Capital Punishment and The Death Penalty


Capital punishment and the death penalty are very controversial issues
concerning modern times. Many people have different opinions about how a
criminal should be disciplined in the court of law, but there is no one right or
correct answer. Although, 80% of Americans are for the death penalty.
Presently, thirty-eight states have the death penalty, but is the concept of "a
life for a life" the best way to castigate a criminal? Of the thirteen states
that do not have the death penalty, is crime more likely to occur there than in
states that have the death penalty? (The Economist, April 1, 1995, p. 19) Have
there been criminals wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death row? Does the
death penalty really scare criminals off and make them think twice about
committing a crime? Is the death penalty fair to everyone, even the minorities
and the poor? How does mental illness and retardation come into play?

When a person is sentenced to death by lethal injection in New Jersey,
the provisions of N.J.S. 2C: 11-3 say that the "punishment shall be imposed by
continuous, intravenous administration until the person is dead of a lethal
quantity of an ultrashot acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical
paralytic agent in a quantity sufficient to cause death." Prior to the lethal
injection, the person shall be sedated by a licensed physician, registered nurse,
or other qualified personnel, by either oral tablet or capsule or an
intramuscular injection of a narcotic or barbiturate such as morphine, cocaine,
or demerol. In the provisions of the N.J.S. 2C: 49-3, it says that the
Commissioner of the Department of Corrections determines the substances and
procedure to be used in execution. The Commissioner shall also designate
persons who are qualified to administer injections and who are familiar with
medical procedures, other than licensed physicians. Also, persons conducting
the execution must be unknown to the person being executed. Under the N.J.S.
2C: 49-7, only certain people are allowed to be present at the execution. They
include: the Commissioner, execution technicians, two licensed physicians, six
adult citizens, no more than two clergymen not related to the person, two
representatives from major news wire services, two television representatives,
two newspaper representatives, and two radio representatives. No one related
either by blood or by marriage to the person being executed or to the victim is
permitted to be present during the execution. (New Jersey Statutes Annotated:
Title 2C Code of Criminal Justice: 2C: 37 to 2C: End)
There are two very important Supreme Court cases dealing with capital
punishment. In 1972, in the case of Furman vs. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled
that under then existing laws, "the imposition and carrying out of the death
penalty...constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth
and Fourteenth Amendments." Four years later, in the case of Gregg vs. Georgia,
the Supreme Court shifted in the opposite direction, and ruled that "the
punishment of death does not invariably violate the Constitution." The Court
ruled that these new statutes contained "objective standards to guide,
regularize, and make rationally reviewable the process of imposing the sentence
of death." (Bedau, Hugo Adam, American Civil Liberties Union, prodigy)
There are many different reasons, pro and con, for the death penalty.
The following are the most frequently cited arguments for the death penalty.
Some believe that those who kill deserve to die. When someone takes another
person's life, they forfeit or sacrifice their own right to live. Murder is one
of the worst crimes a person can commit and it deserves the worst penalty. The
death penalty is the greatest deterrent to murder. If people know that they
will be punished by death, they will be less likely to commit crimes and kill.
Statistics show that since 1976, fewer than two hundred of the 2500-plus people
on death row have been executed. Some say that more than 20,000 murders that
take place each year could have been prevented if criminals believed they would
be executed for their crimes. Murders pose a threat to everyone and should be
isolated from society. The death penalty guarantees that the killer would not
be able to kill again. Life imprisonment does not guarantee that. Criminals
can be released on parole or escape from prison, giving them opportunities to
murder again. (Scholastic Update, Sept. 4, 1992, p. 13-16)
The arguments against the death penalty are just as strong. Two wrongs
do not make a right. How many times have children heard that from their
parents? Adults should follow their own advice. Murder is murder and it is
wrong no matter what, even if it is ruled constitutional. In the civilized
society that we