Murder is wrong -- period.
It doesn't matter if the murder in question -- the death penalty -- is legal. It is still wrong. More importantly, it is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court itself said so back in 1972.
That's right, writing in 1972 the Court argued that "the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty... constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments." Unfortunately, execution resumed in 1976 -- partly under pressure from state governments -- and since then dozens of citizens have been murdered by the state.
But I believe that the 1976 decision was wrong, that the court got it right in 1972. The death penalty does violate the Constitution, because it is cruel and unusual punishment. And here's why:
Imagine for a moment that you are locked in a small cell for twenty-three out of the twenty-four hours in a day. You are held in this room alone for years on end. Human contact is rare, and you have little more to do than twiddle your thumbs and sleep. Now combine this with the fact that you know the exact date and time of your death.
Hope and dismay tear at you as you talk to your lawyers, often days before your death, desperately hoping for a court to review your case before you are legally murdered. Often, people who are executed are uncertain until the very hours before their death about whether or not they will really die. Their defense lawyers exhaust numerous avenues -- review by state appellate courts, review by the Supreme Court, last-minute appeals to the governor -- in the slim chance of receiving a stay of execution or exoneration, and each one of these avenues, though almost certain to fail, inspire hope in the prisoner.
Virtually every death row inmate questioned about the above process agrees: it is pure torture. Many of them develop severe mental problems before meeting their end. They can't take the endless loneliness, the empty time, the inner battles of hope and dismay that rage on in their minds during all this spare time in a small cell -- the hope that they might against all odds reclaim life, and the dismay when time and time again this hope is shattered after judges deny them the right to live.
I can't blame them for going crazy. Under the circumstances, I'm absolutely certain that I wouldn't be able to maintain my sanity either.
While subjecting a guilty person to the sort of torture described above is wrong, could you imagine subjecting an innocent person to such treatment? Unfortunately, this has already happened. As the ACLU writes, "Innocent people are too often sentenced to death. Since 1973, over 140 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed." I have no doubt that there are innocent people in prison today; to think that even one of them may be on death row is frightening.
Even if you can't find it in your heart to sympathize with death row inmates, think of what the families of these people have to go through. They are deprived of substantive contact with their kin for years -- often until the very moments preceding death. And even before their son or daughter or brother or sister is dead, they, too, become victims. As parents, or brothers, or sisters, they must live with knowing that their loved one will die on a set date. Many of them break under the stress. Is this -- living for years under the knowledge that your child or sibling faces death -- not "cruel and unusual punishment?"
Most people on death row have done horrible things, unimaginable things, and they pay for doing those things by going to prison for the rest of their lives. But killing more people to prove that killing is wrong makes no sense. It does not bring the victim back. And studies show that it does not deter crime, either.
At best, the death penalty is legalized murder. At worst, it is murder preceded by the sort of torture most of us wouldn't even subject animals to.
It is time to put the death penalty to death.