140 Death Penalty Research Questions & Title Ideas

Are you looking for the best death penalty research title? StudyCorgi has got you covered! On this page, you’ll find plenty of death penalty titles and research questions about capital punishment. Feel free to use them for your debate, argumentative paper, and other writing assignments.

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If you’re wondering what to include in your research questions about death penalty, here are some subtopics you can consider.

  • Is the Death Penalty Effective?
  • Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?
  • Forensic Psychologist’s Role in Death Penalty Trial
  • Death by Fire: The Death Penalty in Texas
  • The Death Penalty: Arguments in Favor
  • Death Penalty: Contradictions
  • Death Penalty: The Utilitarianism Ethical Theory
  • Violation of the Human Right to Life: Death Penalty
  • Death Penalty in Case of Mental Illnesses
  • Death Penalty: To Be or Not To Be?
  • Death Penalty: Legal and Moral Issues Discussion of the legal and moral issues that literally are of life and death importance and is a major barometer when measuring a society’s collective conscience.
  • Justification of the Death Penalty The paper argues that the death penalty is only justifiable under three circumstances, including retribution, deterrence and a form of communication.
  • Death Penalty Validity as a Form of Punishment The paper assesses the validity of the death penalty as a form of punishment for controlling the increasing crime rates and tries to provide a solution or an option that can eliminate an extreme step.
  • Arguments Against Death Penalty Death penalties are nothing more than relics of the past. They were never enough to stop or even curb crime in any given country at any given period.
  • The Case Roper v. Simmons: Concept of National Consensus About Juvenile Death Penalty The aim of this work is to investigate the case of the national consensus concerning the issue of the juvenile death penalty on the example of the case Roper v. Simmons.
  • The Death Penalty: James Holmes’ Case The death penalty does not violate the Sixth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. It does shape certain procedural aspects.
  • Aspects of Death Penalty Acceptance The death penalty is a form of punishment that should be used to justify criminals when they commit severe crimes concerning other people.
  • Court Cases That Impacted to Death Penalty Daryl Atkins, who has an IQ of 59, was found guilty of murdering an Air Force enlisted man inside a convenience shop and was sentenced to death for his crime.
  • Death Penalty and “Eye for an Eye” System The argument that the death penalty fits the narrative of the “eye for an eye” idea is valid. However, the state has the right to take away someone’s rights.
  • The Advantages of the Death Penalty This paper claims that the death penalty justified from an ethic since it reduces the number of criminals, satisfy the victims, and the state will not suffer financial losses.
  • Against the Death Penalty in the US The article presents arguments against the death penalty in the United States, focusing on its ineffectiveness as a deterrent, high costs, and racial and subjective biases.
  • Death Penalty Position in Society Death penalty is the most severe punishment a government may sentence a person to for breaking the law, for example, by committing murder.
  • Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished? The practice’s opponents believe that the death penalty is inhumane, while proponents argue that it is a fair retribution for certain types of crimes.
  • Juvenile Justice and the Death Penalty When discussing the death penalty, especially for juvenile perpetrators, three concepts are critical: justice, deterrence, and possibility of error.
  • System of the Death Penalty in the United States Mitigation is a valuable and efficient tool for choosing an appropriate punishment during the juridical process and might be highly relevant for other social work practices.
  • Criminal Justice in Texas: Todd Willingham and Death Penalty The case of Cameron Todd Willingham was a controversial criminal justice case handled in Texas. The man was charged with the murder of his three young children by arson.
  • The Death Penalty in the United States The article “The Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of the Death Penalty in the United States” examines the past, present, and possible future of capital punishment in the United States.
  • Death Penalty Should Be Abolished in the United States The death penalty hinders the United States’ progress and should be criminalized to avoid more harm than good in the government’s efforts to realize the American dream.
  • Racial Disparities in Death Penalty Sentencing The assessment of the racial disparities problem and its correlations with the principles of death penalty sentencing is of high importance from a legal and social perspective.
  • Death Penalty: Practice and Ethics of the Use This paper discusses capital punishment as a legal measure, the history of the death penalty, and the appropriateness and relevance of this punishment.
  • Legislative Issues in Texas: The Death Penalty This article discusses the problem of imperfect trials in Texas, which allows a person to be mistakenly executed.
  • Judicial Error and the Death Penalty This research paper provides a critical analysis of the feasibility of stopping the death penalty in the United States through the lens of the innocence of victims.
  • Zimbabwe and Zambia Death Penalty Comparison The post compares capital punishment in Zimbabwe and Zambia, last death sentence dates, and methods of execution.
  • Death Penalty Debates in the United States: Inhumane Practice The process of the death penalty is highly flawed, and there are numerous ethical and practical challenges that suggest that capital punishment should be abolished.
  • Death Penalty and Other Issues That Surround It In the United States, capital punishment has been used for a long period of time and it is still practiced today. This paper will seek to analyze death penalty and related issues.
  • The Death Penalty in the USA The death penalty in the USA exists in some states, and it must be to discipline people and to threaten them from murders and other great crimes.
  • Should Death Penalty Be Abolished in the US? This essay examines whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent, and should it be abolished in the US.
  • Key Points for Abolishing the Death Penalty in the USA This briefing paper is presented to American people so that all doubts and plans of retaining the death penalty despite all the Supreme Court rulings and the bad effects of it shall henceforth be erased from our minds.
  • Death Penalty as a Cruel Murder While many arguments have been put forward for and against it, there is no doubt that the Death Penalty is nothing but a cruel murder perpetrated by the State.
  • Death Penalty Abolition: Why It Is Needed? The death penalty should be done away with and instead replaced by a more humane form of punishing criminals irrespective of the intensity of the offense.
  • Participation in Government: The Death Penalty The death penalty is also referred to as capital punishment and is commonly reserved for capital offenses. The term capital has its origins in the Latin word capita.
  • The Death Penalty and Its Basic Reasons The death penalty also known as capital punishment is the execution of a person by the state as punishment for a crime.
  • Should the United States Abolish the Death Penalty? Being the agent responsible for the administration of the death penalty, the state is the chief proponent of the same as a form of punishment.
  • Death Penalty from a Prison Officer’s Perspective The death penalty can be considered as an ancient form of punishment in relation to the type of crime that had been committed.
  • Death Penalty and Its Theoretical Justification The activity of the justice system equally depends on the fairness of the justification and the validity of the punishment.
  • Death Penalty and Utilitarian Ethics This paper will analyze the ethical grounds of utilizing the death penalty for recidivist violent criminals based on Bentham’s utilitarianism.
  • “What Will Doom the Death Penalty” by Daniel LaChance This reading essay summarizes, explains, and evaluates the main points of the reading: “What Will Doom the Death Penalty: Capital Punishment, Another Failed Government Program?” by Daniel LaChance.
  • Death Penalty from Religious and Historical Standpoints The paper evaluates the benefits and analyzes the death penalty from a modern, religious, and historical perspective.
  • What Will Doom the Death Penalty? The increasing levels of crime in the United States encouraged more people to embrace the idea of capital punishment. This discussion gives a detailed analysis of this article.
  • Death Penalty Trends in American Justice System This paper discusses the death penalty abolition in Illinois, Innocence Project, sentencing of the mentally retarded individuals, and the case of Stanley Williams.
  • Death Penalty and Its Issues Serious criminals have usually imposed a death sentence. This type of punishment continues to exist, even nowadays. However, it seems completely irrelevant in a humanistic society.
  • Roots of Public Support for the Death Penalty In his article, Daniel LaChance analyzes the phenomenon of the death penalty in America and the social attitude towards it. LaChance expresses a negative attitude.
  • Death Penalty as Unjustified Measure Nowadays The person living in the 21st century should believe that the death penalty simply increases violence and grief and does not help the victim’s close ones recover from their pain.
  • Death Penalty: History and Rationale After WWII, the death penalty was limited through the creation of the international Human Rights Doctrines. The procedure of death punishment became more humane.
  • The Death Penalty and Mentally Retarded Capital Offenders The present paper attempts to discuss causes of wrongful conviction of capital offenders and the psychological assessment criteria that could be used by forensic psychologists.
  • Position on the Death Penalty Capital punishment remains a contested issue in many societies across the globe. Many countries have abolished this form of punishment. Such countries believe that the malpractice is unethical.
  • Is Death Penalty Adequate? The death penalty is inadequate, as it leads to the punishment of not guilty people, feeling of insecurity, high volume of stress, cruelty of the execution process.
  • Whether Death Penalty Can Be Applied Fairly? This paper seeks to establish that corporal punishment is not the best way to correct wrongdoers. It shows how death penalty is applicable and effective.
  • The Debate Over Whether the Death Penalty Is Just or Unjust
  • Death Penalty and Its Deterrent Effect of Murder Rates in Society
  • The Death Penalty and Its Effects on America
  • Potential Savings From Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina
  • Pros and Cons Side of the International and Domestic Legislation on the Death Penalty
  • Ethical Issues either for or Against the Death Penalty
  • The Pros and Cons of Life Imprisonment and the Death Penalty
  • Religious and Morality Issues of Death Penalty
  • The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Death Penalty in the United States
  • The Death Penalty and Its Effect on the Social Position of the Criminal
  • Marxist Ideology and the Death Penalty
  • The Relationship Between Race & the Use of the Death Penalty
  • Thailand Should Kept Death Penalty for Certain Crime
  • How Can Death Penalty Prevent Repeat Offenders?
  • The Death Penalty and New Studies of Disparate Racial Impact
  • Death Row and Death Penalty in the United States
  • The Death Penalty Preserves Human Dignity
  • Death Penalty Support and Argument Rebuttal
  • The Death Penalty and Mental Illness
  • Should the Death Penalty Be Reinstated in the UK?
  • The Death Penalty Should Be Removed to Avoid Wrongly Punishing the Innocent
  • Life Sentence Without Parole – Better Than Death Penalty
  • Does the Death Penalty Breach Human Rights?
  • What Crimes Carried the Death Penalty?
  • Does Jodi Arias Deserve the Death Penalty?
  • Why Is the Death Penalty Good?
  • Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime?
  • Why We Should Ban the Death Penalty?
  • How Might the Death Penalty Prevent Crime?
  • Why the Death Penalty Should Be Abolished?
  • How Objective and Justifiable Are Our Reasons for Enforcing the Death Penalty?
  • Is the Death Penalty Ethical?
  • What Are Three Arguments for the Death Penalty?
  • What Is a Pro Argument for Death Penalty?
  • Should the Death Death Penalty Be Legal?
  • What Are the Pros and Cons of the  Death Penalty?
  • Should the Death Penalty Apply to Juvenile Criminals?
  • What Is the Strongest Argument in Favor of the Death Penalty?
  • Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished Across the Nations?
  • Why Is the Death Penalty Good for Society?
  • What Effects Does the Death Penalty Cause to Society?
  • What Role Does Race Play in the Death Penalty?
  • Who Is Most Affected by the Death Penalty?
  • Why Does the United States Government Need the Death Penalty?
  • Who Has Power Over the Death Penalty?
  • Why Some People Think That the Death Penalty Is Unfair and Unacceptable?
  • Why Did the Death Penalty Become a Thing?
  • Who Was the First Person to Get the Death Penalty?
  • Why the Death Penalty Is Appropriate for Cases Where Defendants Have Mental Retardation?
  • When Did Death Penalty End?
  • When Was the Death Penalty Most Popular?
  • How does the use of the death penalty vary in different countries?
  • What factors affect public support for capital punishment?
  • How does the death penalty affect crime rates?
  • How does capital punishment affect marginalized communities?
  • What racial and gender disparities exist in death sentencing?
  • How does international law address the death penalty?
  • What is the role of mental disability in death penalty cases?
  • What are the financial costs of maintaining capital punishment?
  • How does the media portrayal of the death penalty affect public attitudes?
  • Are there more effective alternatives to the death penalty?
  • The emotional toll of the death penalty on families.
  • The human rights aspect of capital punishment.
  • Views on capital punishment expressed in art.
  • How can we make the criminal justice system more compassionate?
  • Factors affecting the death penalty verdicts.
  • The psychological impact of capital punishment on offenders and executioners.
  • Religious perspectives on the death penalty.
  • The cultural significance of historical executions.
  • Personal stories of inmates sentenced to death.
  • Does the death penalty perpetuate violence?
  • The consequences of wrongful convictions in capital punishment.
  • The death penalty vs. life imprisonment.
  • Capital punishment and the possibility of redemption.
  • Media’s influence on policies related to capital punishment.
  • Is it ethical to execute juvenile offenders?
  • The significance of DNA evidence in death penalty cases.
  • The role of vengeance in capital punishment.
  • Controversies surrounding lethal injections.
  • The issue of human dignity in capital punishment.
  • Federal vs. state jurisdictions concerning the death penalty.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 16). 140 Death Penalty Research Questions & Title Ideas. https://studycorgi.com/ideas/death-penalty-essay-topics/

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StudyCorgi . "140 Death Penalty Research Questions & Title Ideas." January 16, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/ideas/death-penalty-essay-topics/.

StudyCorgi . 2022. "140 Death Penalty Research Questions & Title Ideas." January 16, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/ideas/death-penalty-essay-topics/.

These essay examples and topics on Death Penalty were carefully selected by the StudyCorgi editorial team. They meet our highest standards in terms of grammar, punctuation, style, and fact accuracy. Please ensure you properly reference the materials if you’re using them to write your assignment.

This essay topic collection was updated on January 5, 2024 .

The Death Penalty: Questions and Answers

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Since our nation’s founding, the government — colonial, federal, and state — has punished a varying percentage of arbitrarily-selected murders with the ultimate sanction: death.

More than 14,000 people have been legally executed since colonial times, most of them in the early 20th Century. By the 1930s, as many as 150 people were executed each year. However, public outrage and legal challenges caused the practice to wane. By 1967, capital punishment had virtually halted in the United States, pending the outcome of several court challenges.

In 1972, in Furman v. Georgia , the Supreme Court invalidated hundreds of death sentences, declaring that then existing state laws were applied in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner and, thus, violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection of the laws and due process. But in 1976, in Gregg v. Georgia , the Court resuscitated the death penalty: It ruled that the penalty “does not invariably violate the Constitution” if administered in a manner designed to guard against arbitrariness and discrimination. Several states promptly passed or reenacted capital punishment laws.

Today, states have laws authorizing the death penalty, as does the military and the federal government. Several states in the Midwest and Northeast have abolished capital punishment. Alaska and Hawaii have never had the death penalty. The vast majority of executions have taken place in 10 states from the South and over 35% have occurred in Texas. In 2004, the high courts of Kansas and New York struck down their death penalty statutes as unconstitutional and the legislatures have yet to reinstate them.

Today, about 3,350 people are on “death row.” Virtually all are poor, a significant number are mentally disabled, more than 40 percent are African American, and a disproportionate number are Native American, Latino, and Asian.

The ACLU believes that, in all circumstances, the death penalty is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. We also believe that the death penalty continues to be applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Frequently Asked Questions raised by the public about Capital Punishment Q : Doesn’t the Death Penalty deter crime, especially murder? A : No, there is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than long terms of imprisonment. States that have death penalty laws do not have lower crime rates or murder rates than states without such laws. And states that have abolished capital punishment show no significant changes in either crime or murder rates.

The death penalty has no deterrent effect. Claims that each execution deters a certain number of murders have been thoroughly discredited by social science research. People commit murders largely in the heat of passion, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or because they are mentally ill, giving little or no thought to the possible consequences of their acts. The few murderers who plan their crimes beforehand — for example, professional executioners — intend and expect to avoid punishment altogether by not getting caught. Some self-destructive individuals may even hope they will be caught and executed.

Death penalty laws falsely convince the public that government has taken effective measures to combat crime and homicide. In reality, such laws do nothing to protect us or our communities from the acts of dangerous criminals.

