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Cost of the Death Penalty

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Essay title: Cost of the Death Penalty

Costs and Consequences of the Death Penalty, written by Mark Costanzo, neatly lists reasons for opposition, and abolishment of, the death penalty. Costanzo provides a review of the history of the death penalty, a review of how the death penalty process is working today, questions on whether or not if the death penalty is inhumane and cheaper than life imprisonment. He also questions if the death penalty is fairly applied and the impact, if any, that it has on deterrence. He closely examines the public's support of the death penalty and questions the morality of the death penalty. Finally, Costanzo provides his own resolution and alternative to the death penalty. Each of these items allows the reader an easy, and once again, neat view of how the death penalty can work against out society rather than for it.

Costanzo concludes there are four trends throughout the history of the death penalty. First, he believes there has been a dramatic shrinking in the number and types of crimes punishable by death. At one point in early colonial times, he argues that there were over fifty crimes fit for death, including vagrancy and petty theft. He believes there is a trend that attempts to lessen the cruelty of executions. Through the tests and reviews of past methods of killing, each one gets a little more “humane”, as the Supreme Court puts it. The third trend mentioned attempts to make the death penalty imposed fairly and rationally. Through the revised process of how it is imposed, to the choice of death in the jury’s deliberations, there have been drastic changes in how we chose the use this method of punishment. Lastly, the fourth trend is the sanitizing of executions (conducted late at night and using well-defined and specialized procedures). Although this may run side by side with the revision of the death penalty process, Costanzo explains that there is a difference between the reasons why we chose the death penalty in cases, which is the revision discussed in trend number 3, and the revision of how it is carried out, which is the fourth. The practices have come along way, but if history proves true, Costanzo argues, there will be a new way of doing it in the not so distant future, which will be called more “humane” and fit for use in our penal system.

Costanzo sites the two landmark decisions of the Supreme Court. Furman vs. Georgia (1972): ruled that capital punishment as then administered was unconstitutional. The two constitutional questions were the eighth amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" and the fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of "equal protection" under the law. With the process at this point, there was no way of knowing why juries were choosing death in one case, yet choosing life in others. Also, blacks were being killed at a much higher rate that any other offender. These two reasons, long with others, led the high court to claim the death penalty unconstitutional until further revamping, which was soon to come.

The second major decision from the Supreme Court was in the Gregg v. Georgia case. Here the court approved a series of reforms intended to eliminate arbitrary and discriminatory death sentences and established the two-phase system for the death penalty. The first phase is the "guilt phase" which is conducted on its own to find guilt or acquittal, without the job of issuing punishment. The second phase is the "penalty phase". Here the same jury decides if the defendant is to live or be given the death sentence. Each phase allows the jury to focus on one task, instead of letting death sway their decision on guilt. This bifurcated jury system is in place today.

For those sentenced to death, Costanzo argues that it is inhumane due to the fact that those on death row, going through appeals, sit in basic isolation for years being forced to face the thought of death each and every day and how this constantly occupies the boredom. He also argues that it is inhumane because of this psychological torture that the person on death row must suffer for years. He points out that the death by lethal injection is preferred by those who are anti-death

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