Capital punishment

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Capital punishment or the death penalty is the legal process of causing an individual's death as a punishment for a crime. A decree that one be punished in this manner is a death sentence, while the enforcement itself of such a decree is known as an execution. The term capital punishment was borrowed from the Latin capitalis ("[of/relating to] the head"), referring to the once-common method of execution by beheading.

Death sentences are currently handed down and carried out in about a third of the world's countries, including countries with very large populations such as China, India and the United States.[1] The Council of Europe prohibits the use of the death penalty by its members, and Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the use of capital punishment.[2] The United Nations General Assembly has also passed three non-binding resolutions calling for an end to the death penalty.[3]

China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Korea and the United States are the nations which perform the most executions. [4][5]

Contents

[edit] Death penalty laws

While most cultures have historically used capital punishment, many countries, particularly Western and democratic ones, have moved, or are moving, away from the application of this punishment.[6] Italian philosopher and politician Cesare Beccaria condemned capital punishment in his 1764 treatise On Crimes and Punishments. Early moves towards abolition began in some European countries during the mid 19th century, but the move away from capital punishment gathered momentum a century later, in the years following the Second World War, as human rights became a more significant political issue.

The 1950 European Convention on Human Rights recommended that the death penalty be abolished in European nations or restricted to times of war. Protocol 6 restricted the death penalty to times of war, and Protocol 13 later provided for the complete abolition of the death penalty. The vast majority of European countries have adopted both of these protocol, excepting a few in Eastern Europe. The United Kingdom abolished the death penalty for virtually all offences in 1969 (although it still remained a theoretically valid sentence for treason until the passage of the Human Rights Act in 1998). In December 2007 the United Nations General Assembly approved a moratorium on the death penalty, which calls for a worldwide suspension (not necessarily abolition) of capital punishment. The moratorium is not binding, but established an international consensus against the death penalty.

[edit] United States

The United States is the single exception to the western trend towards abolition, with many states still applying the ultimate penalty for serious and/or repeated crime. In 1972 a moratorium was placed on executions by the Supreme Court, not because capital punishment itself was ruled unconstitutional but because of perceived procedural flaws. After these were ironed out, executions resumed in 1976. Poor defendants unable to afford their own lawyer are more likely to be on death row. Plea bargaining, local politics, the state and county where the crime happened also affect the likelihood of a death sentence. [5] Capital punishment is still exercised in 33 states, over 80% executions are in The South with a few counties accounting for disproprtionately many. [7] Regions with no capital punishment include Alaska, most of New England and parts of the Midwest.[8]. Even in these regions, however, some federal offenses, such as treason, the murder of federal employees, or in some cases espionage, remain capital since federal law takes precedence; although the only three federal prisoners executed since the moratorium (all under George W. Bush) were from death penalty states, 8 of the 59 current federal death row inmates are from abolitionist states[9].

Sadly, injustices are still regularly discovered, with 140 wrongly convicted people released from death row since 1973. A peer reviewed statistical analysis concluded that at least 4% of people on death row are innocent. [10] It is estimated that 3% of American executions are botched but the proportion of lethal injections botched is much higher. [11]

[edit] Other nations where capital punishment is legal

Capital punishment also remains in most of Asia, numerous African countries and the Middle East. Usage varies from nation to nation. For example, in the United States the death penalty is usually reserved for homicide-related crimes, and in Japan for multiple homicides (done by hanging of all things). Some countries, such as Russia and South Korea, still retain death penalty laws but have stopped issuing death sentences in recent years. In communist China, the death penalty is applied for various crimes against the state, including high levels of embezzlement and tax evasion, murder and child molestation, and killing pandas. Executions happen very quickly in China, so quickly that the government maintains a fleet of "execution vans" that condemned prisoners are hustled into, killed, and popped right out the other end. In India, crimes such as mutiny, treason, murder and serious drug trafficking can be a capital offence however, the Supreme Court has given 'rarest of rare' criterion for using capital punishment. Some self-proclaimed Islamic nations such as Mauritania, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have capital laws against sodomy and sometimes adultery, as well as apostasy (abandoning religion or converting to another faith).[12]

[edit] Lethal injection

In the USA the current main method of execution is by lethal injection. The standard before recent times was a cocktail of three drugs that paralyse before killing. Although it is claimed by some[Who?] that this is more humane than gas, electrocution or hanging, the method can potentially mask pain. [13] It is estimated that just over 7% of lethal injections are botched. [11]

