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“Against The Death Penalty” In The United States

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The Declaration of Rights Article 7 states that all are equal before the law and are entitled to no discrimination and equal protection of the law. Additionally, Article 8 states that everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law. However, the criminal justice system in the United States has proven in numerous ways to diverge from these was that it claims to stand for, first in the evidential prejudice people of color, in this case, African Americans as well as the death penalty in the United States.

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It is no secret that the United States justice system is preputial against people of color and, most notably, the African American community. While there is not so much evidence that racial profiling is a blanket issue across the United States, there have been valid reasons to believe that its indeed a menace. Evidently, the rate of incarceration for black people is higher than in other races in America. Arrest, conviction, and sentencing are also done differently for different these communities. For instance, African Americans were 37.5% of the total incarcerated population in America out of an overall population at that time of less than 13% of black people in the country. What was more astonishing was that 1 in every 33 black men in the same year was in prison while as significantly lower 1 out of 205white men was in prison. This disproportion stands out as a red flag in the justice system.

Furthermore, several attempts have been made that explain this disparity, with many suggesting that police officers, who primarily up until recently are white, tend to over-arrest African Americans and ignore criminals that are white. The fact that there are more arrests of African Americans creates the negative illusion that most crimes are carried out by African Americans, which is not valid. This thinking has, in turn, influenced the justice system. This belief is not only held by black people but also white folk who believe that the justice system works against the black community. In a statement made in May 1999, Justice Sandra O’Connor stated that black people believe that they are treated worse than other races and that many white people believe the same as well. Therefore, an inclusive action must be taken to eradicate this racial bias in the system.

The same issue also extends to juvenile cases where young black folks are overrepresented in juvenile courts. For instance, in the year 2016, 90% of the juvenile cases recorded in New Jersey were from minority communities, with most being African Americans. Of these cases were of back people that committed crimes as minors but were being tried as adults. This, therefore, demonstrates a slowness in the justice system to deal with cases involving the black minority. This is contrary to the Sixth Amendment, which is intended to protect people accused of a crime, stating the accused has a right to a speedy and public trial, trial by an impartial jury which should be made up of jurors from the state in which the crime allegedly happened. Additionally, the accused has a right to call their witnesses as well as face the witnessed of the plaintiff face to face. The accused also must be informed of the exact charges against them.

Additionally, there has been extensive research to determine whether the sentencing of black folk is harsher than that for white people. A study done between 2011 and 204 showed that in Texas, black and Hispanic criminals got harsher sentences than criminals of the white race for similar crimes. Some studies have also shown that sentencing varies from judge to judge but on average, blacks, as well as Hispanics, got 20% more sentence periods than the white criminals (Palazzolo, 2013),

Suggestions have been made to ensure that the system is fair. First, it is necessary for the prosecutors not only to prosecute but also to carry out research to find out the truth. Secondly, there needs to be an improvement in some of the approaches currently implemented, including Rule 1.1 of the Supreme Court that states that action concerning a case can be taken after 21 days after judgment. Third, the ever reducing pay for an attorney representing defendants, in this case, African American community, should be increased to at least the prevailing market rates as this will motivate the counsel to accord them a fair trial. Racial profiling and bias go against the Universal Declaration of human rights Article 2 that states that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or another status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made based on the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. This, therefore, means that anything in the justice system that shows any disparity in effecting justice to an individual because of their gender or color is a violation of their human rights.

In her letter to Pope John Paul II about his involvement and consequent delay in Joseph O’Dell’s execution, where he was sentenced to death and was to be executed on December 18th, Sister Helen Prejean explains her reasons against the death penalty in the United States (Prejean, 1997). Helen acknowledges that the Catholic Church has in various ways stated and supported executions as long as they were for the public good. However, Helen argues against it. Firsts on the basis of the fundamental human right of a human being to live. According to Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration of human rights which states that Everyone has a right to life, liberty and security of the person as well as Article 5 that states that “No one shall be subjected to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, Sister Helen argued that the United States, as well as the Catholic church, needed to review their stand. In her experience, leading two people to their execution, she states that they all said that they were tired. She states that the anticipation of the actual day is a torturous and tormenting experience regardless of the states claiming to use the most painless methods such as lethal injections to execute the criminals. If that were so, how then would this approach be deemed non-torturous, with the criminal having to die “a thousand times” before their actual death?

Sister Helen points out that the Catholic Church holds in the Evangelium Vitae paragraph 56 that in cases of absolute necessity execution was permissible. However, Helen identifies nations that have taken their stand against this, including the Constitution Court of South Africa, which as be of its first acts, forbade executions. This they stated was because they had found that, with the advent of knowledge, there were other ways to deal with potential threats and hardcore criminals and to keep them away from other people without having to kill them. Additionally, as a matter of incredible concern, Sister Helen says that she discovered that the vast majority of people that had been executed were poor, up to 99% of the 3200 people. This, she claims to be a way of the wealthier folk to deal with the issue of poverty in the United States. As though that was not worrying enough, in her research, she discovered that many of the cases sentenced to executions were those of people who killed white people, up to 85% of them.

In contrast, in cases where people of color were killed, the cases hardly ever led to death sentences, and the prosecution was not as rigorous. This, therefore, implied that there was prejudice in the justice system against people of color. In her plea to the pope, Helen states without fear that she believes that the approval and support of the Catholic Church of the death penalty are, in fact against the very teaching of the Bible on mercy and compassion as Jesus Christ taught we should do. Therefore, it was in a bad light, and absolute distill of the Gospel of Jesus Christ if the church were to support such an inhumane act. Sister Helen believes that the Church is the best shot at ensuring the death penalty is abolished and must take their stand in pushing for the agenda in a united voice, with the support of the United Nations.

Before his execution, Dobie Gillis Williams, an African American man, had been on death row for close to 14 years, being held at the Louisiana State Penitentiary for murder (State of Louisiana v. Dobie Gillis Williams, 1986). Similar to the case of Joseph O’Dell, Sister Helen was Dobie’s spiritual advisor. According to Prejean, Dobie’s case, a classic example of incompetence on the part of the justice system (Prejean, 2005). The district attorney, who claimed that Dobie was indeed the killer, admitted that the experts as well as he had no time to assess the DNA samples before the execution. After two stays on his executions and a later overruling of the sentence by a Federal District Court judge, the man was executed with statements that any mitigating reasons that influence the overruling of his sentence were introduced too late. The first stay was granted by the United States Supreme Court and the second ne by the Louisiana governor. The DNA results that were used to deem Williams guilty were not only just faulty but had gone through poor handling and had been tested using poor techniques. Although Dobie was intellectually challenged, the execution was effected.

Other than the fact that the DNA evidenced tabled to accuse Dobie of the murder accused, the court neither took into consideration the fact that he was intellectually disabled with an IQ of 6, the court did not take to account the fact that Dobie had received substandard legal counsel, with his legal representative being found to be incompetent and disbarred after Dobie’s death. Therefore in his last appeal, in which the defense requested for forensic evidence to be taken, which matched Dobie’s blood, but was criticized by analysts, Dobie’s death penalty was overruled. However, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this, and the man was executed in accordance with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

It is therefore evident that the criminal justice system in the United States of America has been, in many cases, ineffective in administering due and timely justice to accused people and especially those that are African American. This goes against the constitution of the United States as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 7 that states that all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination. Additionally, the death penalty admissible in the U.S. does not uphold the right to an individual not to undergo any cruel treatment or torture regardless of the excuse that execution is painless.

07 September 2020

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