Is the Death Penalty a Mistake?
When reading about Justine’s execution in Frankenstein, the whole situation of having her sentenced to death for something she didn’t do really bothered me. Justine wasn’t even given a proper trial to say the least bit. The only reason Justine even admitted to the murder of William was too save her soul from condemnation. While Victor knew the whole time that the death of William was caused by his creature and not by Justine. Victor didn’t say anything though due to the fact he knew people wouldn’t believe him if he told them the truth. With Victor seeing what his creature has caused he becomes angry, hurt, unsure and ridden with guilt.
The guilt he felt came from him knowing that he was the reason Justine died such an unjust death and she was viewed by the town in the wrong way. This event with Justine could have been stopped if the town would have given her a fair trial and didn’t use the death penalty on her. The death penalty today is much different than it was when the story took place. So does the death penalty have good intentions or is the death penalty a mistake? The first part to understand about the death penalty is the whole purpose of it. The purpose of the death penalty was to always be a deterrent. Which is a good deterrent but could be carried out for any crime possible during the eighteenth century. The death penalty has been around for thousands of years, but first became official in the eighteenth century “in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon”, which made twenty five specific laws illegal at the time(Dunham Part 1).
Back then the death sentence could be given to someone who committed a petty crime like stealing a piece of food or a piece of clothing. With the consequence being so severe crime would expectedly decrease, but a big problem with crimes back then it wasn’t hard to give someone the death penalty. For example, being considered guilty of a crime wasn’t very hard to do back then since there wasn’t technology like cameras or anything like that to prove whether an individual was innocent or guilty.
Like Justine for a matter of fact, she was considered guilty because she had one picture in her pocket that William had been carrying around. With that one picture everyone figured that she had to have been the one to kill him. Which honestly doesn’t seem like it would be enough evidence to convict someone of a crime, especially if they were going to be give the death penalty for it. The death penalty was much more serious then compared to now. As time has progressed humanity began to realize that every consequence or punishment didn’t have to be so extreme. Like now the punishment for a petty crime would be more along the lines of a ticket or probation. Another important part to understand in the death penalty is how it all works, even though every case may very due to each state’s differing laws.
The first step for the death penalty to work would be having usually a violent crime that seems a bit more far fetched than a normal case of assault or battery. Then the police have to investigate the crime scene, talk to any witnesses available, have a brief understanding of the situation at hand and most importantly make an arrest on a suspect. After a suspect or numerous suspects are arrested, there will be an arraignment. Which is the defendant being in the court to hear what charges are being filed and deciding to enter a plea.
Once the defendant decides to enter a plea there will be a preliminary hearing which is the deciding factor on if the case should go further or not. Now the case being decided to go further or not relies on the amount of evidence at the crime scene, forensics and what has been obtained through the suspect or witnesses. If the case decides to move forward then there will be a grand jury that listens and decides if the charges should continue or if they should be dropped. After the charges have gone through with the grand jury, an indictment is created. An indictment is an official understanding of the crime and what happened in it.
Then there be a hearing on pre- trial motions, which is for deciding if everything being stated in the case is in the outline of the law somewhere. Simply it is just making sure everything is clearly understood and makes since before the trial goes into effect. Then the prosecutor decides if they want “to seek the death penalty”, which is saying if the defendant is found guilty they will be facing the death penalty. Which seems kind of weird that the prosecutor’s main intention will be to get the defendant executed, but anyways that’s what the jury is for. The jury will decide if the defendant deserves the charge of the death penalty or if they deserve a different kind of charge like life in prison with no parole. After that, the trial will finally start with the opening statements then the prosecutor and defendant will make their cases. After the cases are made then closing statements will be made to the jury to think on.
Once the jury has made their decision they will give the judge the verdict. Once the verdict is reached and if the defendant is proven guilty, then the main trial is mostly over. When the defendant is proven guilty they will be facing two different circumstances called “aggravating circumstances” and “mitigating circumstances”. They basically declare the crime was committed in a certain way and for a certain reason. After that there will be the victim impact statements which would be like the mother of the victim telling the defendant how she feels about what was done. This lets everyone know in the court room at the time how she was affected and how the family was affected. It gives a voice for the victim to the public on how the situation is being dealt with at home. After that the jury will either agree on the death penalty or decide a different punishment.
