The Coastal Post - May, 1997

Abolish Capital Punishment

BY ROB PHILLIPS

Capital punishment should be abolished in this country because it is archaic and cruel. There are thousands of men and women on death row in this country awaiting execution. Capital punishment seems to be a political agenda and not the will of the public. Politicians have excited the public into a frenzy, expounding that the death penalty must exist and be applied.

Americans have a long history of believing in elected officials. Fact is that many elected politicians constantly lie, cheat and steal. Their main purpose is being elected over and over and getting rich. It's sad that people put such faith in these buffoons.

Not very long ago the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional. They decided it violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. That decision was made in 1972, Justice Thurgood Marshall and Justice William Brennan writing powerful opinions against capital punishment. These courageous men thought that Americans had reached a point of evolvement through compassion and understanding to overturn such a barbaric punishment. Apparently they were incorrect. Americans have not progressed to such a point. In fact it seems that values and morals are not evolving. The Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

Politicians have stated it is a deterrence. It has never been proven to be a deterring factor. Virtually every study has reached the result that capital punishment has no deterrent effect.

Mr. Justice Marshall felt that the death penalty is morally unacceptable and that it shocks the conscience and sense of justice of the people. He felt that whether capital punishment is cruel and unusual depends not on whether its mere mention "shocks the conscience," but on whether the people were fully informed as to the purpose of the penalty and its liabilities. If Americans were fully informed, they would surely understand that this punishment is unjust and unacceptable.

Some might say, "What about revenge?" Retribution concerning this issue has a foul political smell to it. Besides, retribution is not constitutional according to our laws. But the Supreme Court today shuns such issues.

Fact is, capital punishment does not work correctly. Since 1970, more than 60 people have been released from death rows with evidence of their innocence. Also 23 human beings who were innocent have been executed since 1900. That fact alone should convince skeptics that such punishment is not reliable and should be abolished.

But there are many who subscribe to the attitude of the former Attorney General of Virginia, Mary Terry. She stated that evidence of innocence is "irrelevant," because the convicted had a fair trail. What an idiotic statement. Proving one's innocence after a jury finding of guilt is almost impossible. Reviewing courts rarely dispute the jury's interpretation of evidence. If an innocent person is found guilty, he or she must depend on the good faith of the prosecutor's office to assist in establishing innocence. Prosecutors do not welcome the idea of having convictions overturned, and their cooperation is highly unlikely. There is evidence that if such evidence is known by the prosecutors, they will suppress it. No matter how careful our courts are, the possibility of perjured testimony, mistaken honest testimony, and human error remain all too real.

Also, regarding discrimination: fact is that the poor, the illiterate, the mentally ill, the member of the minority group become society's sacrificial lambs in capital punishment. There is overwhelming evidence of class discrimination in America's justice system. Our legal and judicial systems inspire despair, rather than justice. There are over 70 countries in the world that do not use capital punishment; we must evolve beyond such barbaric punishment.

There were 45 executions in 1996, Virginia taking first place with eight murders, Missouri running a close second with six. Twenty-two states participated. Delaware executes by hanging. Utah uses a firing squad. The remainder either electrocute or use lethal injection. Florida's electric chair, named "Old Sparky," not only kills, it literally fries human beings.

Peace be with the innocent killed in America.