Humans are thought to be imperfect and errant. When given the power of choice, it is impossible to be certain that humans will make the correct decision. Humans are incapable of making choices without their bias supporting them, and in turn, obstructing their eyes of objectivity and truth. Susceptible and corrupt, humans are constantly involving themselves in a hunt for power, in which prejudice is a source of momentum. This idea has been meditated upon for many centuries, as Thomas Hobbes once said that, “…in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death” (Haselhurts, “Political Philosophy: Thomas Hobbes Leviathan Quotes). Cognizant of humans’ fallibility, Hobbes illustrates the fear of human err that inhibits many Americans. In American justice systems, humans abuse their power and influence, and as a result create punishments based upon prejudice and inadequate evidence. It is terrifying to think that such unreliable creatures, such as humans, are in positions to make decisions pertaining to capital punishment. Humans are incapable of choosing who will suffer from capital punishment, due to their tendency to base conclusions upon faulty evidence, their flaws which lead to inevitable mistakes, and their prejudiced attitude. It is for this host of reasons, that the power of the death penalty should not lay in the hands of humans who cannot make a valid decision.
In retrospect, the Salem Witch Trials seem to be a corruption of justice and a series of skewed and unruly events. It may seem unimaginable to Americans today that the same events are occurring in modern courtrooms. The distortion of evidence and the impacts it has on certain cases are detrimental, and a few have resulted in, what is believed to be, unlawful death. Convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail, in 1989, Troy Davis’s case lasted in court for more than twenty years. A man of forty-two years, Troy Davis was executed on September 21st, 2011. His case was a particularly controversial one because witness testimonials were the basis of the litigation (Severson, “Georgia Pardons Board Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate”). The evidence was unreliable, like the courtroom in which Davis was questioned a multitude of times. In Atlanta, the combination of the tension in the courtroom, the shortage of physical evidence, and the varying witness statements all point to a growing belief that the Troy Davis case was a manifestation of racism. Those who held Troy Davis’s destiny in their hands were wrong in their ruling. They did not have enough concrete evidence to determine this man’s fate. Instead, with a craving for power dominating their hearts and minds, the court decided to end Troy Davis’s life. The most atrocious aspect of the entire case is the fact that Troy Davis might have been innocent. It is that mere possibility, that gleaming beacon of hope that was smothered and destroyed the moment Troy Davis was injected with a lethal concoction (Severson, “Georgia Pardons Board Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate”). The possibility of Troy Davis being guilty may be significantly larger than the likelihood of him being innocent. Regardless, this difference does not mean Troy Davis should have been sentenced to Death Row. Technology is still developing; declaring Davis as guilty could have been tested further; there is always an element of doubt to consider. It is imperative that Americans utilize technology more and more when sentencing offenders. Horrid mistakes of proclaiming someone guilty who is innocent, based upon faulty evidence or racist accusations with no evidence at all, is not different from those in the Salem Witch Trials. These perversions of justice can be prevented now. The emergence of DNA testing is progressively revealing American mistakes, and one by one, more are being removed from Death Row (Innocence Project, “Innocence Project”).
As of 1973, over one hundred thirty people have been wrongly sentenced to Death Row in twenty-six different states. This means that half of the country has come close to executing three people each year. Of all the states, Florida has the highest number of exonerated inmates, 23, over the course of 38 years (Death Penalty Information Center, “Innocence and the Death Penalty”). One woman, Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs, was finally set free after being unjustly imprisoned for two hundred months. Steps toward her freedom finally began in 1981, in Florida, when Jacobs’ sentence changed from that of Death Row to life imprisonment. The woman and her husband, Jesse Tafero, were both in the process of having their writs of habeas corpus approved (Warden, “Meet the Exonerated: Sonia Jacobs”). Sunny Jacobs was granted approval, her husband, was not. During a hearing for Jacobs, a woman in her jail, Brenda Isham who had testified against Jacobs, took back her statement. A filmmaker, Micki Dickoff, who had been friends with Jacobs, interviewed Jacobs’ before her husband’s execution. During this exchange, Dickoff understood Jacobs was innocent and pressed to have her sentence revoked. On October 10, 1992, Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs was released from jail once she agreed to a plea for second-degree murder (Warden, “Meet the Exonerated: Sonia Jacobs”). Jacobs had been in prison for over sixteen years. Sonia Jacobs’ story, and fiver others who shared similar tales, became a chilling TV film released in January 2005. This film, “The Exonerated,” was based upon a play in which six actors sat on a stage and recounted the stories of six exonerated inmates. The play is austere in the sense that there is no movement, merely the actors’ voices and the harrowing tales. “The Exonerated,” both the play and movie, are not the only projects that aim to make the public aware of the numerous, innocent people who are charged with crimes they did not commit, and thus sentenced to Death Row (Sherrer, “The Exonerated”). The Innocence Project works towards finding inmates who have been victims of the wrongful justice system, and have been condemned to Death Row. The project uses DNA testing, which is assuming a new, important role in courtrooms and jails (Innocence Project, “Innocence Project”). With the birth of DNA testing, mistaken offenders are gradually being giving the freedom which they have been denied. It is evident, that as each person is found innocent, and consequently removed from Death Row, that humans are incapable of using capital punishment. As more humans err in the justice system, the opportunity of executing innocent grows. At this rate, the United States of America moves farther away from maintaining a just system, and closer to a system that oppresses its people and strips them of their lives.
