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Is it Time for The U.S.A to Review Capital Punishment?

Updated on January 28, 2022
Nyamweya profile image

Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics.

Capital Punishment relates to the infliction of death as a consequence of violating capital laws. It can also be referred to as death penalty. Until recently, the subject of whether capital punishment should be legalised or not has been hotly debated in the global perspective. The custom of putting law breakers to death is not a new phenomenon. It has indeed existed since time immemorial. Different methods that had been employed in the past include but not limited to, stoning, crucifixion, hanging, burning and even beheading. While most industrialized countries are advocating for the abolition of capital punishment, I have noted with much concern that a majority of the US states are still practicing it.

When America was established more than two centuries ago, jails were rare. The practice of capital punishment had been introduced by the colonizers who had transferred it from England and Europe. As I write this piece, two thirds of the global nations have abolished the capital punishment. In this regard, it is high time for America to also follow this trend. This is because it has proved to be a fundamentally defective public policy which is no longer relevant in the present perspective.

Since the 1970's, more than 150 death row victims in USA had been freed by the Supreme Court after their appeal found them innocent. This is a clear indication that the system could be subject to human error. Since the judges are also human beings, the courts could err in their judgment and therefore, make wrong rulings. With a gloomy and chilling sensation, we read in the media about one, Carlos who was sentenced and executed in USA for a crime he actually did not commit. A Colombian law professor and his team had conducted an investigation on the case of Carlos and his analysis revealed that the Texas court had sentenced Carlos De Luna for a crime committed by Carlos Hernandez. Unfortunately, the revelations came too late since the executions had already been done!

Since the Supreme Court threw capital punishment back to the states, majority of their advocates have in essence changed their minds about its efficacy and legality. Justice Stewart Potter, who was appointed by President Kennedy in 1976, regretted his vote in the case of Gregg v. Georgia. In 1994, Justice Blackmun Harry appointed by President Nixon, observed in the case of Callins v. Collins that he was "no longer tinkering with the machinery of executions." In the year 2008, in Baze v. Rees, Justice Paul John Stevens, who was appointed by Ford expressed that these executions were pointless. This trend of the advocates changing their minds over the death penalty concept could have been triggered by their own experience in the same dogma. In essence, we can point that justice have placed conscious over philosophy, experience over beliefs and reality over doctrine. In a system where federal courts have been labelled as haughty dispensers of common truths, these medium justices have instead shown the aptitude of learning from their own errors, to concede the effect of their own experiences in administering the capital punishment. This also indicates that they are aware of their erroneous judgement they sometimes make.

If we really want to have a sound national debate concerning race and justice, and if we are interested in using case evidences a totem for what we perceive to be unjust or wrongs concerning the justice system in our county, then it would have been better if we considered the happening in North Carolina to a man called Marcus Robinson or the happening in Florida to a man called George Zimmerman. “Self defense laws” that have been put forth to save George Zimmerman can be used in today’s perspective in which laws are manipulated to attain particular outcome. In particular, these "affirmative defenses" gives room to more murderers to emerging without being made to pay for their crimes. In comparison to the country’s ancient history of racial partiality in selecting judges, but compared with all the capital punishment cases that have been manipulated in the like manner, the new laws that are justifying homicide are only beginning to do their work.

In Robinson’s case, Cumberland County Senior Presiding Judge Gregory Weeks detailed in his ruling why Robinson who is a black guy deserved to be relieved under the racial justice act, a credible legislative endeavor created to justify the rights of capital defendants whose proceedings are manifested by racial partiality. Weeks was contented by the evidence that prosecutors had used dogmatic challenges at Robinson’s murder trial to methodically remove blacks from his jury pool.

As a form of apology and at the same time a warning, Judge Weeks declared; In the first instance of to improve to an evidential inquiry under the RJA, Robinson presented immense evidence to indicate the consistent, distorting and pervasive role in jury selection in the state of North Carolina. The facts which are largely not rebutted by the state requires reprieve in his situation and should serve as a gesture on the need of change in the capital jury selection trials in future. This point can be exemplified by a supreme court of 1986 in Batson v. Kentucky which made it easier for people of the black race to effectively challenge their convictions on the basis of peremptory racial challenges. Convicted defendant were still required to showcase there proof of bad intention on the part of prosecutors in a case specific context. Judge Thurgood Marshall declared “the intrinsic potential of dogmatic challenges to twist the jury course by permitting the barring of jurors on racial grounds should idyllically lead the court to forbid them completely”.


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