A growing shortage of the drugs used for killing convicted criminals has begun to affect the practice of capital punishment in the United States. The European Union refuses to allow export of drugs for lethal injections, leading many states to use untested and/or unreliably sourced drug cocktails. Some states are using secrecy laws to prevent close examination of precisely what they are doing [14] and US attorney general Eric Holder, has called for greater transparency. [15] At least one execution was delayed for a time due to trouble sourcing lethal drugs. [16]

During 2014 as of August there have been 3 seriously botched executions using lethal injections.

  1. In the state of Ohio Dennis McGuire was executed using a drug combination which a Harvard anesthologist warned would leave him conscious and aware of what happened while he suffocated. McGuire gasped for 10 minutes, clenched his fists and tried to rise from the gurney. [17] Amnesty International considers suffocation a form of torture. [18]
  2. In Arizona Joseph Wood gasped for roughly 2 hours and was injected 15 times before finally dying. [19] There are widespread fears that Wood was tortured. [20] Since the potency of drugs that needed so many injections is unknown we cannot currently establish how much he could feel. There have been calls for an inquiry. [21]
  3. Oklahoma used an experimental drug cocktail as a substitute for the now-unavailable standard mixture in order to execute Clayton Lockett. Lockett died an agonizing death in what was obviously a botched attempt to execute him. For part of the time blinds were drawn to prevent witnesses observing exactly what happened. [22][23] Oklahoma state refuses th name the supplier of the drugs. [13] In a blog post appearing shortly thereafter, biologist PZ Myers wondered why it was difficult to conduct judicial executions in a humane manner when euthanizing animals painlessly is a simple process. [24] Isaan Tharoor, a blogger for the Washington Post argues that other gruesome forms of execution are more humane than what happened to Lockett, whether that's beheading, firing squad, hanging, or falling from a height. [25]
  4. In Missouri Russell Bucklew is due to be executed by lethal injection. Bucklew has a medical condition which Amnesty International fears greatly increases the risk of a painfully botched execution. [26]

[edit] Support

In the United States, many Evangelical Christians support the death penalty despite being "pro-life", making the distinction between "innocent" life and "non-innocent" life. Judgment is not, as is often stated, left to God.[27] Of course, without capital punishment, their religion would have had a lot of trouble getting started. Indeed, the Bible lists a vast number of "crimes" which "merit" the death penalty.

Capital punishment is generally supported by conservatives — you know, the ones against abortion because they "hold to the sanctity of life", yet somehow seem to feel that an adult life has no particular sanctity if it is being lived by a person who, for whatever reason, has committed a particular crime.

Thankfully, it's not true of all conservative or religious groups; some people and religious organizations that are anti-abortion, such as the Roman Catholic Church and those subscribing to "consistent life ethic", are also anti-capital punishment and often anti-war, too.

On the flip side, individuals such as pundit Bill Maher espouse views which could be said to amount to a "consistent death ethic", with Maher humorously referring to himself as being "pro-death" due to his support of abortion and euthanasia as well as the death penalty.

[edit] Opposition

The Roman Catholic Church is now relatively consistent in its pro-life stance, opposing both abortion and most cases of capital punishment, although some American Catholics don't seem to have noticed. [28]

Opponents of capital punishment usually cite a number of reasons for their position, from the view that it creates a moral vacuum at the heart of society wherein the only body with the authority to legitimately and with premeditation kill is the State, that it is institutionalized barbarism, and pointing to the small but significant number of cases where the death penalty has been enacted and the accused has been subsequently demonstrated to be innocent of the crime for which they suffered the ultimate penalty. There are many examples of innocent people being executed — see below for more. There is (in the U.S.) currently a program funding DNA testing of evidence to exonerate potentially wrongly convicted inmates on death row, which is producing a steady trickle of freed prisoners.

There is also the rather abstract concept that a state is subservient to its people, and may never take their lives for any reason. This concept sees judicial executions as unlawful and therefore murder according to a higher law.

Incidentally the United States, after all these years, still has one of the worst murder rates in the developed world. Something is definitely not working.