Q : Don’t murderers deserve to die? A : No one deserves to die. When the government metes out vengeance disguised as justice, it becomes complicit with killers in devaluing human life and human dignity. In civilized society, we reject the principle of literally doing to criminals what they do to their victims: The penalty for rape cannot be rape, or for arson, the burning down of the arsonist’s house. We should not, therefore, punish the murderer with death.

Q : If execution is unacceptable, what is the alternative? A : INCAPACITATION. Convicted murderers can be sentenced to life imprisonment, as they are in many countries and states that have abolished the death penalty. Most state laws allow life sentences for murder that severely limit or eliminate the possibility of parole. Today, 37 states allow juries to sentence defendants to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty.

Several recent studies of public attitudes about crime and punishment found that a majority of Americans support alternatives to capital punishment: When people were presented with the facts about several crimes for which death was a possible punishment, a majority chose life imprisonment without parole as an appropriate alternative to the death penalty (see PA., 2007 ).

Q : Isn’t the Death Penalty necessary as just retribution for victims’ families? A : No. “Reconciliation means accepting you can’t undo the murder; but you can decide how you want to live afterwards” ( Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, Inc. )

Q : Have strict procedures eliminated arbitrariness and discrimination in death sentencing? A : No. Poor people are also far more likely to be death sentenced than those who can afford the high costs of private investigators, psychiatrists, and expert criminal lawyers. Indeed, capital punishment is “a privilege of the poor,” said Clinton Duffy, former warden at California’s San Quentin Prison. Some observers have pointed out that the term “capital punishment” is ironic because “only those without capital get the punishment.”

Furthermore, study after study has found serious racial disparities in the charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty. People who kill whites are far more likely to receive a death sentence than those whose victims were not white, and blacks who kill whites have the greatest chance of receiving a death sentence.

Minorities are death-sentenced disproportionate to their numbers in the population. This is not primarily because minorities commit more murders, but because they are more often sentenced to death when they do.

Q : Maybe it used to happen that innocent people were mistakenly executed, but hasn’t that possibility been eliminated? A : No. Since 1973, 123 people in 25 states have been released from death row because they were not guilty. In addition, seven people have been executed even though they were probably innocent. A study published in the Stanford Law Review documents 350 capital convictions in this century, in which it was later proven that the convict had not committed the crime. Of those, 25 convicts were executed while others spent decades of their lives in prison. Fifty-five of the 350 cases took place in the 1970s, and another 20 of them between l980 and l985.

Our criminal justice system cannot be made fail-safe because it is run by human beings, who are fallible. Executions of innocent persons occur.

Q : Only the worst criminals get sentenced to death, right? A : Wrong. Although it is commonly thought that the death penalty is reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes, in reality only a small percentage of death-sentenced inmates were convicted of unusually vicious crimes. The vast majority of individuals facing execution were convicted of crimes that are indistinguishable from crimes committed by others who are serving prison sentences, crimes such as murder committed in the course of an armed robbery.

The death penalty is like a lottery, in which fairness always loses. Who gets the death penalty is largely determined, not by the severity of the crime, but by: the race, sex, and economic class of the prisoner and victim; geography — some states have the death penalty, others do not, within the states that do some counties employ it with great frequency and others do not; the quality of defense counsel and vagaries in the legal process.

Q : “Cruel and unusual punishment” — those are strong words, but aren’t executions relatively swift and painless? A : No execution is painless, whether botched or not, and all executions are certainly cruel. The history of capital punishment is replete with examples of botched executions.

Lethal injection is the latest technique, first used in Texas in l982, and now mandated by law in a large majority of states that retain capital punishment. Although this method is defended as more humane, efficient, and inexpensive than others, one federal judge observed that even “a slight error in dosage or administration can leave a prisoner conscious but paralyzed while dying, a sentient witness of his or her own asphyxiation.” In Texas, there have been three botched injection executions since 1985. In other states, dozens of botched executions have occurred, leading to suspensions of executions in Florida, California, and other states.

In 2006, it took the Florida Department of Corrections 34 minutes to execute inmate Angel Nieves Diaz by way of lethal injection, usually a 15 minute procedure. During the execution, Diaz appeared to be in pain and gasped for air for more than 11 minutes. He was given a rare second dose of lethal chemicals after the execution team observed that the first round did not kill him. A medical examiner reported the second dose was needed because the needles were incorrectly inserted through his veins and into the flesh in his arms. Not only did Diaz die a slow and excruciating death because the drugs were not delivered into his veins properly, his autopsy revealed that he suffered 12 inch chemical burns in his arms by the highly concentrated drugs flowing under his skin.

More recently, an Ohio inmate did not die when his injections were incorrectly administered. Minutes into the execution, he raised his head and said, “It don’t work, it don’t work.”

Eyewitness accounts confirm that execution by lethal injection and other means is often an excruciatingly painful, and always degrading, process that ends in death.

Capital punishment is a barbaric remnant of uncivilized society. It is immoral in principle, and unfair and discriminatory in practice. It assures the execution of some innocent people. As a remedy for crime, it has no purpose and no effect. Capital punishment ought to be abolished now.

Related Issues

  • Capital Punishment
  • Mass Incarceration
  • Smart Justice

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Essays About the Death Penalty: Top 5 Examples and Prompts

The death penalty is a major point of contention all around the world. Read our guide so you can write well-informed essays about the death penalty. 

Out of all the issues at the forefront of public discourse today, few are as hotly debated as the death penalty. As its name suggests, the death penalty involves the execution of a criminal as punishment for their transgressions. The death penalty has always been, and continues to be, an emotionally and politically charged essay topic.

Arguments about the death penalty are more motivated by feelings and emotions; many proponents are people seeking punishment for the killers of their loved ones, while many opponents are mourning the loss of loved ones executed through the death penalty. There may also be a religious aspect to support and oppose the policy. 

1. The Issues of Death Penalties and Social Justice in The United States (Author Unknown)

2. serving justice with death penalty by rogelio elliott, 3. can you be christian and support the death penalty by matthew schmalz, 4.  death penalty: persuasive essay by jerome glover, 5. the death penalty by kamala harris, top 5 writing prompts on essays about the death penalty, 1. death penalty: do you support or oppose it, 2. how has the death penalty changed throughout history, 3. the status of capital punishment in your country, 4. death penalty and poverty, 5. does the death penalty serve as a deterrent for serious crimes, 6. what are the pros and cons of the death penalty vs. life imprisonment , 7. how is the death penalty different in japan vs. the usa, 8. why do some states use the death penalty and not others, 9. what are the most common punishments selected by prisoners for execution, 10. should the public be allowed to view an execution, 11. discuss the challenges faced by the judicial system in obtaining lethal injection doses, 12. should the death penalty be used for juveniles, 13. does the death penalty have a racial bias to it.

“Executing another person only creates a cycle of vengeance and death where if all of the rationalities and political structures are dropped, the facts presented at the end of the day is that a man is killed because he killed another man, so when does it end? Human life is to be respected and appreciated, not thrown away as if it holds no meaningful value.”

This essay discusses several reasons to oppose the death penalty in the United States. First, the author cites the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, saying that the death penalty is inhumane and deprives people of life. Human life should be respected, and death should not be responded to with another death. In addition, the author cites evidence showing that the death penalty does not deter crime nor gives closure to victims’ families. 

Check out these essays about police brutality .

“Capital punishment follows the constitution and does not break any of the amendments. Specific people deserve to be punished in this way for the crime they commit. It might immoral to people but that is not the point of the death penalty. The death penalty is not “killing for fun”. The death penalty serves justice. When justice is served, it prevents other people from becoming the next serial killer. It’s simple, the death penalty strikes fear.”

Elliott supports the death penalty, writing that it gives criminals what they deserve. After all, those who commit “small” offenses will not be executed anyway. In addition, it reinforces the idea that justice comes to wrongdoers. Finally, he states that the death penalty is constitutional and is supported by many Americans.

“The letter states that this development of Catholic doctrine is consistent with the thought of the two previous popes: St. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. St. John Paul II maintained that capital punishment should be reserved only for “absolute necessity.” Benedict XVI also supported efforts to eliminate the death penalty. Most important, however, is that Pope Francis is emphasizing an ethic of forgiveness. The Pope has argued that social justice applies to all citizens. He also believes that those who harm society should make amends through acts that affirm life, not death.”

Schmalz discusses the Catholic position on the death penalty. Many early Catholic leaders believed that the death penalty was justified; however, Pope Francis writes that “modern methods of imprisonment effectively protect society from criminals,” and executions are unnecessary. Therefore, the Catholic Church today opposes the death penalty and strives to protect life.

“There are many methods of execution, like electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, firing squad and lethal injection. For me, I just watched once on TV, but it’s enough to bring me nightmares. We only live once and we will lose anything we once had without life. Life is precious and can’t just be taken away that easily. In my opinion, I think Canada shouldn’t adopt the death penalty as its most severe form of criminal punishment.”

Glover’s essay acknowledges reasons why people might support the death penalty; however, he believes that these are not enough for him to support it. He believes capital punishment is inhumane and should not be implemented in Canada. It deprives people of a second chance and does not teach wrongdoers much of a lesson. In addition, it is inhumane and deprives people of their right to life. 

“Let’s be clear: as a former prosecutor, I absolutely and strongly believe there should be serious and swift consequences when one person kills another. I am unequivocal in that belief. We can — and we should — always pursue justice in the name of victims and give dignity to the families that grieve. But in our democracy, a death sentence carried out by the government does not constitute justice for those who have been put to death and proven innocent after the fact.”

This short essay was written by the then-presidential candidate and current U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris to explain her campaign’s stance on the death penalty. First, she believes it does not execute justice and is likely to commit injustice by sentencing innocent people to death. In addition, it is said to disproportionally affect nonwhite people. Finally, it is more fiscally responsible for abolishing capital punishment, as it uses funds that could be used for education and healthcare. 

Essays About Death Penalty

This topic always comes first to mind when thinking of what to write. For a strong argumentative essay, consider the death penalty and list its pros and cons. Then, conclude whether or not it would be beneficial to reinstate or keep the policy. There is an abundance of sources you can gather inspiration from, including the essay examples listed above and countless other online sources.

People have been put to death as a punishment since the dawn of recorded history, but as morals and technology have changed, the application of the death penalty has evolved. This essay will explore how the death penalty has been used and carried out throughout history.

This essay will examine both execution methods and when capital punishment is ordered. A few points to explore in this essay include:

  • Thousands of years ago, “an eye for an eye” was the standard. How were executions carried out in ancient history?
  • The religious context of executions during the middle ages is worth exploring. When was someone burned at the stake?
  • The guillotine became a popular method of execution during the renaissance period. How does this method compare to both ancient execution methods and modern methods?
  • The most common execution methods in the modern era include the firing squad, hanging, lethal injections, gas chambers, and electrocution. How do these methods compare to older forms of execution?

Choose a country, preferably your home country, and look into the death penalty status: is it being implemented or not? If you wish, you can also give a brief history of the death penalty in your chosen country and your thoughts. You do not necessarily need to write about your own country; however, picking your homeland may provide better insight. 

Critics of the death penalty argue that it is anti-poor, as a poor person accused of a crime punishable by death lacks the resources to hire a good lawyer to defend them adequately. For your essay, reflect on this issue and write about your thoughts. Is it inhumane for the poor? After all, poor people will not have sufficient resources to hire good lawyers, regardless of the punishment. 

This is one of the biggest debates in the justice system. While the justice system has been set up to punish, it should also deter people from committing crimes. Does the death penalty do an adequate job at deterring crimes? 

This essay should lay out the evidence that shows how the death penalty either does or does not deter crime. A few points to explore in this essay include:

  • Which crimes have the death penalty as the ultimate punishment?
  • How does the murder rate compare to states that do not have the death penalty in states with the death penalty?
  • Are there confounding factors that must be taken into consideration with this comparison? How do they play a role?

Essays about the Death Penalty: What are the pros and cons of the death penalty vs. Life imprisonment? 

This is one of the most straightforward ways to explore the death penalty. If the death penalty is to be removed from criminal cases, it must be replaced with something else. The most logical alternative is life imprisonment. 

There is no “right” answer to this question, but a strong argumentative essay could take one side over another in this death penalty debate. A few points to explore in this essay include:

  • Some people would rather be put to death instead of imprisoned in a cell for life. Should people have the right to decide which punishment they accept?
  • What is the cost of the death penalty versus imprisoning someone for life? Even though it can be expensive to imprison someone for life, remember that most death penalty cases are appealed numerous times before execution.
  • Would the death penalty be more acceptable if specific execution methods were used instead of others?

Few first-world countries still use the death penalty. However, Japan and the United States are two of the biggest users of the death sentence.

This is an interesting compare and contrast essay worth exploring. In addition, this essay can explore the differences in how executions are carried out. Some of the points to explore include:

  • What are the execution methods countries use? The execution method in the United States can vary from state to state, but Japan typically uses hanging. Is this considered a cruel and unusual punishment?
  • In the United States, death row inmates know their execution date. In Japan, they do not. So which is better for the prisoner?
  • How does the public in the United States feel about the death penalty versus public opinion in Japan? Should this influence when, how, and if executions are carried out in the respective countries?

In the United States, justice is typically administered at the state level unless a federal crime has been committed. So why do some states have the death penalty and not others?

This essay will examine which states have the death penalty and make the most use of this form of punishment as part of the legal system. A few points worth exploring in this essay include:

  • When did various states outlaw the death penalty (if they do not use it today)?
  • Which states execute the most prisoners? Some states to mention are Texas and Oklahoma.
  • Do the states that have the death penalty differ in when the death penalty is administered?
  • Is this sentence handed down by the court system or by the juries trying the individual cases in states with the death penalty?

It might be interesting to see if certain prisoners have selected a specific execution method to make a political statement. Numerous states allow prisoners to select how they will be executed. The most common methods include lethal injections, firing squads, electric chairs, gas chambers, and hanging. 

It might be interesting to see if certain prisoners have selected a specific execution method to make a political statement. Some of the points this essay might explore include:

  • When did these different execution methods become options for execution?
  • Which execution methods are the most common in the various states that offer them?
  • Is one method considered more “humane” than others? If so, why?

One of the topics recently discussed is whether the public should be allowed to view an execution.

There are many potential directions to go with this essay, and all of these points are worth exploring. A few topics to explore in this essay include:

  • In the past, executions were carried out in public places. There are a few countries, particularly in the Middle East, where this is still the case. So why were executions carried out in public?
  • In some situations, individuals directly involved in the case, such as the victim’s loved ones, are permitted to view the execution. Does this bring a sense of closure?
  • Should executions be carried out in private? Does this reduce transparency in the justice system?

Lethal injection is one of the most common modes of execution. The goal is to put the person to sleep and remove their pain. Then, a cocktail is used to stop their heart. Unfortunately, many companies have refused to provide states with the drugs needed for a lethal injection. A few points to explore include:

  • Doctors and pharmacists have said it is against the oath they took to “not harm.” Is this true? What impact does this have?
  • If someone is giving the injection without medical training, how does this impact the prisoner?
  • Have states decided to use other more “harmful” modes of execution because they can’t get what they need for the lethal injection?

There are certain crimes, such as murder, where the death penalty is a possible punishment across the country. Even though minors can be tried as adults in some situations, they typically cannot be given the death penalty.

It might be interesting to see what legal experts and victims of juvenile capital crimes say about this important topic. A few points to explore include:

  • How does the brain change and evolve as someone grows?
  • Do juveniles have a higher rate of rehabilitation than adults?
  • Should the wishes of the victim’s family play a role in the final decision?

The justice system, and its unjust impact on minorities , have been a major area of research during the past few decades. It might be worth exploring if the death penalty is disproportionately used in cases involving minorities. 

