Ladies and gentlemen, let’s for a moment think and talk about the death penalty. They at times justify it by calling it capital punishments or the death sentence just to make it sound more humane. How many of you have lost a neighbor, a friend, a family member or even a former schoolmate or one of the kids in the block to the death penalty? How many of you have participated in the raging debate of its legalization or otherwise? I am sure that you all have been affected either directly or indirectly by the capital punishment enactment or have at least participated in the debate. I don’t know what you think about it and better yet am sure that if it were used on a direct family member, a close friend or a partner, you would have a thing or two to say about its legalized use. Now think about this, every passing day or even right at this moment as you listen to me, there is somebody’s friend, neighbor, friends or family member who is being executed as a punishment for crimes committed. Further yet, the death penalty has been institutionalized in some regions of the world where it is used with impunity being used as a punishment for acts that are not even criminal in nature. I know some of you may be fast to argue that it is an efficient mode of punishment since it eliminates the threat of insecurity in our streets but doesn't our prisons that we spend billions of dollars every year to serve the same purpose? The death penalty has over time been faced with sharp criticism and the question of its legality as at times it led to the infringement of fundamental human rights of individuals. I am here to show you that the death sentence is no justice at all and is a violation of the basic human right to live of the victim as provided for in the Constitution and, therefore, ought to be abolished.
In this speech, I do not intend to influence you to think like I do, but I intend to give you the facts as they regard to the punishment by death. At the end of this speech, I anticipate that you will have the facts that the politicians and the lawyers and other do not let you now as they ask you to support the bills to keep the Death penalty legal. I intend to stir your imagination and also show you the effects and also the opportunity cost of having the capital punishment legal within our legal system.
Let’s begin by looking at the historical overview of the capital punishment. The first instituted laws of the capital punishment dated back in the 18th Century B.C in the code of King Hammurabi of Babylon. Twenty-five crimes codified the capital punishment. It was a crucial part of the 14th Century B.C’s Hittite Code, the 7th Century B.C Draconian Code of Athens that made the capital punishment as the only punishment for all crimes and the 15th Century B.C Roman law of the 12 Tablets. The death sentences were carried out by burning alive, beating someone to death, impalement, crucifixion, and drowning an individual. Hartnett, Stephen John in his book Executing Democracy, Volume 2: Capital Punishment and the Making of America, 1635–1843 asserts that in the 10th Century, hanging became the usual method of execution in Britain. However, later William the Conqueror strongly opposed the implementation of persons and reserved it for times of war alone. However, the trend lasted for a short time since with the reign of Henry VIII there were over 72, 000 people executed. At the time of Henry VIII, the methods he used for execution were even more brutal since he used boiling, burning at the stake, beheading, hanging, and drawing and quartering. The death sentences were given to individuals that committed crimes such as marrying a Jew, treason and failing to confess to a crime committed. Over 222 crimes in Britain were punishable with death including minor offenses such as stealing and cutting down a tree. However, due to the extent of the crime, many juries began pushing for reform leaving it for the major offenses. It marked the early opposition to the capital punishment.
The death penalty in America is a backward law that ties the country to its colonial masters. It is because, it was introduced in this country by the British as our colonial masters and is, therefore, founded on American values. The first record of the death penalty in the United States territory was of Captain George Kendall in Virginia, in the colony of Jamestown in 1608. He was executed as soon as he was found guilty of being a Spain’s spy (Bessler, 112). In 1612, the governor of Virginia Sir Thomas Dale enacted the law that instituted the death penalty for offenses that were minor such as stealing grapes, trading with Indians and killing chickens. The legislation on the capital punishment, however, varied from colony to colony. Massachusetts Bay Colony carried out the first execution in 1630 although the capital Laws were instituted until several years later. New York Colony established the Duke’s Laws of 1665 that allowed for the death sentence for offenses such as striking a parent or denying the true God. They used the legislation to suppress our forefather's ad also intimidate our people to the rule.
America prides to be the leading nation in the free world and is also a model to the rest of the world; however, we are clearly lagging behind on the issue of the use of capital punishments. David Garland, in his book Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition asserts that abolishing the capital punishment is a universally accepted issue with the majority of countries eliminating or controlling it over the recent past. However, America is among the just over 36 countries that actively practice the capital punishment to date. There are over 103 countries have completely abolished it for all crimes, and about six states abolished it for simple offenses maintaining it offenses such as the war crimes. Fifty other countries have abolished the crimes de facto in that they have not used it in the past ten years. On the contrary, in the United States alone, there are 31 states with the capital punishment while 19 other states have abolished the capital punishment. Since its reinstatement in 1976, 36 states have engaged in executions. It leaves me wondering are we leading the world in the transformation from some of the archaic historical laws?