Then once the recommendation is made the jury will state the punishment in the court, but each state varies with their punishments and beliefs on the death penalty. This was just a somewhat brief explanation of how the death penalty is carried out, so there’s an understanding of what the death penalty all entails. This whole process usually takes years to do and get passed all the way through court and through the police. The death penalty is no quick matter to decide on since someone’s life is a stake. Today the death penalty is now looked down upon by many due to many reasons. Some people would view it as immoral, unconstitutional, inhumane or not the best way to punish someone. As the death penalty is still around today it is not as popular as it once was.
With people viewing it as immoral the amount of executions have decreased dramatically. People think that executing someone for their actions isn’t the best way to teach others not to commit crimes. Especially since nobody is perfect and people will mess up. Society now is much more forgiving than back then which helps people who commit these crimes. Even though every situation is different the people committing crime usually know what they’re doing is wrong and know they will get off easy if the crime they commit is small. Trying to find a balance on keeping a deterrent severe enough to stop people from committing crime and finding one that isn’t to harsh is hard to balance. As times have changed and humanity has moved toward the goal of becoming more forgiving and more about second chances, the death penalty has become less common.
The cultural shift on becoming more forgiving and lenient on consequences come from the idea of “Traditional morals should not act to satisfy our own selfish needs, but instead should act altruistically”, which is saying that people help each other out in ways that satisfy other people in their own selfish ways(Williams para 2). For example, think of being in the eighteenth century and putting yourself in the position of a criminal who is facing the death penalty for something like adultery. Then think of the fact knowing you will be having to face death for something that could be fixed. While today, adultery is viewed as something that is like a slap on the wrist unfortunately.
Like I said earlier it is hard to find a punishment severe enough to deter people away from doing it, but nothing so severe it will cost a person their life. Some individuals think of the death penalty as inhumane. They consider it inhumane in different ways like how the penalty is considered to be an option or how the penalty is carried out and performed. So after many court cases and new politicians in legislative positions elected over time the death penalty is nowhere near as common as it was back in the eighteenth century. With people being less strict and harsh on punishments, criminals have an opportunity to turn their lives around.
Once their life is turned around they can become productive and beneficial members to society. Even though life doesn’t always work out the way most want it to, it gives those people a chance to be something in life. It may not be something big and super important, but it is something useful to the rest of society which is definitely something to be appreciative of. When the death penalty is carried out it can happen in a few ways like lethal injection, electric chair, hanging, poisonous gas, and even firing squad. Out of the few opportunities the electric chair is the most common method used today. Many cases have been made about how there is at least one problem with each one of these methods in some form or fashion.
For example, there have been a few cases where the person being executed with the electric chair has ended up catching on fire. This soon led to an increased amount of executions by lethal injections to be the main alternative. People began to agree more with lethal injection as the most humane way to perform an execution on someone. They liked lethal injection more due to it not being as gruesome and unpleasant to watch. People didn’t like firing squad due to that being considered as messy and unpleasant to watch. Overall, watching or performing any of these executions don’t have an easy, pleasant or humane way to be done. Dealing with death is never easy one way or another. Meaning whether it is a best friend, family member or a criminal and they die in some form or fashion, it is still hard to deal with. Even if the person deserved it for what they did it will affect the family of the person who died.
In Florida an incident occurred where an individual named Allen Lee Davis had struggled and obviously was feeling the pain of the electric chair which is not the point of an execution. Allen was one of the first few to start the controversy on whether switching to lethal injection was better and more humane than the electric chair. In some more reports between “1990 and 1997, inmates caught fire as they were being put to death”, really started a campaign to end the electric chair and executions in general(Bragg para 2).
Which obviously hasn’t happened yet, but the goal of ending or reducing the death penalty has been quite progressive within the last hundred years. When these executions don’t work well the first time when trying to be carried out, it raises a bunch of commotion and starts a lot of protesting within the country. People will be saying how the death penalty is inhumane, immoral and even unconstitutional which may surprise a few people. The whole topic of the death penalty has always been a hot button topic within the last hundred years due to some people still supporting it and then people who are strongly against it.
One of the better and stronger arguments for being against the death penalty is if the death penalty is unconstitutional? Now some people consider it unconstitutional due to a few amendments, but mainly the eighth amendment. The eighth amendment in the Constitution states “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”, so some individuals believe that the death penalty would be considered as “cruel” or an “unusual punishment”, which is a good argument of the matter (Mulligan para 1).
