Example Research Paper on Death Penalty

In recent years the death penalty has been a topic of heated debate and controversy. The purpose behind it to some seems unclear, while to others it seems as a blatantly obvious solution to violent crime. There is a belief among many that it is impossible to reform a cold-blooded killer. One solution, the death penalty is the most extreme form of justice and is often a sensitive subject to many. The process of determining and carrying out the fate of the convicted is an intricate and extensive process with many certain rituals. The functions and meaning of the ritual elements of the death penalty in modern history is to make it less arbitrary and more humane than it has been in the past.

The first step in the death penalty process is the trial and sentencing of the accused. The legal processes of the death penalty are a rigorous process that is used to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant and whether a convicted defendant acted out of cold blood or distress. The process, furthermore, must make evident to the jury, through legal maneuvering, whether the defendant has a right to humanity or not. The process is a grueling and extensive series of expensive legal battles, appeals, setting of dates, and resetting of dates (Friedman 320). This process, moreover, is essential because if a person were to be executed and then later to be found not guilty, there is no reparation for the damage caused (Loeb 45).

During the 1970’s the death penalty changed dramatically to become the system that our society has gotten to be familiar with. What triggered this change was a case argued to the Supreme Court known as Furman vs. Georgia. The Supreme Court in Furman declared that capital punishment was being administered in a manner that violated rights guaranteed by the 8th amendment. This declaration, moreover, was made on the grounds that capital punishment was being administered in an “arbitrary and capricious” way, which constituted cruel and unusual punishment (Henderson 54). This, however, did not ban the death penalty forever, only indefinitely until the states could meet the Court’s requirements of having death penalty statues contain specific sentencing standard (Henderson 62).

Soon after Furman the states raced to put an end to the indefinite moratorium on the death penalty. New statutes that would be used to determine the justifiability of a death sentence would have to be created. A first attempt was made in the case of Woodson Vs. North Carolina, the argument was that if there was a mandatory death sentence for certain crimes it would no longer be arbitrary and capricious. The Supreme Court, however, ruled this out because it did not adhere to “evolving standards of decency” (Henderson 63). The judicial system needed to create a way to logically comprehend the humanity of the convicted defendant.

The states found the answer to their question in 1976 from a case known as Gregg vs. Georgia. This groundbreaking case re-opened the doors to capital punishment by affirming that new revisions created by the state of Georgia were sufficient to enact a death sentence (Henderson 54). From this case the capital punishment system as we know it has been developed.

Before a trial can begin it may be necessary to investigate if the defendant is sane enough to be tried for their crime (Loeb 52). The belief is that if the accused has a different perception of reality than the rest of us they may not be held accountable for their crime. Insanity is seen as incapacity and only those who are responsible for their crimes are to be punished. We judge the sanity of the defendant by studying their notions of right and wrong with the aid of skilled professionals.

Moreover, if the defendant is able to comprehend the crime that was committed then they are then moved along to stand trial before a jury. There is a strong belief that a jury must be kept pure and unbiased because this is the only way that justice can be administered. The jury is created by selecting a large amount of random eligible citizens, this pool of jurors is then narrowed down to a smaller group of only 12 who will then go on to determine the fate of the accused (Costanzo 23). The final selected citizens must be removed from their everyday life to quietly observe the courtroom proceedings and rituals. The ritual of eliminating potential jurors is called voir dire (French for “to see and tell”); it consists of both attorneys and the judge questioning the potential jurors to determine who is the most qualified.

Attorneys are able to eliminate a potential juror during voire dire through the use of “challenges for cause” and “peremptory challenges”, questions that are used to determine the impartialness of a potential juror. The final jury is then made up of whatever jurors were not successfully challenged by either attorney (Costanzo 24).

There is a special circumstance for voir dire when it comes to a capital case, the added process of determining “death qualification” (Costanzo 24). The case of Witherspoon vs. Illinois determined that persons who indicated that they would automatically vote against imposition of the death penalty must be disqualified from serving on a jury (Henderson 56). The belief is that opposition to the death penalty would not properly serve justice.

