Friday, December 14, 2012

The Death Penalty - Con

During the Fall 2012 semester, our Pilot Program students in the Loyola Intensive English Program focused on the death penalty through reading, film viewing, discussing, and writing. This work culminated in an essay assignment that asked the Pilot students to argue persuasively for their own point of view, for or against the death penalty.

Jessica Osteicoechea of Venezuela
Our previous post features an essay in favor of the death penalty by Xiang "James" Zhang of China. This post features an essay by Jessica Osteicoechea of Venezuela opposing the death penalty.

Jessica completed her Pilot studies this fall and will go on in Spring 2013 to study for her LL.M. degree in the College of Law at Loyola University New Orleans. Jessica believes that the death penalty violates human dignity and is no longer necessary in today's sociey. Jessica's essay is a bit long, but it is well worth reading. She takes the time to articulate her opinion carefully and to illustrate it vividly. Here is Jessica's essay.

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Building an Opinion about the Death Penalty
By Jessica Osteicoechea

Whether we support the death penalty or not should not be based on a whim. To have an unblemished opinion about it we need to analyze, know, and identify the death penalty’s implications. Then, our hearts and minds will give us the pattern to build a congruent opinion based on our morals a  nd values. To support the death penalty is not a matter of faith. Everyone who feels capital punishment should be applied is free to hold that opinion. However, before taking sides and expressing our feelings in this regard we first must analyze the following considerations.

The first aspect I want to analyze with you is the legal weight of the death penalty. It is definitely a legal punishment because the law allows its application. Therefore, it is perfectly legal to apply it. However, we should not confuse legality with justice. The law is not always just, yet it is still law. Therefore, when building your own opinion do not settle for the fact that it is legal because the justice system is an entity full of errors. For instance, the Arizona law allowing a police officer t  o detain someone and ask for his papers if that person resembles a foreigner may be considered unjust because many people looking different are being disrespected in their rights. However, this is a law and regardless of its injustice must be applied. Another example of an unjust law is the tax regulations imposing a higher tax burden on a select group of people. In fact, everyone has the same rights and obligations. However, the law makes a distinction between people based on their income and creates a disadvantageous situation for some others, which is perfectly legal, but at the same time it is unjust.

It is important to recall that the law is made to be applied in countless situations, all different, all unique. Hence, the law should be as wide as possible. This will allow many situations to be decided based on just one rule. However, this is also going to gather all the situations as a single one where it will not matter its specifics or particular circumstances. For instance, a contract will always be law between the parties even if that contract is clearly disadvantageous for one of the parties. Perhaps someone who did not know how to read signed a contract because he was in a desperate situation. Well, it is unjust that this person is going to be harmed by the contract, but it is legal to enact it.  The law is there to be equally applied to everyone, regardless of particular issues or situations. It is an advantage in some cases but a disadvantage in others. Nonetheless, this is the way the law is supposed to work.

Essentially, law is supposed to move forward, to change along with society, to always improve and make our world a better and fairer place. However, some people still believe in the old saying "an eye for an eye" as the best way to deliver justice. I am convinced that the times when these types of penalties were needed are over. We cannot keep building our society based on revenge, violation of human rights, and death. On the contrary, it is time to create, to build, to make better people by giving all the same opportunity to grow in an atmosphere of respect for life. This is a perfect time to remember that one’s own example is the best teaching; the faster we understand that, the sooner we will be reaping the benefits of a better society.

During old times, people did not have any other possibility to defend their lives or belongings than killing thieves or murderers. This happened because they did not have a government system to stop criminals and protect society; we do have that in our time. Before, people did n ot have the resources we have now: police officers, militaries, prisons, and well-organized cities. Of course, in the past it was necessary to kill a murderer or a thief because of w hat else they might do. People used to live in groups, in open space houses or even in tents. Then, how were they supposed to protect themselves without killing the criminal. They did not have a place to incarcerate people because jails and prisons did not exist. Thus, they did what they best could, but we do have a chance to do better than they. We do not need to resort to old practices to safeguard society. We now have some other ways to apply justice.

