“In light of history, experience and the present limitations of human knowledge, we find it quite impossible to say that committing to the untrammelled discretion of the jury the power to pronounce life or death in capital cases is offensive to anything in the Constitution”

(as cited in, Wolfgang & Riedel, p.120).

Wolfgang, Marvin, and Marc Riedel. “Race, Judicial Discretion, and the Death Penalty.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 407 (1973): 119-133. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1038758?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents. Accessed 03/07/19.

I recently watched a two part documentary on the death penalty in America, focusing on Huntsville, Texas. Since the re-introduction of the death penalty in 1976, there’s been over 550 executions in the state of Texas. At the time of writing, there are also over 215 prisoners sat waiting in solitary confinement, as all death row prisoners do. Six of these prisoners have been on death row for over 35 years. These are:

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One thing you will notice about the majority of prisoners on death row is that they are men and women of colour. It is easy to suggest that the disparity between those of colour and white prisoners is discriminatory.

In Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)  CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA – (Petitioner in No. 69-5003 was convicted of murder in Georgia, and was sentenced to death pursuant to Ga.Code Ann. § 26-1005 (Supp. 1971) (effective prior to July 1, 1969). 225 Ga. 253, 167 S.E.2d 628 (1969). Petitioner in No. 69-5030 was convicted of rape in Georgia, and was sentenced to death pursuant to Ga.Code Ann. § 26-1302 (Supp. 1971) (effective prior to July 1, 1969). 225 Ga. 790, 171 S.D.2d 501 (1969). Petitioner in No. 69-5031 was convicted of rape in Texas, and was sentenced to death pursuant to Tex.Penal Code, Art. 1189 (1961). 447 S.W.2d 932 (Ct.Crim.App. 1969). Certiorari was granted limited to the following question:

“Does the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in [these cases] constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?”

You can also listen to the audio of the January 17th 1972 case by clicking on the link below:

ORAL ARGUMENT – JANUARY 17, 1972

 

In order to fulfil the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and to reinstate the death penalty following the Supreme courts decision, states had to at least remove arbitrary and discriminatory effects. I would suggest Texas, is in fact, in breach of the Eighth Amendment. However, let’s take a different perspective which has nothing to do with the law of the courts.

The documentary, and many similar, pose the question of closure for the families of the victim(s) (co-victims) throughout. But, to what extent is this a false hope of closure? And, what if there are no co-victims? ‘An eye for an eye’, ‘a tooth for a tooth’ or the ‘law of retaliation’, is the principle that a person who has injured another person is to be penalised to a similar degree, and the person inflicting such punishment should be the injured party. Who receives closure when there is/are no co-victim(s)? Who inflicts the punishment? Does it then become a case of state retribution only? Is this another law Texas, and other states, have broken?

Only rarely do we get to hear from the co-victims after the execution. We, of course, hear the obligatory press conference after, although witnessing someone being put to death for murdering a member of your family or loved one, it therefore, must be a surreal experience to be herded in front of the many microphones and plethora of camera’s from the selection of channels, multitude of media stations and numerous newspapers from around the world?

Research carried out by the University of Minnesota showed that only 2.5% of co-victims achieved true closure. The study also showed co-victims expressed feelings of emptiness when the death penalty did not “bring back the victim.” (Muller, 2016, ‘Death Penalty May Not Bring Peace to Victims’ Families: Does the death penalty provide true justice and closure to victims?’ Robert T Muller Ph.D. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/talking-about-trauma/201610/death-penalty-may-not-bring-peace-victims-families. Accessed 02/07/19. In the same article Muller goes on to suggest ‘Death penalty causes psychological effect or disorder to a prisoner because of the fact that they are in a death row. Regardless of the legality or morality of the death penalty, the process of sitting on death row, waiting to be executed, is incredibly painful. Some now argue that the protracted uncertainty, the rapidly changing execution dates, and the terrible isolation of death row, induces a form of insanity. People lose their minds, they commit suicide, and most importantly, they stop using the legal system to appeal their executions. It is called “death row syndrome” (Arkell, 2014, as cited in Muller 2016). 

If cold hard cash is what opens your eyes to the issues that affect us, then this will definitely raise an eyebrow or two: ‘ County estimates in Texas indicate that the death penalty system is much more expensive than sentencing inmates to life imprisonment. Gray County spent nearly $1 million seeking the death penalty against Levi King, even though he pleaded guilty to murder. Moreover, these costs do not include the cost of appeals, which will further increase the cost of the capital case, nor the costs of cases in which the death penalty is sought but not given. By comparison, a non-death penalty murder case in nearby Lubbock County typically costs about $3,000, court officials estimate. The average cost to house an inmate in Texas prisons is $47.50 per day, according to Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Thus it would cost about $17,340 to house an inmate for a year and $693,500 for 40 years, far less than even part of the death penalty costs. The regional public defender’s office estimates that just the legal costs for a death penalty case from indictment to execution are $1.2 million. Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney Matt Powell said, “I don’t dispute that it’s more expensive,” but said he never takes cost into account when deciding whether to seek the death penalty.’ (https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/news/costs-death-penalty-costs-in-texas-outweigh-life-imprisonment)

Do we really understand the death penalty?

Should the death penalty still exist?

Who really heals?

My name is David Breakspear and I am against the death penalty. I have my reasons.

 

 

 

 

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