Improper display of your opinion: If you said something like “this is unconstitutional because I think it is just wrong to treat people like that,” then you didn’t follow the instructions. If you think something is wrong, fine. Tell me WHY you think something is unconstitutional based on how you or the Supreme Court has interpreted _______________ (fill in the blank with the proper amendment/case/law). There is NO correct opinion but you must back up your point of view with relevant materials. This paper is not an editorial. If your gut tells you something is wrong but you can’t put your finger on why you feel this way you haven’t done enough reading or you’ve read materials that aren’t helping you. See me! I will not seek to change your mind; I’ll help you use better sources.
Factually incorrect information: If you want to criticize NYC’s stop-and-frisk program, go right ahead. DO NOT tell me that the SCOTUS ruled that racial profiling is unconstitutional! That is not true. Do not tell me that states don’t have police power under the Constitution! Do not tell the SCOTUS ruled one way on an issue (or didn’t rule at all) when the truth is opposite.
Improper application of amendments, cases, and laws: Do not tell me that the 3rd Amendment is relevant to the discussion of the death penalty…this one is about the forced quartering of soldiers. Do not talk about Wallace vs. Jaffe if you choose the “Forced Vaccination” topic…this case is about the “moments of silence” policy in public schools. Do not tell me the Writ of Habeas Corpus can be revoked whenever the federal government wants to without any reason at all…there are rules for when this civil liberty can be suspended (they may be vague, but they do exist).
College-level writing: This isn’t the first paper you’ve ever written. Make sure that is obvious.
Follow the hints in the body of the paper topic: I’ve given you at least two sides of each issue to demonstrate why just about any political issue has support from both sides. You may follow my lead and elaborate on my examples or you may come up with your own – I do not have a preference.
Restatement of General Information:
For this paper, you MUST reference our ‘founding principles’, the Constitution, the Writ of Habeas Corpus (Article I), and especially the ten amendments contained in the Bill of Rights (1791) as well as the 14th Amendment’s (1868) equal protection clause (these items are worth 15% of your total grade). Examine what the Great Writ and what each amendment actually says (or in some cases, what they don’t say) – some will be more appropriate for your chosen paper topic than others. Given that all four of the topics revolve around the general subject of “rights”, you cannot possibly pass the assignment unless you properly reference the items above. I’ve given you some hints in the body of the paper topics so pay attention to them but don’t think those are the only amendments you need to discuss!
Also, remember you have to use an additional four academic sources for your paper. If you are at all unsure as to whether your sources are acceptable, ask me before the end of the semester!! The four academic sources are worth 20% of your total grade – use four blogs, newspapers, cartoons, YouTube etc, and you lose 20 points off the top. These non-academic sources are for flavor only. They don’t count as part of the four additional sources.
I don’t know how many times I need to say this but I’ll say it again —- I DO NOT CARE WHAT SIDE OF ANY ISSUE YOU CHOOSE TO DEFEND!!! It is not necessary to agree with my opinions in order to get an ‘A’ on this assignment or any of the others. Are we clear about that?
¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬OPTION TWO – Death Penalty
The 14th Amendment (1868) was ratified in order to give American citizenship to former slaves. In Dred Scott (1857), The SCOTUS ruled that Blacks would never be anything more than property and as such, property could not have civil liberties. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal treatment under the law and requires the states to apply the federal Bill of Rights to their own citizens (the process of incorporation). The concept of equal treatment has vexed us since our founding. We demand people be treated equally then we turn right around and defend scenarios in which two people who committed the same crime under the same set of circumstances deserve different treatment. Take the death penalty for example. Does it matter if one killer is more sympathetic (i.e. young, poor, downtrodden, etc.) than another killer? Aren’t their victims just as dead? Why treat them differently?
Prosecutors are elected to represent the citizens of counties within a state. Different counties have varying political ideologies and attitudes and the prosecutors typically reflect their citizens’ beliefs (hence, the reason for their election). The concept of federalism allows prosecutors the discretion to seek the death penalty or ask for life in prison upon conviction, so defendants in different locales around the state may face remarkably different punishments for virtually the same crimes.
