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The Moral, Legal, And Economical Aspects Of Capital Punishment

1552 words - 6 pages

Capital punishment has long been a topic for heated debate throughout the United States of America and the civilized world. For many politicians, the death penalty has been a key pillar to winning a state or election; and, to some extent, politics have been a key influence in America’s justice system. Many nations have outlawed capital punishment, with the United States included between 1972 and 1976. In the United States, there has been a renewed movement for this “eye for an eye” method, citing such arguments as “deterrence” and “victims’ rights.” This movement begs a single question – is there any economical, legal, or statistical support for the ultimate punishment? This article will strive to answer that question by evaluating several key issues (be they supporting or otherwise) concerning capital punishment – the legitimacy of ‘deterrence,’ the legality of capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause, and the cost associated with putting a man to death in relation to the cost associated with life imprisonment.

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The key phrase to examine when determining the constitutionality of capital punishment is “cruel and unusual punishments.” The question that must be answered are ‘what makes a punishment cruel and unusual’ and if or how these standards apply to capital punishment. According to Supreme Court Associate Justice William Brennan “the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause ‘must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” (Brennan 32). Judging from this definition, a definition set forth by the entire Court and not just those Justices with dissenting opinions in the case of Gregg v. Georgia, one can easily make the statement that the taking of a human life in return for another does not agree with the standards of decency of our maturing society. Justice Brennan goes further to state that “death is not only an unusually severe punishment, unusual in its pain, in its finality…” (Brennan 32). This argument is one of the major summarizing points of Brennan’s argument – the death penalty is incredibly severe and irreversibly final. According to an article in the USA Today by columnist Jacqueline Blais, 117 people have been freed from death row on account of innocence (Blais). This figure is astonishing when one considers the innocents who slip through the cracks in states like Texas, where the average death row inmate has just ten years to prove his or her innocence from behind bars.

Opponents might argue that the death penalty provides closure to the victim’s family. However, this view makes an assumption about the U.S. Justice system that should never be made – that the system is about retribution and not about justice. Interestingly, in a survey conducted in a...

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