It might be worth looking at numbers from Amnesty International or the Innocence Project to see what the numbers show. A strong essay might also propose ways to make justice system cases more equitable and fair. A few points worth exploring include:

  • Of the cases where the death penalty has been levied, what percentage of the cases involve a minority perpetrator?
  • Do stays of execution get granted more often in cases involving white people versus minorities?
  • Do white people get handed a sentence of life in prison without parole more often than people of minority descent?

If you’d like to learn more, our writer explains how to write an argumentative essay in this guide.

For help with your essay, check our round-up of best essay writing apps .

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Martin is an avid writer specializing in editing and proofreading. He also enjoys literary analysis and writing about food and travel.

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Human Rights Careers

5 Death Penalty Essays Everyone Should Know

Capital punishment is an ancient practice. It’s one that human rights defenders strongly oppose and consider as inhumane and cruel. In 2019, Amnesty International reported the lowest number of executions in about a decade. Most executions occurred in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt . The United States is the only developed western country still using capital punishment. What does this say about the US? Here are five essays about the death penalty everyone should read:

“When We Kill”

By: Nicholas Kristof | From: The New York Times 2019

In this excellent essay, Pulitizer-winner Nicholas Kristof explains how he first became interested in the death penalty. He failed to write about a man on death row in Texas. The man, Cameron Todd Willingham, was executed in 2004. Later evidence showed that the crime he supposedly committed – lighting his house on fire and killing his three kids – was more likely an accident. In “When We Kill,” Kristof puts preconceived notions about the death penalty under the microscope. These include opinions such as only guilty people are executed, that those guilty people “deserve” to die, and the death penalty deters crime and saves money. Based on his investigations, Kristof concludes that they are all wrong.

Nicholas Kristof has been a Times columnist since 2001. He’s the winner of two Pulitizer Prices for his coverage of China and the Darfur genocide.

“An Inhumane Way of Death”

By: Willie Jasper Darden, Jr.

Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. was on death row for 14 years. In his essay, he opens with the line, “Ironically, there is probably more hope on death row than would be found in most other places.” He states that everyone is capable of murder, questioning if people who support capital punishment are just as guilty as the people they execute. Darden goes on to say that if every murderer was executed, there would be 20,000 killed per day. Instead, a person is put on death row for something like flawed wording in an appeal. Darden feels like he was picked at random, like someone who gets a terminal illness. This essay is important to read as it gives readers a deeper, more personal insight into death row.

Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. was sentenced to death in 1974 for murder. During his time on death row, he advocated for his innocence and pointed out problems with his trial, such as the jury pool that excluded black people. Despite worldwide support for Darden from public figures like the Pope, Darden was executed in 1988.

“We Need To Talk About An Injustice”

By: Bryan Stevenson | From: TED 2012

This piece is a transcript of Bryan Stevenson’s 2012 TED talk, but we feel it’s important to include because of Stevenson’s contributions to criminal justice. In the talk, Stevenson discusses the death penalty at several points. He points out that for years, we’ve been taught to ask the question, “Do people deserve to die for their crimes?” Stevenson brings up another question we should ask: “Do we deserve to kill?” He also describes the American death penalty system as defined by “error.” Somehow, society has been able to disconnect itself from this problem even as minorities are disproportionately executed in a country with a history of slavery.

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and author. He’s argued in courts, including the Supreme Court, on behalf of the poor, minorities, and children. A film based on his book Just Mercy was released in 2019 starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.

“I Know What It’s Like To Carry Out Executions”

By: S. Frank Thompson | From: The Atlantic 2019

In the death penalty debate, we often hear from the family of the victims and sometimes from those on death row. What about those responsible for facilitating an execution? In this opinion piece, a former superintendent from the Oregon State Penitentiary outlines his background. He carried out the only two executions in Oregon in the past 55 years, describing it as having a “profound and traumatic effect” on him. In his decades working as a correctional officer, he concluded that the death penalty is not working . The United States should not enact federal capital punishment.

Frank Thompson served as the superintendent of OSP from 1994-1998. Before that, he served in the military and law enforcement. When he first started at OSP, he supported the death penalty. He changed his mind when he observed the protocols firsthand and then had to conduct an execution.

“There Is No Such Thing As Closure on Death Row”

By: Paul Brown | From: The Marshall Project 2019

This essay is from Paul Brown, a death row inmate in Raleigh, North Carolina. He recalls the moment of his sentencing in a cold courtroom in August. The prosecutor used the term “closure” when justifying a death sentence. Who is this closure for? Brown theorizes that the prosecutors are getting closure as they end another case, but even then, the cases are just a way to further their careers. Is it for victims’ families? Brown is doubtful, as the death sentence is pursued even when the families don’t support it. There is no closure for Brown or his family as they wait for his execution. Vivid and deeply-personal, this essay is a must-read for anyone who wonders what it’s like inside the mind of a death row inmate.

Paul Brown has been on death row since 2000 for a double murder. He is a contributing writer to Prison Writers and shares essays on topics such as his childhood, his life as a prisoner, and more.

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About the author, emmaline soken-huberty.

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.

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10 facts about the death penalty in the u.s..

Most U.S. adults support the death penalty for people convicted of murder, according to an April 2021 Pew Research Center survey . At the same time, majorities believe the death penalty is not applied in a racially neutral way, does not deter people from committing serious crimes and does not have enough safeguards to prevent an innocent person from being executed.

Use of the death penalty has gradually declined in the United States in recent decades. A growing number of states have abolished it, and death sentences and executions have become less common. But the story is not one of continuous decline across all levels of government. While state-level executions have decreased, the federal government put more prisoners to death under President Donald Trump than at any point since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

As debates over the death penalty continue in the U.S. , here’s a closer look at public opinion on the issue, as well as key facts about the nation’s use of capital punishment.

This Pew Research Center analysis examines public opinion about the death penalty in the United States and explores how the nation has used capital punishment in recent decades. 

The public opinion findings cited here are based primarily on a Pew Research Center survey of 5,109 U.S. adults, conducted from April 5 to 11, 2021. Everyone who took part in the survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology . Here are the  questions used  from this survey, along with responses, and its  methodology .

Findings about the administration of the death penalty – including the number of states with and without capital punishment, the annual number of death sentences and executions, the demographics of those on death row and the average amount of time spent on death row – come from the Death Penalty Information Center and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Six-in-ten U.S. adults strongly or somewhat favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, according to the April 2021 survey. A similar share (64%) say the death penalty is morally justified when someone commits a crime like murder.

A bar chart showing that the majority of Americans favor the death penalty, but nearly eight-in-ten see ‘some risk’ of executing the innocent

Support for capital punishment is strongly associated with the view that it is morally justified in certain cases. Nine-in-ten of those who favor the death penalty say it is morally justified when someone commits a crime like murder; only a quarter of those who oppose capital punishment see it as morally justified.

A majority of Americans have concerns about the fairness of the death penalty and whether it serves as a deterrent against serious crime. More than half of U.S. adults (56%) say Black people are more likely than White people to be sentenced to death for committing similar crimes. About six-in-ten (63%) say the death penalty does not deter people from committing serious crimes, and nearly eight-in-ten (78%) say there is some risk that an innocent person will be executed.

Opinions about the death penalty vary by party, education and race and ethnicity. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are much more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to favor the death penalty for convicted murderers (77% vs. 46%). Those with less formal education are also more likely to support it: Around two-thirds of those with a high school diploma or less (68%) favor the death penalty, compared with 63% of those with some college education, 49% of those with a bachelor’s degree and 44% of those with a postgraduate degree. Majorities of White (63%), Asian (63%) and Hispanic adults (56%) support the death penalty, but Black adults are evenly divided, with 49% in favor and 49% opposed.

Views of the death penalty differ by religious affiliation . Around two-thirds of Protestants in the U.S. (66%) favor capital punishment, though support is much higher among White evangelical Protestants (75%) and White non-evangelical Protestants (73%) than it is among Black Protestants (50%). Around six-in-ten Catholics (58%) also support capital punishment, a figure that includes 61% of Hispanic Catholics and 56% of White Catholics.

Atheists oppose the death penalty about as strongly as Protestants favor it

Opposition to the death penalty also varies among the religiously unaffiliated. Around two-thirds of atheists (65%) oppose it, as do more than half of agnostics (57%). Among those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” 63% support capital punishment.

Support for the death penalty is consistently higher in online polls than in phone polls. Survey respondents sometimes give different answers depending on how a poll is conducted. In a series of contemporaneous Pew Research Center surveys fielded online and on the phone between September 2019 and August 2020, Americans consistently expressed more support for the death penalty in a self-administered online format than in a survey administered on the phone by a live interviewer. This pattern was more pronounced among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents than among Republicans and GOP leaners, according to an analysis of the survey results .

Phone polls have shown a long-term decline in public support for the death penalty. In phone surveys conducted by Pew Research Center between 1996 and 2020, the share of U.S. adults who favor the death penalty fell from 78% to 52%, while the share of Americans expressing opposition rose from 18% to 44%. Phone surveys conducted by Gallup found a similar decrease in support for capital punishment during this time span.

A majority of states have the death penalty, but far fewer use it regularly. As of July 2021, the death penalty is authorized by 27 states and the federal government – including the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. military – and prohibited in 23 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Death Penalty Information Center . But even in many of the jurisdictions that authorize the death penalty, executions are rare: 13 of these states, along with the U.S. military, haven’t carried out an execution in a decade or more. That includes three states – California , Oregon and Pennsylvania – where governors have imposed formal moratoriums on executions.

A map showing that most states have the death penalty, but significantly fewer use it regularly

A growing number of states have done away with the death penalty in recent years, either through legislation or a court ruling. Virginia, which has carried out more executions than any state except Texas since 1976, abolished capital punishment in 2021. It followed Colorado (2020), New Hampshire (2019), Washington (2018), Delaware (2016), Maryland (2013), Connecticut (2012), Illinois (2011), New Mexico (2009), New Jersey (2007) and New York (2004).

Death sentences have steadily decreased in recent decades. There were 2,570 people on death row in the U.S. at the end of 2019, down 29% from a peak of 3,601 at the end of 2000, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). New death sentences have also declined sharply: 31 people were sentenced to death in 2019, far below the more than 320 who received death sentences each year between 1994 and 1996. In recent years, prosecutors in some U.S. cities – including Orlando and Philadelphia – have vowed not to seek the death penalty, citing concerns over its application.

Nearly all (98%) of the people who were on death row at the end of 2019 were men. Both the mean and median age of the nation’s death row population was 51. Black prisoners accounted for 41% of death row inmates, far higher than their 13% share of the nation’s adult population that year. White prisoners accounted for 56%, compared with their 77% share of the adult population. (For both Black and White Americans, these figures include those who identify as Hispanic. Overall, about 15% of death row prisoners in 2019 identified as Hispanic, according to BJS.)

A line graph showing that death sentences, executions have trended downward in U.S. since late 1990s

Annual executions are far below their peak level. Nationally, 17 people were put to death in 2020, the fewest since 1991 and far below the modern peak of 98 in 1999, according to BJS and the Death Penalty Information Center. The COVID-19 outbreak disrupted legal proceedings in much of the country in 2020, causing some executions to be postponed .

Even as the overall number of executions in the U.S. fell to a 29-year low in 2020, the federal government ramped up its use of the death penalty. The Trump administration executed 10 prisoners in 2020 and another three in January 2021; prior to 2020, the federal government had carried out a total of three executions since 1976.

The Biden administration has taken a different approach from its predecessor. In July 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a halt in federal executions while the Justice Department reviews its policies and procedures.

A line graph showing that prisoners executed in 2019 spent an average of 22 years on death row

The average time between sentencing and execution in the U.S. has increased sharply since the 1980s. In 1984, the average time between sentencing and execution was 74 months, or a little over six years, according to BJS . By 2019, that figure had more than tripled to 264 months, or 22 years. The average prisoner awaiting execution at the end of 2019, meanwhile, had spent nearly 19 years on death row.

A variety of factors explain the increase in time spent on death row, including lengthy legal appeals by those sentenced to death and challenges to the way states and the federal government carry out executions, including the drugs used in lethal injections. In California, more death row inmates have died from natural causes or suicide than from executions since 1978, according to the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation .

Note: This is an update to a post originally published May 28, 2015.

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Death penalty draws more Americans’ support online than in telephone surveys

Most americans favor the death penalty despite concerns about its administration, california is one of 11 states that have the death penalty but haven’t used it in more than a decade, public support for the death penalty ticks up, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

The Death Penalty in the US Criminal Justice System Essay


The death penalty has been a largely debated form of punishment in the U.S. since its inception. The law supporting this unkind and unfair sentence was thus, put under scrutiny and consequently several death sentences were either overturned or could only be carried out on proportionate grounds by the supreme courts heralding a new era in the criminal justice system of the US.

The legal arguments for this decision made by the higher courts were cited in line with the 8 th amendment that called for the exclusive considerations on several factors that mainly touched on racial disparities, age of a convict, proper evidence that can incriminate the accused persons, respective human rights action plans against such people, satisfactory judgment delivered either by unanimous decision or a majority of votes by the judges and so on (Burns 1).

The Supreme Court made a decision based on the 8 th amendment to relook into criminal cases viewed as cruel or unusual, and instead provided an alternative favorable form of punishment. Most death sentences were slashed down to life imprisonment, leaving only deserved cases as death sentences.

For instance, some states were forced to repackage their judicial laws after realizing that the judgment commonly delivered never materialized particularly when the cases involved were referred back to the supreme courts, which in turn, after careful hearing, overturned the rulings in favor of the accused. This occurred in cases that were considered to lack the 8 th amendment thresholds for the death penalty.

These circumstances made several states to re-enact laws governing the death penalty, which was a major concern to the supreme courts’ contradiction to the imposition of death sentence arbitrarily. The application of such fair trials justifying the subsequent sentences handed down by the supreme courts began from the year 1972.

This was after the capital punishment was found to be unconstitutionally biased and cruel. An exception to this is in cases where sentences were delivered after considering the extra routine endorsement. The cases and the respective judgment on the death penalty jurisprudence handed by the supreme courts entirely depended on the moral significance culpable by the law and factors of discretion (Head 1).

The Supreme Court in accordance with the laws governing the 8th amendment decided that death penalty for a minor is a harsh kind of penalty. This is supported by the fact that in a 5-4 court ruling, it was labeled unconstitutional when any convict at the time of committing the crime is below the age of 18.

Thus, it is morally incorrect to implicate children who commit crime in relation to adults who has acted in the same way since their respective intentions cannot apply together. Example of such ruling involving a minor was a criminal case for Christopher Simmons who was sentenced to death but later overruled; Case, Roper v Simmons.

Another example of such case in which the age of a convict was contested involved a 15 year old at the time of committing the crime. William Thompson was sentenced to death after being convicted of murder. Due to this, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of an Oklahoma court by explaining that the execution of the minor violated the eighth amendment statute. The case here is, Thompson v. Oklahoma.

Racial disparities

Another main issue surrounding the death penalty is the racial inequality that has been historically characteristic with handing of the penalty in the U.S. For instance, consider a case involving an African American who was convicted of two counts of robbery plus one count of murder. After convictions in county courts and subsequently condemned to death, his plea was heard whereby the Supreme Court ruling overturned the death penalty imposed.

The final ruling stated that the majority should not dictate matters of humanity since it is unconstitutional. For example, it was viewed that those accused of killing white people could easily be handed the death sentence compared to murderers for black persons. After much consideration and scrutiny of the penalty, the courts offered a platform for the voiceless like the accused person in question.i.e case, McCleskey v kemp.

Mental state of the convict

Mental instability in most people is believed to have unnatural rage subconscious to a person’s mind. It is for this reason that informed the Supreme Court to offer a reprieve on death penalty for mentally retarded persons who commit a criminal offence.

