The death penalty has been around for thousands of years, dating as far back to the eighteenth century B.C. in Babylon, seventh century B.C. in Athens, and in the fifth century B.C. in Rome. Since then, the death penalty has found its way to many cultures around the world. The British first influenced the death penalty in America when British colonists began to explore the Americas. When the colonists came to America, they brought the practice of capital punishment with them. However, ever since the death penalty came to America, people have been pushing to change or abolish it. Thomas Jefferson was the first to attempt reforms of the death penalty in his Bill 64. His bill proposed that the death penalty only be used for persons convicted of treason or murder. The next attempt to reform the death penalty occurred when Pennsylvania, in 1794, became the first state to repeal the death penalty for all cases besides first-degree murder. Then the state of Michigan, in 1846, became the first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes besides treason. The next major period of time of death penalty reform was between 1907 and 1917. During this time, six states completely abolished the death penalty and three states limited the death penalty. Subsequently, during the 1950’s people began to turn away from capital punishment. Other countries also began to turn away from capital punishment and many countries began to actually abolish the death
penalty. Today, 17 states have abolished the death penalty in the United States, and many other states have debated the issue of the death penalty. In this research paper, I will use this background information as well as other resources to illustrate the problems and issues associated with the death penalty. I believe the death penalty process in this country is very flawed, and I will examine and describe why I believe abolishment of the death penalty is long overdue.
The first issue I examined is the lack of effective legal representation in death row cases. When facing charges that could result in a death penalty sentence, the accused’s lawyer or legal counsel will have a lot to do with the sentence a person receives. The lawyer or legal counsel’s job is to get his or her client the best possible criminal sentence. Without adequate legal representation this can be very difficult. Unfortunately, in our country this happens a lot. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “Whether a defendant will be sentenced to death typically depends more on the quality of his legal team than any other factor. While some lawyers have provided outstanding representation to capital defendants, few defendants facing capital charges can afford to hire an attorney, so they are appointed attorneys who are frequently overworked, underpaid, and/or inexperienced in trying death penalty cases.” This has become a major problem in the United States today. Many people cannot afford a lawyer. As a result, they receive a court appointed lawyer who may not be capable for the job. Because people are unable to afford a quality lawyer, these defendants have a much higher conviction rate and a greater likelihood of being sentenced to death.
The next issue I examined is the potential execution of innocent defendants. Unfortunately, throughout the years many defendants have been found guilty and sentenced to death when they were really innocent. I believe that death penalty errors should not be tolerated or accepted and that the system should be right 100% of the time. The ACLU reports that 102 innocent people have been released from death row in the last 25 years. Also, it is claimed that at least 39 wrongful executions have been carried out in the United States. These executions were said to be wrongful because of new evidence that showed that the defendant was possibly innocent and raised serious doubts about the person’s guilt. The Death Penalty Information Center also estimates