The Death Penalty in the United States


The death penalty is a controversial topic in the United States


today and has been for a number of years. The death penalty is currently


legal in 38 states and two federal jurisdictions (Winters 97). The death


penalty statutes were overturned and then reinstated in the United States


during the 1970\'s due to questions concerning its fairness (Flanders 50).


The death penalty began to be reinstated slowly, but the rate of executions


has increased during the 1990\'s (Winters 103-107). There are a number of


arguments in favor of the death penalty. Many death penalty proponents feel


that the death penalty reduces crime because it deters people from


committing murder if they know that they will receive the death penalty if


they are caught. Others in favor of the death penalty feel that even if it


doesn\'t deter others from committing crimes, it will eliminate repeat


offenders. Death penalty opponents feel that the death penalty actually


leads to an increase in crime because the death penalty desensitizes people


to violence, and it sends the message that violence is a suitable way to


resolve conflicts. Death penalty opponents also condemn the death penalty


because of the possibility of an innocent person being put to death, and


because it can be unfairly applied.


Death penalty opponents feel that the death penalty must be


abolished because it cheapens the value of human life. The death penalty


desensitizes people to murder and violence because, by executing people,


the state sends the message that violence is an acceptable means of


resolving conflicts. The death penalty also reduces the gravity of the loss


of human life by making it legal for the state to kill people it deems to


be beyond reform (Winters 57). Death penalty opponents defend their claims


that the death penalty actually causes an increase in crime citing


statistics such as that in California, between 1952 and 1967 there were an


average of 6 executions per year. From 1968 until 1991, there were no


executions. In the period from 1952 to 1967 the murder rate was double that


of the murder rate in the years from 1968 to 1991. Also the average murder


rate in states with the death penalty is 8%, whereas in states without the


death penalty the murder rate is only 4.4% ("Deterrence"). Another argument


that death penalty opponents point to is the fact that states that abolish


and then reintroduce the death penalty do not seem to have any change in


their murder rates (Bedau).


Death penalty opponents also point to the fact that over half of


the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty, including all


other major industrialized, democratic nations (Flanders 35). In the five


countries with the highest homicide rates that do not impose the death


penalty, the murder rate is 21.6 murders per 100,000 people. In the five


countries with the highest homicide rates that do impose the death penalty,


the murder rate is 41.6 murders per 100,000 people ("Deterrence").


Furthermore, the United States has the highest crime and murder rates of


any of the other major democratic nations, all of which have abandoned the


death penalty (Hauss 53). In 1965, Great Britain called for a five-year


moratorium on executions following a recent decline in the imposition of


the death penalty and growing anti- death penalty sentiments in the country.


In 1969, the government abolished the death penalty altogether because


there had been no surge in homicides or crime (Flanders 45). Death penalty


opponents feel that these statistics lend credence to the argument that the


death penalty does not cause a decrease in homicides and in some instances


may even lead to an increase in murders.


Death penalty statutes currently in place in the United States are


also said to violate contemporary standards of decency and various


international treaties, because they allow the execution of the mentally


disabled and minors. According to the National Bar Association, the current


laws that allow the mentally retarded to be put to death violate


contemporary standards of decency ("U.S."). The National Coalition Against


the Death Penalty states that people with mental disabilities often may be


unaware of what they are doing, and can often be easily coerced into


confessing. A case in point is Jerome Bowden who signed a statement


confessing to murder even though he was illiterate. He signed it because


police had told him that signing it would be to his benefit. He was later


convicted and executed ("Mental"). Another example of a mentally retarded


person receiving the death penalty was when Morris Odell Mason was executed


in 1985.