As a result of this, the death sentence was found to be unconstitutionally excessive thereby restricting the state’s power to deliver death penalty as a form of punishment on similar cases under the same state of mind. For instance, Daryl Atkins was convicted of murder even though his IQ score was 59 hence; the Supreme Court reversed the earlier ruling which did not evaluate his condition as that of mild mental condition; Case, Atkins v. Virginia (Jacobs 1).

Proper evidence of aggravating circumstances

Proper reasons were to be evaluated so as to be used against a convict. For instance, in order to incriminate a person, the Supreme Court made a decision to provide a clear distinction on where imposition of death can be allowed. It was unanimously passed that there could be circumstances when the evidence produced could exempt on the death penalty for non-murder offenses like rape except for crimes comparable to treason.

This was seen during the trial for Antonym Coker who escaped from custody but got re-arrested and condemned to death penalty for rape. The Supreme Court in turn overturned the first sentence arguing that it was too harsh on the ground that most rape cases may not involve murder.

Another similar case in which a sentence by the lower court was annulled by that of the Supreme Court took place in Lousiana.The criminal case involved Patrick Kennedy accused of raping his 8 year old step daughter. The Supreme Court then scrutinized his case after a successful appeal against a capital punishment handed earlier.

The argument of the higher court then concluded that imposing the death penalty against the convict was against the 8 th amendment and therefore unconstitutional because the crime neither resulted nor was intended to terminate the innocent life of his victim (Radelet & Akers 1). Therefore, the ruling decided that the accused should instead be sent to life imprisonment; Case, Kennedy v. Louisiana.

Method of delivering the death sentence

In cases where the method used to administer the death penalty is considered cruel and painful, the Supreme Court could then deliberate on a particular ruling by a junior state court. This was observed during the sentencing of Ralph Baze who was convicted for murder and sure enough condemned to death by a Kentucky state court by lethal injection and instead appealed against the ruling, only for the sentence to be re-affirmed by the Supreme Court since the method for its application was considered safe after all.

The same scenario was also witnessed during the trial of Jimmy L. Glass who was sentenced to death according to the legal argument of Louisiana court by electrocution. Through his lawyers, he argued that the application and the intensity when passing the death sentence through electrocution can cause serious injuries and pain and therefore do not meet the humane standards as required by the constitution (White 1). The final judgment by the Supreme Court thus dismissed the petition thereby allowing the lower court’s ruling to go ahead; Case, Jimmy L. Glass v.Lousiana.

Improper judgment

Pending cases provided relevant provisions to re-appeal the death sentence if the trial is perceived to be as a result of discretion of a judge determining the outcome of a case almost single handedly. Take for example, the trial of Timothy Ring, a convict of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment only for a state judge to step-up the penalty to another sentence by death.

Consequently though, the Supreme Court reversed the decision citing that statutory maximum sentence should be put before a jury panel since the judge was found to have acted improperly without a sitting legal bench who could have delivered a unanimous decision; Case, Ring v. Arizona.

Special procedure for capital penalty

It was realized that rulings could impose the death penalty by ignoring the nature or circumstance preceding a crime. Therefore, it was required that a jury must be able to cite a possible statutory aggravating legal requirement before delivering any formal penalty by death.

Such a case where the judgment was allowed to stand as it was involved Troy Leon who was convicted for robbery and murder for which he was handed over death sentence (Head 1). On challenging his trial, the Supreme Court rejected his plea and instead maintained the earlier verdict by dismissing the robbery factor since the statutory system was not found to violate the constitutional statutes; Case, Gregg v. Georgia.

The legislative judgments of some states

Several courts in some states decided to respond to the modification of the death penalty especially for murder committed in relation to a felony. Such states that rejected the death penalty arising from committing a felony therefore illegalized the practice hence the Supreme Court found it as an appropriate way by providing more options for fair trial.

This was arrived at after establishing the fact that, the death penalty usually imposed may be too harsh for a convict who did not participate in a murder or intended to carry out such heinous act. A case of study featured Enmund in which the death penalty was outlawed when determining the ultimate ruling by the supreme judges since they decided that it could not be imposed under circumstances of felony; Case, Enmund v. Florida.

Contrary to the above case where a reprieve was provided by the Supreme Court, in Tison’s case, several state supreme courts amended their interpretation of the death penalty during such a case involving a felony by allowing capital punishment to take precedence in such future cases (White 1). This particular case was determined by analyzing noticeable circumstances of felony during the murder. The death penalty verdict was thus delivered since inquiries revealed passion and recklessness; Case, Tison v. Arizona.

From the above discussion, it is apparent that the suitability of imposing a death is questionable. From a number of precedents set on the death penalty, it is apparent that giving a life imprisonment instead of a death penalty will be more humane than a death penalty in permissible situations. All in all, a death penalty should be avoided as much as possible.

Works Cited

Burns, Kari. “ Punishment: Death penalty ”. 2011. Web.

Head, Tom. “ The Eighth Amendment ”. 2011. Web.

Jacobs, Nancy. “Death Penalty Essay”. 2011. Web.

Radelet, M & Akers, R. “ Deterrence and the Death Penalty? The Views of the Experts ,” (1995) White, Debora.

“ Pros and cons of the death penalty ”. 2011. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2024, January 12). The Death Penalty in the US Criminal Justice System. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-3/

"The Death Penalty in the US Criminal Justice System." IvyPanda , 12 Jan. 2024, ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-3/.

IvyPanda . (2024) 'The Death Penalty in the US Criminal Justice System'. 12 January.

IvyPanda . 2024. "The Death Penalty in the US Criminal Justice System." January 12, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-3/.

1. IvyPanda . "The Death Penalty in the US Criminal Justice System." January 12, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-3/.


IvyPanda . "The Death Penalty in the US Criminal Justice System." January 12, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-3/.

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The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, but this does not categorically prohibit the death penalty. The federal government still can impose capital punishment, and some states have kept these laws despite a growing trend toward abolition at the state level. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment and applies it to the states. When reviewing an Eighth Amendment challenge, a court must decide whether a punishment is cruel or unusual according to evolving standards of decency in the community. They must consider objective factors that may show changes in social norms.

During the 1970s, the death penalty was abolished and then reinstated. First, the Supreme Court determined in Furman v. Georgia that existing sentencing procedures in capital cases violated the Eighth Amendment because evidence showed that the death penalty was applied in discriminatory ways. Defendants from minority populations or impoverished backgrounds were disproportionately likely to receive capital punishment. Just a few years later, though, the Court reversed course in Gregg v. Georgia . It determined that the revised sentencing procedures in capital cases did not violate the Eighth Amendment, since they addressed the issue of discrimination. The Court also noted that the death penalty does not inherently violate the Constitution. It emphasized the role of capital punishment in deterring crime and providing retribution.

States have substantial discretion in determining methods of execution. A method must not cause unnecessary suffering, but this restriction has been narrowly interpreted. For example, hanging and electrocution have not been invalidated on Eighth Amendment grounds. The primary execution method in the US, lethal injection, has been upheld by the Supreme Court on multiple occasions. The Court has reasoned that it is not "objectively intolerable."

Proportionality Under the Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment requires that a punishment must be proportionate to the crime for which it is imposed. According to the Supreme Court, this involves three factors:

  • The seriousness of the crime and the penalty
  • How crimes are generally punished in the jurisdiction
  • How other jurisdictions punish this crime

In a case involving child rape, the Court ruled that capital punishment must not be imposed as long as the victim survives. It reviewed state sentencing rules for child rape cases and determined that only six states allowed the death penalty for this crime. This was sufficiently rare to find that it violated the Eighth Amendment and should not be imposed at all. In 2008, the Court indicated that the death penalty for crimes against individuals should be limited to homicide cases.

Individualized Sentencing Procedures

Before a court can sentence a defendant to death, it must apply an individualized sentencing process. Any death penalty decision by a jury must be based on the specific facts of the case and the defendant. However, the death penalty does not violate the Eighth Amendment when the jury decides that aggravating and mitigating factors carry equal weight.

Sometimes an appellate court reviews the aggravating factors that resulted in a death sentence. If it throws out one or more of these factors, the underlying death sentence generally will be invalidated on constitutional grounds. The death sentence may remain in effect, though, if another aggravating factor properly found by the jury involves the same circumstances as the factor that was thrown out.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits imposing the death penalty on the following types of defendants:

  • People under 18 when their crimes were committed
  • Intellectually disabled (formerly "mentally retarded") people, although no clear IQ threshold applies

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Death Penalty Abolition, the Right to Life, and Necessity

  • Published: 27 December 2022
  • Volume 24 , pages 77–95, ( 2023 )

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  • Ben Jones   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-2134-8631 1  

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One prominent argument in international law and religious thought for abolishing capital punishment is that it violates individuals’ right to life. Notably, this right-to-life argument emerged from normative and legal frameworks that recognize deadly force against aggressors as justified when necessary to stop their unjust threat of grave harm. Can capital punishment be necessary in this sense—and thus justified defensive killing? If so, the right-to-life argument would have to admit certain exceptions where executions are justified. Drawing on work by Hugo Bedau, I identify a thought experiment where executions are justified defensive killing but explain why they cannot be in our world. A state’s obligations to its prisoners include the obligation to use nonlethal incapacitation (ONI), which applies as long as prisoners pose no imminent threat. ONI precludes executions for reasons of future dangerousness. By subjecting the right-to-life argument to closer scrutiny, this article ultimately places it on firmer ground.

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Why Do People Commit Crimes?

Some may suggest gladiator contests, where the condemned could defend themselves, as a counterexample. Being sentenced to such combat was not a true death sentence, though. There were distinctions in ancient Rome between gladii poena (certain death by sword), summum supplicium (certain death by more cruel methods like being thrown to the beasts), and ludi damnatio (condemnation to gladiatorial games). The last penalty forced individuals into combat where death was possible but not assured (see Bauman 1996 : 14, 122). Furthermore, my description of capital punishment remains apt for present practices since gladiator combat is rightly seen as morally repugnant and not a realistic sentencing option today.

Bedau does not explicitly say that executing murderers is the only way to revive their victims, but context implies it. He writes: “taking life deliberately is not justified so long as there is any feasible alternative” (Bedau 1993 : 179).

Before Bedau, Justice Richard Maughan of the Utah Supreme Court expressed a similar idea: “Were there some way to restore the bereaved and wounded survivors, and the victims, to what was once theirs; there could then be justification for the capital sanction. Sadly, such is not available to us” (State v. Pierre 1977 : 1359). This remark is mentioned by Barry ( 2017 : 540).

That claim is questionable in the US, where most death sentences are overturned (Baumgartner and Dietrich 2015 ) and executions that do occur usually take place close to two decades after conviction (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2021 : 2). I grant this claim, though, for the sake of argument.

E.g., Thomas Creech who killed a fellow inmate after receiving life sentences for murder in Idaho (Boone 2020 ).

E.g., Clarence Ray Allen who while serving a life sentence for murder in California conspired with a recently released inmate to murder witnesses from his previous case (Egelko and Finz  2006 ).

E.g., Jeffrey Landrigan who escaped from an Oklahoma prison where he was serving a sentence for murder and went on to commit another murder in Arizona (Schwartz 2010 ).

E.g., Kenneth McDuff who was sentenced to death, had his sentences commuted to life following Furman v. Georgia ( 1972 ), and was eventually paroled, after which he murdered multiple people in Texas (Cartwright 1992 ). I thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting the examples in footnotes 5–8.

These critics include those who grant retribution as a valid rationale for punishment but still reject it as a justification for the death penalty (see Brooks 2004 ).

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Jones, B. Death Penalty Abolition, the Right to Life, and Necessity. Hum Rights Rev 24 , 77–95 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-022-00677-x

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Syracuse Journal of Law & Civic Engagement

An inquiry into the ethics of capital punishment.

D. Alicia Hickok , Partner at Drinker Biddle & member of the American Bar Association’s Steering Committee of the Death Penalty Representation Project , & J.J. Williamson , Associate in the Drinker Biddle’s Litigation Group

The word “ethic” is derived from the Greek “ethos,” which itself has taken on multiple meanings. In the traditional Greek, it is used by Aristotle to describe the apparent character of the speaker. The Oxford English Dictionary recognizes that its origin relates to nature or disposition, but instead defines “ethos” as “[t]he characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its attitudes and aspirations” or “the character of an individual as represented by his or her values or beliefs.” [1] Regardless of the definition, it is apparent that ethical behavior is necessarily an individual action and portrayal in relation to a community – although Aristotle’s definition is more susceptible to an absolute source of such “right behavior” or “moral action” than the Oxford English Dictionary’s.

The United States Supreme Court has certainly recognized that current community values are critical to an analysis regarding whether capital punishment violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. [2] But it has also recognized that an examination of those values must be tempered with respect for the “dignity of man” such that punishment must not be excessive, either through “the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” or by being “grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime.” [3] These “natural law” values correspond in many instances to moral views set forth in ancient and sacred writing. Any analysis of the ethics of capital punishment thus need to echo the Supreme Court’s recognition of the possibility that something that has become “accepted” in society may nonetheless be “immoral.”

The response to an “immoral” but “accepted” practice represents an ethical choice. Indeed, many people have explored the dilemmas that arise when a community – either through its laws or practices – mandates or prohibits a course of action that is fundamentally at odds with what a person recognizes as an ultimate moral code. This is seen in Judeo-Christian scripture at least as early as Daniel 6, when King Darius was beguiled into signing a law that forbade prayer to any but him. Daniel was a slave who had become a trusted advisor to the king. He continued with his duties, but also continued to pray to God at home daily; the legal consequence of which was that Darius was compelled to throw Daniel into a lions’ den (from which, Daniel 6 explains, God delivered him, thus honoring Daniel’s adherence to the conduct dictated by his faith rather than the law created by the king).

In examining the ethics of capital punishment, then, this article will address three questions: Is there an absolute position on the death penalty that renders it immoral in all circumstances? What does the law permit, command, or prohibit? Does the practice accord with these permissions, commands, and prohibitions – and is the perception that it does? The answer to those questions then prompts a fourth: how is a lawyer in today’s legal system to act ethically in a state that authorizes capital punishment?

I. Is Capital Punishment Wrong According to Traditional Moral Measures?

One might perhaps think that the answer to any question of the ethics of capital punishment begins and ends with moral law. To be sure, in Gregg v. Georgia , [4] the Supreme Court recognized that right and wrong can transcends the laws on the books at any given moment. It certainly is the case that for some religious groups, any notion of capital punishment is contrary to fundamental beliefs. But it is equally the case that not all persons within those religious traditions – and not all religions – condemn capital punishment.

It is beyond the scope of this article to explore the full range of religious responses, which range from a conviction that the taking of a life can be compensated for only by another life to a belief that the sacredness of life can never justify condoning of the taking of another’s life, and include everything in between.

A brief overview of a couple of religious perspectives may, however, give a flavor of the moral reasoning undergirding religious responses. Those who favor the death penalty often cite both to the religious admonitions to honor civil law and to the recognition in Exodus 21 that injury is to be recompensed in kind, admonishing Israel to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” [5]

On the other hand, of those who are fundamentally opposed to capital punishment, most believe that taking of the life of another is wrong even for the state to do. In addition, many express a belief that capital punishment is an offense against the community, or that it is unfairly harmful to the person delegated to carry out the sentence. The conviction that the taking of life is wrong is heightened by – or in some cases replaced with – concerns that the punishment does not achieve its stated goals and is too fraught with uncertainty to be a viable sentence, even if there is a theoretical authority for a state to take a life.

