History is littered by the decaying carcasses of punishment, institutions that will forever be remembered for their severity, even amidst the global hunger for something worse. The tortured ghosts of this nation's blackest memories still walk the halls of Alcatraz. The billowing sails of the Sydney Opera House rise above England's greatest prison. But the modern era has given birth to a new generation of punishment, a new means to the utter control of the individual by the state: the death penalty. However, such a drastic measure will never be absorbed into American society without debate. As Anthony Amsterdam states, "capital punishment is a fancy phrase for legally killing people," and a harsh step above life imprisonment. This debate, a debate between life and death, between abolitionists and retentionists, has uncovered facts and arguments long since lost in the shadows of the federal legal system. While the points made on both sides of the issue are crucial, the validity of the reasoning behind retaining the death penalty is unclear. Capital punishment is unnecessary, and like Alcatraz and Australia, it should fade to a distant reminder of humanity's attempts to establish the perfect institution of punishment.
[...] This distinctions between first-degree and second-degree, defense and intent, and especially premeditated and not, are distinctions that even the ruling judges cannot make let alone the juries or the murderers themselves. Confining the crimes even further, into premeditated murders, into capital offenses, the application of retribution is still arbitrary with the use of jurors. Two men found guilty of the same crimes can receive drastically different punishments, as different as life and death, as different as retributive and not. Amsterdam contests that they are put to death “freakishly in the sense that whether a man lives or dies for any particular crime is a matter of lack and happenstance” (274). [...]
[...] It is loosely based on an economic model, a linear relationship between severity of punishment and severity of deterrence. But the human capacity for deterrence is not infinite; after a certain point, an individual can be deterred no further. Most mentally stable individuals will rarely consider murder, and it can be supposed that the threat of life imprisonment will provide enough deterrence for this type of person; Massachusetts does not recognize capital punishment, and the majority of its citizens are not out committing capital offenses. [...]
[...] Proponents and opponents alike must admit that the arguments in favor of capital punishment are deeply flawed, and in many instances, they do. The underlying truth is that retentionists see the life of a murderer worth so little that it can be sacrificed in the name of an educated guess. Abolitionists claim that the life of a murderer is as valuable as the life of the victim. administer an infallible punishment through a fallible system” is to undermine both the principle of capital punishment and the idea of punishment as a whole (Amsterdam 273). [...]
[...] Capital punishment is necessary because “whoever has committed murder, must and “there is no likeness of proportion, between life, however painful, and death” (256). To allow a murderer to live is to value one life over another, and society exists on the premise of universal equality. Retribution is not only the sole reason for the death penalty that defends the dignity of humanity; it is a form of punishment that allows no room for exceptions, necessary to the stability of society and the understanding of the categorical imperative. [...]
[...] If a murderer is released to the streets and drowns his second chance in new blood, he should not receive the full brunt of public blame. It is not reason enough to “kill a human being because . the people . chosen to serve on . parole boards [cannot be trusted] to make a proper judgment” (276). Amsterdam argues further that “murder convicts . [are] among the very safest prisoners,” that prisoners who never killed before are more likely to kill for the first time in prison than murderers are to repeat their actions. [...]
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