Saturday, January 24, 2015

Is The Death Penalty Constitutional? Should We Use It?

In the 1972 Supreme Court case, Furman v. Georgia, the 5-4 court ruled that "a death row inmate's chances of being executed were completely random, and the death penalty thus served no deterrent effect" (Ivers, 2013, ch 9.3, para 13). Many argue that death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which states: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted" (Eighth Amendment, n.d.), but the court has never expressly ruled that, in all cases, the death penalty violates the "cruel and unusual" standard.

Do I believe that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment? I believe it is definitely cruel to kill another human being. How could it not be? I wouldn't call it unusual though. People have been killing people since the beginning of time and governments have been killing people since there were governments. So, yes it is cruel, but it is definitely not unusual.

This leads us to ask the following questions: Does the Constitution protect against cruelty or just cruelty that is unusual? Does the Constitution protect against unusual punishment or unusual punishment that is cruel? It would seem that it protects against punishments that are both, simultaneously, cruel and unusual and not just one or the other.

Another argument made against the death penalty's constitutionality is that it violates the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, specially the section that states that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" (The Bill of Rights: A Transcription, n.d.). However, according to scholars who believe the death penalty is constitutional, "life, just like liberty and property, can be taken as long as an individual has been afforded the due process of law" (Ivers, 2013, ch 9.3, para 1).

With this in mind, I believe the death penalty is constitutional; however, I disagree with its use. If we, as a society, believe murder is abhorrent, what sense does it make to kill people who murder? It may not be unconstitutional, but it surely is hypocritical and shows our savage nature rather than an enlightened one. The death penalty is not about justice, in my opinion, but rather, an eye for an eye. That is not the way a civilized society conducts itself.

However, there is another, even more significant, reason that YOU should be against the death penalty. The fact is that the government can and does make mistakes. How many innocent people have been executed for crimes they never committed? One is too many and there is no way to ensure that mistakes will never be made.

For this reason, I am against the death penalty for any and all crimes. If we want to really deter criminals from committing heinous crimes, we should stop letting them out of jail if there is a chance that they could go back to a life of crime. We claim that when our prisoners get out of jail that they have paid their debt to society, but in reality, have they really? In many case, they have simply served their time or in some cases got released early due to over crowding. I believe that if we stopped crowding our prisons with non-violent felons, who have committed victimless crimes and started holding the violent felons until they are legitimately no longer a danger to society, we would be much better served.

This is coming from someone who used to fully believe in the death penalty and has since changed his mind. It is easy to be callous and cold hearted about those who are accused of terrible crimes, but we cannot allow our quest for vengeance to result in innocent blood being spilled. As mentioned before, even the courts have determined that the death penalty "served no deterrent effect". Why are we still allowing this archaic, hypocritical and unjust practice to continue?

Ivers, G. (2013). Constitutional law: An introduction. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Eighth Amendment. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2015, from
The Bill of Rights: A Transcription. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2015, from

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