Once a jury has been selected they must be kept in seclusion from outside influences on the trial. The purity of the jury, furthermore, must be maintained for a proper trial to occur. Even just one small bias can change the fate of the accused. They are not allowed to discuss the case with anyone until the official deliberation commences. The belief behind this is that any outside influence or opinion may change a juror’s opinion. They are not allowed to participate in asking questions or participate in the search for evidence or truth. This is for the belief that they it is not their role and doing such may result in a mistrial due to them forming different opinions (Costanzo 32).

If the jurors convict the accused, the trial then proceeds to the sentencing phase. The sentencing in a capital crime is done in a separate trial called the penalty phase. Unlike all other crimes, the jury and not the judge determine the sentence (Loeb 52). This is done because it is believed that the motive for murder is what determines if the accused has a right to humanity. The life story of the convicted defendant must be accurately portrayed by the defense to understand the events and influences that drove them to murder (Costanzo 26). The defense in a sense tries to humanize the accused so that the jury might be convinced that the murder was the result of emotional turmoil and not done in cold blood. The prosecution, however, tries to dehumanize the defendant by reinstating the viciousness of the crime and downplaying any emotional distress of the defendant.

During the penalty phase, the sentencing is determined by weighing out aggravating and mitigating factors. At this point the defense no longer attempts to reduce the culpability of the convicted defendant but only attempt to convince the jury that death is too extreme of a solution (Costanzo 41). If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors in the eyes of the jury the accused will be sentenced to death. However, if the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors the accused will be sentenced to life imprisonment (Henderson 44). Aggravating factors consist of actions such as committing another felony at the time of the murder, killing a police officer, or being on parole or probation. Mitigating factors consist of such actions as being under extreme duress, traumatic-stress syndrome, and cooperating with authorities (Henderson 44).

If the accused is convicted not all is lost, they still may appeal to a higher court. In the case of capital punishment a direct appeal is made to the state Supreme Court. This appeal circumvents all lower appellate courts; this situation is unique only to capital cases (Costanzo 37). If the state supreme reinsures the conviction and also the sentencing of the defendant then the accused may file for a petition of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. This is a request to be heard by the United State Supreme Court, based on the quality of what constitutional issues it raises. This request is rarely granted (Costanzo 38). If a defendant is on death row and an appeal is still pending they must apply for a stay of execution (Costanzo 39).

After all is said and done the defendant is then transferred to a state prison and becomes a death row inmate or may remain here indefinitely waiting for appeals to clear up. The prisoner may remain here for a specified amount of years waiting for their execution. It is possible for a sentence to be commuted under various circumstances, such as being pardoned by the governor, but such sentence commutations are uncommon.

After the last appeal has been over ruled the inmate becomes placed on Death Watch (http://www.howstuffworks.com/lethal-injection1.htm page 2). A judge is ordered to set a time and date for the execution (http://www.howstuffworks.com/lethal-injection1.htm page 2). Death Watch is the period of time from the last appeal to the execution, which usually is between 3 and 7 days (http://www.howstuffworks.com/lethal-injection1.htm page 2)

Once an inmate has been placed on death watch they will undergo institutional possessing. They are first removed from their cell in a normal holding block, to a new cell. The new holding cell is usually in the same building as the execution device (Johnson 105, http://www.howstuffworks.com/lethal-injection1.htm page 2). From this cell the inmate will spend the short remainder of his life (http://www.howstuffworks.com/lethal-injection1.htm page 2). During this time the inmate will be given the most privileges that are given to any prisoner on death row.

At this time the inmate is permitted visitation by many different people. These include the inmate’s family, friends, spiritual advisor, attorneys, and the media, but only at the inmate’s digression (Prejean 199, http://www.howstuffworks.com/lethal-injection1.htm page 2). The visitation is allowed to continue unit about 3 hour prior to execution (Prejean 199). The inmate usually tries to talk to their family and do their best to create normality to the conversation (Prejean 199). Also several conversations are arranged between the inmate and their attorneys (Drehle, 301, http://www.howstuffworks.com/lethal-injection1.htm page 2). They are always looking for another appeal. Simply stated, “When people ask why we keep appealing, why we raise these issues over and over, why we never give up fighting…tell them to look at Hitchcock”(Drehle 301). The idea is to get a change of sentencing, to life imprisonment, by providing favorable evidence regarding their circumstances, which is permissible because of Hitchcock v. Dugger (Drehle 301). In some instances the execution is delayed. For example the Spenkeling execution was delayed, (but only for a few hours) because of legal technicalities (Drehle 101). Finally and most important to the inmate is their spiritual advisor (Drehle DEAD MAN WALKING). For most the spiritual advisor is the one that gives them the most comfort to talk to and to be around. They are usually the first to visit and the last to leave. Undisputedly the visitations are the most humanistic of the ritual.

