The imposition of death penalty has been practiced throughout the different epochs of our history. It had been utilized by governments to rid the society of its citizens who are considered to be a danger to the lives of the public, or a risk to the very existence of the regime itself. Questions, however, have always risen to challenge its effectivity, practicality, fairness, and morality. The ideas of its very principles necessitate further examination of its implementation.
In the U.S., some judges have been questioning the imposition of death penalty of its efficiency and practicality. One of whom is Texas Senior District Judge C.C. Cooke. He was responsible for the sentencing of three defendants to death but now is more inclined into having life without parole as a capital punishment instead (Kendall, 2009). He cites as one of the reasons, the cost that a capital trial a State has to shoulder, which amounts to over $3 million for a single defendant alone, as compared to keeping a person for life, which costs just $500,000 covering a 40-year term (Kendall, 2009).
Another is Judge Boyce Martin, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He had just recently stated in a conclusion that “the death penalty system is now broken beyond repair” (Chief Circuit Court, 2009). Judge Martin likewise called for further studies on the costs of imposing death penalty, especially with the current economic conditions prevailing in the country. The call for a re-evaluation of Capital Punishment seems to be common among Judges in the U.S., Justice Stevens also calls for a clear comparison between the enormous costs of death penalty versus imposition of life sentence (Chief Circuit Court, 2009).
In the entire United States, there are 35 states that impose death penalty, and 15 states without death penalty. A total of 1156 executions have been made from the years 1976 up to 2009, with the year 1999 as having the most number of instances of State executions, with 98 (Facts About, 2009). Of those executed, 400 were African Americans, 84 were Hispanics, 648 White Americans, and 24 from other nationalities. The races of the victims of those executed comprised of 79% Whites, 14% Blacks, 5% Hispanics, and 2% from others. Further studies by Death Penalty Information Center on racial factors on State executions have revealed that:
· In 96% of the states where there have been reviews of race and death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both.
· 98% of the chief district attorneys in death penalty states are white; only 1% are black.
· A comprehensive study of the death penalty in North Carolina found that the odds of receiving a death sentence rose by 3.5 times among those defendants whose victims are whites.
· A study in California found that those who killed whites were over 3 times more likely to be sentence to death than those who killed blacks and over 4 times more likely than those who killed Latinos.
· With regard to the persons executed for interracial murders, white defendant/black victim were 15; black defendant/white victim were 235
(Facts About, 2009).
As of 1 January 2008, the inmates in death row all over the United States comprised of 45% whites, 42% blacks, 11% Hispanics, and 2% of other nationalities. California has the most number of inmates with 667, followed by Florida with 397, Texas with 373, and so forth (Facts About, 2009).
However, since 1973, over 120 persons have been released from death row due to the evidence of their innocence. In the years 1973 to 1979, there was a yearly average of 3.1 exonerations; from 2000 to 2007, the average was 5 exonerations per year (Facts About, 2009). Sadly, we there is no way of determining just how many of the more than 1,000 people executed were actually innocent of their crime.
The commonly-used defense that the imposition of death penalty serves as a deterrent to heinous crimes being committed is in actuality just a myth. In a study/survey among the former and present presidents of the United States’ top academic criminological societies, 84% rejected the idea that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to murder, with only 12% in the affirmative, and 4% of no opinion. Also in an annual Uniform Crime Report by the F.B.I. in 2006, it has been revealed that the South has had the highest murder rates in America, despite of it having over 80% of the total executions (Facts About, 2009). In another study among all the chiefs of police across the United States, it has been found out that death penalty is not an effective law enforcement tool in the reduction or elimination of violent crime, amounting only to a miniscule 1% (Facts About, 2009).
Important Supreme Court Decisions
1. Furman v. Georgia, 1972: The Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional, terming it as being cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight Amendment (National Death Penalty, 2007).
