Discrimination And The Death Penalty Discrimination and the Death Penalty By Katie Matthews Twenty years have past since this court declared that the death penalty must be imposed fairly, and with reasonable consistency, or not at all, and, despite the effort of the states and courts to devise legal formulas and procedural rules to meet this daunting challenge, the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice and mistake. –Justice Harry Blackmun, Feb. 22, 1994. Capital punishment is one of the most debatable subjects, in American society. Proponents of the death penalty believe it is justice–retribution for the crimes committed.
The reason underlining Americans’ overwhelming support of executions is usually revenge. We believe that most serious crimes deserve the most serious punishment, as we recall the statement from the Old Testament, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, principle. When we hear about a murderer, rarely do we want to understand what drove him to murder; more often, we wish to kill him. It is difficult to understand that the vengefulness we feel toward a murderer, which drives us to champion execution, is identical to the wish for revenge the murderer feels for what he believes to be the horrendous injustices in his life. Our desire to tame the heart of the murderer is quite limited.
We feel as murderous toward them as they do toward those they have killed. We wish either to kill or torture them. This makes a murderer, if he is imprisoned, even more murderous. Just as the murderer’s murder accomplishes nothing, so too the death penalty has not in any way decreased murder. The judicial system was created in hopes of providing justice for all people.
Although movements such as Civil Rights and Black Power have taken place to ensure justice for all, discrimination still exists in our judicial system. Capital Punishment is applied in an unfair, arbitrary and discriminatory manner. As long as it remains a part of our penal system, it will be used disproportionately against the poor, racial minorities, and those who had received inadequate legal representation. The following essay will cover how racism is applied in the death penalty; the means of discretion that the judges and jury use; and how the poor are discriminated against due to their lack of proper council. Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes, race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall die. –Justice Harry Blackmun Throughout American history, the death penalty has fallen disproportionately on racial minorities.
From 1930, the first year for which statistics are readily available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, to 1967, 3,859 persons were executed under civil jurisdiction in the United States. During this period of nearly half a century, over half (54%) of those executed were black, 45 percent were white, and the remaining one percent were members of other racial groups (see fig. 1). Between 1930 and 1976 nearly 90% of those executed for the crime of rape in this country were African-Americans . Between 1930 and 1996, 4220 prisoners were executed in the U.S.; more than half (53%) were black . Currently, about 50% of those on the nations death rows are from minority populations representing 20% of the country’s population. In 1972, the U.S.
Supreme Court overturned existing death penalty statutes in part because of the danger that those being selected to die were chosen out of racial prejudice. Legislatures adopted the death sentencing procedures that were supposed to eliminate the influence of race from the death sentencing process. That was one of the grounds on which the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in Furman. However, evidence of racial discrimination in the application of capital punishment continues. Nearly 40% of those executed since 1976 have been black, although blacks constitute only 12% of the population. And in almost every death penalty case, the race of the victims is white (see fig.
2). Last year alone, 89% of the death sentences carried out involved white victims, even though 50% of the homicides in America have been black victims . Of all the executions that have occurred since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, only one has involved a white defendant for the murder of a black person. Racial minorities are being prosecuted under federal death penalty laws far beyond their proportion in the general population and the population of the criminal offenders. Race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty.
For example, those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks were . According to the survey findings, 54% believed that blacks are more likely than whites to receive the death penalty for the same crime. This record of racial injustice played a significant part in Justice Harry Blackmun’s recent decision to oppose the death penalty in every case. Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes, said Blackmun, race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall die. Race continues to plague the application of the death penalty in the United States. On the state level, racial disparities are most obvious in the predominant selection of cases involving white victims.
On the federal level, cases selected have almost exclusively involved minority defendants. Under our system, the federal government has long assumed the role of protecting against racially biased application of the law. But under the only active federal death penalty statute, the federal record of racial disparity has been even worse than that of the states. So far, the number of cases is relatively small compared to state capital prosecutions. However, the numbers are increasing, and under legislation currently being considered in Congress, the federal government would play a much wider role in death penalty prosecutions.