Symbolically one of the last great gestures is the last meal (Johnson 105). This is the last humanitarian part of the procedures. It represents the last pleasant gesture. There is a feeling of dignity with this meal. Even the presentation of the food, is done in human respect. The meal is served on a plate and ate with a spoon (Drehle 99). The inmate is partly release from bonding in order to eat their meal. Depending on the time of the execution, the last meal will be served either the night before, or at the beginning of the evening (Drehle 99,). In most instances the inmate is too depressed to enjoy their meal, for what it is worth (Johnson 105 &106).

Just a few hours before the execution they start to prepare the inmate. They first allow the inmate to take a shower (http://www.howstuffworks.com/lthal-injection.htm page 3, Drehle 101 & 102). Then they award the inmate with a new set of clothes. The normal attire is a pair of pants, collared shirt, socks, and shoes. Female inmates receive a dress, shoes, and socks (Drehle 101 & 102). The inmate is given a haircut to make them appear as if a normal citizen (Drehle 101 & 102). As for prisoners undergoing electrocution, they have their head and right leg completely shaved to allow better electrode connection, and to reduce burning (Drehle 102). The inmate is then is placed into a diaper (Drehle 102).

After the inmate has been prepped the warden joins them in their cell (Drehle 102). This is known as zero hour (Drehle 105). The warden and a few guards then walk the inmate to the chamber (Drehle 102). This is known as the last mile. The inmate is escourted by 3 guards and the warden to the execution chamber (Drehle 107). The inmate is then lead into the chamber with the device. The form of execution is different for each state.

There are five ways in which the thirty-eight states that have the death sentence can choose to carry out sentencing in. The oldest method being practiced is hanging. It was the primary method of execution before the invention of the electric chair in the 1890’s. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) Hanging is still being practiced in Delaware and Washington though lethal injection is an alternative method in both states. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu)

The day before the hanging the inmate is moved to a separate building on the prison grounds. Here the condemned is weighed and a rehearsal takes place with a sandbag that is the same weight as the prisoner. This is done so that the prisoner employs can practice what their duties for the next day will be. The rehearsal is done with a sandbag to determine the length of the rope that would kill the condemned by snapping his or her neck.

(www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) If the rope were to long the condemned would be decapitated on the other hand if the rope were to short the prisoner would be killed by asphyxiation which could take up to forty five minutes. The face will become engorged; violent movements in the limbs occur; sometimes the prisoner will defecate himself or herself. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) The rope which is three-fourths to one and one-fourth inch is then boiled and stretched to eliminate recoil. After the rope dries, wax or soap is rubbed on the rope to be sure of a smooth slip.

(www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) On the day of execution the condemned is escorted to the Gallous and placed on top of a trap door with his arms and legs secured. The condemned is then blindfolded and the noose is placed around their neck. The noose position behind the left ear. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) The condemned is now allowed to give his or her last words. On the warden’s signal the trap door opens and the prisoner falls though. If everything goes to plan the weight of the prisoner should cause a rapid fracture-dislocation of the neck. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu)

New York State found hanging to be a very inhumane way of execution so it built the first electric chair to replace hanging in 1888. Though built in 1888, William Kemmler didn’t become the first person to be executed in the chair until 1890. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) The chair became one of the most popular methods of execution in the United States. Now the electric chair is the sole method of execution in only two states: Alabama and Nebraska.

On the day of the execution the condemned has to have their head shaved in ordered for the to fit the skullcap-shaped electrode. The leg also has to be shaved so that an electrode that is moistened with conductive jelly can be attached as a back up. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) The prisoner is then escorted to the execution room by three of the prisons guards. One guard is stationed at each leg and one is stationed on the condemned’s back. The guards job is not only to escort the condemned but carry him or her to the chair if they are incapable to do so themselves.

