Death Penalty And The Eighth Amendment

Death Penalty And The Eighth Amendment

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Death Penalty and The Eighth Amendment

The expression “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” has taken on a whole new
meaning. Lately, murderers have been getting a punishment equal to their crime,
death. In 1967, executions in the United States were temporarily suspended to
give the federal appellate courts time to decide whether or not the death
penalty was unconstitutional. Then, in 1972, the United States Supreme Court
ruled in the case of “Furman versus Georgia” that the death penalty violated
the Eight Amendments. According to the Eighth Amendment, “Excessive bail shall
not be required, no excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments
inflicted.” After the Supreme Court made this ruling, states reviewed their
death penalty laws. In 1976, in the case of “Gregg versus Georgia” the Supreme
Court ruled state death penalty laws were not unconstitutional. Presently in
the United States the death penalty can only be used as punishment for
intentional killing. Still, the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment and
should be outlawed in the United States.

     Currently in the United States there are five methods used for executing
criminals: the electric chair, gas chamber, lethal injection, hanging, and
firing squad, each of them equally cruel and unusual in there own ways.
     When a person is sentenced to death by electrocution he strapped to a
chair and electrodes are attached to his head and leg. The amount of voltage is
raised and lowered a few times and death is supposed to occur within three
minutes. Three whole minutes with electricity flowing through someone's body,
while his flesh burns. Three minutes may not seem like a very long time, but to
someone who is waiting for his body to die, three minutes can feel like an
     Three minutes is the approximate time it takes for a person to die if
everything goes right, but in some cases it takes longer for people to die. In
1990, Jesse Tafero, a prisoner in Florida, remained conscious for four minutes
while witnesses watched ashes fall from his head. In Georgia in 1984, it took
nearly twenty minutes for Alpha Otis Stephens to die. At 12:18 am on December
12, he was shocked with electricity for two minutes, and his body still showed
signs of life. The doctors had to wait six minutes to examine his body because
it was too hot to touch. Stephens was still alive, so he was electrocuted for
another two minutes. Finally at 12:37 am doctors pronounced him dead.
     When a person is executed in the gas chamber he is strapped to a chair

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in an airtight room. A cyanide pellet is dropped in sulfuric acid, which forms
a lethal gas. The prisoner remains conscious for a few minutes while struggling
to breath. These gas chambers are similar to the ones used by the Nazi's in
World War II concentration camps. Fifty years ago, America was quick to condemn
the Germans for persecuting Jew's, but, today, in 1996 Americans execute their
own people the exact same way.
     Lethal injection is the newest form of execution in the United States.
The person being executed is injected with a deadly dose of barbiturates through
an intravenous tube in his arm. This method is considered the most humane and
efficient way of execution, but a federal judge noted that “a slight error in
dosage or administration can leave a prisoner conscious but paralyzed while
dying, a sentient witness of his or her own asphyxiation.” Since 1985 there
have been three botched injections in Texas alone. In one case it took 24
minutes to kill a criminal because the tube leaked and sprayed the chemicals
towards the witnesses. In 1989, too weak a dosage of drugs caused Stephen McCoy
to choke and heave for several minutes before he died.
     Hanging used to be the most common way to execute a person, but now it
is only used in Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Washington. Hanging is
not a very useful way of execution, because if the drop is too short the person
being executed dies through gradual strangulation and if the rope is too long
the person's head is ripped off. There is no punishment more unusual then
having your head ripped off, so the death penalty is in direct violation with
the Constitution.
     When someone is executed by a firing squad he is strapped to a chair and
has a target attached to his chest. Then five marksmen aim for the target and
fire. Having people being paid to shot at a target on someone's chest is not
only cruel, but humiliating for the person being executed.
     The death penalty by itself is a cruel and unusual punishment, but the
treatment of prisoners before being executed is also cruel and unusual. In
August 1995 Robert Breechen was scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma. He
attempted to commit suicide, but authorities revived him, then executed him
hours later. In Illinois last November, the state gave death row inmate John
del Vecchio two heart surgeries and then executed him in December. Richard
Town's execution in Virginia was delayed for twenty two minutes while they
looked for a vein to inject.
     The death penalty is the ultimate form of punishment, because there is
no way to reverse its effects. It will end up taking the lives of innocent
victims as long as there is fault in the justice system. The death penalty
contradicts the whole idea of human rights. Human rights are significant
because “some means may never be used to protect society because their use
violates the values that make society worth protecting.”
     “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of
death....I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the
death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-evident to me now
that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save
the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies.” -- Justice
Harry Blackmun.
     Supporters of the death penalty believe that the death penalty helps
keep the crime and murder rate down, but that is not so. States with death
penalty laws do not have lower crime or rates than states that with death
penalty laws. Also, by incarcerating criminals for life, instead of executing
them, it makes them think about what they did and forces them to live with the
consequences of their actions.
     The death penalty violates our constitutional rights and should be made
illegal. It directly contradicts the Eighth Amendment, which forbids “cruel and
unusual punishment.” If the death penalty is not “cruel and unusual punishment”
then what is? Is there possibly anything more cruel then dying a slow death
while breathing in lethal fumes, or anything more unusual then watching people
who are paid to shoot at the target on your chest? The Bill of Rights was
established to protect the rights of the people and now Americans are taking
away these rights from their own countrymen.
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