Abolish the Death Penalty Essay Sample

Abolish the Death Penalty Essay Sample

Many believers of the death penalty see it as an effective punishment in part to the saying “an eye for an eye”. They see it as a way to discourage violent offenders and ensure safety in their communities. In practice, the death penalty does not single out the worst offenders. Rather, it selects an arbitrary group based on irrational factors such as the quality of the defense counsel, the geographic location of the crime or the race of the defendant or victim. Almost all defendants facing the death penalty cannot afford their own attorney. Hence, they are dependent on the quality of the lawyers assigned by the state, many of whom lack experience in capital cases or are so underpaid that they fail to investigate the case properly. A poorly represented defendant is much more likely to be convicted and given a death sentence. With respect to race, studies have repeatedly shown that a death sentence is far more likely where a white person is murdered than where a black person is murdered, thus suggesting racism. Without a completely uncorrupt justice system, the risk of putting innocent people to death via capital punishment cannot be ruled out.

The death penalty, consequently, must be abolished. This essay will examine the examples of executed prisoners that may have been innocent, where this is used, the laws against this and how the implementation of the death penalty is subject and discriminatory. With the advancement of forensic technology many people on death row have found to have been innocent of their supposed crimes after their death which means that the state killed an innocent person without real cause or warrant. An example of such a case was Gary Graham. Gary Graham was executed on June 23, 2000, in Texas, despite claims that he was innocent. Graham was 17 when he was charged with the 1981 robbery and shooting of Bobby Lambert outside a Houston supermarket. He was convicted primarily on the testimony of one witness, Bernadine Skillern, who said she saw the killer’s face for a few seconds through her car windshield, from a distance of 30-40 feet away.

Two other witnesses said they got a good look at the assailant they said Graham was not the killer but were never interviewed by Graham’s court appointed attorney, Ronald Mock, and were not called to testify at trial. Three of the jurors who voted to convict Graham signed affidavits saying they would have voted differently had all of the evidence been available. (“Executed But Possibly Innocent”) Graham was executed on the testimony of a person that barely saw the face of the assailant and claimed that Graham was the murderer, despite the fact that the other witnesses who were able to clearly see the assailant said that it was not him. Had the detectives done their jobs correctly and were able to prove that without a doubt that this man was the murderer, than there would not be inconsistencies in the case. Irregularities that suggest that this man was executed for no reason.

As it is defined by the Fifth Amendment of the United States, the jury must be beyond a reasonable doubt (Kenney 989-995) certain that a person committed the crime and in this case there is doubt as two out of three witnesses cannot positively state that Graham was the assailant. A similar example of such a case of where an innocent man may have been executed is of Cameron Willingham. Willingham was convicted of capital murder after arson investigators concluded that 20 indicators of arson led them to believe that an accelerant had been used to set three separate fires inside his home. Among the only other evidence presented by prosecutors during the trial was testimony from jailhouse snitch Johnny E. Webb, a drug addict on psychiatric medication, who claimed Willingham had confessed to him in the county jail. After examining evidence from the capital prosecution of Cameron Willingham, four national arson experts have concluded that the original investigation of Willingham’s case was flawed, and it is possible the fire was accidental.

The independent investigation, reported by the Chicago Tribune, found that prosecutors and arson investigators used arson theories that have since been repudiated by scientific advances. Willingham was executed in 2004 in Texas despite his consistent claims of innocence. He was convicted of murdering his three children in a 1991 house fire. (“Executed But Possibly Innocent.”) Prior to the execution, Willingham’s defense attorneys presented expert testimony regarding the new arson investigation to the state’s highest court, as well as to Texas Governor Rick Perry. No relief was granted and Willingham was executed on February 17, 2004. Coincidentally, less than a year after Willingham’s execution, arson evidence presented by some of the same experts who had appealed for relief in Willingham’s case helped free another death row prisoner in Texas.

The experts noted that the evidence in the Willingham case was nearly identical to the evidence used to exonerate the other prisoner. (“Executed But Possibly Innocent.”) This whole case was based on a debunked arson theory and the word of a convicted drug addict that was on psychiatric medication- which by definition is a mind altering drug. Had the new evidence surrounding the arson investigation been put before the courts this man would not have been executed for this arson that was found to have just been an accident. In a system with the death penalty a person’s life is determined by a group of individuals, where they could be executed for a crime they did not commit. In the case of George Rodriguez, he was convicted in the rape and murder of a fourteen year old girl, based on the bias of a determined detective. In February 1987, in Houston, Texas, a fourteen-year-old girl was forced into a car by two Latino men.

She was taken to a house where both men raped her. After the sexual assault, she was placed in the car again and left on a roadside. In her initial statements to police, the victim characterized her assailants as the skinny one and the fat one. She also provided details about the house and the route the assailants took to get there. One of the assailants had called the other by the name of George, but the victim indicated that she thought this was a fake name, as the assailants had discussed not using their real names. Based on this information, police went to the house belonging to Manuel and Uvaldo Beltran, brothers who were acquainted with George Rodriguez. Because the name George was used in the attack, Rodriguez became a suspect because one of the investigating officers knew of the Beltrans and knew that Rodriguez was an associate of Manuel.( innocenceproject.org)

