The United States is on an
execution rampage. Since capital
punishment was reinstated by
the Supreme Court in the 1976
Gregg v. Georgia decision, more
than 525 men and women have
been put to death by the state.
More than 150 of these
executions have taken place
since 1996. 3,500 people are on
death row today, awaiting their
turn with thecapital punishment has existed
throughout most of the course
of our nation’s history. By the
mid-1960s, however, public
opposition to the death penalty
had reached an all-time high, and the
practice was banned by the Supreme
Court in the 1972 Furman v. Georgia
decision. The Court held that state death
penalty statutes were devoid of any
standards, and that they therefore gave too
much discretion to individual judges and
juries to exact the ultimate punishment.
Soon after the Furman decision, states
began passing new laws that provided
sentencing guidelines for juries. The
Supreme Court was given another
DEATH PENALTY The courts positions of the death penalty has changed over the years. For centuries societies have used death as the ultimate penalty for crime. In the 1960's, the court ruled against the death penalty as a "cruel and unusual punishment", which was forbidden by the eighth amendment of the Constitution. By the 1990's the death penalty was again in wide use supported by the court and ...
opportunity to address the issue of capital
punishment in 1976, in Gregg v. Georgia,
and it ruled that “the punishment of death
does not invariably violate the
Constitution.” Since this ruling, capital
punishment rates have grown exponentially
in the United States.
In 1994, the Federal death penalty Act
authorized capital punishment for more than
60 offenses, including some crimes that do not
involve murder. Moreover, the 1996 Anti-
Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty
Act created new barriers to effective federal
review of constitutional claims in capital
cases. Congress and many states have also
slashed funding for most of the legal
representation death row inmates formerly
received from death penalty resource centers.
Capital punishment, the ultimate denial of
civil liberties, is a costly, irreversible and
barbaric practice, the epitome of cruel and
unusual punishment. It does not deter
crime, and the way it is implemented is
Regardless of one’s viewpoint about the
morality or constitutionality of the death
penalty, most people would agree that if we
are going to continue executing people in
the U.S., we should be doing it fairly and
rationally. However, three factors,
unrelated to the crime itself, greatly
influence who gets executed and who does
not: poverty, race and geography.
Lethal Injection for the Poor — The
American Bar Association and many
scholars have found that what most often
determines whether or not a death
sentence is handed down is not the facts of
the crime, but the quality of the legal
representation. The overwhelming
majority of death row inmates receive
substandard legal representation at trial.
The retribution rational for punishment is like the social contract theory. This simply means that when an individual offender must be punished its because he/she deserves it. There are three types of retribution the first one is negative retribution, which means one who is not guilty should not be punish for crime. The second is positive retribution, which demands that one who is guilty should be ...
Almost all capital-crime defendants are
indigent when arrested, and are generally
represented by court-appointed lawyers,
who are inexperienced and underpaid. The
National Law Journal, reviewing capital
cases in six Southern states, reported that
defense lawyers are often “ill-trained,
unprepared… [and] grossly underpaid.”
Defending a capital case is timeconsuming,
taking about 700-1000 hours.
In some jurisdictions the hourly rates for
appointed attorneys in capital cases are less
than the minimum wage, and usually much
less than the lawyer’s hourly expenses.
Moreover, courts often authorize
inadequate funds for investigation and
experts — or refuse to do so altogether.
This is in the face of the almost limitless
such funding for the prosecution. Wealthy
people who can hire their own counsel are
generally spared the death penalty, no
matter how heinous their crimes. Poor
people do not have the same opportunity
to buy their lives.
Racial Bias Permeates the System —
Death row in the U.S. has always held a
disproportionately large population of
people of color relative to the general
population. Whereas African Americans
constitute 12% of the U.S. population,
they are 35% of those on death row; 9%
are Native American, Latino or Asian.
The most important factor in levying the
death penalty, however, is the race of the
victim. (Those who kill a white person are
more likely to receive the death penalty
than those who kill a black person.)
A 1998 report by the Death Penalty
Information Center summarizes the
findings of several scholars which illustrate
this point. In 96% of the studies
examining the relationship between race
and the death penalty there was a pattern
of race-of-victim or race-of-defendant
discrimination, or both.
The report also reveals a consistent trend
indicating race-of-victim discrimination.
For example, in Florida, in
comparable cases, “a
defendant’s odds of receiving a
death sentence are 4.8 times
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higher if the victim was white
than if the victim was black. In
Illinois the multiplier is 4, in
Oklahoma it is 4.3, in North
Carolina, 4.4, and in
Mississippi, it is 5.5.”
The state of Kentucky presents
a particularly outrageous
example of race-of-victim
discrimination: despite the fact
that 1,000 African Americans
have been murdered there since
the 1975 reinstitution of the
death penalty in that state, as of spring
1999, all of the state’s 39 death row
inmates were sentenced for murdering a
white victim; none were there for
murdering an African American.
Several studies show the effects of outright
racial discrimination. One recent example,
a 1998 University of Iowa study of
sentencing in Philadelphia, showed that
the odds of receiving a death sentence are
nearly 3.9 times greater if the defendant is
These patterns of racial disparities are
partly explained by the fact that the
nation’s prosecutors, who make the
threshold decision about whether or not to
seek the death penalty are almost
exclusively white men. Of the district
attorneys in U.S. counties using capital
punishment, 98% are white, and only 1%
are African American. New York State has
only one African American district attorney.
Where You Live Determines Whether You
Die — Whether someone convicted of a
capital crime receives a death sentence
depends greatly on the state or county in
which the trial and conviction takes place.
In some states, a death sentence is rare.
Connecticut had five people on death row
in 1999; Kansas, only two. Southern states,
particularly Texas (443 death row inmates
in 1999), hand down significantly more
death sentences than those in the rest of
the country. California, the state with the
largest penal system, had 513 inmates on
death row in the spring of 1999. Such
state-to-state disparities exist because
death penalty statutes are a patchwork of
Different factions of sociologists depict men. Functionalists suggest that a division of labor originally arose between man and women because of the woman’s role in reproduction. By virtue of their larger size and greater muscular strength, men were assigned hunting and defense tasks. Conflict theorists reject functionalist arguments as simply offering a rationale for male dominance. They contend ...
disparate standards, rules and practices and
the consequence is the difference between
life and death. Furthermore, some
prosecutors are more zealous in seeking the
death penalty than others – particularly if
they are running for re-election.