2. Gregg v. Georgia, 1976: This heralds America’s modern era of the death penalty. With the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the death penalty during in that year by upholding new statutes in Georgia, Florida, and Texas, the Supreme Court in effect had declared the problems it had recognized in 1972 were now solved (National Death Penalty, 2007).
3. Coker v. Georgia, 1976: The S.C. ruled against using death penalty for rape cases citing it as unconstitutional due to the sentence being disproportionate for the crime. This has resulted in the removal from the death row of 20 inmates (National Death Penalty, 2007).
4. Ford v. Wainwright, 1986: The S.C. prohibited the execution of the mentally insane (National Death Penalty, 2007).
5. Simmons v. Roper, 2005: The S.C. forbids the execution of persons under the age of 18 years old when the crime was committed. This Court’s decision resulted in the release from death row of 72 people in 12 states (National Death Penalty. 2007).
Since the death penalty law invokes the taking of lives of a criminal, it is unavoidable to discuss this topic without involving man’s spiritual inclinations and religion. After all, the religious laws we know of today have preceded even the oldest of state laws that are being enforced.
Let us examine this in Christianity’s viewpoint, Catholicism in particular, being the religion today with the most number of followers and being the historical root of all Christian denominations.
According to Gonzales, execution done by the State is just, especially for criminals who have intentionally taken the lives of an innocent man, and that the only justifiable recourse would be to impose the ultimate punishment that civil law would allow. Without whose protection, practiced accordingly with the natural law, the citizens will be prone to great sufferings under aggressors and will cause their freedom to be forcefully desecrated. A very apt passage states, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in His own image” (Christian Community Bible, 2000).
In a report by Roman Catholic Replies, Gonzales stresses that St. Thomas Aquinas, the great introspect, gave a litany with regards to the use of civil capital punishment:
“Now every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part is naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we observe that if the health if the whole body demands the excision of a member, through it being decayed or infectious to the other members, it will be both praiseworthy and advantageous to have it cut out of the body. Now every individual person is compared to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be executed in order to safeguard the common good… Now the care of the common good is entrusted to person of rank having public authority: wherefore they alone, and not private individuals, can lawfully put evildoers to death” (4).
Notwithstanding the Catholic Christians’ stand on the imposition of death penalty, the situation today calls for a practical, efficient, and in-depth re-evaluation of the present system of application of the laws abovementioned. Careful studies and surveys reveal a five-point impact area: 1. Death penalty kills the innocent. One hundred and twenty three death row prisoners have been set free due to late findings of their innocence to the crime. 2. Death penalty is racially biased and punishes the poor. 3. Death penalty is unfair. Those condemned to die are often dependent on the attitudes of the prosecutors. 4. Death penalty costs more than life-in-prison. The cost for a single execution is more than what a 40-year life imprisonment would amount to. 5. Death penalty is not a deterrent to crime (National Death Penalty, 2007).
Christian Community Bible. Claretian Publications. 30th ed. Philippines, 2000.
Gonzeles, Anthony. Pro-Life and Pro-Capital Punishment, Contradiction in Terms?. Roman Catholic Replies. Retrieved 20 April 2009 <http://www.roman-catholic.com/Roman/Articles/CapitalPunishment.htm>
Facts About the Death Penalty. Death Penalty Information Center. 2009. Washington, D.C. Retrieved 20 April 2009 <http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/FactSheet.pdf>
Kendall, P. Texas Judge Cites Costs and Innocence in Moving Away from Death Penalty. 15 April 2009. New Voices: Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved 20 April 2009 <http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/new-voices-texas-judge-cites-costs-and-innocence-moving-away-death-penalty>
National Death Penalty Fact Sheet. March 2007. American Civil Liberties Union, Durham, N.C. Retrieved 20 April 2009 <http://www.aclu.org/images/asset_upload_file758_29292.pdf>
Chief Circuit Court Judge Finds Death Penalty “Flawed Beyond Repair”. 17 April 2009. New Voices: Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved 20 April 2009 <http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/new-voices-chief-circuit-court-judge-finds-death-penalty-flawed-beyond-repair>