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The focus of this research paper is on the death penalty (or capital punishment). In the following paragraphs the definition, history, psychological and sociological factors will be researched. Also the nature vs nurture debate in relation to death penalty will be discussed, as well as differing viewpoints on the death penalty as an option of punishment.
Capital Punishment a.k.a. The Death Penalty is a government sanctioned penalty by where convicts of capital crimes or capital offences are sentenced to execution. Convicts can receive capital punishment for treason, espionage, large-scale drug trafficking, and in most cases, it is handed down for murder. In some cases, executions take place because the offender was under 18 years old when the crime was committed. Other times it is used on people with mental or intellectual disabilities, it can also be used after an unfair trial – depending on the country.
Looking into the history of the death penalty, it has been a long one. It leads all the way back to the Eighteenth Century B.C. when the first established death penalty laws were recorded, so this is a brief on how it began. According to the Death Penalty Information Centre (2019), “laws date as far back as the Eighteenth Century B.C. in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon, which codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes. The death penalty was also part of the Fourteenth Century B.C.’s Hittite Code; in the Seventh Century B.C.’s Draconian Code of Athens, which made death the only punishment for all crimes; and in the Fifth Century B.C.’s Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets”. Before, death sentences were performed through crucifixion, burning to death, drowning, and sometimes impalement. It wasn’t until the Tenth Century A.D. when hanging became a popularized form of a death sentence in Britain. In the Sixteenth Century, common methods of execution included “boiling, burning at the stake, hanging, beheading, and drawing and quartering”. Some of the reasoning for executions at the time could have even been for capital offenses such as marrying a Jew, not confessing to a crime, and or treason. “The number of capital crimes in Britain continued to rise throughout the next two centuries. By the 1700s, 222 crimes were punishable by death in Britain, including stealing, cutting down a tree, and robbing a rabbit warren”. It was by 1823 to 1837 when over a 100 out of 222 crimes punishable by death were eliminated.
The family of the victim is in a position that no one else can relate to when being in the courtroom. The family and loved ones of the victim are typically present on court day and sometimes have a say in the verdict and sentence. Some families say that having the offender executed is the best choice for them as it helps them find closure and feel safer. Others say that having another person killed wouldn’t bring anything but more pain. When we look at the psychological factors of the families of the victims, it can affect the decision of whether or not to execute the offender. The final decision of whether or not the offender will be sentenced to death is of course made by the judge and office, but, feelings and views of the family are considered.
Many factors are considered when making the decision of whether or not a murderer will be put on death row, but some are discussed more often than others. Race, gender and social class of the victim as well as the offender is taken into consideration and are sometimes the deciding factor in if the offender will face the death penalty or life in prison. The court system has been known to treat women offenders more leniently than male offenders. This is due to the fact that women are often seen as helpless or in a victimized position even if this is not the case. “In previous research, judges themselves have confirmed the preferential treatment of female offenders by the court (e.g. Johnson, 2003; Nagel & Johnson, 1994; Simon & Ahn-Redding, 2005). There are multiple factors that may influence a judge to treat a female offender differently than a male, such as pregnancy, being a single mother, or having been victimized in the past.”
In terms of race, the social justice system has been known to favour Caucasian offenders over people of colour. A study done by Professor Katherine Beckett of the University of Washington states that jurors in Washington “were four and one half times more likely to impose a sentence of death when the defendant was black than they were in cases involving similarly situated white defendants.” Beckett also writes, “The average American has a 1 in 20 chance of being imprisoned at some point in his life, but that rate is much higher for Latino men (1 in 6) and African American men (more than 1 in 3) than for white men (1 in 23). Strikingly, 1 in 9 black men under age 25 lives under some form of restrained liberty: in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole.” Not only are the charges usually more severe when the defendant is a person of colour, but more often than not the defendant is charged with the death penalty if the victim is white. Out of all the cases where the death penalty was used since 1976, 338 of the cases had a black victim, 1660 had a white victim, and 199 were other ethnicities. There is a clear bias in the court system, as a black man is often charged for killing a white man but when the roles are reversed there seems to be much more forgiveness.
Nature vs. Nurture can be applied to capital punishment when we are talking about whether or not people are inherently evil, or if their situations and circumstances are the reason they have committed a crime. This is one major factor in deciding to abolish the death penalty or not. James Garbarino, author of “Listening to Killers” reveals in a 2016 questionnaire lead by the American Psychological Association that “Most killers are untreated traumatized children who are controlling the actions of the scary adults they have become.” With this being the case, we have to think about if killing these mentally unstable, traumatized people is the best action to take, or if there is hope and they can see a specialist and recover from their trauma. Many argue that most defendants have been nurtured into this cruel side of themselves and can change. This is one argument that is often made against death penalty. But others feel that there is no recovering from a mindset like this. They believe that if someone is evil enough to murder, it is in their nature, and they will always have that evil inside them.
There are two clear viewpoints on whether or not we should still have the death penalty as an option of punishment. For years there has been argument regarding whether or not it is inhumane to kill as an act of punishment, and one big question has been brought to the forefront – does killing people teach people not to kill? The proponents argue yes, it is effective in stopping others from killing. In addition, the proponents feel that once murdering someone, or committing a crime brutal enough to be considered for execution, you have given up your human rights, including the right to stay alive. Proponents feel that the punishment should fit the crime, meaning if you have killed someone you should be killed too.
On the other hand, opponents say that the death penalty goes against our most basic human right, which is the right to life. This side also argues that the death penalty has never been shown to lower rates of similar crimes, instead, murder rates have lowered in states where the death penalty has been abolished. Opponents also argue that since it is an irreversible act, huge mistakes can be made within the law, meaning someone could be killed who is actually innocent.
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