When questioned, Rodriguez claimed that he was at work at the time of the crime, a claim confirmed by his work records. Uvaldo Beltran told police that he had been at home watching television when his brother and Isidro Yanez walked through with the victim and went to a bedroom. Manuel Beltran admitted to the crime, telling police that he and Yanez had brought the victim to the house and raped her in the bedroom while his brother was in the living room watching television. Yanez had previously been named in a similar crime in the area. Police also confirmed that Yanez’s car was used in the abduction. They convicted this man based on a bias, when in fact at the supposed time of the crime he was working and they had one of their suspects admit to the crime and say the name of the fellow assailant. (innocenceproject.org)

Many developed countries around the world have put in place laws that prohibit the death penalty from being used, however in fewer developing countries it is accepted. In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms it guarantees that “Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.” (laws-lois.justice.gc.ca) By the very definition being killed for a crime regardless of being wrongly convicted is a cruel punishment. With one spending their years knowing that they are going to be killed by either being hanged, firing squad or being lethally injected, which can have a psychological toll. The psychological toll punishes a person first, for years before they are killed and they are punished a second time by losing their life. The death penalty has been abolished formally since 1976, with the last executions in 1962. Canada has taken an active role in ensuring that the death penalty is not used such as not extraditing prisoners until they are confident that they will not be executed. (cbc.ca)

The United States is the only country in the Western world that still uses capital punishment, which alone shows the trend of abolishing this practice. However there are many countries that still have this practice such as Afghanistan, China, India, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, among others. (Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries) All countries that have a long list of human rights violations and are considered developing nations by international standards. This alone should show that the death penalty should be abolished as these countries use the death penalty for reasons other than for extreme crimes and could be used to the government’s advantage. These countries could use the death penalty as a technique to kill political prisoners that oppose the government, silencing their voice forever. As a developed nation places similar to the United States should be setting an example and not following the practice that was used well before it was colonized.

More than two thirds of the world have abolished the death penalty and as a global community there has been a push for this anarchic practice to be abolished, and holding on to this practice in modern society has become a welcomed rarity. Many claim that discrimination is a thing of the past however, in the justice system especially in death sentences, race plays a factor. In the United States, there is an obvious disconnection between non-discrimination laws and justice. “One of you two is gonna hang for this. Since you’re the nigger, you’re elected.”(“Race and the Death Penalty”) These words were spoken by a Texas police officer to Clarence Brandley, who was charged with the murder of a white high school girl. Brandley was later exonerated in 1990 after ten years on death row. (“Race and the Death Penalty”) This was a disturbing display of racial bias, which had no ground in justice and would warrant actions against the officer’s words, if it was not seen throughout the country.

In preparing for the penalty phase of an African-American defendant’s trial, a white judge in Florida said in open court: “Since the nigger mom and dad are here anyway, why don’t we go ahead and do the penalty phase today instead of having to subpoena them back at cost to the state.” (“Race and the Death Penalty.”) This comment was said about Anthony Peek, who was sentenced to death and the sentence was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court in 1986 reviewing his claim of racial bias. (“Race and the Death Penalty”) In this simple display of racial bias, a Federal study found that 80% of the cases submitted by federal prosecutors for the death penalty review between 1988- 2000 have involved racial minorities as defendants. In more than half of those cases, the defendant was African-American. ( ) However the bias is not focused just on offenders but also to victims according to a report done in North Carolina.

The study, based on data collected from court records of 502 murder cases from 1993 to 1997, found that race plays a significant role in who gets the death penalty. Prof. Jack Boger and Dr. Isaac Unah of the University of North Carolina found that defendants whose victims are white are 3.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those with non-white victims. (“Race and the Death Penalty”) If the issue of racial bias was not apparent enough, a recent study done in Washington supports these same findings that if a suspected offender is of the minority you are at an unfair disadvantage of receiving harsher punishments than other majorities. According to study by Professor Katherine Beckett of the University of Washington, jurors in Washington are three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than for a white defendant in a similar case.

The disparity in sentencing occurred despite the fact that prosecutors were slightly more likely to seek the death penalty against white defendants. The study examined 285 cases in which defendants were convicted of aggravated murder. (“Race and the Death Penalty”) In conclusion, in a flawed system the risk of putting innocent people to death via capital punishment is too high, leaving the death penalty as an unjust and unfair form of punishment that must be abolished. This was seen through cases where the offender had been put to death when there was reasonable doubt that they actually committed the crime, which leaves many to wonder if they sentenced to death an innocent man.

Also, it is seen in Canadian law that this is prohibited as well as looking at the countries that use it and their human rights history. Lastly, the racial biases of the system were explored that showed that if a person is a minority that they were more likely to be sentenced harsher than their majority counterparts. For the reasons above, the death penalty should be abolished, as the justice system is meant to be fair and impartial. This punishment is neither as an innocent person can be killed for mistakes such as unreliable testimonies and be penalized for their race or religion.

Works Cited
“Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries | Amnesty International.” Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries | Amnesty International. Amnesty International, n.d. Web. 22 June 2014. . “Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982.” Legislative Services Branch. Government of Canada, n.d. Web. 22 June 2014. . “Death Penalty in Canada.” Death Penalty in Canada. Amnesty International, n.d. Web. 22 June 2014. . “Executed But Possibly Innocent.” DPIC. Death Penalty Info.org, n.d. Web. 22 June 2014. . “The Innocence Project – Know the Cases: Browse Profiles:George Rodriguez.” The Innocence Project – Know the Cases: Browse Profiles:George Rodriguez. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2014. . Kenney, Shelagh. “Fifth Amendment–Upholding the Constitutional Merit of Misleading Reasonable Doubt Jury Instructions.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Spring 85.4 (1995): 989-95. Web. 22 June 2014. News, CBC. “Capital