A life for a life: unacceptable judicial policy


Jenna Liu

[slider source=”media: 264149″ limit=”7″ target=”blank” height=”340″ title=”no” centered=”no” mousewheel=”no” speed=”500″]Clayton Lockett lay restrained on a steel gurney as a lethal, three-drug cocktail made its way through his system, two weeks ago.  This was supposed to be Lockett’s execution, the sentence he received for his role in the rape and murder of a 19-year-old girl.
Instead, his body writhed and convulsed as he fought against the straps holding him down. Those watching in the viewing area realized there was a problem, and the Oklahoma corrections officers quickly drew the curtain down, shielding Lockett’s thrashing torso.
Clayton Lockett did eventually die that day but of a massive heart attack 43 minutes after the lethal injection first entered his body.
Lockett’s death reignited debate about the death penalty and brought the national and political spotlight back onto an issue that has worked its harm with the protection of indifference. Many people such as Fox News anchor Eric Bolling expressed support for the death penalty, with Bolling saying he had “no sympathy” for Lockett.
Bolling and other death penalty supporters have the right to their opinion. It is just not acceptable for the United States government to allow this desire for retribution to drive judicial policy.
The purpose of the U.S. justice system is to reduce the amount of crime. The death penalty accomplishes this goal like alcohol extinguishes a raging fire. In other words, it doesn’t. There is even evidence of an opposite effect, with statistics showing that non-death penalty states consistently produce lower murder rates than states that utilize the death penalty, according to Amnesty International. What this archaic practice does is continue a vicious cycle of crime and punishment much too extreme for a country that proudly celebrates a yearly holiday dedicated to freedom and democracy.
The singular problem with the death penalty is it is committing state-sanctioned murder. Retribution has no place in our justice system, which is supposedly grounded in principles of impartiality and objectivity. The subjectiveness of the death penalty is especially concerning, as there are no comprehensive guidelines regarding its use. The Supreme Court has simply ruled that the death penalty must only be used when the punishment fits the crime, but how can we as a society determine what crimes are worthy of death? The answer is we cannot, and therein lies the innate flaw of the death penalty.
Yes, there are individuals on death row who have committed horrible, stomach-wrenching crimes that make us wonder about how humanity can become so poisoned. From parents murdering their own children to massacres in schools and places of worship, we are constantly exposed to instances of cruelty and violence. The real issue is how we respond, and in the last few decades, we have responded with irresponsible revenge.
Are these horrific crimes committed by evil people with no hope for redemption? Maybe. Do they deserve to die? Perhaps. Does the United States government have the ability to make that decision? Never.
The death penalty presents a multitude of issues for the United States, beginning with its excessive financial cost. As the United States still has some modicum of judicial responsibility, there is an appeals process that must occur before we can legally kill a person. On average, this process takes upward of a decade, which results in countless dollars being thrown around as the United States goes above and beyond in their quest to take a human life.
In Texas alone, the cost of a single death penalty case is $2.3 million, which is three times the amount it would cost to lock a prisoner up for 40 years in a maximum security cell. The California death penalty system costs the taxpayers about $114 million a year in excess of the expense of keeping a convict in prison for life.  Right next door in Kansas, defending a death penalty case runs up totals over four times more than cases where the death penalty is not involved.
Death penalty cases run up such rxorbitant expenses because of the complex procedures the state must follow. The Supreme Court has decreed that all cases involving the death penalty require a minimum of two defense attorneys who have previous experience with death penalty cases to represent the defendant. In situations where the accused can only afford a public defender, pre-trial proceedings drag on as the state tries to find lawyers who can meet these stringent requirements, which ultimately runs up the total cost of the case. The appeals process also takes up to twice as long as other murder cases because of the increased scrutiny these cases necessitate.
All of this is supposed to keep the system honest and save innocents from a government that is meant to be the ultimate arbitrator of what constitutes justice.
Yet 140 people on death row have been exonerated in the last 40 years alone, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ten more have been executed despite strong evidence pointing to their innocence, including Ruben Cantu, who was only 17 when he was charged with killing a man during a robbery attempt. The only eyewitness against him later recanted his testimony and said the authorities pressured him to implicate Cantu. Cantu was executed in 1993, at the age of 26. A conviction that never should have occurred resulted in a punishment that never should have existed.
We Americans hold ourselves up as beacons of freedom and democracy, yet we are the only G7 nation to still impose the death penalty and are in the company of countries such as China and Iran with regards to the number of people we put to death per year.
According to Simon Rogers and Mona Chalabi of The Guardian, from 2007 to 2012, the United States executed more people than North Korea. As a supposedly “progressive” nation, we have carried out more state sanctioned killings than a country that has been condemned yearly by Amnesty International for “continuing systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights.”
We are so quick to point fingers at other nations without first examining ourselves. Since 1976, the death penalty has taken the lives of 1,373 individuals in the United States. These killings were under the guise of “justice,” a word that has become increasingly confused with “revenge.”
Let us look at the problems we have at home and take some sort of action attempting to fix them before we rush off to join this year’s equivalent of Kony 2012. From volunteering at organizations such as Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty (MADP), to simply writing a letter to a local congressperson, there is always something that can be done to minimize resulting injustices and work towards eliminating the death penalty.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this battle is education. For the past three decades, the death penalty has continued to work under the radar, only occasionally raising substantial protest that never really took hold. Simply exposing the inherent damage it causes to our justice system with its excessive financial costs and irreparable wrongful executions is a step towards its eventually public censure and abolishment.
High schoolers are often portrayed as selfish, ignorant children by books, the media, and perhaps even ourselves.  Here is a chance to change that, a chance to show society that teenagers do care and can be vehicles for change.
Collectively, we have the opportunity to transform from a society that condemns murder with murder to one that fulfills those principles of democracy we hold so dear. Let us live up to those words inscribed on the Seal of the United States: E Pluribus Unum.
Out of many, one.
By Jenna Liu
What are your thoughts on the death penalty? Is it justified?