The expression "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" has taken on a
whole new meaning. Lately, murderers have been getting a punishment
equal to their crime, death. In 1967, executions in the United States
were temporarily suspended to give the federal appellate courts time to
decide whether or not the death penalty was unconstitutional. Then, in
1972, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of "Furman
versus Georgia" that the death penalty violated the Eight Amendments.
According to the Eighth Amendment, "Excessive bail shall not be required,
no excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted."
After the Supreme Court made this ruling, states reviewed their death
penalty laws. In 1976, in the case of "Gregg versus Georgia" the Supreme
Court ruled state death penalty laws were not unconstitutional.
Presently in the United States the death penalty can only be used as
punishment for intentional killing. Still, the death penalty violates
the Eighth Amendment and should be outlawed in the United States.
Currently in the United States there are five methods used for
executing criminals: the electric chair, gas chamber, lethal injection,
hanging, and firing squad, each of them equally cruel and unusual in
there own ways.
When a person is sentenced to death by electrocution he strapped to
a chair and electrodes are attached to his head and leg. The amount of
voltage is raised and lowered a few times and death is supposed to occur
within three minutes. Three whole minutes with electricity flowing
through someone's body, while his flesh burns. Three minutes may not
seem like a very long time, but to someone who is waiting for his body to
die, three minutes can feel like an eternity.
Three minutes is the approximate time it takes for a person to die
if everything goes right, but in some cases it takes longer for people to
die. In 1990, Jesse Tafero, a prisoner in Florida, remained conscious
for four minutes while witnesses watched ashes fall from his head. In
Georgia in 1984, it took nearly twenty minutes for Alpha Otis Stephens to
die. At 12:18 am on December 12, he was shocked with electricity for two
minutes, and his body still showed signs of life. The doctors had to
wait six minutes to examine his body because it was too hot to touch.
Stephens was still alive, so he was electrocuted for another two minutes.
Finally at 12:37 am doctors pronounced him dead.
When a person is executed in the gas chamber he is strapped to a
chair in an airtight room. A cyanide pellet is dropped in sulfuric acid,
which forms a lethal gas. The prisoner remains conscious for a few
minutes while struggling to breath. These gas chambers are similar to
the ones used by the Nazi's in World War II concentration camps. Fifty
years ago, America was quick to condemn the Germans for persecuting
Jew's, but, today, in 1996 Americans execute their own people the exact
Lethal injection is the newest form of execution in the United
States. The person being executed is injected with a deadly dose of
barbiturates through an intravenous tube in his arm. This method is
considered the most humane and efficient way of execution, but a federal
judge noted that "a slight error in dosage or administration can leave a
prisoner conscious but paralyzed while dying, a sentient witness of his
or her own asphyxiation." Since 1985 there have been three botched
injections in Texas alone. In one case it took 24 minutes to kill a
criminal because the tube leaked and sprayed the chemicals towards the
witnesses. In 1989, too weak a dosage of drugs caused Stephen McCoy to
choke and heave for several minutes before he died.
Hanging used to be the most common way to execute a person, but now
it is only used in Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Washington.
Hanging is not a very useful way of execution, because if the drop is too
short the person being executed dies through gradual strangulation and if
the rope is too long the person's head is ripped off. There is no
punishment more unusual then having your head ripped off, so the death
penalty is in direct violation with the Constitution.
When someone is executed by a firing squad he is strapped to a
chair and has a target attached to his chest. Then five marksmen aim for
the target and fire. Having people being paid to shot at a target on
someone's chest is not only cruel, but humiliating for the person being
The death penalty by itself is a cruel and unusual punishment, but
the treatment of prisoners before being executed is also cruel and
unusual. In August 1995 Robert Breechen was scheduled to be executed in
Oklahoma. He attempted to commit suicide, but authorities revived him,
then executed him hours later. In Illinois last November, the state gave
death row inmate John del Vecchio two heart surgeries and then executed
him in December. Richard Town's execution in Virginia was delayed for
twenty two minutes while they looked for a vein to inject.
The death penalty is the ultimate form of punishment, because there
is no way to reverse its effects. It will end up taking the lives of
innocent victims as long as there is fault in the justice system. The
death penalty contradicts the whole idea of human rights. Human rights
are significant because "some means may never be used to protect society
because their use violates the values that make society worth
"From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery
of death....I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede
that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-
evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive
regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent
constitutional deficiencies." -- Justice Harry Blackmun.
Supporters of the death penalty believe that the death penalty
helps keep the crime and murder rate down, but that is not so. States
with death penalty laws do not have lower crime or rates than states that
with death penalty laws. Also, by incarcerating criminals for life,
instead of executing them, it makes them think about what they did and
forces them to live with the consequences of their actions.
The death penalty violates our constitutional rights and should be
made illegal. It directly contradicts the Eighth Amendment, which
forbids "cruel and unusual punishment." If the death penalty is not
"cruel and unusual punishment" then what is? Is there possibly anything
more cruel then dying a slow death while breathing in lethal fumes, or
anything more unusual then watching people who are paid to shoot at the
target on your chest? The Bill of Rights was established to protect the
rights of the people and now Americans are taking away these rights from
their own countrymen.