When the condemned reaches the chair he or she is strapped into the chair with leather belts across: the chest, groin, legs and arms. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) The metal skullcap-shaped electrode is then attached to the scalp over a sponge moistened with saline. The sponge can’t be to wet or it will short-circuit the chair, but if the sponge is to dry there will be too much resistance.

(www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) After that the electrode is attached to the leg that was shaven. The prisoner’s last words are spoken and the warden gives the signal for the execution to start. Thirty-second periods of current between five hundred and two thousand volts are then given the condemned until he is dead.

(www.howstuffworks.com) The U.S. Supreme Court Justice, William Breman, gives his eyewitness description of this; “the prisoner’s eyeballs sometimes pop out and rest on his cheeks. The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool. The body turns bright red as its temperature rises, and the prisoner’s flesh swells and his or her skin stretches to the point of breaking. Sometimes the prisoner catches fire… Witnesses hear a loud and sustained sound like bacon frying, and the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh permeates the chamber.” (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu)

Utah and Idaho are the only two states to use firing squad as a method of execution though both states have lethal injection as alterative method. The most recent person to be executed by a firing squad was John Albert Taylor. He was put to death on January 26, 1996. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) He chose this method and asked repeatedly to have the execution rushed.

The condemned is bound to an armchair with leather straps around his: waist, head, arms, and legs. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) Sandbags surround him or her in order to absorb the blood. The condemned is allowed his last words and a black hood is placed over is head. A doctor will then locate the condemned heart and put target over it. Twenty feet away five shooter armed with .30 caliber rifles stand behind an oval canvass. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) Four of the shooters have guns that are loaded and the fifth is loaded with a blank. This is done so that the shoots don’t know who actually kills the condemned. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) On the wardens signal the shoots take aim though the canvass, and fire. They aim for the condemned’s heart. If the shoots hit their mark the death is quick; the heart explodes and the prisoner dies form blood loss. If the shooters miss the condemned will die from a punctured lung and drowned in his or her own blood. (www.dethpenaltyinfo.msu.edu)

Trying to be more humane cyanide gas was first used as a method of execution in Nevada during the year of 1924 to execute Gee John. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) The state tried to pump gas into his cell while he was sleeping. It did work because gas leaked though out the prison. Today the prisoner is again escorted and strapped in to a chair in the middle of an airtight chamber. A long stethoscope is affixed to the inmate to be able to determine when the inmates heart stops. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) Then everyone leaves the room. On the warden’s signals the executioner flicks a leaver that releases crystals of sodium cyanide into a pail of sulfuric acid that sits below the condemned’s chair.

(www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) Hydrogen cyanide is released and the prisoner dies from asphyxiation. An exhaust fan sucks the air out of the chamber when the prisoner is dead. One half an hour later, guards wearing gasmasks and gloves enter the chamber to remove the body. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu)
Oklahoma was the first state to adopt execution by lethal injection in the year 1977, though Texas “Charles Brook didn’t become the first person execution by lethal injection until December 2, 1982. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) Today thirty-six of the thirty-eight state that have the death penalty use lethal injection. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) The condemned is again escorted to the execution chamber and strapped to the gurney by the prison guards. One person from the execution team positions heart monitors to the condemned. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) A saline solution is started immediately to keep the needles clean. The solution is coming from an IV drop in the next room that is being run though long tubes to the condemned. (www.howstuffworks.com) On the warden’s signal the curtain is raised and the prisoner is exposed to the witnesses. He or She is then allowed his or her last words. Then the warden gives the word to start the execution and the executioners go to work. At first the inmate is put to sleep with 5,000mg of sodium thiopental. (wwwhowstuffworks.com) The next thing that flows is Pauvlon, which paralyzes the condemned’s muscles system and stops his or her breathing. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu) Finally the executioner flows Potassium chloride, which stops the condemned’s heart. (www.howstuffworks.com)

The rituals surrounding the way the death penalty is carried out in other countries are done inhumanely compared to the United States. Even though most European countries have abolished it, countries in the Middle East and other countries use it. The types of torture are stoning, hanging, beheading and to the extreme of being burned alive in the streets.

