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The Death Penalty for Minors

There are many arguments for and against the death penalty. Capital punishment is considered unhelpful and meaningless by many law practitioners. Some of the advantages of the death penalty are discussed below.

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The death penalty makes society more cautious of capital offenses such as rape, treason, murder, kidnapping, torture, and perjury. Some of the arguments raised against using the death penalty as a punishment for such offenses is that the very idea of executing someone by the government is in itself inhuman and unacceptable. In a counterargument, however, the death penalty is viewed by others as an act of faith but not a method of delivering justice. The act is aimed at respecting human dignity; consequently, any person who does not respect and live according to personal dignity should be accountable for any undoing. Human beings differ from animals because they have a moral sense. The fact that execution of capital punishment should not be tolerated has also featured in many arguments against the death sentence. Most of the arguments, however, have been defeated in the courts of law. The reason behind carrying out execution despite the tolerance debate is because the objectivity of such a challenge is not well-motivated (Hamm 22-29).

The fact that the very thought of dying provokes a cold shiver in any person with ill intents is enough to prevent or at least control the number of offenses that deserve capital punishment. Murders prefer a life in prison rather than execution. This fact makes it necessary to introduce tougher punishment in the name of the death sentence to limit the number of capital offenses. The justice of life is achieved when and only when each person receives what is due to him/her. When a criminal deprive other person/people of life, liberty, peace, and other rights in order to gain some undeserved benefits, he/she deserves to be punished. The punishment comes as a way of restoring justice and making the criminal pay a price relevant to the offense committed. The act is not revenging as it is driven by other ill motives (Fein).

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Death Penalty for Minors

There are many arguments that law practitioners have brought forth for and against the death penalty. There has also been a great controversy in delivering the death verdict for minors. In most cases, the law has been interpreted differently resulting in varying sentences. It is important to analyze the general advantages and disadvantages of the death penalty before making a decision as to whether it is logical for minors or not. There has been extensive research done on the reasonability of the death sentence as capital punishment for both adults and minors.

Analysis of Facts Surrounding the Death Penalty

The greatest discrepancy of the death penalty is not founded on the judgment but on the partiality, with which the law is enforced. The issues of racism, apartheid, and ethnicity have, in many ways, affected the corridors of justice. The rich and powerful people in the society have escaped the law due to their status in the society leaving the poor and innocent to suffer instead. The fact that even the vilest of all criminals still remain human beings raises many questions concerning the execution of the death penalty. The law recognizes the fact that every human being has common dignity making him/her different from animals and other objects. The law in respect of humanity fails in the case of enforcing such an inhumane sentence against human beings.

It has not been proven yet whether the death sentence actually reduces the rate of crimes in comparison to the long periods in prison. Statistically, the nations that practice the death penalty have not, in any way, reported less crime rates in comparison to the states that do not have the death penalty. On the other hand, the states that have abolished the death sentence have managed to reduce neither the crime rates nor the cases of murder for that matter. It can, therefore, be concluded that the death penalty does not, in any way, have an effect that deters crime. Research on social science has not delivered any proof to support the fact that the death penalty reduces the rate of murder cases (Bedau 24-123).

The motivation to kill a person who has been convicted of killing someone else or committed an offense that deserves the death penalty is not helpful at all. Revenge is considered an emotion that is not humane. Killing someone due to the nature of his/her offense may be questioned as it continues the cycle of undeserved violence. Such an action kills the affected persons and the offender, as well. The act of using violence in solving a conflict serves only for the aggravation of the desire to continue the cycle. In the same way, fighting against anger can only make people angrier. The goodwill in such a situation is spreading the love, understanding, and desire to progress.

It is reported that, since the law on the death penalty was enacted in the U.S.A., 87 people who were on the death sentence were later declared not guilty. The mistake rate, as demonstrated by the statistics, is that, in every seven convicts, one person is innocent. This fact necessitates the need to make the systems more responsive and effective in delivering justice. The level of accountability in the justice system must be a matter of life and death just as it is in the airlines. It is a pillar of justice that it is better when many guilty people go free than one innocent soul suffers. Any civilized society understands the value of human life; consequently, the innocent must be safeguarded up to the last breath (Bledsoe).

It is my opinion that capital punishment does not, in any way, help society. There are many sources that suggest that the death penalty does not help at all. Such a sentence as the death penalty is discriminatory in many ways. The law has been used to continue the social injustice against the poor, minorities, ethnic groups, religions, and defenseless people. The risk of executing an innocent person may not be eliminated due to the fact that human beings are imperfect. In addition, there are large costs associated with the process of putting a person on death row. The cost associated with investigations, appeals, and trials that are rather time-consuming have made many nations reconsider their law.

The death penalty needs to be abolished due to many reasons. The arguments against the death penalty are unprecedented. It is even difficult to single out a reason that is the most important one. Some of the reasons of why the death penalty must be done away with include;

  • Costs associated with carrying out an execution: it is more expensive to carry out the execution procedure than to hold a convicted person in prison for a life term. A study that was conducted in California indicated that the state had incurred expenses of $4 billion since the law was reinstated in 1987. This expense is 20 times more than the cost spends on proceedings that were asking for life imprisonment.

