Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the government-sanctioned practice of putting someone to death for a crime. The death penalty is a controversial topic throughout America. It is not hard to find differing opinions on whether or not the United States should use the capital punishment as a form of punishment. Many believe that the death penalty in and of itself is inhumane and a violation of human rights and the Constitution. On the opposite end of the spectrum, supporters of capital punishment think it is a just way to punish the guilty and that it is even a deterrent to crime. Nevertheless, the United States continues to use the death penalty.
While the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, botched executions are much more common than what the general public might assume. From 1890 to 2010, the most common botched procedure was lethal injection. 7% of all lethal injections have failed or been delayed. 3% of all executions in the U.S. have been botched. In a recent example, on April 29, 2016, Oklahoma inmate Clay Lockett died of a heart attack approximately 40 minutes after the state began administering a new lethal injection protocol. (1) Deborah Denno, a lethal injection expert and law professor at Fordham Law School, stated, “This is one of the worst botches we’ve had. All of this was predictable and foreseeable. How many times does this need to take place?… We have all the evidence we need to show this is a highly problematic and potentially unconstitutional procedure.” Americans will have to ponder and research the accuracy of the death penalty. Mistakes like these should not be happening. The question stands on whether capital punishment is breaching the Eighth Amendment with 276 botched out of the total 8,776 executions from 1890-2010. (2)
A large part of the controversy with capital punishment is whether it is fairly applied. Many supporters and opponents can both agree that if the death penalty was used more often and efficiently, unlike the capricious system that stands now, capital punishment would be a more favored aspect in many citizens’ minds. Unfortunately, with plenty of research to back it up, the death penalty system in America has been shown to be broken and very racially disproportionate.
Two of the country’s foremost researchers on race and capital punishment, law professor David Baldus and statistician George Woodworth, have conducted a careful analysis of race and the death penalty in Philadelphia. The study has revealed that the odds of receiving a death sentence are nearly four times higher if the defendant is black. (3) The influence of race on the death penalty is prevalent and inescapable.
In other areas of the law, protections have been built in to limit the effects of systemic racism when the evidence of its impact is clear. With the death penalty, however, such corrective measures have been blocked by those who claim that capital punishment would bog down if racial fairness was required. To make matters worse, new studies have shown that 1 in every 25 criminals have been sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit. (4) The 4.1 percent is twice the amount of those who have been exonerated, furthermore proves that there are unaccountable criminals who have been wrongfully sentenced to death will not be likely to be freed.
A recent study also shows that there is a large gender bias appearing in the application of the death penalty. In a review of 1,300 murder cases in California between 2003 and 2005, the authors found gender disparities with respect to both defendants and victims in the underlying crime. The study revealed that the influence of gender-based values was particularly pronounced in certain crimes: gang murders (few death sentences), rape-murders (many death sentences), and domestic violence murders (few death sentences). The authors further concluded that “Because women are stereotyped as weak, passive, and in need of male protection, prosecutors and juries seem reluctant to impose the death penalty upon them.” On the other hand, in cases where the victim was a woman, the death sentence rate was 10.9%, seven times the rate when men were victims (1.5%). (5) Capital punishment has been proven over and over to be racially and gender biased along with many wrongfully convicted discrepancies upheld in America.
- Fretland, Katie “Clay Lockett writhed and groaned. After 43 minutes, he was declared dead” The Guardian. N.p., 30 April 2014. Web. 01 Jan. 2017
- Sarat, Austin. “Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty” Stanford Univ. N.p, 2014. Web. 01 Jan. 2017.
- Dieter, Richard. “The Death Penalty in Black and White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides.”
- The Death Penalty in Black and White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides | Death Penalty Information Center. The Death Penalty Information Center, 1998. Web. 02 Jan. 2017.
- Shatz and N. Shatz, “Chivalry is Not Dead: Murder, Gender, and the Death Penalty,” February 19, 2011.