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“Cruel and unusual punishment is unconstitutional!” So why is it legal?

Modern-day death penalty: The basics

There are currently twenty-two US states who have realized that the death penalty is barbaric and useless, with Colorado being the newest addition to the bunch.

Capital punishment was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, giving states their so-called “Constitutional” blessing to execute inmates, which disproportionately impacts Black and other racial minorities due to the implicit racial bias continuing to impact the outcomes of court rulings in the United States. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, 318 executions have occurred for interracial (Black and White) murders. In murder cases of a Black defendant and White victims, 297 had their executions administered, while only 21 White defendants involved in the killing of Black victims were executed, thus demonstrating the correlation between race and the likelihood of receiving the death penalty.

The Trump Administration has been adamant about their stance on the death penalty as they have carried out an unnerving ten federal executions under his presidency. After Trump’s electoral loss on November 3rd to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, Trump has followed through with three of those ten executions, all of which are Black men. Not only has this been the first documentation of a president carrying out executions during a lame-duck period, but also the termination of the 17-year hiatus of executing death row inmates.

Brandon Bernard: A rundown on his case

At the ripe age of just 18, Brandon Bernard and five other gang affiliated members deceived, robbed, and murdered Stacie and Todd Bagley in 1999. While it is true that Mr. Bernard played a minor role in the slaying--dousing the vehicle with lighter fluid, the car sepulchered the bodies of the Bagleys with the intention to destroy any lingering evidence--he was not the man to be held accountable for the gruesome murder of the Bagley couple. Christopher Vialva, the already-executed ringleader of the gang group, fired two gunshots at both the skulls of Todd and Stacie, immediately killing Todd and leaving Stacie unconscious.

On December 11th, 2020 at 9:27 PM, Brandon Bernard was pronounced dead, prompted by lethal injection. Bernard was only 40 years old at the time of his execution, making him the youngest individual to be executed in nearly 70 years.

Was Bernard worthy of execution?

No. Bernard recognized his wrongdoings while being imprisoned as he showed immense positive shifts in behavior. He would partake in church youth outreach in hopes of impacting the youth of this generation, specifically young black men, to not go down the same path he did.

Bernard, a black man, was tried by nearly an all-white jury in conjunction with a white judge, which is neither beneficial nor fair to a black man, considering the racism that runs rampant within America. In fact, a former prosecutor of Bernard’s case came forward and stated that racial stereotypes played a substantial role when deciding Bernard’s sentence, clearly demonstrating the prevalence of racial prejudices that are deeply rooted in the US criminal justice system.

Several jurors of Bernard’s case sympathized with Bernard, stating that they regret not opting for a life sentence instead. But regardless of former jurors, Bernard’s attorney, and hundreds of young criminal justice activists pleading for Bernard’s sentence to be commuted to life in prison without the opportunity for parole, both the Supreme Court and the Trump administration refused to reconcile with Bernard.

In spite of the reality that Mr. Bernard is far from being painted as an innocent man, he did not deserve to be put to death.

Why should the US Government overturn the legality of the death penalty?

The death penalty exudes more cons than pros on the American population, and many advocates for maintaining such an outdated and inhumane form of punishment argue its legality on hypocritical and illogical pretenses.

  • Violation of basic human rights: Each individual has the inalienable right to life. By allowing the government to strip people of their own lives is unethical and grants the federal government too much power. The permittance of federal executions is an infringement to the ideology of democracy itself. The government is meant to be for the people, by the people, and thus, the government should not be given this ability.

  • Violation of equal protection: Each individual residing in the US has the constitutional right of equal protection. However, equal protection becomes non-existent when the perpetrator is a POC, poor, uneducated, and their victim was white. The deeply rooted racism in this country has demonstrated time and time again that the underprivileged will always be inadvertently deprived of equality.

  • “What about an eye for and eye?”: Combating violence with violence is never the solution. The outdated Code of Hammurabi argument “an eye for an eye” is illogical. In this instance it was a regular civilian killing another regular civilian and then being put to death by the government. It is not the same situation, or “eye,” and therefore cannot be compared. More often than not, the regular civilian’s murderous actions were not premeditated whereas the court’s ruling on the death penalty is premeditated murder, further reiterating the fact that this argument is hypocritical because in reality, it is not an equal scenario.

  • “But criminals shouldn’t be leeching off of taxpayer money!”: The lack of knowledge surrounding the true cost of the death penalty is evident when a citizen brings up this exact quote in hopes to pathetically defend the death penalty. A simple Google search debunks this entire argument. In fact, it is more costly to carry out an execution in comparison to sentencing the felon to life in prison. For instance, in the southern state of Florida, it costs approximately $2.5 million more to lethally inject, and thus execute, a criminal in comparison to a 40-year life sentence.

  • Possibility of wrongfully convicted being wrongfully executed: Our criminal justice system is far from perfect, leaving room for error and resulting in innocent civilians being convicted of a crime they did not commit. A prime example of this would be Joseph Roger O’dell: an innocent man who was executed by lethal injection in 1997. He was accused of being involved in the rape, torture, and murder of a young woman in 1985, nearly a decade prior to his execution. However, new DNA displayed the fact that O’dell was an innocent man that was wrongfully convicted and killed by the government. The worst possible scenarios of these cases occur when the individual is sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit due to a multitude of reasons that include but are not limited to: the vision impairment of witnesses’ causing them racially stereotype the perpetrator, violation of Miranda Warnings by intense interrogation and threatening, imperfection of DNA testing, and racial/economic disparities.



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