  • It has not been proved yet that capital punishment decreases crime rates. Modern science has not been able to prove that the death law is a better way of deterring crime rates than long-term imprisonment. The American states that do not use death penalties have been found out to have even lower rates of murder cases. Southern parts of the United States have the highest number of execution standing at 80% of the total execution rates.

  • There is enough evidence to show that innocent people are executed. Execution of innocent people means a terrible injustice that has no redress. In the United States alone, 142 people have been exculpated after receiving an initial death sentence. Some have received the acquittal only some hours before the execution of the sentence. A recent study indicates that four out of 10 executed men in the U.S.A. were executed for a crime they had never committed. The percentage of such errors is too big to be ignored. This is unacceptable at all cost especially because the issue concerns human life.

  • The race factor has been used in determining who dies and who lives in the application of the death law. The fact that racism and ethnicity have proven to be a global disaster explains the reason of why injustice has found its roots even where justice should be served. A study conducted by the General Accounting Office found out that the race factor played a central role in the determination of who received the death sentence. It was proven that the suspects, who murdered the white, were more likely to be sentenced to death as compared to those who murdered the blacks.

  • The application of the death penalty is a random decision rather than an application of justice. It has been proven that the issue of jurisdiction of the legal counsel in the application of the death law has influenced the execution of justice greatly. Irrespective of the facts surrounding the case that would warrant a death penalty, the question of jurisdiction of the legal counsel has taken the upper hand. This makes the death sentence more of a gamble or lottery. Out of the 22,000 murder cases reported, only 100 people are sentenced to death. The statistics speak for themselves.

  • Most religious organizations are against the death sentence. Most religious books are firmly against execution with the exception of a few cases. Most of the nations of the world have abandoned or delayed execution as a practice against animosity. There are, however, few countries like China, Iran, and Iraq that support and practice the death sentence law even today.

  • The many millions that are spent on the execution of the death penalty instead could be used to offer assistance to the families of the affected. The death penalty does not, in any way, help relief their grief of the victims of murder. It does neither heal their wounds nor deal with the pain. The long period before the death sentence is finally executed is, in many ways, painful and agonizing. The money used in the process of justice could be used to offer restitution, counseling, and improving the security of the victim, among many other positive uses.

  • The expertise of the lawyer is another very important factor in determining capital sentences. Most of the defendants, in such cases, may not afford personal attorneys to represent them in the court of law. In such cases, the lawyers offered by the state are mostly underpaid, overworked, or lack the required experience to handle such cases. In most cases, the lawyers handling such trials are so unprepared that they are caught unawares when the sentencing phase of the trial arrives. Most of the lead counsels have even courted up with cases after they have commenced or experienced frustration in the courtroom (Pojman and Reiman 77-125).

There are many options that are humane and could be used instead of the death penalty. One of the best options is life imprisonment without parole. In most nations of the world, the jurors are allowed the option of sentencing the accused person to a period in prison without any form of pardon. The benefit of such a sentence is the money it saves the taxpayers and the fact that offenders are prevented from interacting with the rest of the world. The life sentence is better than the death penalty as it provides the offender with a unique chance to change his/her ways. Currently, there are approximately 3,300 individuals in the state of California who have been sentenced to a life sentence in prison. Out of all the people sentenced, only seven individuals have filed an appeal successfully since the inception of the law in 1977. The process of appealing a life imprisonment verdict is rather fast with approximately 3 years to delivery of the verdict.

Putting the Death Penalty for Minors Into Perspective

It is worth arguing that the death sentence does not help. The benefit of other available options outweighs the consequence of the death penalty. The right to life is fundamental for every human being. The fact that an individual commits murder does not call for the death penalty in the quest to achieve justice. It must be understood that revenge is not, in any way, a fair way of achieving justice. The best medicine for murder is to change the criminal into a useful human being and eliminate the risk of him/her repeating the offense. What the death sentence for a minor means to society and whether it is in any way helpful is an interesting question to be studied.

The following is an evaluation of the blameworthiness of a minor in a capital offense. There were issues that came out of the Gary Graham case, related to the death verdict for minors. In a case in Roper v. Simmons that took place in 2005, the United States supreme court made a ruling that executing of any person who committed a capital offense before they were 18 years at the time of such an offense went against the federal law. The federal law classifies such sentences as cruelty and unequal punishment. This decision was derived from a ruling that was made in 2002 where the Supreme Court held that execution of any person who is mentally challenged is not constitutional. The reasoning behind the ruling was that special categories of criminals were not to blame similarly to the adult offenders. The review was done by the court examining other state legislation in relation to capital punishment for minors. The findings indicated that a large percentage of rulings that were issued on the death penalty exempted minors from the death punishment. The evidence gathered lead to the conclusion that the common rule and national trend were to exempt minors from the death punishment. The Roper decisions lead to the reversal of 72 death sentences. Twenty two individuals had been executed prior to Roper's findings. These individuals had committed crimes before they were 18 years old (Siegel and Larry 125-223)

Below are the Major Landmark Cases that Involved the Death Penalties for Minors.

The reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 has to lead to major questions arising from the constitutionality of delivering a death verdict for crimes that were committed when the defendant was still a minor. The case of Thompson v. Oklahoma in 1988 is an example where the court asserted that the age of the person who committed the offense is important in determining the type of punishment the offender should receive. The court, in this case, affirmed that the minors should be subjected to less severe sentences as compared to adults who commit the same crimes.

Some of the factors that make it necessary to subject minors to less severe punishment is the fact that they are inexperienced, have lower education levels, and their level of intelligence is low. This affects the ability of the infant to evaluate the consequences of his/her behavior. A minor, is in many instances, a victim of emotions and peer pressure, unlike the adults. The fact that the minors are not entrusted with adult responsibilities and privileges explains the reason of why they cannot be subjected to the same punishments as the adults.

Another court ruling in Stanford v. Kentucky case filed in 1987 had slightly different findings. The supreme court, in this case, agreed with the fact that minors should not be subjected to capital sentences similar to adults. The court, however, exempted crimes committed at the age of 16 and/or 17 from the consideration of minors. The ruling in Atkins v. Virginia case of 2002 brought in the concept of determining whether a mentally challenged person should be exempted from the death penalty. The court ruled that the mental condition of the accused party was critical in the determination of the sentence. The argument was that a mentally disabled person had reasoning different from a healthy adult; hence, his or her judgment might have been affected negatively due to his/her inability to control the mental impulse. Because of their state, mentally retarded people are unable to process information soberly; hence, this may alter their judgment. This does not, however, mean that infants and mentally retarded people are not subjected to the justice system. It, however, means that their situations diminish their criminal liability.

The advocates of human rights have protested against the exemption of different categories of people from the death law. In the United States, in the case of Roper, a significant number of attorneys submitted their support statements for execution of a juvenile defendant. The attorneys’ bench argued that the court must not join the minors together and make general decisions; instead, a verdict must be delivered on an individual-to-individual basis. They argued that the criminals were substantially different in respect to their maturity, experience, intelligence, and culpability levels. The vote had to be taken in the case of Roper v. Simmons in 2005. The ruling upheld the exemption of the death sentence to all crimes committed when the defendant was still a minor. The decision was supported by a consensus that was found in the U.S.A. professional medical reports. The health professionals found out that the process of maturation of the human brain delayed; hence, minors were less likely to commit capital offenses in full knowledge of the consequences. The minors, therefore, are considered less culpable when it comes to capital offenses. The rulings in these cases influenced the rulings made in 12 American states with 72 minors affected by the ruling.

In the Gary Graham case, where the man was convicted of murder at the age of 17 years, he was found eligible to be sentenced to death under the law of Texas. Were it in the other American States, he would not have been subjected to such a ruling. The law applicable in Texas then did not allow a minor to offer the age factor as a defense aimed at making the judges believe that he/she would be of no danger to society in the future. In his argument, Graham indicated that the death sentence would send the message that his age was a factor that catalyzed the court’s decision to deliver the death sentence. The possibility of Graham committing the same crime was a factor that indeed led to the court's verdict. Graham was later executed in 2002 before the supreme court of the United States reviewed the decision prohibiting the execution of minors.

Fact that the decision of the Texas court was lacking in the consideration raised by the defendant, the supreme court of the United States upheld that decision in 1976. The court later held that the defense should not be restricted from providing any evidence. The court also ruled that the judge making the decision must consider such evidence while choosing between delivering a life or death sentence.

The facts surrounding the death penalty have been analyzed extensively. It is common sense that the law must always serve the good of a progressive society. It has been evidenced that such draconian law serves the good of neither the victim nor the criminal. The big question then is, why such a law that is not even consistent with the fundamental rights of human society should be adopted. Crime can never be entertained in any court of law but, in the same breath, the objectivity of the sentence is very critical. It has been proven by statistics already that the death penalty has never been a deterrent to murder cases. The real issues that need to be addressed are the cause of the murder cases but not the punishment.

A progressive society needs to manage its problems with objectivity. Being objective means getting the best even from the worst situations. Killing a killer does help neither the victim nor the defendant. I am against the death penalty not only for minors but also for adults. Society must rise above the oppressive laws and stand high, in order to get the best out of every human life. There is no price in the whole world that could be given in exchange for single human life (Zaroti).

The Dedication Page

With immeasurable gratitude, I acknowledge the great support I have received from Professor Mr. /Mrs. … The success of this task was largely attributed to the support you gave me. The skill to explore the topic and gather relevant information from different sources to conduct a deep study was made possible by your tolerance and willingness to help. It is important also to acknowledge the emotional support and words of encouragement that I received from friends and relatives.

I wish to stress the invaluable support of my beloved mother Mrs. ... Her presence in my life and words of encouragement have always given me the inspiration I needed to overcome every challenge not to mention this task. Life could never be the same without your hand.

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