Is the Death Penalty Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

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In the United States, the death penalty is reserved for the most evil and heinous of crimes. Murders, serial killings, and serious crimes involving children all fall into this category and many believe that death is a befitting punishment. But in a society as culturally and technologically advanced as that of America, it is possible that the death penalty is too cruel and primal to be considered justice.

Like the foundation that our legal system is built on, the death penalty is a very ancient practice. Used by every ancient civilization in the world and used as punishment for high profile crimes of the Middle Ages and renaissance, death has been a constant staple of the justice system. However, unlike laws and what constitutes crime, the death penalty has not evolved with society.

According to, the occurrence of government executions has risen with every century since 1600. The use of the death penalty in the US peaked between the years of 1900 - 1972, with a slight decline and plateau in recent years. With a steady number of executed prisoners as well as prisoners sitting on death row, the question needs to be asked whether it is a barbaric practice carried out by an advanced society and if the means of execution are cruel and unusual.

One of the main arguments of supporters of the death penalty surrounds the victim's loved ones. Although execution does not bring the victim back, it does provide closure to the family and the knowledge that the perpetrator will never again have the opportunity to harm someone (source: The other main factor in preserving the death penalty is the notion that it prevents overcrowded prisons as well as saving costs for keeping inmates in prison. But do satisfying the victim's family's desire for revenge and cutting costs constitute taking a life? Ultimately, the death penalty is a debate of morality.

Although the crimes that death row inmates committed are severe and deserving of strict punishment, the idea of an-eye-for-an-eye constituting justice does not hold up. According to Bryan Stevenson, law professor at New York University, it is immoral for the federal government to execute prisoners whom it has imprisoned, with taxpayer money and considering the flaws in the US justice system.

One of these flaws is the failure of courts to prove guilt beyond any reasonable doubt and thereby sentencing prisoners to death without proper evidence. A lot of trust is placed in forensics, however it is not an exact science. According to a report by the Huffington Post, a study conducted between the years of 1973 - 2004, showed that of the 7,482 prisoners sentenced to death, 117 were proven innocent and another 200 would be exonerated if retried. They concluded that 1.6% of death row inmates are innocent and sentenced due to faulty forensic analyses . Although 1.6% may seem like a small number, it is unacceptable that 117 people would be put to death even though they are innocent. Opponents of the death penalty maintain that a few innocents 'thrown into the mix' to protect the greater is good is not moral and the death penalty should not be in use if innocent people succumb to it.

Another strong argument against the death penalty is the means by which prisoners are executed. Another article published in the Huffington Post sheds light on the cruel administration of the death penalty. Currently, the most used means of execution is death by lethal injection. According to government protocol, the administered drugs are supposed to put the inmate to sleep and painlessly stop their heart and vital functions. This should take no more than 6 - 12 minutes. However, botched executions of such people as Clayton Lockett and Dennis McGuire, happen too frequently. In their cases, the injections of the paralyzing agents were too weak which caused them to be in severe pain and inability to breathe. Their executions lasted 45 and 25 minutes respectively. After doctors studied every execution within the US from 1890- 2010, it was concluded that of these, 3% were botched.

These numbers may seem small, but in the context of human lives, they are vast. Hundreds of men and women that are sitting on death row are innocent and even more that are executed suffer because the executioners often do not follow protocol. Opposing the death penalty does not mean pardoning prisoners of their crimes. It means recognizing that execution does not deter crime and it is immoral due to the lack of infallible proof against criminals and the means by which they are executed.

A Book on Amazon : The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies.

Written By: Kimeko Neil, United States

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice