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DEATH PENALTY – The Controversy Continues

The death penalty has been around since 1608. Since then, changes have constantly been made to laws to ensure that the death penalty is carried out in a way that is constitutional and doesn't fall under cruel and unusual punishment. While it once enjoyed days where it was pretty popular, it now seems to be losing support. There have been a lot of developments in the past few years that suggest the death penalty is on its way out. For example:

- A number of states, including Maryland, Connecticut, Nebraska, Virginia and Alabama, introduced bills to abolish the death penalty this year. To date, none of these have passed, but it is obviously on lawmakers' minds.

There are so many death penalty cases where the conviction was a travesty of justice and the sentence given, “death” then becomes a crime against the constitution. This must be unacceptable in a free and democratic society.

I personally, have grappled with the death penalty and its many arguments, pro and con. Is it humane… it a deterrent….and what crimes warrant its use, etc. Putting all of that aside, I can’t deny the fact that way too many convicted felons have been wrongly convicted and exonerated only with the the discovery and accepted use of the science of DNA.

The chance that one person may die, wrongly convicted, is enough for this writer to advocate for the death penalty’s abolishment. It makes all of the other, very valid arguments, moot.

The prison news magazine The Angolite features an in-depth piece on the use of capital punishment around the world in its recent issue. Citing a 2008 Amnesty International report, the article notes that China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and the United States lead the world in executions.  Japan, the only other industrialized democracy besides the U.S. that uses capital punishment, averages five executions a year but is known for inhumane death row conditions.   Author and inmate Lane Nelson details the conditions, the methods, and the controversies surrounding capital punishment in China, Iran, and Japan

The Dallas Morning News renewed its call for a moratorium on executions in Texas because of the numerous errors in the state's death penalty system.  The paper highlighted the cases of Michael Blair and Charles Hood as examples of how the system has broken down.  Blair was exonerated in 2008 after 14 years on death row.  DNA evidence revealed that he had not been the murderer of 7-year-old Ashley Estel in 1993, despite the fact that the jury had taken only 27 minutes to convict him, and that he may have been guilty of other crimes.  Charles Hood remains on Texas' death row, even though the fairness of his trial was completely compromised by the fact that the judge and the prosecutor admitted to having an illicit sexual affair.

Hard to believe? Texas hold the record for executions since the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted over 30 years ago. Here is one story among the many that illustrate why our justice system is too fallible to be given the death penalty as a sentencing tool.


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  1. 9 Comment(s)

  2. By Bob S | Reply

    I work in Dallas Texas as a paralegal. As part of my job responsibilities I do background checks both for felonies and misdemeanors on our clients at the Dallas County clerk’s office. Quite often the paper files are “missing” and/or incomplete. A few times I have found material belonging to other cases and other individuals totally unrelated to our clients in our client’s files. My question is are the files containing DNA samples from twenty-year old cases kept with more integrity than the paper files? How do we know that the DNA that was collected before anyone knew hot to properly collect and maintain DNA that is now used to exonerate the defendants was the actual DNA belonging to the proper case? It is possible that people are being released because the wrong samples are being tested due to poor record keeping. Also, I am being very kind when critiquing the record keeping of Dallas County misdemeanor and felony cases.

  3. By Michael Lang | Reply

    Bob, thanks for your comment. You raise a very interesting and valid point that I too thought about when the issue of DNA was first raised as a device to free wrongly convicted people.
    The fact is that where there are people in the process, there is fallibility. And that is with the best of intentions.
    The answer?
    We do the best we can and where there is “reasonable doubt”…the accused must go free.

