Daily 49er

Death penalty should be abolished for constitutional reasons


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Although it was the subject of intense national debate in the 1970s, the issue of whether the death penalty is constitutional has faded considerably in recent years.

Discussions regarding the archaic form of punishment have seemingly disappeared from national headlines.

In accordance with his dedication to human rights causes, former President Jimmy Carter recently spoke out about his view on the death penalty.

“It’s time for the [U.S.] Supreme Court to look at the totality of the death penalty once again,” Carter said to The Guardian. “My preference would be for the court to rule that it is cruel and unusual punishment, which would make it prohibitive under the US Constitution.”

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled since 1976 that the death penalty is constitutional, it’s easy to see that the nation’s highest court should rethink its position on such a controversial form of punishment.

If the Supreme Court hears a case on the constitutionality of the death penalty, an argument can be made to justify its repeal under the Sixth and Eighth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

In the U.S. Constitution, the Sixth Amendment  states that the accused have a right to trial by an impartial jury in all criminal prosecutions.

The Sixth Amendment also gives the accused a right to “be confronted with the witnesses against [them].”

If one defines criminal prosecution in a literal sense, then it can be inferred that the accused have the right to confront the witnesses against them and a trial by jury in all steps of their proceeding, including the sentencing portion.

According to University of Richmond School of Law professor John G. Douglass, however, the accused do not enjoy the full rights as specified in the Sixth Amendment.

In a 2005 article he wrote for the Columbia Law Review, Douglass said the Supreme Court has ruled that the accused have only the right to counsel at sentencing proceedings.

Why shouldn’t a jury be present at a capital sentencing proceeding?

If the accused are denied such a fundamental right, it can be argued the death penalty is unconstitutional under the Sixth Amendment.

Perhaps the most logical reason to abolish the death penalty is its apparent unconstitutionality under the Eighth Amendment.

The amendment bans the use of cruel and unusual punishment in any form.

As to what exactly constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” no one knows exactly.

What can be a more cruel and unusual form of punishment than death?

If someone is given a death sentence, that person clearly does not have a chance to reform his or herself for the crime allegedly committed.

Yes, there are people who should be punished severely for heinous crimes like murder and rape.

Should they have to die for their crimes, though?

Instead of trying to reform prisoners, it seems like those who support the death penalty are more concerned with playing God.

Abolish the death penalty. We’re not living in Stone Age anymore.

Shane Newell is a junior journalism major and the opinions editor at the Daily 49er.

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