According to the United States Courts, “A member of the Grand Jury who is related by blood or marriage to a person under investigation, or who knows that person well enough to have a biased state of mind as to that person, or is biased for any reason, should not participate in the investigation of that person or in the return of the indictment” (Administrative Office of the United States Courts on Behalf of the Federal Judiciary, “Model Grand Jury Charge”). Not all jurors adhere to this policy. It is when these jurors remain in the courtroom despite their biased mindsets, that the once just courtroom transforms into one of prejudice and favoritism. The human tendency to prefer one who is akin oneself is natural, it cannot be banished from everyday life. In the courtroom, it is far from welcomed. Some offenders that have been sentenced to the death penalty are able to reform themselves, learn from their mistakes and see wrong in their malevolent actions. However, unjust juries are those that smother this hope, this possibility to for certain offenders to undergo a change of heart. They do this by executing them. On April 14th, 1965, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock were hanged in Lansing, Kansas (Capote 337). These two men were convicted of murdering the Clutter Family. Truman Capote recounts their story in his “nonfiction novel,” In Cold Blood. In Finney County, Kansas, the two men were tried in court, not too far from the small town of Holocomb. In Holocomb, the previous home for the Clutter family, the tension and fear was almost tangible. Many families waited impatiently for the capture of the Clutter murderers (Capote 248). The court in which the murderers, Smith and Hickock, were tried, many of the jurors were acquaintances of the Clutter family and found that all they yearned for was revenge. Capote describes that a journalist confronts one of the murderers about capital punishment. Dick Hickock replies, “Well what is there to say about capital punishment? I’m not against it. Revenge us all it is, but what’s wrong with revenge? It’s very important” (Capote 335). It was blatantly obvious that the court felt similarly to Hickock’s own opinions, they wanted these men dead. Regardless. The jury took a measly forty minutes to decide upon Perry Smith and Richard Hickock’s fate (Capote 307). The two men were clearly misguided, and morally unstable. There is a possibility these men could have changed their ways and found some good within themselves. The jury and the judge would not even consider this. They entered the court the first day with the incentive of killing these men (Capote 306). It was their prejudice that obstructed their view of justice and thus they hanged two young men, still capable of changing themselves.
In modern American courtrooms, in the hands of unreliable humans, lies the power of determining a person’s chance to live or die. Belonging to these shaking, incompetent hands, are human minds plagued by the inclination to base their conclusions on their unavoidable mistakes, prejudiced ideas, and flawed evidence. These varied imperfections impede humans from making objective decisions, and ultimately sentence certain people with capital punishment. Errors have been made, and innocent lives have been lost, due to power-crazed Americans shielded by the corrupt justice system. Two thirds of the world has abolished the death penalty. One third still continues to execute its people, America included (“Helping the World Achieve a ‘Moratorium’ on Executions”). As of 2010, within the list of the top ten countries with the most executions, America can be found. The beloved country, based upon freedom and human rights, is nestled between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, with China ranking number one (Amnesty International, “Top Ten Countries For Executions in 2010”). It is time for Americans to abandon capital punishment and join the other two thirds of the world.
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Random House, 1965. Print.
“Georgia Pardons Board Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate.” newyorktimes.com. Severson, Kim. New York Times, 20 Sept. 2011. Web. 2 Oct. 2011.
“Political “Helping the World Achieve a ‘Moratorium’ on Executions.” worldcoalition.org. n.d., n.p. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.
“Innocence and the Death Penalty.” deathpenaltyinfo.org. Death Penalty Information Center, n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2011.
“The Innocence Project.” innocenceproject.org. Innocence Project in Affiliation With Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2011.
“Meet the Exonerated: Sonia Jacobs.” law.northwestern.edu. Warden, Rob. Center on Wrongful Convictions, n.d. Web. 4 Oct 2011.
“Model Grand Jury Charge.” uscourts.gov. Administrative Office of the United States Courts on Behalf of the Federal Judiciary, n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2011.
Philosophy: Thomas Hobbes Leviathan Quotes.” spaceandmotion.com. Haselhurst, Geoff. n.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2011.
Sherrer, Hans. “The Exonerated.” Justice Denied: The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted. Justice Denied Mag., Issue 24, page 17. Web. 9 Oct. 2011.
“Top Ten Countries For Executions in 2010.” ourtimes.wordpress.com. Amnesty International, 29 May, 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.
Age 16, Grade 11
Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music