Legal systems are central and important aspect of the society provided with the responsibility of making an honorable ruling by providing appropriate, sound and in depth evidence to support rulings. The legal process is handed down to the judiciary in most societies. This shows that the public believes in fair, just and truthful judgment when dealing with debatable cases. Religious values support rightful judgement and penalties that fit committed crimes. This is rooted in the belief that God punishes sin and bid those in authority to do so (Uduigwomen, 2004). Justice means that criminals should be properly punished according to the consequences of their criminal activities on the society. The death penalty however remains a debatable legal issue in the world. The topic raises mixed feelings even in those countries where it has been accepted as law. The death penalty especially raises disagreements and pain when rulings are based on wrong, inappropriate and half baked evidence. Such scenarios lead to unjustified loss of life. Human life is sacred, as such the morals, values and other human rights of criminals should not be abused through wrongful convictions (Robert, 2009). The society is therefore in debt when such unjust decisions, which lead to loss of human life are made. However, it is important to note that, from the past, the different forms of punishments adopted in the society depend on social, cultural and religious factors.
Capital punishments provide the victims of the legal system their rightful justice. However, religious values are against killing (Uduigwomen, 2004). Religious bodies and human rights agencies, are therefore actively involved in protesting against the capital penalty or death penalties. The main questions raised by these bodies is the legality and correctness of capital penalty rulings. Capital rulings may have reduced serious crimes in the society but their worth should be determined. United States of America is among the countries that have made the death penalty legal. The decision to implement the decision is however left to individual states. Policy making bodies as opposed to US citizens did not support legalization of the death penalty. This study, by focusing on misguided convictions will study the death penalty as applied in the world.
Wrongful conviction is described as a mistaken decree emanating from, lack of enough evidence which supports charges filed against criminals. Under the American law, capital punishment is defined as “ the ending of a criminal’s life as authorized by the state” (Jones, 2012). Capital punishment works on the theory of deterrence. The theory aims at preventing or discouraging members of the society from committing crimes which are punishable by death. According to the theory, capital punishments achieve this by instilling fear of loss of life in individuals. This reduces the number of criminal cases that lead to capital punishments in the society. The fear is classified as either individual deterrence or general deterrence. Under individual deterrence, individual persons or potential offenders are discouraged from committing crimes while in general deterrence, the general society is discouraged from committing crimes. This leads to reduced capital crimes (Thomson, 1997). Policy makers hold the assumption that , the society refrains from committing certain types of which are sternly punished. However, the society is shocked in cases where the law is used and an individual suffers under the law. Those against capital punishment argue that the law increases the crime rate in the society. This argument is based on brutalization theory, which argues that individuals challenge the law by engaging in criminal activities (Thomson, 1997).
Supportive authorities are necessary in order to support passing of laws as justice does not exist in a void but depends on such systems. Societal and political systems are responsible for ensuring laws are upheld in a bid to ensure success in reducing crimes in the society (Nagel, 2005). Capital punishment is therefore viewed as the best approach to reducing crime. This belief is supported by the belief that criminals should be separated from the society in order to prevent future criminal activities. The state by taking an individual’s life aid in minimizing cold blooded criminal cases in the society by sending a signal or warning as quoted by judges in their rulings.
Importance of the study
The study will assess the progress, expectations and effects of the death penalty on the society. This will assist individual members of the society and the society at large to effectively appraise the success of the death penalty. In order to achieve the study purpose, the following research question will be used to guide the study; does the death penalty reduce crime in the USA? How effective is the law? What are the possible causes wrong conviction in death penalty cases?
American citizens have time and again, expressed their concern about murders and other criminals who should receive the death penalty. The researcher by studying the literature published in books, periodicals, journals and the internet will analyze and properly express the reality concerning the death penalty. The reviewed literature will form the foundation on which the accuracy of the death penalty supporters and critics will be assessed. The legal system uses various forms of laws to achieve the four key objectives of avoidance, preclusion, rehabilitation and providing justice to the crime victims (Livingstone, 2010). The most effective method of preventing crime, is ensuring that members of the society avoid involving themselves in criminal activities. Lack of involvement results into minimum criminal activities in the society. Death penalty supporters, argue that capital punishment promotes crime avoidance while critics argue that capital punishment increases criminal activities and goes against human rights. This shows the mixed feelings and opinions surrounding the subject (Thomson, 1997).
