Death Penalty

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Steve Gardella
Position Paper #3
10/30/2012
Professor Lincoln Passmore (MWR 9:15-10:20)

The death penalty is a topic of much controversy in the modern world both on a personal level and a geopolitical level. There are many arguments for and against it but I feel that, though many people may and will disagree with me, there is a black and white correct answer, which I will discuss at the conclusion of this paper.

Through history the death penalty has taken many incarnations: the gallows, the gas chamber, the firing squad, the electric chair and finally, to where most executions fall within today, the lethal injection. Using a punishment of death finds itself held up by many major solid arguments such as deterrence of criminal behavior, reduction of repeat offenders, and safety and retribution for the families of victims.

Though there is no measurable way to acquire statistics on the deterrent effect of the death penalty, it would seem logical to assume that many crimes that could have been committed, were walked away from unfinished because of the fear of a potential punishment of death. Ernest van der Haag, a Fordham University professor of jurisprudence, explains deterrent qualities, as “Whatever people fear most is likely to deter most.” Looking at it from that angle, once again a reasonable person may be able to ascertain that death is the ultimate deterrent. In that vein, a 1973 study done by Isaac Ehrlich which employed a distinctive form of analysis showed results that for every inmate that was executed, 7 lives were spared to a death by murder due to the deterrent nature of the death penalty.

Reduction of repeat offenders certainly finds its argument on grounds that are a bit more stable. According to Georgetown University constitutional law professor emeritus Walter Bern “The most defensible justification for capital punishment is incapacitation.” A man who commits a crime worthy of capital punishment and is executed unarguably cannot commit any crime again. A 1978 case in California found defendant Lawrence Singleton guilty of the rape and mutilation of a teenaged hitchhiker. He was paroled years later and soon after convicted of murdering Roxanne Hayes, a 31-year old mother of three and subsequently sentenced to death. Had Lawrence found himself incapacitated by ways of capital punishment in 1978, he would have never had the chance to commit murder after his release. There are countless instances like this one and each story seems worse than the last.

In the final major argument for the death penalty, we find the retribution and safety of the victim’s family. This one is a bit more complicated than the others mostly because families of victims don’t have one concrete historical choice or opinion that proves it entirely. With regards to the safety of the families, I suppose there is irrefutable evidence that an executed convict has a lower chance of seeking out and harming the family of a former victim than one who remains alive; however, the retribution factor is where the complexities of morality and differing opinions come into play. A case in favor of the death penalty comes to us from Ohio’s Franklin County where Caron Montgomery was sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend, Tia Hendricks and their two children. A source close to the mother of the victim stated that Tia’s mother “felt comforted knowing that he will be put to death.” This certainly shows the positive side of the death penalty’s retributive effects but it seems for every story that praises it for its positives, there are twice as many who disagree.

A 1983 Texas case where the sister of Ronald Carlson was murdered started with a similar ring to the one explained in Franklin County. Carlson wanted vengeance for his sister and at the time “would have killed those responsible with [his] own hands.” After fifteen years of deliberation, appeals and bureaucratic proceedings, the killer was executed and Carlson described...
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