Only Homicide Warrants Death

The death penalty is a much-debated punishment, constantly being opposed and promoted various in different areas of the country. In the South, capital punishment receives general support, while, in the North (especially the Northeast), it receives much less support and is thus relatively limited. Depending on the region, capital offenses vary greatly. Applications of the death penalty in America span a wide range of crimes, from offenses as common as kidnapping all the way up to mass murder and serial killing. Homicide is a capital offense in many states and truly the only crime that deserves such a severe punishment. In order to organize the various applications into a cohesive policy, as well as ensure justice for its citizens, it is necessary for the United States to enact a policy that allows the application of the death penalty only as punishment for homicides.

Many applications of the death penalty are relics of an ancient and less civilized history. Especially in the South, many capital offenses date back to the days of the Confederacy and slavery, and even earlier. Like many laws, these capital offenses are out of date and need to be updated to better fit today’s American society. No longer should kidnapping merit death in Georgia, nor espionage at the federal level. Homicide is truly the only case in which the death penalty should be applied. As the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in the 2008 case Kennedy v. Louisiana, “there is a distinction between intentional first-degree murder on the one hand and nonhomicide crimes against individual persons.”

Homicide, the killing of one individual by another, is truly the only crime that merits the death penalty. While aircraft hijacking and drug trafficking are serious crimes, they are crimes that are better punished in other ways.

There are circumstances in which such criminals can be rehabilitated and thus not merit death. In serious homicide cases, however, the chances of the criminal being truly rehabilitated are slim to none. It is only in these cases of serious capital offenses with no hope of rehabilitation where capital punishment should be applied.

Homicide, in and of itself, is a crime of varying degrees. The death penalty should only be applied to cases of homicide in which the criminals are deemed truly deserving of a punishment as serious as death. Mass murder, serial killing, and genocide are homicidal crimes that most juries would decide deserve the death penalty. On the other hand, there are cases of homicide that would not merit such a penalty, such as manslaughter. It is important for the judicial system to draw a line that applies across the board in all states.

One of the most unjust ideas behind the death penalty today is the lack of continuity across states. While in some areas of the country rape could be considered a capital offense and thus warrant the death penalty, in others it is not considered so. This represents a failure of true justice. How is it fair that in one state a person could deserve the death penalty and in another only imprisonment? In short, it is not fair. While in situations of smaller crimes such as littering or loitering these inconsistencies seem permissible, when the crime is a matter of life and death, they are certainly not. By forming the death penalty into a cohesive policy, the U.S. can ensure equal justice for its citizens in all states.

Perhaps the best argument for applying the death penalty only to homicides is the inherent injustice of punishing a crime less than death with death itself. While it would be remiss to underestimate the seriousness of crimes such as rape or treason, perhaps it is more just to let such criminals rot in their cells with a life sentence rather than deliver swift justice in the form of death. Would it be fair to kill a criminal who has never killed?

While capital punishment proponents argue that there are other crimes that deserve capital punishment, such as treason and rape, the death penalty should only be applied to homicidal criminals. Though many crimes may be nearly as heinous as murder, they don’t merit the severity of punishment that is dealt through the death penalty. According to the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, citizens are protected from “cruel and unusual punishment.” Such non-homicidal applications of capital punishment have been declared by numerous state legislatures as unconstitutional under the Eighth  Amendment.

The Kennedy v. Louisiana Supreme Court case of 2008 represents an effort by the Supreme Court to form more a cohesive capital punishment policy in our country. Now it is even more important for the judicial system to continue that trend and solidify capital punishment to apply only to homicide cases. It is unjust, even unconstitutional, for a nation founded on freedom, equality, and justice to unfairly punish non-homicidal criminals with death.

October 13, 2010