Law related to the death penalty
The death sentence was acknowledged by the US legal system in 1976. The American citizens however, debate on the justification of killing individuals as a means of punishing them. American citizens are considered the main force that led to the adoption of the death sentence. According to poll studies, there is increased support of capital punishment in the American society. A study by Gallup Poll Institution in 1981 showed that 66 percent of American citizens were concerned about supporting the death penalty (Snell, 2010). The number has since increased. Another poll conducted four years later showed that seventy two percent of US citizens supported the death penalty. The number has been gradually increasing as indicated by another poll conducted ten years later, which showed a 80 percent support for the death penalty (Snell, 2010). This support, however, declined in 2001, as studies carried out in that year indicated a drop to in death penalty support to 65 percent (Farrel, 2003). A number of US states are yet to adopt the death penalty in their legal processes. The process of adopting the death sentence into the legal system has faced strong opposition from critics who call for the removal of such punishments.
The U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is among the laws which disagree with the capital punishment in America. Being a member of the United Nations, America found itself in a conflict with the UN, over the law. However, ten years after signing the convention (1984) America consented to the agreement. America argues that since the task of defining torture is left to the state, the law does not disagree with with that of the UN as it is dependent on the adopted meaning of torture. The UN treaty aimed to make illegal both bodily and emotional abuse of individuals in detention. According to the US government there are various crimes punishable by death which include murder related to the smuggling of aliens, damaging transport media thus resulting in death of citizens, civil rights offenses which result in deaths, assassination and/or kidnapping the President, the Vice President among others (Dieter, 1998).
The main means of killing criminals adopted in the USA, include use of lethal injections, electrocution, gas chambers, hanging and the firing squad. Among the five methods, the lethal injection is the most commonly used methods, as it is allowed by 35 American states. According to Snell (2010), a total of 1,137 criminals has been executed through lethal injection. The number of inmates executed through electrocution add up to an estimated 157 individuals while 11 convicts have been executed by use of the gas chamber. Hanging and the firing squad methods have only been used in three cases.
Research related to the death penalty
Studies carried out by researchers give a picture of an in depth and broad research on the death penalty. The first case concerning death penalty was filed in America in 1608. The case involved a Spanish captain who was condemned to death for bringing a secret spy into America. Since then, over twenty thousand individuals have been killed under the death penalty. According to a study by Lambert, Clarke & Lambert (2004), white American citizens recorded a higher support for the death penalty as opposed to the black community. This could be linked to prejudices among the whites against the black community. The study also linked higher numbers of blacks to crime as opposed to whites. This could have made the black community to vote against the law. More men support the death penalty as opposed to women, in the USA. Whitehead and Blankenship (2002) showed that the older generation favored the death penalty as compared to the younger generation especially graduates. This is linked to increased access to education enabled by tolerance in higher institutes of learning.
Studies, on the support of the death penalty, have been disapproved by researchers who are of the opinion that, the studies use weak methodologies. For example, a research by Ehrlich in the 1930s and 1960s was widely rejected by other researchers. The study generalized its results to cover America as a whole and failed to take into account the differences in the states (Kel, 2009). Researchers have also studied the influence of religion on the death penalty. Bjarnason (2004) carried out a qualitative study to assess the position of the Catholic church on the death penalty. The study was carried out in the states of Texas, California and Ohio. The study results showed that, the church followers supported the the death penalty as opposed to their leaders who took a strong stand against the penalty.
The numbers of death penalties passed under the American judicial system differ from one state to the other. A study carried out in 2000 by Leibman, Fagan and West, who wanted tto identify the numbers of death penalties approved in America, showed that a total of 4, 578 death penalty petitions between 1973 and 1955. A total of 3,052 petitions was approved after re-evaluation of the cases and realization of defects in the decisions (Leibman, Fagan & West, 2000).
The study led to the debate of wrong conviction among those charged with the death penalty in the country. Individuals argued that, the law would be defective if innocent individuals were to suffer under the penalty. The fact that the decision is impossible to overturn further leads to increased doubts about its correctness. It is therefore important to assess the uprightness and the support of the death penalty. A report by Stanford Law Review and Tufts University showed that over 350 people were victims of wrong death sentences, as a re - assessment of their cases showed that they had been innocent (Kel, 2009).
People doubt whether the death penalty achieves its goal in reducing crime in the society. A report by New York Times in 2000, showed 60% of American citizens did not consider the death penalty as having achieved its basic or primary goal of reducing crime. The report also showed that, according to data which was collected from law enforcement authorities and court cases, crime rates were higher in those states that practiced the death penalty compared to those that didn’t. Murder rates were also high in the states that practiced death sentence. These rates increased to to 31% in 2001 to 37% in 2002 and stood at 36.9% in 2003. These rates were confirmed by another study that in 2005 by Bailey, where he argues that the effects of the death penalty and the crime prevention theory was clearly brought out by the reported murder rates. However, as noted by Bailey, comparing crime rates in various states did not bring out enough evidence to support the theory.