[edit] Biases

Another issue for the U.S. and its continued use of the death penalty is the evident racial bias in its application. Black males are far more likely to be sentenced to death for similar or even lesser crimes than white males, and the death penalty is more likely to be imposed when the victim is white. 77% of death row defendants are there for killing a white person while half of murder victims are black. [5]

A gender bias is also evident, with very few women receiving the death penalty, even in light of the disparity in criminal incidence. Both of these biases indicate to outside observers that in spite of the protestations of its supporters that the death penalty is all about deterrence, it has a much murkier rationale that puts the whole process on a very dubious footing. This effect is attributed to the US practice of having the death penalty requested by the prosecution during and after conviction, rather than by a more impartial source such as a judge. Of course, judges aren't free of bias, and may impose harsher penalties during an election year.[29]

[edit] Deterrent effect

The supposed deterrent effect is also dubious as it doesn't deter against the main motives for murder; passion, compulsion and profit. The first two cannot be deterred against practically by definition. In the case of the third no one commits a crime anticipating that they will be apprehended and punished - those who do anticipate such scenarios usually have plans to get away with it; be it destroying the evidence, framing someone else, hiding from law enforcement, or getting a good lawyer to beat the rap. Additionally there is the "might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb" effect — once someone is subject to the ultimate penalty, there is nothing to hold them back. Once the "point of no return" has been reached (i.e. rape, murder, etc.), there is no longer a deterrent to further crimes to avoid capture and punishment. (Admittedly this holds true whatever the ultimate penalty is — be it lifelong imprisonment, death or deportation!) FBI data shows that over the last 20 years, the murder rate has, on average, been higher in states which retain the death penalty than those which do not. [5]

However, one should be careful not to confuse correlation with causation. That states with the death penalty have higher murder rates than states without does not imply that there is a causal relationship between murder rates and capital punishment. The April 18, 2012 report by the National Research Council of the National Academies reviewed more than three decades of research and concluded that studies claiming a deterrent effect on murder rates from the death penalty are fundamentally flawed. Criminologist Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon said: "Nothing is known about how potential murderers actually perceive their risk of punishment." The report concluded: “The committee concludes that research to date on the effect of capital punishment on homicide is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates" [30]

[edit] Racism

Racism is a factor in determining who gets executed. In the US, an execution is more likely in a murder case if the accused is black and the victim is white. A study in Philadelphia showed blacks were significantly more likely to get the death penalty than whites or defendants of other races regardless of the severity of the murder. [31] [32]

Blatant racist language on the part of the police indicates the biases at play: Texas police officer[Who?] told Clarence Brandley, who was charged with the murder of a white high school girl: "One of you two is gonna hang for this. Since you're the nigger, you're elected." Brandley was later exonerated in 1990 after ten years on death row. [33]

Judges are also known to drop an occasional N-bomb when the accused's life is at stake. In preparing for the penalty phase of an African-American defendant's trial, a white judge in Florida said in open court: "Since the nigger mom and dad are here anyway, why don't we go ahead and do the penalty phase today instead of having to subpoena them back at cost to the state." Anthony Peek was sentenced to death and the sentence was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court in 1986 reviewing his claim of racial bias.[33] Juries can also engage in racist language. One black member of the jury (that convicted a black man) later described an atmosphere of racial intimidation. A white juror said execution would leave "one less nigger to breed".[34]

[edit] Costs

Death penalty proponents often complain that taxpayer dollars would have to be used to support criminals in jail. (So off with their heads, eh?) In fact, the death penalty actually costs more in the US due to increased investigative expenses, appeals (paid for by taxpayers), and the cost of the execution itself.[35] There are also arguments that bring up the diminishing space in jails, but they fail to consider that people about to be executed are placed on death row (usually for several years in the USA) and need to be supported.

There is also a psychological cost for the death penalty for most people involved. Many workers involved in executions have reported suffering post traumatic stress disorder or similar symptoms, including flashbacks and nightmares, and they have entered bouts of deep reflection after the execution.[36] Families related to the executed person must also cope with this loss.

[edit] Unjust executions

Peer reviewed research suggests at least 4% of those sentenced to death in the United States are innocent [37][38] Since 1977 140 prisonners were released from death row over evidence of wrongful conviction and more than 1200 were executed. [5] There have been documented cases of executing innocent people.[39] Many people support the death penalty in theory but oppose it in practice for just this reason.