Thus, for example, the Green Country Society of Friends spoke out about Oklahoma’s death penalty statute in 1996 by first recognizing that people “have the need and the right to seek safety and order for themselves and their communities” but rejecting capital punishment as a means to achieve that because (1) it does not respect the Spirit of God that they believe dwells in each person; (2) it “magnifies the tragedy of a lost life by killing again, ignoring the human capacity for change, quenching forever the possibility of redemption and renewed contribution”; (3) because it harms the community by giving violence a “legitimate status as a way to resolve problems”, sanctioning vengeance as an acceptable response to harm, shifting the focus from healing and help to victims, offenders, and affected families and communities, and because it is possible that an innocent person is being executed; (4) because those persons to whom the task of execution is delegated are at “moral and psychological peril to themselves.” [6] In 1999, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, observing that it had been opposed to the death penalty for over twenty-five years, stated:

We oppose capital punishment not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes but for what it does to all of us as a society. Increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes all of us and is a sign of growing disrespect for human life. We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders. The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life.

We are painfully aware of the increased rate of executions in many states. Since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976, more than 500 executions have taken place, while there have been seventy-four death-row reversals late in the process. Throughout the states, more than 3,500 prisoners await their deaths. These numbers are deeply troubling. The pace of executions is numbing. The discovery of people on death row who are innocent is frightening. [7]

After Timothy McVeigh, a Catholic, was executed in Indiana, John and Lauren McBride authored an article in the Saint Anthony Messenger, a paper in the area, [8] reflecting on the execution and on a commencement address that Sister Helen Prejean gave at St. Mary of the Woods College in 2001. Sister Helen Prejean had said that that the death penalty was imploding because it “has always been unfair,” remarking on the expense, the lack of deterrence, and the irreversible and irremediable character of the penalty. Quoting Matthew 25, the authors of the article contended that when Jesus taught that what was done to the least of his brothers was done to him, and linked that to Sister Helen’s admonition that scripture teaches not to return hate with hate or violence with violence. The author also quoted Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of the Indianapolis Archdiocese (which includes Terre Haute), who wrote that the “death penalty ‘feeds a frenzy for revenge… [which] neither liberates the families of victims nor ennobles the victims of crime. Only forgiveness liberates.’” [9] In conclusion, the authors reflected on a movement in churches across the nation to ring their bells whenever an execution takes place, remembering John Donne’s statement that “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” [10] The author also interviewed others who were not opposed to the death penalty per se but nonetheless expressed concerns that the process needed reform and decried the racial and economic disparities in its application.

These concerns are echoed in Jewish law, which did not proscribe capital punishment, but which did define strict parameters within which it could be applied. The Talmud Sanhedrin, in exchanging views on the Mosaic law from the third to the fifth centuries C.E., stressed the need for procedural protections before a person could be sentenced to death for treason, discussing the scriptural requirement that there be two witnesses. [11] If one witness was disqualified, the evidence of the others was invalid. Witnesses were sequestered and examined and cross-examined, with accusing witnesses permitted to retract testimony but defending witnesses not. Inconsistencies – even as to time or day – disqualified witnesses. These protections were both to “ensure reliability of outcome and to enhance the possibility of acquittal in a capital case.” [12]

A Talmudic brief was submitted as an amicus in Bryan v. Moore . [13] The authors of the brief were addressing only whether electrocution was cruel and unusual. In their analysis, they recognized that from ancient times, rabbis have been divided whether capital punishment could ever be imposed. Even those that sanctioned it required strict standards of proof (before a court of at least 23 judges), and when execution was carried out, the law required a means to be chosen that prevented unnecessary pain and avoided mutilation or dismemberment. Indeed, any in favor point to sacred writings that stress the authority to enforce justice and protect a community but also stress the exceptional nature of the punishment. [14]

These historic and faith-based perspectives, taken together, have led many persons – and an increasing number of states – to conclude that even if it is theoretically possible to have a crime that warrants a sentence of death, the cost (both economically and morally) is too high, the risk of inaccuracy is too great, and the procedural protections are not strict enough.

But many others, including many with deeply-held religious convictions, affirm the decisions of the Supreme Court, Congress, and the legislatures and high courts of many other states that continue to uphold and enforce the death penalty. That said, the law enunciated by the United States Supreme Court has not stagnated over time. Instead, the United States Supreme Court has narrowed the classes of persons who can be subject to the death penalty and has fleshed out the characteristics that need to accompany any capital sentencing scheme in order for it to satisfy the requirements of the United States Constitution.

II. What Does the Law Permit, Command, or Prohibit?

Because statutes ultimately must conform to the Constitution, the starting point for this analysis are the determinations of the United States Supreme Court in holding that capital punishment was not absolutely proscribed by the Constitution. Two days before the bicentennial, on July 2, 1976, the United States Supreme Court issued five opinions, three affirming the constitutionality of state capital sentencing schemes, and two striking down other such schemes as unconstitutional. In Gregg , the Court explained that in an Eighth Amendment analysis of a statute, there is a presumption that a statute is valid, in part because legislative judgment “weighs heavily in ascertaining [contemporary] standards” and to “respond to the will and consequently the moral values of the people.” [15] After tracing the history of capital punishment in this country, the Court found that the “relative infrequency” with which juries imposed capital sentences did not reflect a “rejection of capital punishment per se” but the belief that the “most irrevocable of sanctions should be reserved for a small number of extreme cases.” [16] The Court also recognized both the retributive and deterrent effects of the death penalty. [17]

But while a state has the right to impose the death penalty, it cannot do so arbitrarily or capriciously, and it must ensure that the sentencer’s discretion is guided and informed. [18] In looking at Georgia’s statutory scheme in particular, the Supreme Court observed that the Georgia Supreme Court was required to “review every death sentence to determine whether it was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor, whether the evidence supports the findings of a statutory aggravating circumstance, and ‘[w]hether the sentence of death is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant.’” [19] Thus, each instance in which a death sentence is imposed will receive the direct attention of the justices of the state’s Supreme Court, and they will address directly some of the criteria that the United States Supreme Court found needed to be present in a capital sentencing scheme to render it constitutional. [20]

Particularly troubling is that the shortcomings of the Georgia Supreme Court’s review are not unique to this case. In the years immediately following Gregg , it was that court’s regular practice to include in its review cases that did not result in a death sentence. The Supreme Court later clarified in Pulley v. Harris that a comparative proportionality review was not demanded for every capital sentence. [21] More recently, however, the Court explained that it had intended only to “convey our recognition of differences among the States’ capital schemes and the fact that we consider statutes as we find them” – not to undermine the Court’s prior conclusions that “such review is an important component of the Georgia scheme.” [22] As shown in the attached chart, it appears that currently there are at least nine states that have no provision for proportionality review in their state statutes.

In Proffitt v. Florida , [23] the sentencing findings of the jury were advisory only; the actual sentence was determined by the trial judge, but “‘[i]n order to sustain a sentence of death following a jury recommendation of life, the facts suggesting a sentence of death should be so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ. [24] The Supreme Court found that jury sentencing was not constitutionally mandated. [25] Likewise, in Jurek v. Texas , [26] the Court upheld Texas’s capital sentencing scheme, concluding that Texas’s narrowing of death-eligible crimes to a limited category of murders served the same function as aggravating factors did in Georgia and Florida. [27] But the Court was careful to say that it would not be enough to limit the evidence relevant to why a death penalty should be imposed; there must also be consideration of evidence why the death penalty should not be imposed. In other words, a capital sentencing system must: “guide[] and focus[] the jury’s objective consideration of the particularized circumstances of the individual offense and the individual offender before it can impose a sentence of death.” [28] “What is essential is that the jury have before it all possible relevant information about the individual defendant whose fate it must determine.” [29] Finally, “[b]y providing prompt judicial review of the jury’s decision in a court with statewide jurisdiction, Texas has provided a means to promote the evenhanded, rational, and consistent imposition of death sentences under law.” [30]

In contrast, in Woodson v. North Carolina , [31] the Supreme Court rejected the North Carolina statutory scheme, because North Carolina mandated a sentence of death for first-degree murder – in part because the Court construed such statutes as “simply paper[ing] over the problem of unguided and unchecked jury discretion.” [32] The Court explained what it meant to have a jury consider evidence in mitigation:

A process that accords no significance to relevant facets of the character and record of the individual offender or the circumstances of the particular offense excludes from consideration in fixing the ultimate punishment of death the possibility of compassionate or mitigating factors stemming from the diverse frailties of humankind. It treats all persons convicted of a designated offense not as uniquely individual human beings, but as members of a faceless, undifferentiated mass to be subjected to the blind infliction of the penalty of death. This Court has previously recognized that “[f]or the determination of sentences, justice generally requires consideration of more than the particular acts by which the crime was committed and that there be taken into account the circumstances of the offense together with the character and propensities of the offender.” Consideration of both the offender and the offense in order to arrive at a just and appropriate sentence has been viewed as a progressive and humanizing development. While the prevailing practice of individualizing sentencing determinations generally reflects simply enlightened policy rather than a constitutional imperative, we believe that in capital cases the fundamental respect for humanity underlying the Eighth Amendment requires consideration of the character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense as a constitutionally indispensable part of the process of inflicting the penalty of death. [33]

Although Louisiana’s statute used “a different and somewhat narrower” definition of death-worthy murder than North Carolina, it was also mandatory, and the Supreme Court found it likewise unconstitutional in Roberts v. Louisiana . [34] In so holding, the Supreme Court reiterated that mandatory sentences simply could not be upheld, because society has “reject[ed] the belief that ‘every offense in a like legal category calls for an identical punishment without regard to the past life and habits of a particular offender.’” [35] The Court was also troubled that in order to provide an opportunity to sentence a defendant to less than death, juries were instructed on lesser offenses, regardless of the evidence, which the Court found “plainly invites the jurors to disregard their oaths and choose a verdict for a lesser offense whenever they feel the death penalty is inappropriate – a result that contained an unacceptable “element of capriciousness.” [36]

Through a series of opinions, the Supreme Court would later clarify that a jury cannot sentence a defendant to death without being allowed to consider mitigating evidence; indeed, “when the jury is not permitted to give meaningful effect or a ‘reasoned moral response’ to a defendant’s mitigating evidence – because it is forbidden from doing so by statute or a judicial interpretation of a statute – the sentencing process is fatally flawed.” [37] And, of course, a jury cannot consider evidence in mitigation that counsel fails to uncover, apprehend, pursue, and present. Accordingly, counsel cannot competently represent a capital defendant without developing sufficient evidence about his or her background to make a reasonable strategic decision about what evidence to present in mitigation. [38]

Of course, evidence may not be put in front of a jury because it was never produced to the defense. The role of prosecutors to ensure a fair trial predates AEDPA by decades.

The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor – indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.

It is fair to say that the average jury, in a greater or less degree, has confidence that these obligations, which so plainly rest upon the prosecuting attorney, will be faithfully observed. [39]

These principles have given rise to a series of decisions, beginning with Brady v. Maryland , [40] in which the Supreme Court has articulated the constitutional obligation of the prosecution to provide the defense with exculpatory and impeachment evidence. Claims involving the obligations of the attorneys in a case (so-called Strickland (ineffectiveness) or Brady (withholding of evidence)) are the primary claims raised in collateral changes to capital convictions.

In addition, in recent years, certain classes of persons have been determined incapable of being sentenced to death, including persons who are mentally retarded (in Atkins v. Virginia ) [41] and juveniles ( Roper v. Simmons ). [42] In extending the rationale of Atkins to juveniles, the Supreme Court found that there were three characteristics of juveniles that rendered the death penalty inappropriate: (1) the lack of maturity and “underdeveloped sense of responsibility;” (2) a heightened susceptibility to “negative influences and outside pressures;” (3) and a less “well formed” character. [43] The Supreme Court concluded that:

These differences render suspect any conclusion that a juvenile falls among the worst offenders. The susceptibility of juveniles to immature and irresponsible behavior means “their irresponsible conduct is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult.” Their own vulnerability and comparative lack of control over their immediate surroundings mean juveniles have a greater claim than adults to be forgiven for failing to escape negative influences in their whole environment. The reality that juveniles still struggle to define their identity means it is less supportable to conclude that even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably depraved character. From a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed. Indeed, “[t]he relevance of youth as a mitigating factor derives from the fact that the signature qualities of youth are transient; as individuals mature, the impetuousness and recklessness that may dominate in younger years can subside. [44]

There are also constraints upon the execution [45] and trial of persons who are mentally incompetent, [46] but these constraints have not led to a blanket prohibition against capital sentences for persons with specific mental illnesses – or to a suspension of all proceedings while a person is incompetent. [47]

There is one more factor that has not yet been addressed specifically by the United States Supreme Court but that bears on the reliability of the verdict and the information that is in front of sentencers to consider. There is wide variation in the statutory (or rules) requirements for notice of intent to seek the death penalty by the prosecution, with most states requiring notice at some point after arraignment (typically sixty days or less), but others requiring notice only at a certain point before trial . Indeed, in Alabama, the death penalty may be sought in any case in which a district attorney has charged a defendant with capital murder, with no notice other than the charge itself required. [48] And in New Hampshire, the only requirement is that notice occur before trial or acceptance of a guilty plea. South Carolina and Tennessee require notice only thirty days prior to trial. [49] If a defendant is provided with ample resources to prepare for a capital penalty phase – whether or not it is to occur – notice may not be problematic. But where resources are limited, it appears unreasonable to ask a lawyer – or for that matter, a trial court – to authorize extensive resources to prepare for a case in mitigation that may or may not be a part of the trial. And yet, mitigation preparation – with its requisite investigation and consultation of experts – cannot be authorized and carried out in only a month without seriously undermining the reliability of the information that is placed before the sentencer.

At the moment then, a capital sentence can be upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional only if there is a trial in which the community can have confidence. That, in turn, requires a competent defendant represented by counsel who has the resources, time, and skill to present a sentencer with evidence in mitigation that informs the sentencer’s decision whether to impose death for the narrow class of the most serious crimes by making a non-arbitrary, non-capricious, guided decision.

The standards that are applied to evaluate the fairness of the capital process are increasingly narrowed, however. On the one hand, state and federal law permit collateral attacks on allegedly unfair processes, through state and federal habeas or other post-conviction relief mechanisms. But on the other hand, such attacks are subject to significantly heightened levels of deference and narrowed bases for challenge, some statutory (such as that imposed by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”)), and others by the standard recognition that the presumption of the finality of a judgment increases with each level of review. In collateral review, traditional criminal precepts in multiple contexts (including ineffective assistance and non-disclosure of evidence) require a showing of prejudice that is defined, not by “whether the defendant would more likely than not have received a different verdict with the evidence, but whether in its absence he received a fair trial, understood as a trial resulting in a verdict worthy of confidence.” [50] This concept is notoriously subjective and uneven in its application, thereby undermining the confidence that is the stated goal.

More fundamentally, the Court has grappled – beginning with Woodson – with the recognition that fair procedures and reliability are more essential in the capital sentencing context than in any other, because death is different in kind, and not merely in degree – indeed “[d]eath in its finality differs more from life imprisonment than a 100-year prison term differs from one of only a year or two.” [51] And yet, in a system in which the focus – and expenditures of money – increase disproportionately at the very stages when the standard of review becomes the hardest to satisfy, the public message is that procedures are not fair, sentences of death are not reliable, and verdicts are not worthy of confidence.

III.       What is the Community Practice?

Because the United States Supreme Court has determined that capital punishment is not absolutely proscribed by the Constitution, current practice has largely been placed into the hands of the states, and more specifically the state legislatures, to determine how such a process will function, as well as to define its limits. Eighteen states, as well as the District of Columbia, have chosen to abolish the death penalty outright: Michigan was the first in 1846, and Maryland the most recent in 2013. Most recently, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania imposed a moratorium on the Commonwealth’s execution of individuals pending a review of a forthcoming report by the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment. [52] The death penalty, then, remains a viable form of punishment for thirty-two states, as well as the federal government and the U.S. military, though the exact contours of the implementation of this ultimate type of punishment varies widely by jurisdiction.