Capital punishments are costly and expensive. A study carried out by Times magazine assessed the cost of carrying out death penalties in the USA. The study results showed that Arkansas saved a total of over $1.5 by failing to accept a petition that called for the execution of 15 criminals. The state of California spent $ 1 billion in 1977 and 1993 to deal with death penalty cases and only executed two criminals. California has in total spent an estimated $ 4 billion and $ 308 million for each of executions carried out since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1978 (Williams, 2011).
A total of 52 inmates was executed under the American legal system in 2009. Texas was the leading state as it had a total of 24 death sentence cases. This number fell by seven in 2010 to a total of 45. The most common method used for executing criminals is the lethal injection. 51 out of 52 executions carried out in 2009 were carried using the lethal injection. In 2011, the number of criminals sentenced to death reduced. During the year only 43 inmates were convicted of the death penalty. Texas was still leading in the number of convictions in the year (Snell, 2010).
Death penalty in actual cases
Innocent persons have been mistakenly convicted under the American judicial system. For example, in a case involving “Randy” Steidly who was set free in 2004 after it was found that the evidence provided against him had been wrong. The prosecution and the investigation had modified and made up evidence that linked Randy in a murder which led to the death of Dyke and Karen Rhoads in 1987. The case was appealed in 1999 and he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. A re-evaluation of the case was ordered by judge Michael McCuskey who ruled that the evidence presented to the court in 2003 was not substantial. The prosecution lacked DNA proof to support their case. Randy was therefore freed. This is a perfect example of justice delayed as justice denied (Death Penalty Information Center, 2012).
In another case, Ryan Matthews was convicted to a death sentence in 1999, as he was accused of being involved in a murder. During the case, the plaintiff described the murder as being not more than 5’8 feet tall. Unfortunately, Matthews who was 6 feet tall was convicted due to lack of DNA proof. Despite the lack of DNA proof, the prosecution allowed the case to proceed. The jury agreed that Matthews was guilty and a death penalty was passed. After some years, Matthews lawyer presented new evidence in the form of a mask to the court. The DNA test carried out on the mask, which had been worn by the murderer did not match with that of Matthews. This proved his innocence and he was released in 2004 (Death Penalty information Center, 2012).
Another wrongful conviction took place in Oklahoma in 1986. The accused, Curtis Edward McCarty was found guilty of killing a police officer’s daughter. The prosecutors presented to the court, semen and hair as part of the evidence. At the time DNA tests were not carried out and the piece of hair had gone missing before the test could be done. 25 years later, a DNA test was carried out by using the semen. The test established that Edward was innocent as his semen did not match with that collected in the crime scene (Death Penalty information Center, 2012).
The most recent wrongful conviction involved Damon Thibodeaux who almost his life after he was wrongly accused of raping and murdering his cousin in 1997. Damon after being released from jail, confessed that he had told the investigation department what they wanted to hear so that they would stop torturing him during the interrogation process. He further said that he had been tortured and forced to accept that he was guilty. The police used various torture methods to force him to cooperate with them. The death sentence was overturned in September, 28, 2012 by the judiciary who argued that the prosecution lacked conclusive evidence to prove Damon’s guilt (Blackmon, 2012).
Such cases among others show that the negative effects of the death penalty and its harmful effects on the society. Due to the death penalty, innocent people end up suffering under the legal system therefore traumatizing their family members. This makes the public view the justice system as unjust and therefore lose faith and trust in the system rule of law and justice seeking process.
Remedies of Wrongful Conviction
Reducing such cases would require provision of enough evidence to support cases. Members of the jury should be encouraged to adopt an evidence based approach rather than making decisions from personal opinions. An evidence based approach would require proper examination of evidence before making decisions. Judges are encouraged to use fats or lack of facts to impose decisions. The judicial system should employ individuals who understand the law and have a deep understanding of peoples’ behaviors. Coercion and torturing suspects during interrogation should be discouraged to prevent individuals from confessing to crimes they haven't committed. DNA tests should be used or recommended as its a crucial tool for invalidating wrongful convictions.
America is among the countries which have legalized the death penalty. However, the decision to use the death penalty is left to individual states. The issue is highly debated by American citizens. Texas has over time imposed the highest number of death penalties as compared to other American states. Wrong convictions are common, as shown by various cases which depict injustice in the legal system. American citizens support the death penalty when imposed on inhuman acts, punishable by death. There is a need to provide convincing and reliable evidence such as DNA tests to reduce wrongful convictions and instill trust in the public with regards to the judicial system.