Cruel and Unusual Punishment: the Death Penalty

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Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Death Penalty
I remember watching the movie Dead Man Walking; it was about this man named Matthew Poncelet who allegedly raped a girl and killed a teenage boy. Poncelet pleaded not guilty, but was convicted as a murderer and put on death row. He asked for several appeals stating that Carl Vitello, the man he was with at the time, was the one that should be at fault. Poncelet seems very convincing that it wasn’t him, but at the end, the courts had enough evidence to grant Poncelet the retribution of execution. The movie has me questioning America’s justice system; what if someone was actually innocent? Is it right to kill someone as a consequence for their wrong doing? To some, it seems like the right thing to do. If someone breaks the rules you simply punish them. But how should we carry out these punishments? When eight-year-old Billy steals a candy bar from Seven Eleven, you can bet that one of the parents will deliver some whippings. In Texas, when I was in elementary school, I started a fight, and as a result I got sent to the principal’s office and received three licks with a paddle. So where do we draw the line? At a higher level, what happens to me if I kill someone? Since the beginning of time, societies in almost every culture and background have used capital punishment or physical chastisement as a consequence for the killing of others. But, we shouldn’t be doing this anymore; life is too valuable. Even though some people have made mistakes in their lives, its time for the United States to free the judicial systems from their power to take peoples life’s as a consequence for people taking the life of another.

In 1972, with the Furman v. Georgia case, the Supreme Court recognized that capital punishment was indeed a roll of the dice, and as a consequence held that as practiced it violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment. Justice Stewart declared that the death penalty was cruel because it is “wantonly and freakishly imposed,” and it was like "being struck by lightning” (Hull). Justice Douglas, agreed and stated that the death penalty was unusual because “it discriminates against someone by reason of his race, wealth, social position, or class" (Hull). Justice Byron White, a man who favored more executions, agreed that he noticed, that among the hundreds of federal and state criminal cases that could have resulted in the death penalty, “only a handful of defendants were actually selected for execution” — making the system “so totally irrational as to be based on luck” (Hull). The decision removed power from the states to enforce the death penalty, and moved the 629 inmates off death row.

For a few years, the death penalty remained illegal because the Justices that were on the Supreme Court at the time concluded that executions violated the Eight and Fourteen Amendments, citing cruel and unusual punishment. However, with different terms, in 1976, the Supreme Court reversed itself with Gregg v. Georgia and reinstated the death penalty to state hands. Nevertheless, this is a prime example of how the Supreme Court can change laws and set precedents by the way they interpret our Amendments. The Supreme Court is in place to dissect, and analyze the Constitution to decide what the Framers meant, and in 1972, the perspicacity of the Justices resulted in the most humane decision ever made; people where being deprived from life by serving life imprisonments instead of being executed. Since 1976, the United States has executed 1,295 people, and there are currently 3,189 people on death row (DPIC). But all murderers haven’t had the same fortune, because of Gregg v. Georgia, some states enforce the death penalty and others don’t. There are currently 33 states in the U.S. who currently support and implement capital punishment, and 17 states who oppose. (DPIC). Murderers in non-capital punishment states can kill with the highest punishment...
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