Morgan M. Pennsylvania

Death Penalty

The Death Penalty

Dear Future President of the United States,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

-- Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, 1776

As president of this country, you are familiar with these so famously written words. You understand that all citizens of this country are given these rights and they cannot be denied. It is your job to ensure these rights for all citizens. By continuing the use of the death penalty, citizens of the United States of America are denied the right to live, one of the “certain unalienable rights” written by Jefferson. The continued use of the death penalty contradicts this principle and should not be further practiced because it directly opposes the right to live, counters violence with a greater use of it, and is a financially inefficient method of holding prisoners.

The death penalty is the punishment for capital offenses, most of which are murder ( The idea of killing a citizen of this country as a result of one of these capital offenses directly opposes the right to live, and each citizen of the United States is granted this right. The death penalty was ruled to be constitutional in the Gregg v. Georgia case of 1976, in which a man named Troy Leon Gregg was sentenced to death by the state of Georgia (kids.laws). The Supreme Court eventually ruled that Gregg could be legally sentenced to death because he was tried and sentenced through a “formal judicial system” (kids.laws). While the current law decided by the Supreme Court rules the use of the death penalty to be constitutional, history has proved the courts are not always correct. For example, the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896 ruled the doctrine “separate but equal” constitutional ( staff). Republicans, who generally favor the death penalty, also controlled the Supreme Court at this time (Berg-Anderson). Also, unlike a prison sentence, which may be altered due to new evidence, the death penalty cannot be undone, An innocent person could be wrongly sentenced to death using this method of punishment.

The death penalty is an ineffective, contradictory practice that uses inhumane ways to execute its victims. During the 1930s to 1960s, the death penalty use declined, and the the murder rate decreased ( Republican presidents, favoring the death penalty, were in power for five of the seven elections between 1964 to 1988 (, but the murder rate in the U.S. increased during this time. The death penalty is also inhumane and can be classified as cruel and unusual punishment. Early forms of the death penalty include lynching, hanging, beheading, stoning, burning alive, and drowning, all barbaric styles of execution (Guernsey 51). Modern methods, such as the electric chair, gassing, firing squads, and lethal injections, have flaws and room for error as well. In 1990, Jesse Tafero needed to be electrocuted three separate times before the electric chair killed him, all as, according to JoAnn Beth Guernsey, “fire, smoke, and sparks spewed from his head” (53). Those tortured by this method may also vomit blood, jerk involuntarily, have their flesh burnt from their bodies, and have their eyeballs release from their sockets. Using gassing for the death penalty can take eight gruesome minutes filled with pain and convulsions, as it did for Jimmy Lee Gray (Guernsey 54). Firing squads put personal guilt on the members of the squad, and it is possible for all of members to miss and the prisoner to slowly bleed out from their wounds (Guernsey 53-54). Lethal injection may also fail on its first attempt, as it did for Stephen Peter Morin in 1985 and Robert Landry in 1988 (Guernsey 59).

These inhumane methods are also financially inefficient and most prisoners put on death row waste government money. About half of all death sentences are eventually reversed, and only fifteen of all prisoners on death row are executed, the other eighty-five percent dying of natural causes (Guernsey 22-23). Prisoners on death row cannot work or interact with other prisoners, and therefore the costs for keeping a prisoner on death row is higher than keeping a prisoner that is not in death row (Guernsey 22). In the state of Maryland, for example, it costs about $3 million for a person on death row (McMenamin). On the contrary, it only costs $1.1 million for a person with life imprisonment (McMenamin). The costs for executing a prisoner is higher than keeping a prisoner alive because of the current court system (McMenamin). Keeping a prisoner on death row and/or executing them is a financial blunder or the states imprisoning them and it would be logical for this practice to be ended.

While supporters of the death penalty state that permitting the killer to live puts less value on the victim’s life than the killer’s, the use of violence to counter violence does not only deny one of the basic rights of all American citizens, but it also places a financial burden on the state as well. Sentencing American citizens to their deaths proves not only inhumane, but ineffective. While supporters also may argue that the rate of murder lowers during greater use of the death penalty, research has denied these claims. All in all, the use of the death penalty is morally and financially wrong and the practice should be put to rest, not the victims. 


Morgan M. 

Lower Dauphin High School

Mrs. Morgret's 9th grade Honors English students

Periods 4 and 5/6 from Lower Dauphin High School

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