Can the Death Penalty Ever Be the Right Choice?
Photo By: The New York Times - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/17/us/death-penalty-USA-stats.html
There has long since been a discussion of whether or not the death penalty should be a punishment that can be imposed by the American courts system. There are arguments regarding whether or not the death penalty is constitutional and whether or not it should be used in a flawed system.
The constitutionality has been called into question due to the 8th amendment which states that punishments cannot be cruel and unusual (Bomboy, 2020). The Supreme Court has never outright ruled the use of the death penalty as unconstitutional, but it has deemed the use of the death penalty unconstitutional in certain cases. For these cases the perpetrator was still punished by the courts, but the death penalty was taken off the time. One instance where this occurred was when a man was sentenced to death when he was fleeing the scene of the crime and tripped and fell accidentally shooting and killing a bystander. From these three cases the introduction of aggravating and mitigating circumstances was introduced, which came about when the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that capital punishment should be used in a limited manner. Therefore, the death penalty could not be automatically on the table for an offender (Bomboy, 2020). Even though strides have been made limiting the use of the death penalty there are still other concerns about the death penalty that have not been addressed.
The death penalty has been found to be racially biased. Research has found that the vast majority of individuals sentenced to prison were sentenced for killing White victims (Death Penalty and Race, 2017). In a look at death penalty defendants since 1977, 77% of the defendants were sentenced to death for killing a White victim and only 15% for a Black victim, 6% for Hispanic, and 2% for other (Death Penalty and Race, 2017). This is concerning as Black people represent about half of the victims of homicide, yet about three fourths of death row inmates are sentenced to death for killing a White person. If half of the homicides are for Black people, then how are 77% of the people on death row there for killing a White person? There is clear racial bias in sentencing of offenders based on the victim’s race (Death Penalty and Race, 2017).The University of Maryland found in a study conducted in 2003 that prosecutors were more likely to seek the death penalty in a case if the victim was White (Death Penalty and Race, 2017). The increase in severity of punishment for White victims does not just apply to the death penalty, but to any crime conducted against White people.
There have been 18 death row convictions overturned since the use of DNA testing. These individuals have served a combined 202 years on death row (The Innocent and the Death Penalty, 2009). In fact, since 1973 185 death row inmates have been exonerated for all charges rendered against them (Innocence, 2021). This shows that the death penalty can be rendered against innocent people. Once a life has been taken it cannot be reversed. How can a flawed system justify killing people if they are not absolutely sure of their guilt? Why is the death penalty still used when racial bias has been proven to be in the sentencing process? Can the death penalty ever truly be a viable option in a country that holds such contempt for minorities and venerates Whiteness?
There are many other reasons why the death penalty should not be used, but the most striking is that innocent people have been put on death row. How many people who have been executed were innocent? The use of the death penalty should be made illegal.
Links to Sources
Death Penalty and Race -
The Innocence and Death Penalty -