One area in which the states that continue to employ the death penalty differ is in the qualification standards each state has set (or not set) for the lawyers who represent capital-eligible defendants at the trial level. The idea of standards for capital counsel is not new; in fact, suggested qualifications have been published since 1989, when the American Bar Association (“ABA”) published the Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. [53] A little over ten years later, the campaign to implement capital counsel qualifications began anew when, in 2001, the ABA commissioned the Death Penalty Representation Project to revise the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases (the “ABA Guidelines”). [54] The revised ABA Guidelines were subsequently adopted on February 10, 2003 by the ABA House of Delegates, intended to “set forth a national standard of practice for the defense of capital cases in order to ensure high quality legal representation for all persons facing the possible imposition or execution of a death sentence by any jurisdiction.” [55] Interestingly, the scope of the ABA Guidelines was purposefully broad, and meant to

apply from the moment the client is taken into custody and extend to all states of every case in which the jurisdiction may be entitled to seek the death penalty, including initial and ongoing investigation, pretrial proceedings, trial post-convocation review, clemency, and any connected litigation. [56]

In setting qualifications for capital defense counsel, ABA Guideline 5.1 lists several factors that a state agency establishing such qualifications should consider, including whether counsel has:

  • a license to practice in the jurisdiction;
  • demonstrated commitment to zealous advocacy and high quality legal representation in the defense of capital cases;
  • a completion of suggested training requirements;
  • substantial knowledge of relevant federal and state law governing capital cases;
  • skill in oral advocacy;
  • skill in investigation, preparation, and presentation of evidence bearing on mental status;
  • skill in investigation, preparation, and presentation of mitigating evidence;
  • skill in the elements of trial advocacy, including jury selection, cross-examination of witness, and opening statements and closing arguments.

The ABA Guidelines also call for such measures as a monitoring of capital counsel’s workload, in order that the lawyer will “provide each client with high quality legal representation in accordance with [the ABA Guidelines].” [57] Additionally, capital counsel is to create a defense team that includes persons such as a mitigation specialist, mental health specialist, and other such specialists or persons as may be needed to bring a high level of legal representation on behalf of the client. [58] The ABA Guidelines do not address, however, how such a high caliber team should be funded, suggesting only that counsel should be compensated “for actual time and service performed at an hourly rate commensurate with the prevailing rates for similar services performed by retained counsel in the jurisdiction, with no distinction between rates for services performed in or out of court.” [59] While most of the guidelines speak to lawyer behavior, funding does not. In most instances, it is the state that funds capital defense, and it is the responsibility of the electorate to hold legislators accountable for ensuring sufficient funds to attract dedicated counsel and to provide them with sufficient resources to provide a thorough defense.

Since their revision, the ABA Guidelines have received some traction among both state and federal courts. [60] These qualification standards set forth by the ABA, however, are merely suggestions; the adoption of the ABA Guidelines, or the development and implementation of a separate code, is ultimately left to the States. This was emphasized by the Supreme Court in Bobby v. Van Hook , a per curiam decision that highlighted the notion that the ABA Guidelines are “‘only guides’ to what reasonableness [in the context of attorney representation] means, not its definition.” [61] So long as capital counsel make objectively reasonable choices in the course of representation, the “states are free to impose whatever specific rules they see fit to ensure that criminal defendants are well represented[.]” [62]

As the chart below illustrates, states have implemented capital counsel qualification standards in various degrees. For example, in 2005 Alabama adopted the ABA Guidelines as its code for capital counsel qualifications, noting, however, that the adoption of said Guidelines was “not to be considered a rule or requirement but only a recommendation.” [63] Texas has adopted a set of guidelines very similar to those promulgated by the ABA, which it calls the Guidelines and Standards for Texas Capital Counsel. [64] Like the ABA Guidelines, Texas requires defense teams to include a mitigation specialist and the lawyers on the team must complete a comprehensive training program in death penalty cases. [65]

Several states have taken some aspects of the ABA Guidelines a step further, requiring counsel to meet quantifiable benchmarks before being accepted—whether formally or informally—into the capital counsel bar. Arkansas requires its capital counsel attorneys to have at least three years of criminal defense experience, as well as having served as lead or co-counsel at least five capital trials. [66] Additionally, it also imposes an additional requirement of six hours of continuing legal education in the field of capital defense within the year leading up to the capital case. [67] California requires its capital counsel to have at least ten years of litigation experience in the field of criminal law, including ten serious or violent crime jury trials, at least two of which were for murder. [68] Like Arkansas, a CLE requirement (a requirement common to almost all states with capital counsel qualifications) is imposed, requiring fifteen hours of training in capital defense within the prior two years. [69]

Most states have crafted requirements that fall somewhere in between the Arkansas and California requirements, but not all. Colorado, for example, imposes qualifications upon capital counsel, but only at the post-conviction stage of proceedings. [70] And New Hampshire does not have any policies regarding qualification standards for capital defense counsel – although it is worth noting that New Hampshire has not executed anyone since 1939, despite the death penalty remaining in state law. [71]

Although the qualification standards discussed above pertain primarily to trial counsel, the only federal “stick” that is used to ensure the quality of representation is directed not at trial counsel but at post-conviction counsel. Sections 2261 and 2265 of title 28 of the United States Code (part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, “AEDPA”) “provide[] for an expedited review procedure by which state courts are given more deference in the federal habeas review process,” only if certain requirements are satisfied by the states. [72] But both provisions place requirements on the appointment of counsel at the post-conviction stage of the proceedings, i.e ., after a capital punishment sentence has already been imposed by the trial court and affirmed on direct appeal. The deference the state court adjudications receive, then, is based not on the quality of representation when the matter was tried before a finder of fact but the quality of representation in post-conviction collateral attacks – and those state-level collateral attacks are themselves entitled to a deference that a court on direct appeal does not employ.

Two states – Utah and Pennsylvania – do not even fund capital defense at the state level. [73] It is a sobering statistic that Philadelphia’s compensation for court-appointed trial lawyers has been among the lowest of any major metropolitan area in the country – and that of the 100-plus inmates sentenced to death in Pennsylvania since 1978, almost all had their appeals overturned on collateral review. [74] Given the costs associated with post-conviction and habeas appeals, one cannot help but wonder whether the Supreme Court’s requirement of a verdict worthy of confidence needs to be the primary focus of funding for all jurisdictions that choose to maintain the death penalty, and whether, at some point, the Supreme Court will find that a right to a fair trial means that the structure that needs to be in place to ensure a fair trial has to precede trial.

It can thus be argued—as this article does—that the AEDPA statute places its emphasis on the wrong stage of the proceedings – and that creating an incentive to expend large sums of money, employ significant teams of lawyers, and retain multiple experts at the two levels of collateral attack – state and federal – at which the greatest degrees of deference are owed to the state court judgment is not only a poor allocation of resources but a trigger for tension between the bench and bar that ultimately can only harm the interests of the capital defendant.

This tension is a product of an appellate system that, on the one hand, accords deference to the fact-finding of judges and juries – and to the discretion of a trial court to manage the conduct of a trial and the evidence and witnesses that may be considered. That deference extends to the reasonable, strategic decision of a lawyer. On the other hand, habeas counsel and others are required to look at the trial through a prism of standards and scopes of review; even though they see in hindsight defenses that could have been raised, experts that could have been proffered, and mitigation that could have been presented to a jury. As will be seen at greater length below, the more convinced that those not a part of the trial become that capital trials are unfair, the further they push the envelope to force a new trial – and the more entrenched the perspective that all death sentences should be overturned, and the more strident and less respectful the call for that relief, the greater a gulf is placed between the bench and the bar.

The parameters that the United States Supreme Court have articulated for state statutory schemes – trials in which the community can have confidence at which sentencers who are fully apprised of the evidence, including evidence in mitigation, render rational and non-arbitrary sentences – are not advanced by comparing lawyers who are frequently poorly paid and who have to seek court approval for any appointed expert or testing to be measured against what sometimes appears to be unlimited resources and an unlimited appetite for flyspecking a trial in hindsight. It is at least an understandable (and perhaps a natural) reaction to say – as numerous opinions on ineffective assistance do – that the right to effective counsel is not the right to perfect or ideal counsel. [75] Or, as a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion explained, “a defendant’s competency to stand trial must be evaluated at the time of trial” – and contrary evidence produced in hindsight “overlooks this requirement.” [76]  But although the response of courts is natural, so is the unease reflected in the public’s reaction to a denial of relief in the face of new information by experts and others.

IV. What is the Ethical Response?

In a provocative article, Fred Zacharias and Bruce Green explain that the nineteenth century debate about what defines a lawyer’s ethical role – that of a lawyer’s ethical responsibility being to his or her client and that of a lawyer beholden to his or her own conscience – creates a false dichotomy. [77] Instead, they posit that a coherent ethic is found in Rush v. Cavenaugh , [78] which said, inter alia , that a lawyer “is expressly bound by his official oath to behave himself in his office of attorney with all due fidelity to the court as well as the client; and he violates it when he consciously presses for an unjust judgment: much more so when he presses for the conviction of an innocent man.” Thus, they conclude, there is a professional conscience that co-exists with a personal conscience and that together set limits on what a lawyer can do in advocating for a client. [79] In this way, “lawyers’ obligations are distinguished from those of other agents because of their office, which imposes countervailing obligations to the court to which the lawyer owes fidelity.” [80]

On this view, there are obligations of professional conscience that transcend the obligations set forth expressly in rules of professional conduct (those being prohibitions against knowingly participating in illegality or fraud, filing frivolous claims, or failing to be candid with a court). [81] In addressing the unwritten obligations, a lawyer must exercise judgment in determining “the legal and systemic considerations that are familiar to lawyers” and weighing those against the client’s interests and the dictates of personal conscience. [82] The challenge here is that in most instances a person presumes that his moral convictions alone will dictate ethical choices and actions. But the legal profession – and particularly in Green’s and Zacharias’s view – requires one’s morality to inform and be informed by one’s obligations to the court and one’s duties to his or her client. This has significant implications for litigating capital cases, and particularly for collateral proceedings, because the goal cannot be to avoid the carrying out of a death sentence; it must instead be to vindicate a particular individual’s right to a fair trial, developed within the (a) law – either as it exists or as extended in good faith; (b) facts and procedural history of the case; and (c) rules of the court and professional conduct.

In 1982, the Honorable Ruggero Aldisert used the positioning of competence as first in the then-new Model Rules of Professional Conduct to discuss the responsibility a lawyer has “to his client, the courts, and the development of the law” – a responsibility that was greater than that imposed by other jurisdictions. [83] Focusing on appellate lawyers, he stressed that American lawyers need to be cognizant of their responsibility not only to the client “but also to the court in its law-making function.” [84] He then analyzed what in his mind makes an appellate lawyer competent, stating, inter alia , that the first argument in an appellate brief should be the one most likely to persuade the court and that the brief should set forth “only those arguments which have the capacity to persuade” – and he suggested that no brief should exceed five points and preferably should not have more than three. [85] This message of his – that winnowing is essential to a good appeal – is widely held among judges.

But in representing a capital defendant, this view is in tension not only with the requirement of exhaustion but with the uncertainty that a defendant will be able to avail himself or herself of developing jurisprudence without arguing for it. In Teague v. Lane , the United States Supreme Court determined that most new rules of criminal procedure – unless they came within certain narrow exceptions [86] – could not be applied retroactively. In O’Dell v. Netherland , the United States Supreme Court applied Teague to deny relief to a capital defendant, finding that the rule enunciated in Simmons v. South Carolina , 512 U.S. 154 (1994) – that a defendant must be permitted to inform his sentencing jury that he is parole-ineligible if the prosecution argues that he presents a future danger – was a new rule of criminal procedure and not a watershed one that “implicat[ed] the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.” [87] Likewise, in Beard v. Banks , the United States Supreme Court found that the invalidation of capital sentencing schemes that required jurors to disregard mitigation that was not found unanimously was a new rule that did not come within either exception. [88]

The response of a zealous advocate is to argue for good-faith extensions of the law – and to try to anticipate any such changes that might be on the horizon. But doing so is inconsistent with the premise with which Judge Aldisert and others begin – that only the strongest ( i.e ., the most likely to persuade a court) arguments should be in a brief. The ABA as well has said that given the legal climate, a lawyer has a responsibility to raise all arguments potentially available. [89] The resultant long briefs, filled with issues and sub-issues, some only partially developed, has led to frustrations by the bench at the time it takes to review (or ferret out) arguments and address them carefully, and a sense that the briefing and other tactics are placing personal agendas above the ethical obligation to the courts.

In the concurrence of Commonwealth v. Eichinger , for example, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice quoted the post-conviction trial court, which had had to reallocate its other cases to senior judges to handle a single post-conviction petition.

A lawyer has a sacred duty to defend his or her client. Our codes of professional responsibility additionally call upon lawyers to serve as guardians of the law, to play a vital role in the preservation of society, and to adhere to the highest standards of ethical and moral conduct. Simply stated, we are all called upon to promote respect for the law, our profession, and to do public good. …. This case has caused me to reasonably question where the line exists between a zealous defense and an agenda-driven litigation strategy, such as the budget-breaking resource-breaking strategy on display in this case. Here, the cost to the people and to the trial Court was very high. [90]

Another justice, also concurring, expressed his frustration this way:

Simply put, those who oppose the death penalty should address their concerns to the legislature. Using the court system as a way to delay, obstruct, and thus, by implication invalidate a law passed by duly elected senators and representatives cannot be characterized as proper, zealous advocacy. That is to say, “the gravity of a capital case does not relieve counsel of their obligation under Rule 3.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct not to raise frivolous claims. . . . While an attorney may have an ethical obligation to be a zealous advocate, he has a duty not to pester the courts with frivolous arguments. In fact, an attorney does his client a disservice by failing to winnow out the weaker arguments and focusing on central, key issues, upon which his client might be granted relief. Adding weaker, particularly frivolous arguments, dilutes the force of the stronger ones and makes it difficult for a court to focus on those issues which are deserving of attention, i.e., those which are non-frivolous. Common sense dictates that, when an attorney raises an excessive number of issues, as occurred in this PCRA case, the motivation for so doing is to paralyze the court system to further political views. It is not hard to discern that, in such cases, the strategy of PCRA capital counsel is not necessarily to put forth the best legal arguments upon which the client may be granted relief, but rather, the strategy is to keep, at all costs, his client from suffering the ultimate penalty proscribed by law. Appellant as PCRA counsel have the duty, like any attorney, to raise and pursue viable claims, and they must do so within the ethical limits which govern all Pennsylvania. [91]

In other words, collateral capital litigation in Pennsylvania and elsewhere demonstrates the divide between those who advocate loyalty to the court and to jurisprudential principles and practices and those who seek to overturn death sentences through whatever procedural or legal means are available or are perceived as potentially available. Those who see the practices as disloyal to the courts also see them as divorced from a lawyer’s loyalty to his client. Those involved adamantly disagree, believing that saving or extending a life is in the best interests of the client.

The ramifications of the dilemma posed by this tension are not merely theoretical, or even philosophical. As the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania explained, its recent movement to strict word limits and other briefing parameters in all appeals was in response to what it perceived as briefing abuses in capital post-conviction briefing in that Court. [92] Similarly, while Pennsylvania has refused to find waiver for claims of incompetency that are raised for the first time in collateral proceedings, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s perception that such claims are being abused has led to an increasing number of justices expressing a willingness to overrule the preservation exception. [93] Said differently, what may extend the time that a defendant is alive may come at the cost of credibility and worse, not just for the defendant or petitioner in a given case but for all parties in all criminal – and, often, civil – cases. That is a high price to pay in response to a system that, if it is to work at all, must provide a cost-effective, reliable, non-arbitrary process for determining whether a defendant is death-worthy.

