In the 1971 Supreme court case of Furman V. Georgia, the constitutionality of the
death penalty was challenged. The majority opinion held that although the way it was being
applied was unconstitutional the death penalty itself was constitutional. They held it
unconstitutional because since it was applied arbitrarily and with apparent racial and economic
bias it was cruel and unusual. In Weems v. United states (1910) the Supreme Court held that a
punishment could be considered cruel and unusual if it is excessive. In Dulles v. Trop the court
held that "the basic concept underlying the 8th amendment is nothing less than the dignity of
man." According to the court if a punishment denies someone human dignity than it is cruel and
unusual. Combined these two cases set the precedent that both (1)breaks the past notion that the
only things considered cruel and unusual are the specific things barred at the time the Constitution
was penned and (2) says that what is excessive and what attacks human dignity evolves with
society. Our society has evolved to the point where we will apply sanctions to other countries to
try and prevent them from harming their own citizens. We no longer clamor for public bloodshed,
it is something we don't want to see, our society has grown past the death-penalty.
It is my feeling that capital punishment is always wrong. The Justice I am in most
agreement with is Justice Brennan. His reasoning is that, it is an affront to basic human dignity
and he sets up four rules to help determine this. First a punishment may not be so severe as to
degrade the dignity of human beings, second it cannot be arbitrary, no conflict with contemporary
moral decency and lastly it must be the least severe punishment that achieves the intended goal.
We both agree capital punishment breaks all four rules and is therefore against constitutional law.
I feel (as stated above) that capital punishment detracts from the dignity of not just the one
human that society feels compelled to put to death, but it demeans all of society. I am pretty
much a pacifist, I feel that all murder except in the self-defense of another human is wrong.
Therefore I feel that people who commit murder should be punished harshly but that does not
mean I feel they should be killed. When society decides to take the life of a convicted murderer it
is stopping down to the level of the murderer; essentially degrading us all. It is responding to one
wrong, with another wrong (two wrongs do not make a right). Killing the murderer serves no
purpose, it has not been shown to deter other murders, it does not bring back the person killed, it
does not protect society in ways that long-term imprisonment could not, and on top of that it
costs more. The only purpose that the death-penalty serves is that of revenge or retribution.
Some will make a distinction between the two, noting that retribution is a legal act performed by
the government. The government has no power that is not granted to it by the people so
essentially, a government act, is an act of the people; capital punishment is the government taking
revenge on behalf of the people.
Many proponents of capital punishment say that death is the only punishment that people
convicted of murder deserve, anything less would not be harsh enough. This causes several
problems. One is that many people consider death the easy way out, for example, some say
suicide is for wimps. It is actually much harsher punishment on a murderer to confine him to a
cell for the rest of his/her life; killing him is a very short-lived punishment. Also in other respects
the death penalty may be too severe, although the person is not "punished" per se by long term
sanctions on them, they are denied the basic human dignity of existing. It has been said that if
someone commits murder they lose their basic human rights and therefore it is not inhumane to
kill them. "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are
endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life....". That is a
direct quote from the Declaration of Independence written by our forefathers in 1776. According
to them no matter what certain rights like the right to life are unalienable or "not to be separated"
(American Heritage Dictionary).
There is no