Whatever else might be said for the use of death as a punishment, one lesson is clear from experience; this is a power that we cannot exercise fairly and without discrimination. –Gross and Mauro Discrimination against the poor (and in our society, racial minorities are disproportionately poor) is also well established. Fairness in capital cases requires, above all, competent counsel for the defendant. Yet, approximately ninety percent of those on death row could not afford to hire a lawyer when they were tried. Common characteristics of these defendants are poverty, that lack of firm social roots in the community and inadequate legal representation at trial or on appeal. A survey conducted on the public opinions regarding the death penalty showed that 70% believed that poor people have a higher chance of being executed than rich people do, because they did not receive proper legal representation. The poor and mentally ill are in fact, being sentenced to death row much quicker than the rich are.
They are sent to court and usually end up with a court appointed attorney, who could usually care less about what happens in the case. Most of them also have very little experience in capital cases anyway. Some cities are trying things so that the court appointed attorneys have a little help by setting up public defender offices. But there are still to many places that rely on the list of local lawyers to draw from for their capital case attorney. It is hard to blame them entirely though.
A private attorney in Atlanta may be being paid $75 an hour, while a court appointed lawyer will make about $30. States like Alabama make it even worse by placing a limit on how much a court appointed lawyer can be paid for pre-trial work, -$1000. Even if they spend 500 hours (the national average is 2000) on pre-trail work, which amounts to $2 an hour. They would be better off working at McDonalds. The reason this happens is so that states can reduce already high costs. The most comprehensive study in the country found that the death penalty costs and average of 2.16 million per execution over the costs of non-death penalty murder case with the sentence of imprisonment for life.
In Texas, death penalty cases cost an average of 2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. Hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of hours of court time would be saved by replacing the death penalty with alternative sentences. The money saved could be devoted to crime prevention measures, which really do reduce crime and violence, and thus are the true alternatives to the death penalty. A majority of Americans have taken a very strong position on an issue about which they are substantially uniformed. –R.
Bohm The discretion of judges and juries in imposing the death penalty enables the penalty to be selectively applied. Discretion in the criminal justice system is unavoidable. The history of capital punishment in America clearly demonstrates the social desire to mitigate the harshness of the death penalty by narrowing the scope of its application. Whether or not explicitly authorized by statutes, sentencing discretion has been the main vehicle to this end. But when sentencing discretion is used – as it to often has been – to doom the poor, the friendless, the uneducated, racial minorities, and the despised, it becomes injustice.
Mindful of such facts, the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association (including 20 out of 24 former presidents of the ABA) called for a moratorium on all executions by a vote of 280 to 119 in February 1997. The House judged the current system to be a haphazard maze of unfair practices. If everyone took an eye for an eye, the whole world would be blind. –Gandhi The death penalty is one of the oldest of all punishments. Because of this, it is rooted in old beliefs, particularly those made by whites. Capital punishment, should by all means be abolished.
It is racially biased, discriminatory, and arbitrary. Like Skurka said, It doesn’t deter crime in any way or serve any message to the public. It is inhumane, cruel and unusual punishment, and is contrary to every fundamental value we have. As long as the death penalty remains a part of our system, it will be used disproportionately against the poor, racial minorities, and those who had received inadequate legal representation. Society must begin to re-examine its approach to punishment.
In conclusion, the death penalty should be abolished because it has become a horrifying lottery in which politics, and race play a more decisive role in sending a defendant to the death chamber than the circumstances of the crime itself. Bibliography 1. Dison, J.E., Changing Attitudes Towards Capital Punishment, 1972 – 1982, American Society of Criminology, 1984. 2. Drimmer, Frederick, Until you are Dead: The Book of Executions in America, A Citadel Press Book, New York, NY, 1990. 3.
Ellsworth, Poebe C. and Samuel R. Gross, Hardening of the Attitudes: Americans’ Views on the Death Penalty, Journal of social issues, Vol. 50, No. 2, 1994, p.
19-52. 4. Radelet, Michael, Hugo Adam Bedau, and Constance E. Putnam, In Spite of Innocence, Northeastern University Press, Boston, MA, 1994. 5. Young, R.L, Religious Orientation, Race and Support for the Death Penalty, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 31 (Mar.
1992), Pages 76-87. Internet.