Death Penalty and the Eight Amendment Essay
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
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 someones 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 Nazis in World War II concentration camps. Fifty years ago, America was quick to condemn the Germans for persecuting Jews, but, today, in 1996 Americans execute their own people the exact same way.
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 persons 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 someones chest is not only cruel, but humiliating for the person being executed.
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 Towns 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 protecting.
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.