Moreover, when there is a lack of congruence between morality and ethics, those outside the profession question the efficacy of the system itself. Many people decry capital punishment as “too costly” or, at least more costly than life in prison – and empirically, that is true. [94] Some use that costliness as an additional reason that the death penalty should be abolished. Others decry the expense as wasteful and agenda-driven, and call for changes to the system to make it more “efficient.” [95] Part of the reason that the expense is as high as it is is attributable to the resources that are devoted to multiple rounds of review – direct appeal, followed by post-conviction trial court practice and appellate review, followed by federal habeas trial court practice and appellate review – with the potential for seeking a writ of certiorari after each round. And that may be repeated if, for example, claims in federal court are found unexhausted and a defendant is permitted to return to state court to exhaust them. The only way to lessen the costs on the “back end” of state and federal collateral review is to ensure that there are adequate resources at the front end – at the trial that is the focus of the constitutional assurances that a sentence of death can be carried out.

For states that have a death penalty on the books, the statutes and schemes must provide for verdicts in which a community can have confidence. That means that resources – mitigation specialists, mental health and other experts, and well-trained and fairly-compensated lawyers should represent defendants at trial and on direct appeal. Post-conviction proceedings and federal habeas proceedings should not be the primary stage at which the fairness of a trial is litigated. In order for that to happen, there needs to be changes, which in some cases or in some states may be radical ones.

First , as the law changes, it should change for all who were convicted under the old system. When Ring v. Arizona was decided, there were 30 resentencings on remand. [96] Until the bar has confidence that defendants will get the benefit of evolving law, lawyers will be unable to avoid arguing for extensions of the law in any way they perceive applicable to the defendants they represent.

Second , those firms and private donors that are assisting on the “back end” – at federal habeas or in state post-conviction proceedings – should help instead to fund trial-level resources, whether retaining and presenting experts, funding mitigation specialists, or donating funds to help pay for sufficient adequately compensated counsel.

Third , federal deference should be determined by how well a state ensures verdicts worthy of confidence, not by how well it structures post-conviction relief.

This article has explored several inverted incentives that call into question whether the constitutional scheme that the United States Supreme Court envisioned can be achieved – and that at the least shows that it is not there now. As lawyers, the authors of this article adhere strongly to the conviction that a lawyer may exercise zealous advocacy and personal belief only within the confines of our duties to the courts in which we practice – and, as Judge Aldisert suggested – to the law itself. In that spirit, we offer the following thoughts:

At the end of the day – whether because one cannot countenance any taking of life or because one believes that it is not possible to create a system worthy of confidence when it comes to a sentence of death, there will be some who will say that none of this matters: that no matter how a capital sentencing scheme is structured or what protections are in place, it is wrong to execute persons at all. There are two vehicles for the expression of that ethical choice: the legislatures, state and federal, which enact the laws defining or abolishing the death penalty; and the views of the community, which the United States Supreme Court has said is critical to an Eighth Amendment analysis. But for those struggling to respond to capital punishment as lawyers, all three duties of loyalty must be kept in balance: to one’s client, to one’s own conscience; and to the jurisprudential system – both the development of the law and the individual tribunal before which one appears. Daniel prayed before an open window, but he also continued to serve the king.

[1] “ethos.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2014. http://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/64840 (18 Apr. 2015).

[2] Gregg v. Georgia , 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976).

[4] Gregg v. Georgia , 428 U.S. at 183-84.

[5] Exodus 21:23-25.

[6] Minute of the Green Country Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, on Capital Punishment (May 12, 1996) available at http://www.qis.net/~daruma/cap-pun2.html.

[7] Statement of the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Ending the Death Penalty (Mar. 24, 1999).

[8] John and Laura McBride, We’d Like To Say: Capital Punishment is Not the Answer , St. Anthony Messenger (Jan. 2002), http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jan2002/feature3.asp.

[9] John and Laura McBride, We’d Like To Say: Capital Punishment is Not the Answer , St. Anthony Messenger (Jan. 2002), http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jan2002/feature3.asp .

[11] Sheldon M. Finkelstein, A Tale of Two Witnesses: The Constitution’s Two-Witness Rule and the Talmud Sanhedrin , 43 Litigation 4 (Summer 2010).

[12] Id . at 17.

[13] Bryan v. Moore , 528 U.S. 1133 (2000) (dismissing as improvidently granted a challenge to electrocution because Florida’s law changed in the interim to permit execution by lethal injection).

[14] E.g., Qur’an 6:151 (“Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does He command you, so that you may learn wisdom.”).

[15] Gregg , 428 U.S. at 175-76.

[16] Id. at 181-82.

[18] Gregg , 428 U.S. at 189, 194-95.

[19] Id . at 204.

[21] Pulley v. Harris , 465 U.S. 37 (1984).

[22] Walker v. Georgia , 555 U.S. 979, 983-84 (2008).

[23] Proffitt v. Florida , 428 U.S. 242 (1976).

[24] Id . at 208 (quoting Tedder v. State , 322 So. 2d 908, 910 (Fla. 1975)).

[25] Id . at 252.

[26] Jurek v. Texas , 428 U.S. 262 (1976).

[27] Id. at 271.

[28] Id . at 274.

[29] Id . at 276.

[31] Woodson v. North Carolina , 428 U.S. 280 (1976).

[32] Id. at 302.

[33] Id . at 304 (citations omitted).

[34] Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325 (1976).

[35] Id . at 333.

[36] Id . at 335.

[37] Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman , 550 U.S. 233, 264 (2007).

[38] E.g., Wiggins v. Smith , 539 U.S. 510, 535-36 (2003). The first case to define a constitutional right to counsel as a right to effective counsel is Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668 (1984).

[39] Berger v. United States , 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935). See also Mooney v. Holohan , 294 U.S. 103, 112 (1935) (rejecting the Attorney General’s contention that a prosecutor’s obligation extends only to evidence in possession of the defendant).

[40] Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).

[41] Atkins v. Virginia , 536 U.S. 304 (2002).

[42] Roper v. Simmons , 543 U.S. 551 (2005).

[43] Id . at 569.

[44] Id . at 570 (citations and internal quotations omitted).

[45] Ford v. Wainwright , 477 U.S. 399, 401 (1986) (“For centuries no jurisdiction has countenanced the execution of the insane, yet this Court has never decided whether the Constitution forbids the practice. Today we keep faith with our common-law heritage in holding that it does.”).

[46] Drope v. Missouri , 420 U.S. 162, 172 (1975) (recognizing that it violates due process to fail “to observe procedures adequate to protect a defendant’s right not to be tried or convicted while incompetent to stand trial.”).

[47] E.g ., Ryan v. Gonzales , 133 S. Ct. 696 (2013) (finding no statutory right to a suspension of habeas proceedings during the pendency of petitioner’s incompetence).

[48] Ala. Code § 13A-5-40.

[49] South Carolina Statutes, § 16-3-26; Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 12.3(b)(1) (“When the indictment or presentment charges a capital offense and the district attorney general intends to ask for the death penalty, he or she shall file notice of this intention not less than thirty (30) days before trial. If the notice is untimely, the trial judge shall grant the defendant, on motion, a reasonable continuance of the trial.”).

[50] Kyles v. Whitley , 514 U.S. 419, 434 (1995) (emphasis added).

[51] Lankford v. Idaho , 500 U.S. 110, 125-26 & nn. 20, 21 (1991).

[52] See Governor Tom Wolf, Memorandum, Death Penalty Moratorium Declaration, available at http://www.pa.gov/Pages/NewsDetails.aspx?agency=PAGovNews&item=16512.

[53] ABA Resolution, Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases (1989), www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/2011_build/death_penalty_representation/1989guidelines.authcheckdam.pdf .

[54] ABA Resolution, Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases (2003), www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/2011_build/death_penalty_representation/2003guidelines.authcheckdam.pdf .

[55] ABA Guideline 1.1(A).

[56] ABA Guideline 1.1 (B).

[57] ABA Guideline 6.1.

[58] ABA Guideline 10.4. In 2008, the ABA published the Supplementary Guidelines for the Mitigation Function of Defense Teams in Death Penalty Cases (the “Supplementary Guidelines”). The objective of the Supplementary Guidelines is to “summarize prevailing professional norms for mitigation investigation, development and presentation by capital defense teams, in order to ensure high quality representation for all persons facing the possible imposition or execution of a death sentence in any jurisdiction.”

[59] ABA Guideline 9.1.

[60] See, e.g ., Littlejohn v. Trammell , 704 F.3d 817 (10th Cir. 2013); Link v. Luebbers , 830 F. Supp. 2d 729 (E.D. Mo. 2011); State v. Hunder , 960 N.E.2d 95 (Ohio 2011).

[61] Bobby v. Van Hook , 558 U.S. 4, 8 (2009).

[62] Id . at 9.

[63] Alabama Circuit Judge’s Association Resolution (Jan. 21, 2005), available at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/uncategorized/Death_Penalty_Representation/Standards/State/Alabama_Resolution_for_ABA_Guidelines_Aug_2007.authcheckdam.pdf .

[64] Guidelines and Standards for Texas Capital Counsel, State Bar of Texas , 69 Tex. Bar J. 10, 966-982 (Nov. 2006), available at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/uncategorized/Death_Penalty_Representation/Standards/State/TX_Bar_Association_adopted_version_of_ABA_Guidelines.authcheckdam.pdf .

[66] Alabama Circuit Judge’s Association Resolution (Jan. 21, 2005), available at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/uncategorized/Death_Penalty_Representation/Standards/State/Alabama_Resolution_for_ABA_Guidelines_Aug_2007.authcheckdam.pdf .

[67] Public Defender Commission, State of Arkansas, available at http://www.arkansas.gov/apdc/news/qualifications.html#Cases.

[68] Cal. Rules of Court, R. 4.117.

[70] C.R.S.A. § 16-12-205.

[71] National Center for State Courts, Indigent Defense State Links, available at http://www.ncsc.org/Topics/Access-and-Fairness/Indigent-Defense/State-Links.aspx?cat=Capital%20Case%20Representation#New Hampshire.

[72] Wright v. Angelone , 644 F. Supp. 460, 462 (E.D.Va. 1996) (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 2261, 2265).

[73] Daniel Silverman, Death Penalty System Broken, Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 5, 2015, available at http:/qqq/philly/com/philly/opinion/inquirer/20150105_Death-penatly_system_broker.html.

[75] E.g ., Yarborough v. Gentry , 540 U.S. 1, 8 (2003) (“The Sixth Amendment guarantees reasonable competence, not perfect advocacy judged with the benefit of hindsight.”)

[76] Commonwealth v. Bomar , 2014 Pa. LEXIS 3078 at *33.

[77] Fred C. Zacharias & Bruce A. Green, Reconceptualizing Advocacy Ethics , 74 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 1 (November 2005).

[78] Id . at 8, quoting Rush v. Cavenaugh , 2 Pa. 187, 189, 1845 Pa. LEXIS 306 (1845).

[79] In tracing the disappearance of this concept, they observe that Henry S. Drinker, in Legal Ethics at 145 & n.32 (1953) was the last treatise author to cite to Rush – and he did so as support for his conclusion that “[a] lawyer is not bound to give his client a moral lecture. He should advise what the law requires, but should not further any of the client’s unjust schemes, and should refuse to become a party to them.” Id .

[80] Zacharias and Green at 34.

[81] Id . at 51.

[82] Id . at 52-53.

[83] 11 Cap. U. L. Rev. 446 (1981-82).

[84] Id . at 454.

[85] Teague v. Lane , 489 U.S. 288, 407 (1989).

[86] Teague recognized exceptions for “certain kinds of primary, private individual conduct beyond the power of the criminal law-making authority to proscribe,” and “watershed rules of criminal procedure.” O’Dell v. Netherland , 521 U.S. 151, 311 (1997).

[87] O’Dell , 521 U.S. at 167.

[88] Beard v. Banks , 542 U.S. 406 (2004).

[89] See ABA Guideline 10.8 (stating that lawyer has duty to “consider all legal claims potentially available” in addition to “supplementing claims previously made with additional factual or legal information”); see also ABA Guideline 10.15.1 (stating that post-conviction counsel should “seek to litigate all issues, whether or not previously presented, that are arguably meritorious under the standards applicable to high quality capital defense representation, including challenges to any overly restrictive procedural rules”).

[90] 2014 Pa. LEXIS 3558 at *68-69.

[91] Id . at *83-85.

[92] See Commonwealth v. Spotz , 99 A.3d 866, 916 (Pa. 2014) (post-decisional single justice opinion).

[93] While only one justice called for overruling the exception in Commonwealth v. Bomar , 2014 Pa. LEXIS 3078 (Nov. 21, 2014), three did so in Commonwealth v. Blakeney , 2014 Pa. LEXIS 3517 (Pa. Dec. 29, 2014),

[94] See Senator Caroly McGinn, “Death Penalty Too Costly,” The Witchita Eagle , March 1, 2009, available at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/new-voices-republican-senator-says-kansas-death-penalty-too-costly; Logan Carver, “Death Penalty Cases More Expensive than Lifetime Imprisonment, But Local CDA Says Cost Never a Consideration,” Lubbock Avalance-Journal, available at http://lubbockonline.com/stories/121309/loc_535156806.shtml .

[95] Arit John, A Botched Lethal Injection Won’t Change Anyone’s Mind About Capital Punishment (posted July 24, 2014), http://www.thewire.com/politics/2014/07/a-botched-lethal-injection-wont-change-anyones-mind-about-capital-punishment/375022 (discussing Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s argument that to prevent executions from being cruel and unusual, a more efficient form of capital punishment, such as firing squads, should be employed).

[96] 536 U.S. 584 (2002)

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Essay on Death Penalty

The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, has been a subject of profound ethical, legal, and social debate for centuries. This essay aims to explore the complexities surrounding the death penalty, examining its historical context, arguments for and against its use, and its implications for justice and human rights. This analysis is particularly relevant for students engaging in essay writing competitions, offering a comprehensive understanding of a contentious issue.

Historical Context

The death penalty has ancient origins, with recorded instances dating back to the Code of Hammurabi in Babylon in the 18th century BC. Historically, it has been used for a wide range of crimes, not just murder but also for theft, treason, and other offenses. Over time, views on capital punishment have significantly evolved, influenced by philosophical, moral, and humanitarian perspectives.

The Global Perspective

Globally, the use of the death penalty varies. Some countries, like the United States, China, and Iran, continue to implement it, while others, including most European nations, have abolished it, considering it a violation of human rights. This global divide reflects differing views on justice, retribution, and deterrence.

Arguments for the Death Penalty

  • Retribution and Justice: Proponents argue that the death penalty is a form of retributive justice – those who commit heinous crimes deserve the most severe punishment. It is seen as a means to bring closure to the victims’ families and to ensure that the perpetrators pay the ultimate price for their actions.
  • Deterrence: Another argument in favor of the death penalty is its supposed deterrent effect. The assertion is that the fear of being sentenced to death discourages people from committing serious crimes.
  • Public Opinion: In some regions, public opinion supports the death penalty. Proponents argue that it aligns with the societal demand for severe punishment of the most serious crimes.

Arguments Against the Death Penalty

  • Wrongful Convictions: Opponents highlight the risk of wrongful convictions. Innocent people can and have been sentenced to death, a mistake that cannot be rectified once carried out.
  • Human Rights Concerns: Many argue that the death penalty inherently violates human rights, particularly the right to life and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Lack of Deterrent Effect: Studies have consistently shown that there is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty effectively deters crime more than life imprisonment.
  • Socioeconomic Bias: There is a concern that the death penalty disproportionately affects the poor or marginalized groups, as they may lack the resources for effective legal representation.

Moral and Ethical Implications

The ethical debate centers on whether the state should have the power to take a life. This raises profound moral questions about the value of human life and the role of government.

The Death Penalty and Justice System

The implementation of the death penalty raises questions about the fairness of the justice system. Issues of racial bias, socio-economic disparities, and inconsistencies in application are pivotal in this debate.

Alternative Approaches

Critics of the death penalty advocate for life imprisonment without parole as an alternative, arguing that it serves the purpose of punishment and protection of society without crossing the moral line of ending a life.

