Lifestyle Magazine

The Current State of The Death Penalty

By Oppositeofnormal @oppositeonormal

A man shackled in chains, his hands and feet bound together preventing him from escape is led into a brightly lit room. His pulse quickens, his pace slows, his breathing becoming more shallow. Thoughts bounce around his mind, “Do I deserve this? What is death going to feel like? “ The Policemen stand at attention, ready to pounce at the inkling of any deviation from the original plan for the afternoon. The air is heavy with a solemn feeling. A window separates the convicted murderer from the family of the victim. A mixture of sadness, elation and closure fills the room. The family of the slain victim cries softly. Cries for justice, cries for relief, cries for reasons only they understand. He is shackled to the gurney. Is it fair? It it just? Should we continue to administer this punishment? Thus the debate continues. Historically, support for the death penalty has always been over 50% although it has always been widely debated. Currently, it seems that support for the death penalty is on a slow decline and it is still widely debated. In “...America, where two-thirds of states still have the death penalty”(Dying Out;Capital punishment) the growth of support for the death penalty is evident. More states are beginning to outlaw and abolish the death penalty. Illinois was the most recent state to implement this. In March of 2011 “Governor Pat Quinn,..., signed legislation making Illinois the 16thstate to ban capital punishment”(New York Times Upfront). This sentiment is spreading to other states. “Connecticut, Maryland and Montana—are currently considering abolishing the death penalty”(New York Times Upfront).
Not all states are so enthusiastic about abolishing the death penalty. Most southern states still show strong public support, with Texas ranking at the top of that list. “With an average of nearly 12 executions per year, Texas outpaces the average for the second-ranking state -Virginia- by a factor of nearly 4-to-1”(Death Penalty Controversies). In international statistics, China would represent the highest ranking usage of capital punishment. China is #1 in executions in the world, leading with numbers in the thousands for 2010. The country has refused to disclose actual numbers and this estimate was obtained by Amnesty International through interviews with local experts and family members. The US ranks at number 5, with 46 executions in 2010(New York Times Upfront). Internationally there is a trend of declining application of the death penalty. “More than two-thirds of countries have done away with it either in law or in practice”(Dying Out;Capital punishment). Could the concept of capital punishment be losing its favor with people globally as well as here in the US?
The public stance on the subject has changed significantly over the course of history, and people are now far more concerned with human rights than they have been in the past. There is an increasing focus on fairness when it comes to capital punishment. There is more concern about accuracy regarding the guilt of the perpetrator. With the introduction of DNA testing into the justice system, it has been found that many offenders have been wrongly accused and put to death for a crime that they did not commit. “Between 1973 and 2008 more than 120 people in the U.S. were released from death row on the basis that they were wrongly convicted” (Capital Punishment Encyclopedia) Many people have begun to question more recently if there is any way possible to fix and/or streamline the capital punishment process. The legislative and judicial process required to imprison, convict, and execute is lengthy and costly.
Recently, the economic impacts of the death penalty have begun to be questioned by the general public. This topic has entered the death penalty debate with more emphasis around the late 1980s. (Death Penalty Debates) The legal processes required in order to convict these violent offenders adds to the bill significantly. A capital punishment trial is more costly due to the length of time involved, and added personnel required (jury) as well as scheduling on the court docket. This adds significant costs to the taxpayers as well as the parties involved. Some states have done studies to verify the accuracy of this statement. “North Carolina could save nearly $11 million a year by abolishing capital punishment” (Death Penalty Debates). The states are starting to look at the impact that capital trials have on their state budget and are finding that the enthusiasm for pursuing the death penalty is waning due to the costs. Now that the option for life without parole is offered, it is frequently considered before death penalty sentencing with the exception of the more violent cases.
Some may argue that housing of death row inmates requires significant amounts of funding as well, but in actuality it requires less than a capital trial and costs of execution. It also leads to less media involvement and less legalities to be dealt with, thereby reducing costs and public involvement. “A 2008 study in Maryland by the Urban Institute concluded that because of appeals, it costs almost $2 million more for Maryland to put someone to death than it costs to keep them in prison, even for a life sentence”(New York Times Upfront). Another consideration is the amount of death row inmates per state. Some states have more than others on death row. “As of January 2008 there were more than 3300 inmates on death row in the U.S., with the largest numbers in California (667), Florida (397), and Texas (373). (Capital Punishment Encyclopedia) These numbers could be higher due to more public support in these states, or it could be due to judges who are firm believers and supporters of the death penalty even though they are supposed to be unbiased. Crime rates could be elevated in these particular states due to many contributing factors.