With the controversy on the matter a court case was made called Furman v. Georgia in 1972 which stated that the death penalty did not violate the eight amendment, but guidelines were set like “A punishment which is grossly or excessively severe in relation to the gravity of the crime charged must be struck down by the courts as it violates the Eighth Amendment”, which proves the death penalty had some regulation to it (para 2). The eighth amendment is not the only amendment that was being questioned. People began to claim that the death penalty violated the fifth amendment as well. Which was brought up as a follow up with the eighth amendment. The argument on how the death penalty violated the fifth amendment was how the fifth is supposed to prohibit capital punishment without due process of law. Which simply means that the no person of any kind can face any federal punishment without a court case.
For example, in the story of Frankenstein the girl Justine was executed and convicted of a crime she didn’t do so this obviously violates the fifth amendment even though the fifth amendment wasn’t even made by then. With an event like this though it shows that the fifth amendment is needed in society today. Justine was convicted of the murder since she was mortified of being condemned to Hell by her priest so she admitted to it. In the eighteenth century the legal system that was there was mainly based off of religious beliefs which isn’t a fair system to be based off of. Mainly due to the fact that religion would be considered forced upon people and not allowed to have freedom of beliefs.
Which is ridiculous since the fact there was only one piece of evidence and there wasn’t much credibility or justification behind the one piece of evidence. There wasn’t even a very stable and liable legal system back then which also proves the need for the fifth amendment to prevent things like innocent people being given the death penalty. Now for the guidelines being set with the fifth and eighth amendment there are strong regulations with it. The importance of these amendments being strictly enforced prevent things like torture, wrongful conviction, bias, damaged rights, and excessive punishments. One example that could be used would be if the police captured a suspect in a homicide case they wouldn’t be able to convict the suspect without a trial with a jury and they also could not interrogate him with physical force.
These amendments in the Constitution protect citizen’s rights from the government abusing its’ powers over it’s people. The guidelines these amendments enforce prevent things like inhumane execution when being sentenced with the death penalty. When something is being questioned as if it is unconstitutional, then more attention will be aimed towards that something. For instance, the death penalty being considered unconstitutional puts a valid argument on the topic, but people view things in different ways so it is hard to find that balance of the majority being satisfied within society. In the end, the death penalty would not be considered a mistake but something to be extremely cautious with. The death penalty has a purpose ,but the purpose of it is not as effective as it used to be in the eighteenth century.
The whole purpose of the death penalty was to be a deterrent to stop people from committing crimes. The thought process behind the death penalty was people will not want to commit crime if it will cost them their lives. The thought process was made before the eighteenth century and the results have changed since then. With living in the eighteenth century people were more scared with the consequence of death than they are today. Times have changed though thankfully, toward a more relaxed and forgiving society that wants to give second chances to people. In this newer society people have wanted to be more helpful towards others and get them back on the right path in life. This should have been the case for Justine in Frankenstein. To be given a chance at making things right and help people understand what really happened.
This could have been prevented if she wasn’t being condemned the entire time and people wouldn’t have looked at the death penalty as an only option for what happened. If the situation is clearly understood and addressed correctly then the death penalty won’t have to go into effect. Don’t jump to conclusions, slow down and listen and things will begin to make sense in life.
- Dunham. “Part I: History of the Death Penalty.” Part I: History of the Death Penalty | Death Penalty Information Center, deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty.
- Williams, Steve S. “Did Morality Evolve?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2 May 2010, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-nature-nurture-nietzsche-blog/201005/did-morality-evolve.
- Mulligan, William Hughes. “Cruel and Unusual Punishments: The Proportionality Rule.” The John F. Sonnett Memorial Lectures at Fordham University School of Law: A Half-Century of Advocacy and Judicial Perspectives, edited by Dennis J. Kenny and Joel E. Davidson, Fordham University, NEW YORK, 2018, pp. 140–152. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv19x569.14.
- Bragg, Rick. “Florida’s Messy Executions Put the Electric Chair on Trial.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Nov. 1999, www.nytimes.com/1999/11/18/us/florida-s-messy-executions-put-the-electric-chair-on-trial.html.