The Role of International Law

International law, particularly in human rights treaties, has increasingly moved towards restricting or abolishing the death penalty. The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aims for its global abolition.

The death penalty remains one of the most controversial topics in the legal and ethical spheres. Its implications touch on fundamental questions about the nature of justice, the value of human life, and the role of the state in administering punishment. For students participating in essay writing competitions, this topic offers a rich ground for exploration, requiring a careful balancing of legal facts, ethical considerations, and societal perspectives. In understanding and debating the death penalty, one engages with the core principles that underpin our society and legal systems.

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death penalty law essay questions

The Death Penalty Is Important for America | Opinion

I n America, the death penalty has been an effective form of punishment for certain crimes since the founding of our nation. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision that the death penalty was constitutional because it was not found by the Court to be cruel and unusual as long as it is carried out in a manner "consistent with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."

Abolishing the death penalty today would be foolish for a number of reasons.

On June 28, 1776, Thomas Hickey was hanged in New York City. Hickey was a member of then-General George Washington 's elite protection team known as the Life Guard, who have been credited as a major reason that the Continental Army won the Revolution by keeping Washington safe so that he could lead the Army to victory.

Hickey would become the first ever soldier in the Continental Army to be sentenced to death for treason, after being found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to kill or kidnap George Washington, and ultimately stop the rebellion against England. A "Secret Committee" was created to investigate the plot which led to the sentencing of Hickey and their methods would become an early version of America's modern counterintelligence operations. At the time of the hanging, Army Surgeon William Eustis, who would become Massachusetts' governor later on, said the Hickey conspiracy was "the greatest and vilest attempt ever made against our country ... the plot, the infernal plot which has been contrived by our enemies."

Four years later in 1780, British Major John André schemed together with American General Benedict Arnold to seize the West Point fortification in New York from the Continental Army. The plot was foiled when General Washington's minutemen captured André who was hanged soon after.

The death penalty has rightfully been used for heinous crimes, murder, and treason throughout our nation's history. It is not only a healthy deterrent for criminals who have to think twice before committing one of these crimes, but the death penalty also can help prevent recurring crimes.

Executions also can bring closure for victim's family members, whose lives are otherwise haunted by a living criminal serving a life sentence. Just knowing the offender is still alive can cause mental anguish for loved ones.

Take for instance Ted Bundy, a serial killer and rapist who admitted to 36 murders during the 1970s, including a 12 -year-old girl. Many believe he likely killed more than 100 victims in total. It would be astonishingly difficult to think a monster like Bundy should have lived out his life behind bars, as opposed to being executed in 1989.

With softer policies leading in many progressive states, even the most heinous of criminals, such as Charles Manson, was eligible for parole every single year since 1978 until he died in 2017, even though he masterminded horrific murders. What if someone like him were to walk free?

Just this week, a 31-year-old NYPD officer was killed by a career criminal during a routine traffic stop in Queens, leaving a wife and 1-year-old son behind. City officials have called it a senseless act of violence. Has justice become so soft that criminals are not even deterred from killing a man that simply was protecting the community?

The nation has seen a rise in violent and heinous crimes over the past few years, especially in more progressive cities, where they have implemented soft on crime policies. With no deterrence or accountability, crime inevitably begins to mount, particularly those most heinous of all. The death penalty is a useful tool for law enforcement both federally and at the state level.

State and federal governments have every right to carry out lawful executions for the right reasons. It brings a degree of closure, and acts as a necessary deterrent for others to think twice before committing crimes.

Cliff Stearns was a former Republican representative from Florida.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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The Importance of The Death Penalty Speech

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Published: Mar 20, 2024

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Firstly, the death penalty speech provides a platform for advocates to make their case and present their arguments in a public forum. this is crucial in a democratic society where diverse viewpoints should be heard and considered. by allowing proponents of the death penalty to articulate their reasons for supporting it, the speech helps to ensure that all perspectives are taken into account in the public discourse on this issue., in addition, the death penalty speech plays a crucial role in informing and educating the public about the intricacies of the death penalty system. it provides a platform for experts, scholars, and practitioners to share their knowledge and expertise on the subject, thereby enriching the public's understanding of the various aspects of the death penalty, such as its history, legal framework, and practical implications., furthermore, the death penalty speech can serve as a catalyst for policy discussions and reforms. by bringing together stakeholders from different sectors, such as law enforcement, legal experts, lawmakers, and civil society, the speech can facilitate constructive dialogue on how to improve the administration of the death penalty and address its shortcomings and injustices..

  • In conclusion, the death penalty speech is an important vehicle for promoting dialogue, understanding, and engagement on the complex and contentious issue of capital punishment. By providing a platform for diverse perspectives, knowledge sharing, and advocacy, the speech serves as a vital tool in fostering a well-informed and nuanced public discourse on the death penalty. It is through such open and inclusive discussions that society can grapple with the complexities of the death penalty and work towards a more just and equitable criminal justice system.

In conclusion, the death penalty speech is an important vehicle for promoting dialogue, understanding, and engagement on the complex and contentious issue of capital punishment. By providing a platform for diverse perspectives , knowledge sharing, and advocacy, the speech serves as a vital tool in fostering a well-informed and nuanced public discourse on the death penalty. It is through such open and inclusive discussions that society can grapple with the complexities of the death penalty and work towards a more just and equitable criminal justice system.

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death penalty law essay questions

March 19, 2024

Evidence Does Not Support the Use of the Death Penalty

Capital punishment must come to an end. It does not deter crime, is not humane and has no moral or medical basis

By The Editors

A woman protesting, holding a sign showing the Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A death penalty vigil, held in 2021 outside an Indiana penitentiary.

Bryan Woolston/Reuters/Redux

It is long past time to abolish the death penalty in the U.S.

Capital punishment was halted in the U.S. in 1972 but reinstated in 1976, and since then, nearly 1,600 people have been executed. To whose gain? Study after study shows that the death penalty does not deter crime, puts innocent people to death , is racially biased , and is cruel and inhumane. It is state-sanctioned homicide, wholly ineffective, often botched, and a much more expensive punishment than life imprisonment. There is no ethical, scientifically supported, medically acceptable or morally justifiable way to carry it out.

The recent execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith demonstrates this barbarity. After a failed attempt at lethal injection by prison officials seemingly inexperienced in the placement of an IV, the state of Alabama killed Smith in January using nitrogen gas . The Alabama attorney general claimed that this method of execution was fast and humane , despite no supporting evidence. Eyewitnesses recounted that Smith thrashed during the nitrogen administration and took more than 20 minutes to die.

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Opposition to the death penalty is growing among the American public , and the Biden administration must follow through on its promise to end this horror. The Department of Justice must heed its own admission that the death penalty doesn’t stop crime, and our legislators must continue to take up the issue on the congressional floor. The few states that still condemn people to death must follow the lead of states that have considered the evidence and rejected capital punishment.

Programs such as the Innocence Project have shown, over and over, that innocent people have been sentenced to death. Since 1973 nearly 200 people on death row have been exonerated, based on appeals, the reopening of cases, and the entrance of new and sometimes previously suppressed evidence. People have recanted testimony, and supposedly airtight cases have been poked full of evidentiary holes.

Through the death penalty, the criminal justice system has killed at least 20 people now believed to have been innocent and uncounted others whose cases have not been reexamined . Too many of these victims have been Black or Hispanic. This is not justice. These are state-sanctioned hate crimes.

Using rigorous statistical and experimental control methods, both economics and criminal justice studies have consistently found that there is no evidence for deterrence of violent crimes in states that allow capital punishment. One such study, a 2009 paper by criminology researchers at the University of Dallas, outlines experimental and statistical flaws in econometrics-based death penalty studies that claim to find a correlated reduction in violent crime. The death penalty does not stop people from killing. Executions don’t make us safer.

The methods used to kill prisoners are inhumane. Electrocution fails , causing significant pain and suffering. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist who criticizes the use of medicines in carrying out the death penalty, has found (at the request of lawyers of death row inmates) that the lungs of prisoners who were killed by lethal injection were often heavy with fluid and froth that suggested they were struggling to breathe and felt like they were drowning. Nitrogen gas is used in some veterinary euthanasia, but based in part on the behavior of rats in its presence, it is “unacceptable” for mammals , according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. This means that Smith, as his lawyers claimed in efforts to stop his execution, became a human subject in an immoral experiment.

Courts have often decided, against the abundant evidence, that these killings are constitutional and do not fall under the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the 8th Amendment or, in Smith’s appeal , both the 8th Amendment and the due process protection clause of the 14th amendment.

A small number of prosecutors and judges in a few states, mostly in the South, are responsible for most of the death sentences being handed down in the U.S. today. It’s a power they should not be able to wield. Smith was sentenced to life in prison by a jury before the judge in his case overruled the jury and gave him the death sentence.

A furious urge for vengeance against those who have done wrong—or those we think have done wrong—is the biggest motivation for the death penalty. But this desire for violent retribution is the very impulse that our criminal justice system is made to check, not abet. Elected officials need to reform this aspect of our justice system at both the state and federal levels. Capital punishment does not stop crime and mocks both justice and humanity. The death penalty in the U.S. must come to an end.

This is an opinion and analysis article, and the views expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily those of Scientific American .

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Tuesday Briefing

Iran says Israel struck its generals in Syria.

Daniel E. Slotnik

By Daniel E. Slotnik

Emergency workers in camouflage uniforms and orange vests use a hose to spray water on the smoking wreckage of a building. An Iranian flag hangs from part of the wreckage in the foreground.

Israeli strike killed Iranian commanders, officials said

At least three generals and four officers overseeing Iran’s covert operations in the Middle East were killed in an Israeli strike in Syria yesterday, according to Iranian and Syrian officials.

The strike in Damascus, the Syrian capital, appeared to be among the deadliest attacks in a yearslong shadow war between Israel and Iran that has included the assassinations of Iranian military leaders and nuclear scientists.

Syrian and Iranian officials said that the strike had targeted a diplomatic building, which Israeli officials denied. Iran’s foreign minister later said in a post on X that the “ U.S. must answer” for Israel’s actions .

The covert war has moved into the open as tensions have intensified over Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, the Iranian-backed militia that led the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

World Central Kitchen: International aid workers from the disaster relief nonprofit group were killed in an airstrike in Gaza , according to José Andrés, the chef who founded the organization.

Al-Shifa: Israeli troops pulled out of a major Gaza hospital complex after a two-week raid in which the military said it had killed about 200 Palestinian militants, but which left the hospital “a wasteland,” according to a surgeon there.

Al Jazeera: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he would use a new law to block the Qatar-based news network in Israel.

U.S. closer to passing Ukraine aid

Mike Johnson, the U.S. House speaker, has begun laying out conditions for a fresh round of American military assistance to Ukraine, the strongest indication yet that the aid could pass within weeks .

The Senate already approved a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine and Israel, but it has been stalled on Capitol Hill for months amid Republican opposition in the House. Johnson, who is facing pressure from the Biden administration and NATO allies to pass the aid, has been searching for a path forward on the bill that would provoke the least political backlash from the hard-right flank of his party.

Now the question appears to be not whether Mr. Johnson will allow aid to come to the floor, but in what form and when.

An Italian province’s investment in babies

Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe, so low that Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Pope Francis have warned that Italians are in danger of disappearing.

But the Alto Adige-South Tyrol area and its capital, Bolzano, bucked the trend , with a birthrate holding steady over decades. The reason, experts said, is that the provincial government has over time developed a network of family-friendly benefits that go far beyond the one-time bonuses for babies that the national government offers.


India: India’s economy has nearly doubled in size during Narendra Modi’s 10 years as prime minister, but wealth gaps have widened.

Turkey: Opponents of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured a surprising string of victories in local elections , allowing them to serve as a check on Erdogan’s domestic power.

Abortion: Florida’s top court allowed a ban on the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy but will also allow voters to decide this fall whether to expand abortion access.

Scotland: A law targeting hate speech went into effect, drawing criticism that it could have a chilling effect on free speech.

Health: A person was infected by the H5N1 bird flu in Texas after contact with cattle, the second such case in the U.S.

Misinformation: China’s increasingly sophisticated efforts to influence the U.S. election are raising alarms in Washington.

Gag order: The New York judge overseeing Donald Trump’s upcoming criminal trial barred the former president from attacking the judge’s family members .

Bond: Trump secured a $175 million bond for a civil fraud penalty that will help him avoid a financial disaster, at least while he appeals.

Trump Media: Shares of his social media company fell about 20 percent yesterday as initial excitement faded.

‘Finish up’: The former president told Israeli journalists “you have to finish up your war ,” alarming right-wing supporters of Israel.

Religion: Trump is infusing his movement with Christianity, ending his rallies by evoking an evangelical altar call .

A Morning Read

The video game tycoon Lin Qi dreamed of turning “The Three-Body Problem,” one of China’s most famous science fiction novels, into a global hit. But he did not live to see “3 Body Problem” premiere on Netflix last month.

Lin, 39, was poisoned to death in Shanghai in 2020 by a disgruntled colleague, in a killing that one Chinese news outlet called “as bizarre as a Hollywood blockbuster.”

Lives lived: Barbara Rush was a supremely poised actress in 1950s films like “Magnificent Obsession” and “The Young Lions.” She died at 97 .

Conversation Starters

Literary connection: A book discovered in a market stall in Cairo led the writer Iman Mersal on a 30-year journey to learn about the author, Enayat al-Zayyat.

Changing symbols: The peace sign used to be a powerful emblem of the antiwar movement, but now, for some young people, it’s as soft as a smiley face .

Envy of Trekkies across the universe: When Troy Nelson died at 57, he left behind a vast trove of “Star Trek” memorabilia that might be the largest anywhere.


Lake life: Lake Como is a worldwide vacation destination. It also has a soccer team .

Money troubles: Everton has reported a loss of more than $110 million . What now?

Formula 1 owner buys MotoGP: Liberty Media acquired the motorbike racing series for $4.2 billion.


A beatles confidant tells all (again).

Peter Brown was a key figure in the Beatles’ secretive inner circle, a former officer at the band’s company, Apple Corps, and a trusted keeper of the Fab Four’s secrets.

But Brown is also a polarizing figure in Beatles history. He became a kind of villain when he published “The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles” with the writer Steven Gaines in 1983 — the book was seen by some as tawdry and sensational.

Next week, Brown and Gaines are releasing a new book, “ All You Need Is Love: The Beatles in Their Own Words ,” made up of interviews they conducted in 1980 and 1981 with the band and people close to it, including business representatives, lawyers, wives and ex-wives. The new book goes even deeper into Beatles lore than the first.


Fry: Add chile crisp to breaded chicken cutlets .

Read: “ Table for Two ,” by Amor Towles, is a collection of stories about New York and Los Angeles.

Dress: Can I wear open-toed sandals at work?

Quiz: Salt is hiding everywhere. Can you spot it ?

Play the Spelling Bee . And here are today’s Mini Crossword and Wordle . You can find all our puzzles here .

That’s it for today. Thank you for spending part of your morning with us, and see you tomorrow. — Dan

You can reach Dan and the team at [email protected] .

Daniel E. Slotnik is a general assignment reporter on the Metro desk and a 2020 New York Times reporting fellow. More about Daniel E. Slotnik


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  19. An Inquiry into the Ethics of Capital Punishment

    The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life. We are painfully aware of the increased rate of executions in many states. Since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976, more than 500 executions have taken place, while there have been seventy-four death-row reversals late in the process.

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    The death penalty is a legal punishment ordered by the court against the violation of criminal laws. The methods of death penalty vary from country to country. It gives people an idea as to what the law is capable of doing. ... FAQ's on Death Penalty Essay. Question 1. ...

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    Al Jazeera: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he would use a new law to block the Qatar-based news network in Israel. Image Mike Johnson, the U.S. House speaker, center.