The Line Between Justice and Morality: Why the Death Penalty Should be Abolished


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Source: California Safe Society

Analise Bruno, Writer

“I hereby sentence you to death”

It’s a phrase that’s been uttered by judges all across the country, one that has commanded the silence of a noisy courtroom, prompted outcries, and sent shivers down the spines of all those listening. It is a phrase never ushered lightly, and is one that has once again made its way into the spotlight following the most recent execution of Brandon Bernard. 

Capital punishment in the United States is currently active and legal in 28 out of the 50 states and has existed since colonial times. The penalty is essentially a government-sanctioned practice where the state, following a trial, can put someone to death for a crime. Though many see this punishment as a justice-restoring process, historically, the penalty has proven to be intertwined with slavery, bias, segregation, and other various reformative movements. As of 2020, more than 70% of all countries have abolished this heinous penalty, and many feel that it is time for the US to catch up.

The crux of this debate lies in how ethical this punishment is, especially because the Supreme Court has never ruled any of the methods of execution to be inherently unconstitutional while other state courts have disagreed. Since its implementation, this form of punishment has claimed the lives of over 1,500 people, and many are wondering how humane and ethical this process may be. We first must discuss the problems that reside within this system of “justice” as many innocent people, or those convicted on the grounds of racial bias, have lost their lives unfairly. Since 1973, around 156 people have been exonerated from death row because, after a revaluation of their case, they were declared to be innocent. Mistaking the innocence of a person about to lose their life over it is extremely dangerous and further shows how flawed this supposed system of justice is. Furthermore, although there is no exact number, statistics would argue that an estimate of around 150 innocent people has been unlawfully killed by this penalty.

Apart from problems surrounding guilty versus innocent defendants, it’s also important to observe how or why different people are given this sentence. It has been proven that juries often have a tendency to be persuaded to hand out guilty verdicts based on factors like race, wealth, misleading forensic evidence, erogenous eye-witness accounts, inadequate legal defense, and other incoherent/unreliable confessions. This has resulted in a stunning number of people being placed on death row unfairly. Furthermore, although the Supreme Court has limited execution to groups such as the clinically insane, the intellectually disabled, and minors, they have failed in upholding the 8th Amendment as many members on death row fall into these categories. When dealing out such a harsh sentence, it would be imperative that our courts ensure they are executing the right people, but with so many factors inhibiting them to do so, further proves the point that this is an outdated system not in need of reform, but rather needs to be fully abolished

Perhaps the most strong argument against this punishment is the fact that it has never been designed to be humane. The death penalty in the United States has been carried out through various methods over the years including hanging, death by firing squad, gas chambers, electric chairs, and lethal injection most recently. Lethal injection wasn’t even implemented until 1977, as the courts and people collectively decided it was the most humane form of execution. This is a faulty idea as our thoughts on being “humane” in terms of execution have been shaped and reshaped a hundred times over as we’ve developed as a nation, which infers the punishment itself has never had the idea of morality at its core. In any case, being morally correct and humane can not be synonymous with having a system that gives the government the authority to take the life of another human being. 

As mentioned previously, this debate made its way back into the spotlight following the most recent execution in the US that surrounded Brandon Bernard. Bernard was convicted for his involvement in the murders of Todd and Stacey Baggley in 1999. However, many have spoken in Bernard’s defense claiming that as an 18-year-old whose life was threatened if he didn’t comply with orders means he was not entirely responsible for what transpired that day. Furthermore, others have felt as if Bernard should be receiving a life sentence, similar to the other two accomplices, considering he was not fully responsible for the immediate deaths of the two victims and has shown signs of a reformation in his years behind bars. Bernard was executed on December 10th (following the denial of his appeals), the day that observes international Human Rights Day, another coincidental sentiment meant to remind us of the ethics behind this practice. As we approach 2021, the Trump Administration also plans to go through with a few more executions until Joe Biden’s inauguration day. Nonetheless, whether innocent or guilty, many point out that the government still should have no right to take the life of another human being. Simply because they have done wrong, does not mean we need to do the same in return.

Overall, multiple sociology scientists have proven that this penalty meant to uphold justice, is actually quite ineffective as statistics show the implementation of this punishment has not deterred the act of murder. Further, 60% of all Americans also agree it is time to do away with the punishment in favor of life sentences instead. However you may feel, I think it’s always important to reflect upon how many faults this system has, and how innocent people can also suffer because of it. I think a system as serious as this with as many faults as it has, should not be allowed to still keep running. As the old saying goes “two wrongs don’t always make a right.” 

**This opinion article reflects the voice of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Viking Times as a whole.  Like most news outlets, The Viking Times is a non-partisan media platform.**