Now you might be questioning, what to do with criminals who do not want to follow society's limits and rules or what to do to control criminals without capital punishment. Indeed, the legal system is there to protect society, but no one said that the application of the death penalty is the only way to achieve that aim. A country has access to so many resources to punish their criminals without breaching the human limits in doing so. Committing a crime doesn’t mean that a person has waived his human essence. Therefore, criminals are still human beings, and just as humans, they should be treated. For instance, a criminal can be incarcerated for the rest of his life; the incarceration can be also deprived of the possibility of parole. Moreover, prisons are very secure nowadays. Then, it is extremely difficult for an inmate to escape.

Life in prison is a severe punishment where society is being protected, but without profaning the most important inalienable right, the life. To respect human rights should not be a matter of discretion. Every state wanting to be part of the globalized world and interact without conflict with other countries should respect the absolute value of the human rights, especially the right to live. It is a shame that some countries play with the most sacred values as if they were negotiable.

A second thought I would like to bring up is that the expectation given to the execution is unconscionable because killing the criminal will not help the victim's family to ease its pain. It cannot be expected that the grief of losing a loved one would decrease or disappear with the execution.  The reality is that to lose someone is always painful and only time can bring some consolation. Time will be the one giving people some comfort, not the death of others. It is disrespectful to believe that the execution will heal the pain of someone's loss.  The victim's life is irreplaceable and his or her memory cannot be erased by just ending his or her executioner’s life.  Perhaps, the execution of a murderer might disguise the pain of the victim’s family while the adrenaline of getting revenge is still around, but once the adrenaline is gone, the pain will be unbearable as always.

Along with this I bring up a third thought, the risk we are taking by allowing the government to apply the death penalty is too high. In fact, the system has many flaws that make it vulnerable. Hence, considering that it is impossible to go back and fix the errors because of the nature of the death penalty, the legal system should be more accurate. At least it owes that to society. Nevertheless, legal workers make mistakes that might result in having the wrong person with a death sentence. Certainly, it does not happen very often, but it happens. And it is just this small possibility that should make us stop and decide whether we consider that saving a single innocent life is urgent or not. Truly, by eliminating the death penalty, we would be eliminating the possibility of having situations where someone who is not responsible for a crime has to face the execution, and by the time we know it will be too late.

A fourth thought I want to state is that poverty and geography determine who will get a death sentence more than the nature of the crime does. The main reason for this is the system’s failure to provide the defendants with capable lawyers, which causes some of the defendants to receive a harsher sentence than what they really deserved. In contrast this does not happen with the wealthy. They can afford an excellent defense that will allow them to get a lower sentence, even if they are responsible for a serious crime. It seems that money is buying justice, which should not be tolerated.

Additionally, in regard to the idea of the geography’s influence, we must say that some states in the United States are very likely to give the death penalty while others will never impose it, even when it is contemplated in its laws. States in the south of the country have a history of slavery and segregation that caused all this idea of getting rid of unwanted people. A large concentration of inmates in death row are black; a situation that does not help the system to be fairer. Clearly, the differences on how the death penalty is applied in this country make the entire situation even more unjust because the nature of the crime is not the element determining whether a criminal deserves or not the death penalty.

Lastly, as a final thought I would like to illustrate that there is no real proof that could demonstrate that the crimes are being deterred by the existence of the death penalty. On the contrary, some studies bring out that in states where the death penalty is legal the crimes continue to rise while in others where it is not the crimes tend to decrease. For instance, if we look at the European countries, we would conclude that what makes their system more effective is the way in which they educate their society. They do not need to resort to the death penalty because their population understands that life and rights must be respected above all. Therefore, the levels of crimes are low and respect for human rights is high. These are the types of examples that our countries should approach because as long as we have the will to consider it, the work, although hard, will have already been started.

At this point when we have discussed some of the most important considerations about the death penalty, you have a better idea of whether you would support or not the death penalty. Is it really necessary to execute criminals when other punishments are less harmful and cruel? I feel it is not.  The times we are living in need better and fairer solutions. It is unacceptable to consent to the application of the death penalty when the human rights are an insignia in modern societies. Therefore, human rights should always be respected, not because it is legal to do it, but definitely because it is only just to respect the human essence in everyone.

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Our thanks to Jessica Osteicoechea for this excellent essay opposing the death penalty.

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