Contemporary Issues Concerning the Death Penalty

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Death Penalty
The death penalty is constantly debated; some of the main topics are the manner in which the execution is carried out, the ethicality involved with taking an individual’s life, the cost of maintaining death penalty programs, and the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to crime. The death penalty has been used as punishment for multitudes of crimes; Babylonian King Hammurabi detailed 25 crimes punishable by death in the eighteenth century B.C. During the seventh century B.C., the Draconian Code of Athens ordered that death be the only punishment for all crimes. The guidelines for administering the death penalty have changed drastically since those times, as have the methods for carrying out the death penalty. In the past, the sentence was carried out via drowning, burning, beating, impaling, and drawing and quartering the accused, the most used current method of administering death as punishment for a crime is lethal injection, although a few states have the choice of electrocution or gas chamber, depending on state statutes. According to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney website, In the 37 states and federal government that currently have death penalty statutes, five different methods of execution are prescribed: Lethal Injection, Electrocution, Lethal Gas, Firing Squad, and Hanging. The vast majority of jurisdictions provide for execution by lethal injection (The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, 2008).

These methods currently in use are considered more humane than the various forms used in the past, the object is to execute with the least amount of suffering. Some of these issues may be why Nebraska is literally the only state that has no way to carry out the death sentence. In the United States the use of the death penalty is left up to each state, some have placed moratoriums on the death penalty while others are more willing to execute those sentenced to death. The constitutionality of the death penalty has often come under scrutiny; in 1972, the Supreme Court suspended the death penalty on the basis that existing statutes were unacceptable. In 1976 following revisions to death penalty guidelines Texas, Florida and Georgia had the death penalty reinstated, the Supreme Court also ruled that the death penalty was not unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. (Furman v. Georgia, 1972) The cost associated with the death penalty is often used as a mitigating factor in the decision made by the state. Many opponents of the death penalty argue that life in prison without the possibility of parole is cheaper than a death sentence. According to a report given by Richard Dieter the exorbitant costs associated with death penalty cases are due to the following, Complex pre-trial motions, lengthy jury selections, and expenses for expert witnesses are all likely to add to the costs in death penalty cases. The irreversibility of the death sentence requires courts to follow heightened due process in the preparation and course of the trial (Dieter, 1994, p. 2).

Another aspect of death penalty cases that add to the excessive cost is the post conviction appeals process. A death sentence comes with an automatic appeal, after this appeal has been exhausted then the defendant may file for a state habeas corpus review of the case, these are two appeals are state appeals and do not cover the federal courts. If the results of the previous appeals are not satisfactory, the defendant may then file a federal version of the habeas review. The appeals process then carries on to the United States Court of Appeals, then the United States Supreme Court, if all of these appeals fail the last resort is to appeal for clemency from the state Governor (Virginia Office of Attorney General). This lengthy process can run up quite a long list of expenses, especially when the state is footing the bill for the defendant, by offering a public defender.

The death penalty is meant to be a form of punishment, but it...
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