In 1983, Karla Faye Tucker committed capital murder in Texas and was executed in 1998. She murdered two people with a pickaxe during the commission of a robbery, along with her boyfriend. She was reportedly so high on alcohol and drugs that she was not able to form the requisite intent to kill and under Texas law, was not technically eligible for the death penalty. The Travis County district attorney disagreed and sought the death penalty anyway. Her boyfriend died on Death Row of liver disease in 1993 and she was put to death in 1998 after a very public campaign to spare her life thanks to her supposed religious conversion during her years on Death Row. Murder is a capital crime in Texas when it occurs during the commission of another felony; in this case, robbery. Texas’ Governor George W. Bush did not pardon her. Very few women are on Death Row and even though most people on Death Row are White males, some court-watchers surmised that pardoning a female White Christian-convert while letting male Black religious converts face execution was not politically tenable.
In 1995, Diane Michelle Zamora, along with her boyfriend, kidnapped his ex-girlfriend, carried her across county lines and bludgeoned her to death. In Texas, this incident qualified as capital murder and the defendants were eligible for the death penalty if convicted. The Tarrant County district attorney did not seek the death penalty; the jury went into the case knowing that they would not have to make the decision to put someone to death. Zamora and her boyfriend were convicted and are currently serving life terms in prison. “Life” in Texas is 50 years – time off with good behavior can get that sentence down to 40 years. Zamora and her boyfriend may be celebrating their 59th birthdays at the restaurant of their choice while Tucker and her boyfriend are dead.
What is the difference between these two couples? Tucker was an uneducated, unemployed drug addict that stole to pay for her habit when the proceeds from prostitution didn’t pay the bills. Her boyfriend was of the same ilk. Zamora was every mother’s dream – smart, pretty and on her way to the Naval Academy after high school. Her boyfriend earned an appointment to the Air Force Academy. The Travis County prosecutor told the media that he knew he could “sell” the death penalty to a jury. The Tarrant Count DA was afraid that jurors would see their own children in the faces of Zamora and her boyfriend and might hang the jury so he did not seriously consider the death penalty.
Think about what the 8th and 14th Amendments say about the death penalty. The only thing the Constitution guarantees is that you get a fair trial. What does a fair trial mean? It has to be speedy and free of provable corruption and you cannot be compelled to testify against yourself. You are allowed to present a defense (i.e. evidence of your innocence). You are entitled to an attorney even if you cannot afford one and if convicted by a jury of your peers you are able to appeal your verdict. If you lose your appeals your punishment cannot be excessive. If given the death penalty, it cannot be cruel and unusual.
However, keep this in mind: if you are convicted of a crime and your trial was deemed fair and you later uncover evidence that would exonerate you, you are not automatically entitled to a new trial. Justice Antonin Scalia said that evidence of innocence is no bar to execution…translation: the government can still execute an innocent person because all of the constitutional rules were followed. State constitutions give the governors the authority to pardon criminals and the United States Constitution gives this duty to the president. This is an example of the Executive branch’s power to check the Judiciary.
FYI: If you think it is a Texas issue, you would be wrong. Prosecutorial discretion in sentencing occurs in all states, another outcome of our federalist system. A quick Google of “death penalty” will reveal numerous controversies in the public domain at any given time.
QUESTION FOR YOU: What elements of the Constitution address this topic? The death penalty is the ultimate loss of your rights to life, liberty and property so we should assume prosecutors don’t blithely request this punishment. They are serious individuals who make their decisions using the Constitution as their guide. Obviously you’ll rely on your understanding of the 14th Amendment to argue your points but what else in the Constitution informs your paper? It appears to me that the two couples committed the same crime – double felonies involving violent, bloody, bludgeoning deaths – yet they received very different sentences.
I do not care what your position on the death penalty is. The point of this paper is not to convince me which murderous couple got what they deserved – life or death. The point is to use the Constitution to support whichever argument you decide to make.
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