    Mike Lang

  4. By dudley sharp | Reply

    The Death Penalty Provides More Protection for Innocents
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
    Often, the death penalty dialogue gravitates to the subject of innocents at risk of execution. Seldom is a more common problem reviewed. That is, how innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.
    To state the blatantly clear, living murderers, in prison, after release or escape,  are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.
    Although an obvious truism, it is surprising how often  folks overlook the enhanced incapacitation benefits of the death penalty over incarceration.
    No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.
    Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.
    That is. logically, conclusive.
    16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.
    A surprise? No.
    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
    Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don’t. Studies which don’t find for deterrence don’t say no one is deterred, but that they couldn’t measure those deterred.
    What prospect of a negative outcome doesn’t deter some? There isn’t one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.
    However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life.
    Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it’s a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.
    Reality paints a very different picture.
    What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
    What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
    What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.
    This is not, even remotely, in dispute.
    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
    Furthermore, history tells us that lifers have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc.
    In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.
    Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher, are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking.
    The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting exposure for many years. Even the behemoth of anti death penalty newspapers, The New York Times,  has recognized that deception.
    To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released from death row . . . (1) This when death penalty opponents were claiming the release of 119 “innocents” from death row. Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order for cases to be added to their “exonerated” or “innocents” list. They simply invented their own definitions for exonerated and innocent and deceptively shoe horned large numbers of inmates into those definitions – something easily discovered with fact checking.
    There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.
    If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, we can, reasonably, conclude that the DNA cases will be excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 8000 death sentences, that we will experience a 99.8% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions. This improved accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that have been added to the system, over and above DNA testing.
    Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?
    Full report -All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.
    Full report – The Death Penalty as a Deterrent, upon request
    (1) The Death of Innocents: A Reasonable Doubt,
    New York Times Book Review, p 29, 1/23/05, Adam Liptak,
    national legal correspondent for The NY Times
    copyright 2007-2009, Dudley Sharp
    Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas
    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

  5. By Karen | Reply

    I feel the death penalty SHOULD be in effect for those people on death row asap. If everything is proven against these people, forget the appeals. And to give them a shot? Forget it! Fry them and give them pain as they have done to their innnocent victims.
    Why should we, as taxpayers, support them?

    For the other offenders, such as rapists, neuter them. I am not a violent person at all and don’t believe in guns, etc. but some people can’t be “fixed.” Putting them back into society, I don’t believe will help them.

  6. By Brandon Pavlov | Reply

    Often, the actual death fee dialogue gravitates to the subject of innocents at risk of execution. Seldom is a more common problem reviewed. That is, exactly how innocents tend to be more at risk without the death penalty.

    To state the blatantly obvious, living murderers, in jail, after release or get away, are more likely to damage and murder, again, compared to are performed murderers.

    Even though an obvious truism, it is surprising how often people overlook the improved incapacitation advantages of the death penalty more than incarceration.

    No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death fee has the most extensive because of process protections in All of us criminal law.

    Therefore, real innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die within prison serving under which sentence, that it is that an real innocent will be executed.

  7. By Bretton | Reply

    I totally agree with you. If we believe that their crimes are so bad that they deserve to die then why do they spend so much time on death row where we have to pay to keep them housed. I think that they should just be stuck with the needle and then let it be lights out for them.

  8. By Kirk | Reply

    Since when has It been anybody’s right to decide who lives and dies. I know that we’re talking about people who are on death row for committing terrible crimes, but these are human lives we’re talking about. There is no amount of currency that can equal a human life. Once your dead you don’t come back and you people talk about throwing away lives as if they are garbage. Some of things you people say like fry them. stick them with a needle, you make me sick. Obviously this concept that once was justice has become corrupted and twisted beyond all recognition.When the judge and the prosecutor admit to having an illicit sexual affair something is seriously wrong . If you take out all of the fancy legal procedures, the concept that once was justice is now just getting even. Everybody knows that getting even just causes even more pain.

  9. By Annie | Reply

    The dealth penality does not solve the problem, it will not bring the murdered victims back. The United States should put these murders to work where it will make amends for the victim. We have our best going to Iraq and Afganistan, being killed and mained. These criminals should be trained and sent to war. They like to murder the war would be the perfect place for them to practice what they love to do. They would be used for war purpose only. How can you control them, technology has come a long way put a chip in them if they mess up blow the chip. If they successfully complete the mission, send them to the next war. Let them perform what they like to do but for the benefit of the country and this is there punishment. Our best men and women are going to war these young men and women can one day turn or nation around. These murders have nothing to loose so train them enough to get the job done. Give it a trial run. They have the right to go to war or the right to leathal injection. The choice is theirs.

  10. By Nevith D. | Reply

    The capital punishment is a good verdict for a criminal. It just shows how big and unlawful  crime a criminal committed. And is the legal way for having a victim's justice.  Recently released information shows that the amount of death sentences passed out in the courtroom and executions carried out have both dropped to brand new lows. Costs of administering the death penalty and ethical and legal issues are imagined to be the biggest factors. It is not as likely that individuals will face the capital punishment now. (See for more info)

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