In Missouri Larry Griffin was convicted of murder based on the evidence of a criminal, Robert Fitzgerald who was released from prison the day Griffin was convicted. Wallace Conners, who knew Griffin and was an eyewitness to the shooting said Griffin was not there but Conners was not called to give evidence. Griffin dies by lethal injection in 1995. [40] In Georgia, Troy Davis was executed although there was incosistency in the evidence of different prosecution witnesses. Most non-police witnesses contradicted or recanted their evidence and said they gave evidence under police pressure. [41] In Texas, Carlos DeLuna was was executed for the brutal murder of a woman. The real murderer was almost certainly a different man, Carlos Hernandez though prosecutors maintained Hernandez was a figment of imagination. After the execution investigators tracked Hernandez down and he had a police record including violence against women and the suspected murder of another woman. So police should have been able to find him. [42] Also in Texas Claude Jones was convicted of capital murder based on evidence from an accomplice and a strand of hair. The accomplice later stated his evidence in court was untrue and had been given to get himself a reduced sentence. Then governor George W. Bush refused to delay the execution to test the DNA of the hair and Jones was executed. Subsequent testing proved the hair was from the victim and not Jones. [43] Yet another Texas case involved Cameron Todd Willingham whose three daughters died in a fire. The prosecution maintained the fire was arson but many fire experts have stated forensic evidence was seriously flawed. Forensic evidence was questioned while Willingham was still alive but the execution went ahead. [44]

In the United Kingdom in 1950 Timothy Evans was hanged for the murder of his wife and child. Another man had committed both murders. [45]

[edit] Delay

[edit] Delay and death row conditions in the USA

I have little doubt about the cruelty of so long a period of incarceration under sentence of death. It might also be argued that it is not so much the State as it is the numerous procedures that the law demands that produce decades of delay. But this kind of an argument does not automatically justify execution in this case. Rather, the argument may point instead to a more basic difficulty, namely the difficulty of reconciling the imposition of the death penalty as currently administered with procedures necessary to assure that the wrong person is not executed. (Justice Breyer in a dissenting opinion over the execution of Manuel Valle who was on death row for 33 years)

Condemned prisoners in the United States typically spend 10 years or more in solitary confinement on death row, a few prisoners have spent over 30 years there. Prisoners are isolated for 23 hours a day in small cells (8ft by 10 is a typical size) and the majority of death row prisoners have hard beds without matresses. Prisoners chances to get social contact, exercise, employment and education are severely limited. For some the combination of isolation and uncertainty causes serious mental deterioration. Some prisoners decide they would rather die than face longer time on death row. [46][47]

Prosecutors and judges are more often than not elected and want to show voters they are tough on crime while defence lawyers are frequently underpaid and lack resources to work effectively. Only people who agree with capital punishment may serve on capital juries. Therefore many death sentences are passed. Between 1973 and 1995 5% of death sentences lead to execution while 68% were later reversed. Courts later decide two thirds of prisoners experiencing the agony of death row should not be there. [48]

[edit] Delay in the Commonwealth

The 1993 Privy Council case of Pratt v AG of Jamaica[49] highlighted the psychological suffering that is experienced by guilty prisoners and also by those later exhonorated simply when they are on death row. The defendants had been convicted of murder in 1979, and had spent over 10 years on death row waiting for their execution whilst the underfunded and overstretched Jamaican legal system reviewed their appeals. At the time, 23 prisoners in death row had been awaiting execution for more than 10 years and 82 prisoners had been awaiting execution for more than five years. On three separate occasions, death warrants were read to them and they were removed to a holding cell and prepared for their hanging, only to be saved at the last minute by lawyers. Lord Griffiths is a Law Lord who got his position in the House of Lords through his legal ability and is not a hereditary peer. Griffiths, in a masterful piece of legal writing, observed that:

There is an instinctive revulsion against the prospect of hanging a man after he has been held under sentence of death for many years. ... we regard it as an inhuman act to keep a man facing the agony of execution over a long extended period of time ... A state that wishes to retain capital punishment must accept the responsibility of ensuring that execution follows as swiftly as practicable after sentence, allowing a reasonable time for appeal and consideration of reprieve. It is part of the human condition that a condemned man will take every opportunity to save his life through use of the appellate procedure. [50] If the appellate procedure enables the prisoner to prolong the appellate hearings over a period of years, the fault is to be attributed to the appellate system that permits such delay and not to the prisoner who takes advantage of it.

