The recent sentencing of Dylann Roof for 33 counts of federal hate crimes is likely to prompt a renewed discussion about capital punishment. The federal prosecutors will be seeking the death penalty when Roof is sentenced, as will the state of South Carolina, where Roof faces additional murder charges for the Charleston shooting that took place on June 17, 2015.
A research paper could explore how the issue of capital punishment is handled in other countries, historically and in modern times.
Federal case closed
The federal case against Dylann Roof for the Charleston shooting has ended, with Roof convicted of charges that included murder, attempted murder, damage to religious property, obstruction of religious belief and weapons charges. Rebecca Hersher wrote, “The guilt phase of the trial featured six days of testimony from 30 witnesses, including a recorded confession and excerpts from Roof’s journal, and it painted a picture of a young man filled with racial hatred who spent months planning to murder black people,” for a December 15, 2016, article on npr.com, “Jury Finds Dylann Roof Guilty In S.C. Church Shooting.”
Roof has requested to represent himself during the penalty phase of the federal case for the Charleston shooting, which will determine if he receives the death penalty. A research paper could delve into the history of capital punishment in the United States, or a comparison of defendants who choose to represent themselves versus utilizing legal counsel during trials or sentencing.
Changing thought on capital punishment
The death penalty is controversial, currently only used in 31 of the 50 states. Additionally, many states have declared moratoriums on the use of capital punishment due to a multitude of factors, such as new DNA evidence that has exonerated death row prisoners.
Reid Wilson posted, “Nevada will consider ending death penalty” on December 14, 2016, for thehill.com on efforts in that state to halt the use of capital punishment. Nevada hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2006, but several legislators would like to ensure that trend continues. One reason why Nevada and other states have not performed any executions in recent years is an unwillingness of pharmaceutical companies to sell the drugs needed for lethal injection. Wilson wrote, “Nevada is among the states that has been unable to obtain the drugs necessary to perform a lethal injection since pharmaceutical companies began limiting access.”
A research paper could look at the historical means of execution and examine if the current method of lethal injection is as humane as capital punishment advocates say.
The future of the death penalty
“Rethinking the Death Penalty” by Kim Schnurbush for the January-February 2016 issue of Corrections Today explored why thinking about capital punishment may be shifting in the United States. She wrote, “Professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan states that approximately 4.1 percent of people who are convicted and sentenced to death in the U.S. are actually innocent.”
Schnurbush cites two similar cases where men were wrongfully convicted of murders they did not commit. One man was executed, and later exonerated, while the other individual was found innocent after spending nine years in prison. An assistant professor of criminal justice at California State University in Sacramento, Schnurbush has seen firsthand how human error has affected people’s lives in the courtroom. She argued that it is not possible to always know if someone is guilty. A research paper could examine the work that legal groups have done to halt capital punishment in states due to wrongful convictions.
Is the death penalty something that should continue in the United States? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.