Ladies and gentlemen, the death sentence, is inefficient, and there are indications that it increases criminal conduct and hence leads to losing of human life without meeting its objective of deterrence due to the horrifying thought of dying if caught breaking certain laws. Dr. Benjamin Rush Declaration of Independence and the founder of the Pennsylvania Prison Society opposed the premise that the capital punishment was a deterrence to committing a crime. According to him, capital punishment increased the criminal conduct of individuals. He was one of the earliest believers of what came to be called the ‘brutalization effect’ (Hartnett, 120). With time, he gained the support of Benjamin Franklin and an Attorney General of Philadelphia known as William Bradford, who later became the United States attorney general. Bradford asserted that the death sentence ought to be retained but agreed with Rush that it was not a deterrent to certain crimes. He led Pennsylvania to become the first State that considered the degree of murder based on culpability. By the year 1794, Pennsylvania repealed the capital punishment for all the offenses apart from first-degree murder (Hartnett, 132).
According to the Death Penalty Information Center American states led by Rhode Island and the Wisconsin States became the first states to abolish the capital punishment entirely later in the 19th Century. It is an indication that it was a law that our forefathers saw the need to abolish. The American bold lawmakers took a bold step that inspired other regions in the world to abolish the death penalty. Countries like Venezuela, Portugal, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Netherlands followed suit by abolishing capital punishment by the end of the 19th Century. Therefore, the United States having led the world in abolishing the inhumane punishment should act as a model state by abolishing it entirely especially now that it is a major leader on the global front. We also owe it to our forefathers to end what they started by abolishing the law entirely.
The Death Penalty Information Center further asserts that the death penalty laws were not meant for the free world but were slavery laws instituted to retain the firm control over the slaves. It means that the laws have serious slavery connotation in as much as it was abolished within the United States. Our constitution pout to an end the slavery and therefore, it is ironical, and also it contravenes such statutes to have slavery laws enshrined in our laws today. Slavery was abolished because it went against the moral fiber of our society and also violated the constitution and hence it is wrong to adopt any legislation that came with slavery.
Constitutionally, the death penalty is subject to a series of debate and uncertainty and, therefore, lacks the full backing of the law to term it as constitutional or otherwise. Its irreversibility makes it unethical since the law may sway on its abolishment, but then those that suffered its brutality can never be redeemed. Before 1960, the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments were interpreted as allowing the death penalty. However, there were altering developments that termed the death sentence as crude and non-permissible by the Eighth Amendment. In 1958, in a case of Trop v. Dulles (356 U.S. 86) case by the Supreme Court, the Court stated that the Eighth Amendment contained a standard that allowed it to evolve indecency in line with the maturing of the society. In as much as the case was not a capital punishment case, it offered a legal backing to the abolitionists who used the court’s logic to argue that the US as a nation had progressed indecency beyond the point of tolerating such acts as the death penalty (Bohm, 157). In the 1960s, the Supreme Court also began indulging more in the issue of capital punishment. In a case of S. v. Jackson (390 U.S. 570) in 1968, the court heard a case of a statute that required that the death sentence could only be imposed on the recommendation of a Jury. According to the court, such a law was unconstitutional since it encouraged the defendants to waive their fundamental right to a jury to avoid the death sentence at all costs (Bedau, 120).
In conclusion, the death penalty has been an issue that has sparked massive controversy over the years. The issue has faced extensive reforms since it started and has always faced debate with some people opposing it and others supporting it actively. It also brings out huge controversies and misunderstandings with other statutes of the law and hence has been subjected to interpretations in the course of time. In the United States, the Eighth Amendment has protected the fundamental rights to live for individuals and hence having the death penalty a contradiction to the capital punishment. Because of the inhumane nature of its methods and the process, many countries around the world have completely abolished the death penalty. However, the United States remain divided on the issue with some states supporting capital punishment while others are opposing it strongly. Therefore, it is a matter having a long history of controversy and continues to spark division on its eligibility. However, the arbitrariness of the laws governing the capital punishment penalty is still evident. There are indications of discrimination based on race and has, therefore, been subject to biases by the jury. The discrimination and lack of sound systems for ascertaining who should be sentenced to death as well as the controversies on the legality of the capital punishment make no justice at all. Therefore, the death penalty should be abolished at all costs in every democratic and civilized society.