The Privy Council concluded by holding that spending more than five years on death row constituted "inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment," which is prohibited in pretty much every human rights treaty. The two defendants had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. [51]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. "Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries," Amnesty International
  2. "Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union" (PDF). http://www.europarl.europa.eu/charter/pdf/text_en.pdf. Retrieved 23 August 2010. 
  3. "moratorium on the death penalty". United Nations. 15 November 2007. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=24679&Cr=general&Cr1=assembly. Retrieved 23 August 2010. 
  4. Death penalty statistics 2013: country by country Ordered by number of definite executions, whereas North Korea would most probably rank higher if unknown cases were counted in.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Death Penalty Facts
  6. http://web.amnesty.org/pages/deathpenalty-index-eng
  7. The Clustering of the Death Penalty
  8. See WP: Image: Death penalty statutes in the United States.svg.
  9. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/federal-death-row-prisoners
  10. US death row study: 4% of defendants sentenced to die are innocent
  11. 11.0 11.1 America's 'inexorably' botched executions
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Use of capital punishment by nation.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Oklahoma inmate dies after 'botched' lethal injection
  14. Lethal injection: Secretive US states resort to untested drugs
  15. Eric Holder 'greatly troubled' by spate of botched executions The Guardian
  16. US serial killer Joseph Franklin granted stay of executionJoseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed
  17. Doctor angry Ohio executed inmate despite 'horror' warning
  18. Introducing Amnesty’s New Global Campaign Against Torture
  19. Joseph Wood Received 15 Injections Of Untested Drug Cocktail During Arizona ExecutionArizona inmate Joseph Wood was injected 15 times with execution drugs
  20. McCain: Prolonged Arizona execution was 'torture'
  21. Arizona lawyers lead call for inquiry into Joseph Wood's two-hour execution
  22. Oklahoma execution: Clayton Lockett death witness speaks
  23. "Clayton Lockett writhed and groaned. After 43 minutes, he was declared dead"
  24. "Charles Pierce is a bit angry"
  25. 4 horrible forms of capital punishment more humane than Oklahoma’s botched execution
  26. TAKE ACTION: Stop the Execution of Russell Bucklew!
  27. One might argue that these non-innocent individuals should have their lives taken afterlives fast-tracked so that God can deliver the verdict sooner. That however conflicts with denominations which promotes sola fides, because if they convert at the correct moment they will not be punished for those sins in their afterlife, and they will reap whatever rewards result from their timely conversion.
  28. The Pope's Statement retrieved Aug. 26 2008
  29. Using the Death Penalty to Get Re-Elected
  30. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/discussion-recent-deterrence-studies
  31. he Increased Risks for Blacks Facing the Death Penalty
  32. Black Defendants and the Race of the Victims
  33. 33.0 33.1 The Sounds of Racism
  34. Electric chair haunts US former executions chief
  35. Death Penalty Cost, Amnesty International
  36. The Psychological Experience of Security Officers Who Work With Executions
  37. Many Prisoners on Death Row are Wrongfully Convicted
  38. US death row study: 4% of defendants sentenced to die are innocent
  39. 10 Infamous Cases of Wrongful Execution
  40. Convicted, Executed, Not Guilty The Top 5 Most Wrongful Executions Of All-Time
  41. The state of Georgia shamefully executed Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 despite serious doubts about his guilt.
  42. The wrong Carlos: how Texas sent an innocent man to his deathCarlos DeLuna Execution: Texas Put To Death An Innocent Man, Columbia University Team Says
  43. Results of DNA Testing Come Too Late for Claude Jones
  44. Cameron Todd Willingham: Wrongfully Convicted and Executed in Texas
  45. Hanged on 9 March 1950, granted a posthumous free pardon in 1966
  46. Time on Death row
  47. Torture on Death Row: Court Rules Against Automatic Use of Solitary Confinement for the Condemned
  48. Lifelong Death Sentences
  49. [1994] 2 AC 1
  50. Condemned man presumably includes condemned women prisoners.
  51. Council ruling has implications for hundreds of people who have spent many years languishing in Commonwealth jails awaiting execution Pratt v Attornery Geeneral for JamaicaThe full text of the case can be found here
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