Putting someone to death is a very serious decision. Does killing someone require a death sentence? It seems that statistically the majority of the general public adopts the point of view of “eye for an eye”. Is it overkill? (Pun intended). Times have changed in regards to what is a punishable offense. Historically there were a whole slew of reasons, even petty theft was punishable by death. The courts have recently again revisited the contributing circumstances surrounding a punishable offense. “In 2008, the (Supreme) Court struck down a Louisiana law that permitted capital punishment for raping a child, restricting the death penalty to cases of murder or treason”(New York Times Upfront). Would a child rapist still get life in prison though? Scarring someone for life should deserve a life sentence in many people's points of view.
“President Barack Obama has said he supports the death penalty but thinks it should be reserved for truly heinous crimes”(New York Times Upfront). In a broad public view, there can be many definitions of heinous. One may consider stabbing someone deliberately as heinous, and another may view a murder involving days of torture, or running someone over with a car as heinous. “Since hatred, cruelty and depravity are not normal, how do you prove that a killing is “especially” so?”(Upon Penalty of Life). The definition of heinous is truly open for public debate and can only be viewed on a case by case basis. In a country that values justice, it can be justified that someone who kills someone in a particularly brutal fashion, essentially gets to go to sleep (this is due to how the drugs are administered in an execution) and not wake up although what this offender did could possibly deserve more violent retribution in some people's eyes. In surveys conducted in October of 2009 by the Gallup Organization “most respondents (57 percent) said capital punishment was administered fairly, and a near majority (49 percent) said the death penalty was not imposed often enough” (Death Penalty Debates).This is the hardest and most debated aspect of the death penalty for people to come to agreement on. There is the issue of human rights and justice clashing.
One would think that the medias portrayal and continuous focus on capital punishment would be a deterrent to crime. This is debatable. First of all, do you really think a criminal or someone who has “snapped” is going to be thinking about getting the death penalty for the act they are committing. They are living in the heat of the moment, and are not considering consequences. If someone is planning a crime or murder, they may consider this consequence and just assume that they may not get caught. In my life experience, far too many people feel that they are invincible and that “It won't happen to me”. “The Death Penalty Information Center sought to buttress public doubts about capital punishment with the results of a poll of police chiefs in October 2009...Only one-third-37 percent – said they thought the death penalty significantly reduced the number of homicides” (Death Penalty Debates). This aspect of the death penalty is not statistically significant enough to sway the public and legal stance on the death penalty.
The finality of death is the most debated portion of the death penalty. Do we show that killing others is bad by doing just the same? Support for the death penalty is still strong. “A Gallup Poll in 2006 showed that 65% of the U.S. Public continued to support the death penalty, although this figure represented a decline from about 80% support in the early 1990s” (Capital Punishment Encyclopedia). This could be due to many factors. One has to wonder though, if the participants in these polls are considering all of the factors involved.
There could be many ways to eliminate and/or reduce the need to implement the death penalty. Even though effort has been made to reduce the crime rate, I feel even more attention should be paid to this contributing factor. More funding for mental healthcare making it more affordable and accessible could also help to reduce the crime rate. Mental health issues are the main reasons for crimes committed that are heinous enough to require a capital trail. My focus on the death penalty as subject matter for this blog post is rooted in personal experience. My mother was violently murdered in the summer of 2010 by her ex-boyfriend. In a way, I feel that it was fortunate that he instigated the S.W.A.T. team to fire upon him, causing his demise. I question to this day though, what the legal process may have been like had he not died. Would I want the judge and jury to choose the death penalty as his punishment?
Works Cited"Capital Punishment." Encyclopedia. Issues & Controversies in American History. Facts On File News Services, n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2011. <>."Dying out; Capital punishment." The Economist [US] 24 Sept. 2011: 73(US). Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Sep. 2011.
Donnelly, Paul. "Upon Penalty of Life." The New York Times Magazine 24 Apr. 2011: 58(L). Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Sep. 2011.
Jost, K. (2010, November 19). Death penalty debates. CQ Researcher, 20, 965-988. Retrieved from, K. (2005, September 23). Death penalty controversies. CQ Researcher15, 785-808. Retrieved from  
Smith, Patricia. "The death penalty debate: Illinois has just become the 16th state to abolish the death penalty--a decision that has reignited the long-running battle over capital punishment." New York Times Upfront 18 Apr. 2011: 12+. Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Sep. 2011.

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