v. Georgia and Branch v. Texas, that the death penalty was a violation of the Eight and Fourteen Amendments which state that cruel and unusual punishment are unconstitutional. Four years later, the Supreme Court reversed the decision with Gregg vs. Georgia. Gregg was charged with armed robbery and murder when he robbed two men and gunned them down. Gregg was later found guilty and sentenced to death (FindLaw, n.d). The key difference between Furman vs. Georgia and Gregg vs. Georgia was that Furman fell and accidently killed while Gregg killed two men without mercy so that he could rob them. Because of Gregg’s actions, the Supreme Court overturned their previous decision, and the death penalty was reinstated. Despite the reinstatement of the death penalty, thirteen states in America do not have the death penalty. These states are Alaska, District of Colombia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Without the death penalty institutionalized in these states, they have a higher crime rate than the states that do have the death penalty ( Death Penalty Information Center, 1992).
According to H. Naci Mocan, an economist at Louisiana State University, there is a deterrent effect on criminals who live in states that have the death penalty. Mr. Mocan, along with several other economists, conducted studies over the past decade and compared the numbers of executions in different areas with homicide rates over time. The conclusion these economists found in roughly a dozen studies is that for each inmate put to death three to eighteen murders are prevented (Liptak, 2007). In addition to preventing murders and crimes, states that have legalized the death penatly do tend to have a lower crime rate than states that do not have the death penatly. Nothing will completely deter someone from comitting a crime, however, according to Johanna M. Shepherd, a law professor at Emory, “People do respond to incentives” (Liptak, 2007). The evidence of such a powerful statement has been proven through numerous of studies conducted over the past decade.
Although the death penalty provides incentives for people not to commit crimes, there are a few that are not capable mentally to understand their wrongs. It has always been a major concern of humanity activists that one day a mentally ill criminal may be sentenced to death. The existence of mentally ill criminals who do not comprehend the reason or the reality of their crimes is one major reason why the death penalty should be used sparingly if it is to remain legal throughout the states. It is all right for a jury to convict a criminal who is sane when there is no reasonable doubt. However, to convict a mentally ill person violates the U.S. constitution with the court case ruling of Ford vs. Wainwright. This ruling left the determination of insanity up to each individual state (Amnesty International USA, 1961). With a mentally ill criminal, there is no justice or satisfaction with the death penalty. Using the death penalty on someone incapable of understanding the extremity of his or her crimes is like sentencing an innocent man to die. Instead of killing someone who could have no more understanding of the law than a five year old, the judge and jury should have the right to give the person “life without parole” rather than the death penalty.
Although the death penalty was not used in The Leo Frank Case, the principle of convicting an innocent man to die remains the same. The Leo Frank Case began in Atlanta were a thirteen-year-old girl was found raped and strangled in a local pencil factory owned by a Jewish man named Leo Frank. Leo Frank was arrested and participated in a rigged trial were witnesses lied continually on the stand and convinced the jury, judge, and bystanders that Leo Frank was guilty without a reasonable doubt. Leo Frank was sentenced to death and hung in the hometown of Mary Phagan. Four years later, the real murderer of Mary Phagan was convicted and sentenced to death. According to old police files that never came into evidence in Leo Frank’s court case, a worker of Frank’s by the name of Jim Conley was proven to be the murderer when he confessed on his deathbed (Dinnerstein, 1966). Leo Frank had been an innocent man convicted to die because of poor judgment. Although the case happened many years ago, the same poor judgment in our court systems continues today. That is why the death penalty should only be used when there is no reasonable doubt that the criminal is guilty of committing the crime. Life without parole is a much better alternative for an innocent man rather than killing him for a crime he did not commit. Because with the sentence of “life without parole,” the man could file for appeals and prove his innocence rather than his life being taken away to false witnesses or corrupted judges who have a second agenda.
Although the death penalty has saved many innocent lives and given many people peace, the process should always be used as a last resort. The death penalty should be used sparingly because the process deters some, not all, criminals from committing crimes. According to the U.S. constitution, mentally ill criminals cannot be put to death. In addition, innocent people die by the death penalty and are never given a chance to prove their innocence. The death penalty will always be a touchy subject no matter how many years pass. However, although the death penalty saves lives and protects the interests of the citizens of America, the death penalty should be used sparingly and wisely because life without parole is always a better alternative than death.