The Other Side of Death Penalty
Imagine that you have just been arrested. You've never been in trouble with the law before. You are now taking a long and arduous journey through the criminal justice system. There is a new language, rules, procedures, and customs all foreign to you. You might as well be on Mars. This journey is unplanned, unwanted and a disruption to your life. You are in the middle of it and cannot get out until the justice system finds you innocent or guilty. The only glimpse of the justice system is what you have seen on TV shows such as ‘Court TV’ or ‘Cops’. You can turn off the TV; this is reality at its worst. Your life is on hold; you have been accused of murder and ...view middle of the document...
‘Miscarriage of justice’ is only one of a number of eloquent legal euphemisms that have not received the condemnation that they rightfully deserve. Glenn Ford is only the latest in a long line of people who were wrongly accused, convicted and sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit. He was a 64 year old black man who had been here for 30 years. At the time of his arrest, he had done some occasional yard work for the victim. Since he lacked sufficient economic resources, he could not post bail and remained in jail awaiting trial and his subsequent conviction. He was given two public defenders, neither of whom had any experience with jury trials, criminal cases or capital cases. After deliberating for three hours, an all-white jury convicted him of the murder and robbery charges. He was left utterly baffled, wondering to himself how he got on death row, when he had not committed the crime. It was a long and depressing thirty years before new evidence came to light, earning him a late but nevertheless welcome release from prison (Cohen).
The death penalty has had a long and controversial history in the United States of America, going as far back the ‘Salem Witch hunts’. Yes, that’s how barbaric, medieval and heinous this system truly is. In the new American colonies, the first recorded execution was of Captain George Kendall in 1608 in the Jamestown colony of Virginia. Kendall was given capital punishment for being a spy for Spain (Deathpenaltycurriculum.org). Through various court decisions, the death penalty has been suspended and reinstated many times. As of February 12th, 2014 there have been eight executions across the United States. It is noteworthy to mention here that from 2000-2011, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year in death penalty cases, while previously it was 3 per year on average from 1973-1999. This following figure represents the number of exonerations since 1973.
Source: Death Penalty Information Center
Figure 2: Death row exonerations by State since 1973
Although arguments have been made showing the merits of such a system, few can argue that handing down death penalty sentences to punish people who commit serious and often hideous crimes is not without its fair share of flaws. Even the more vocal supporters of the death penalty like Ernest van den Haag had recognized and acknowledged its limitations (Bedau and Radelet). Apparently, den Haag argued that the benefits of such a system outweigh the liabilities, including the ‘risk of error’; yet another euphemism for sending the wrong man to the gallows. Is human life so devoid of value that you can chalk it up to mere ‘risks of error’ or ‘collateral damage’? It seems that the ‘miscarriage of justice’ argument against death penalties is one that barely scrapes the top of the barrel there are many more compelling reasons why the death penalty must go.
Most people would agree that punishments for serious capital offenses should be imposed to all...