Since legally used all over the world. Most of

Since the beginning of civilization, some form of a “death penalty” has been used. The topic is a very controversial one. Many people agree with it and many people do not. Although it is a popular debate discussion, it is still legally used all over the world. Most of the time, the debate includes some aspects of politics, morals, and religion. In many countries, the death penalty is illegal, however in America, it is legal in 31 states. This outrages many people; they believe the execution of criminals, no matter what crime they have committed, is unethical and unjust. Other people believe it is necessary in order to keep our country safe and to discourage other people from committing crimes. As for me, I believe the death penalty should only be used for the most severe of crimes, such as terrorism and mass murder. As with many aspects of politics and the criminal justice system in today’s world, there continues to be discrimination against race, gender, and mental ability/illness when it comes to the imposition of the death penalty. The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is the legal execution given as punishment by a court of law to one who has committed a serious crime. Like many other things in America’s criminal justice system, the use of execution as a punishment for crime was inherited from Great Britain. Today, the only crime punishable by a death sentence is murder, and very few death sentences are given out.  However, when people arrived in America from Great Britain, the list of crimes was much longer: adultery, theft, rape, and of course, murder (Holdsworth & Malik 2015). In fact, in 1644, “Massachusetts Bay Colony executed Mary Latham and James Britton for betraying Latham’s elderly husband and boasting about it” (Holdsworth & Malik 2015). Although theft and adultery were crimes punishable by death, raping a child was not. In Massachusetts Bay Colony, a man who raped a child had his “nostrils… slit and seared” and was made to wear a noose around his neck, but was not sentenced to death (Holdsworth & Malik 2015). Before the year 1660, there were fifteen legal, recorded executions in Massachusetts Bay Colony, “four for murder, two for infanticide, two for witchcraft, three for sexual offenses” and four for people who considered themselves as Quakers (Holdsworth & Malik). In the years following the Revolution, the laws surrounding capital punishment were updated and the list of crimes punishable by a death sentence shortened to murder, rape, and treason (Holdsworth & Malik 2015). In the twenty-first century, the only crime punishable by death is murder, and only in thirty-one states. When it comes to race and capital punishment, most people would say the race of the people involved in the murder does affect whether or not the defendant will receive a death sentence. In a study done by Glenn L. Pierce, Michael L. Radelet, and Susan Sharp, they discovered “that while the defendant’s race did not correlate with a death sentence, there was a strong correlation with the race of the victim, with cases with white victims significantly more likely to end with a death sentence that cases with non-white victims” (for the sake of their study, they did “white” and “non-white” just to make it more simple to understand. “Non-white” includes African American, Hispanic, and Native American). Their study focused on homicides committed between the years 1990 and 2012 in Oklahoma. During these 22 years, 4,813 homicides occurred in Oklahoma, but after excluding the cases with an unknown suspect and cases with multiple victims of more than one race, Pierce, Radelet, and Sharp narrowed it down to 4,667 cases. Out of all of these cases, there were 153 death sentences given to 151 offenders. Karl Myers and Darrin Lee Pickens “had two seperate death sentences imposed in two separate trials for two separate homicides” so they are counted twice. Out of these 4,667 homicides, 2060 of them (44.1%) involved a white suspect and a white victim. 1266 of the homicides (27.1%) involved an African American suspect and an African American victim. 427 cases (9.1%) involved an African  American suspect and a white victim. 143 cases (3.1%) involved a white suspect and an African American victim. Pierce, Radelet, and Sharp found that homicides with white victims are more likely to receive the death penalty. 3.92% of homicides with white victims resulted in a death sentence for the defendant, whereas only 1.88% of homicides with a non-white victim ended in a death sentence. The group also looked at the percentages of cases with male and female victims that received capital punishment. For cases with white male victims, 2.26% resulted in a death sentence, and for African American male victims, only 0.77% resulted in a death sentence. For cases with white female victims, 7.57% resulted in a death sentence, and for African American females, 6.67% resulted in a death sentence. In 2015, a reporter from CNN, Kevin Liptak, wrote an article on President Barack Obama’s view on the use of capital punishment. Although Obama stated that “he wasn’t opposed… to killing criminals convicted on heinous crimes”, the “racial biases” and “wrongful convictions” made him second guess “whether the death penalty remains a legitimate tool” (Liptak 2015). This interview was conducted in the weeks following an “execution gone wrong”, where “an Oklahoma incident… left an accused murder writhing and convulsing for several minutes” (Liptak 2015). Obama states that the procedure of the death penalty is no longer “swift and painless but rather gruesome and clumsy”. William Henry Furman, a 26 year old African American, “intellectually challenged, mentally ill man”from Georgia accidentally committed murder in 1972. He unintentionally shot a .22 caliber pistol through a door after he attempted burglary. The trial lasted for seven hours and by the end of it, the man was given a death sentence (Bright 2015).A man named Clive Stafford Smith gave a speech on TedTalks about mental illness and the death penalty. He told the story of a man named Ricky Langley, a pedophile who murdered a six year old boy named Jeremy Guillory in 1992. Clive Stafford Smith was Ricky Langley’s attorney during this homicide trial. When Langley’s mother became pregnant with him, she was in a full body cast due to a car accident. The car accident was caused by Ricky’s father driving drunk, killing his sister and brother, Oscar Lee, who was the golden child. The doctors didn’t believe her when she told them she was pregnant, and they continued to give her x-rays and medications. This caused Ricky to become a pedophile as he got older. In 1992 when Ricky killed Jeremy Guillory, he was given the death penalty. However, in a retrial, he was sentenced to life in prison instead. The mother of Jeremy sat down and talked to Ricky and realized that his mental illness caused him to do the things he did. She didn’t believe that he should be executed for his crimes, but instead just put in prison. The judge and jury took her testimony into consideration and decided not to execute Ricky Langley. The main argument for people who are against the death penalty is that it is unconstitutional. They believe that capital punishment goes against the eighth amendment, which prohibits the use of “cruel and unusual punishment”. The counter argument is that in the fifth amendment, it states that “no person shall be held to answer for a capital… crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury”. It also states that no person shall be “deprived of life… without due process.” In death penalty trials, the jury will not sentence someone to death unless they are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.  However, an abolitionist would say that the death penalty is not very reliable, seeing that “since 1973, 144 people on death row have been exonerated” (Levy 2014). This means that after these people were sentenced to death and were awaiting their execution on death row, it was proven that they were innocent of the crimes they were incriminated for and they were released from prison. The argument could go back and forth for hours and still not everyone will be happy in the end. Capital punishment is a very controversial topic. The debate of whether or not it is constitutional is a debate that will continue for years to come. However, no one can deny that discrimination involved in the imposition of the death penalty.


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