In Iran stoning is the popular choice for execution. Stoning is prohibited in the territories of Islam, yet any religious authority can suggest that it be done. Women who commit adultery are considered to be evil and therefore must be stoned. In the major cities, victims are hung in the major cities and are stoned. In the major cities, victims are hung in the major cities and are stoned in remote areas of the country. The residents of the village would brag about what they had done afterwards and would receive blessings from high religious authorities for what they had done (Sahebjam XIV). Women were also sentenced to routine lashings for letting their hair show and for other violations of the dress code (Esfandiari 40-41). The Taliban used to use public stonings and even though they are out of power, the punishment is still alive in other parts of the world. Typically, only females get stoning sentence. The Taliban’s way of stoning was the worst; crowds were forced to watch the woman be buried and the man would be tied to a wall behind her (Robinson et. al.).

Hanging is another popular way for executions to be carried out in other countries. In Kuwait, three Bangladeshi’s were hung and the public was allowed to look at their bodies’ minutes after they died thinking that it would help deter crime. For 20 years, private hangings have taken place and this event may have marked the return of public hangings (A.P. Worldstream). Sudan has seen a sharp increase in executions and death sentences since the beginning of the year. In May, 14 men had been hung and many more executed. Sudan does not allow those suspected to try and defend themselves. Sudan’s penal code, which is based on the government’s interpretation of Islamic Law, includes limb amputation, death and death followed by crucifixion (Amnesty International). Barbados allows criminals to be hung as soon as they have exhausted their appeals (A.P. Worldstream). In Japan, no advance warnings of hanging executions are given which are usually done during the New Year holiday when they are least likely to attract publicity. When the rope does not kill the person, executioners have been forced to strangle them. To get suspects to confess what the police want to hear, they tie ropes around the person’s ankles and hang them from the ceiling. They have kicked, beaten, and starved the person until they hear what they want to hear. A prisoner screamed when he saw another person being taken to the execution room and for two months he was handcuffed to a metal belt tied around his waist, forcing him to eat like a dog (Watts, Jonathan. Japan in Dock for Inhuman’ Treatment on Death Row). [Online]. Available http:/www.againstdp.org/japaninhumane.html).

In Indonesia on May 19th, 2001, two men were executed by a firing squad, which was the 1st execution in five years in Indonesia. The men had an unfair trial and it is a routine that prison officials get prisoners to sign their clemency application by making them think they are signing for their handcuffs to be removed (Amnesty International).

Saudi Arabia’s strict laws call for people to be executed by beheading. They are carried out in public by using a sword and usually take place on Fridays. They take place outside mosques after the mornings obligatory prayers in order to provide the maximum amount of shame and are considered to be a spectacle. Women, any youths that have gone through puberty and a large amount of those killed are foreigners. Public execution is the mandated punishment for murder with the family of the victim being allowed to take part by striking “death blows.” (Wordsworth ).

Beheading brings about the subject of the guillotine. Fernand Meysonnier was an executioner in France from 1947-1958. “Before people were executed, there would be a call to prayer from the mosque. Then the guy would come out flanked by two guards. They pushed him onto the plank.” When somebody needed to be executed, he would receive a call at the bar he owned from the prosecutor’s office, and that evening they would pack the guillotine into boxes and set off by truck to the prison. There they would erect the machine in the courtyard and rest until dawn (Schofield).

The Philippines was the 1st country in Asia to abolish the death penalty and one of the few anywhere to bring it back. People are executed by lethal injection. Men have also been tortured into making false confessions (Gluckman).

In Guatemala, mobs publicly lynched suspected thieves and have burned people alive in the streets (Harrell).

The concepts of an execution, has been around for over 2000 years. It has been viewed as a form of touchier, entertainment, justice, and legal murder, which has been used to control, influence, and deter violent actions. Different cultures and creeds perceive capital punishment in different ways, and perform the death ceremonies accordingly. Form the 18th century guillotine in the French revolution, to the 1960s lynching in southern United States, and the contemporary lethal-injection, executions have been publicized events, which are both looked down upon and a praised my modern civilizations. The beliefs over this topic are different from person to person. Executions through out history and modern time have had symbolic procedures behind them. The choice is yours, does he live or die.

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