An Argument Supporting the Implementation of Capital Punishment
Capital punishment, or the death penalty, is the execution of a convicted criminal by the state as punishment for crimes known as capital crimes or capital offences. Historically, the execution of criminals and political opponents was used by nearly all societies – both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent. Among democratic countries around the world, most European (all of the European Union), Latin American, and many Pacific Area states (including Australia, New Zealand and Timor Leste) have abolished capital punishment, while the United States, Guatemala, and most of the Caribbean as well as some democracies in Asia and Africa retain it. Among no democratic countries, the use of the death penalty is common but not universal.
In most places that practice capital punishment today, the death penalty is reserved as a punishment for premeditated murder, espionage, treason, or as part of military justice. In some countries with a Muslim majority, sexual crimes, including adultery and sodomy, carry the death penalty, as do religious crimes such as apostasy from Islam, the formal renunciation of one’s religion. In many retentionist countries (countries that use the death penalty), drug pushing is also a capital crime. In China human trafficking and serious cases of corruption are also punished by the death penalty. In militaries around the world courts-martial have imposed death sentences for offenses such as cowardice, desertion, insubordination, and mutiny.
Capital punishment is a contentious issue. Supporters of capital punishment argue that it deters crime, prevents recidivism, and is an appropriate punishment for the crime of murder. Opponents of capital punishment argue that it does not deter criminals more than life imprisonment, violates human rights, leads to executions of some who are wrongfully convicted, and discriminates against minorities and the poor.
Each year there are about 250 people added to death row and 35 executed. The death penalty is the harshest form of punishment enforced in the United Sates today. Once a jury has convicted a criminal offense they go to the second part of the trial, the punishment phase. If the jury recommends the death penalty and the judge agrees then the criminal will face some form of execution, lethal injection is the most common form used today. There was a period from 1972 to 1976 that capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their reason for this decision was that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment under the eighth amendment. The decision was reversed when new methods of execution were introduced.
Part I
I strongly support the implementation of Death Penalty as a Capital Punishment. The punishment of death is not cruel, within the meaning of that word as used in the Constitution. It implies there is something more inhuman and barbarous, than the mere extinguishment of life.
Fear of death deters people from committing crimes, proponents say. They also believe that if attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts a positive moral influence by placing a stigma on certain crimes like manslaughter, resulting in attitudes of disgust and horror to such acts. Moreover, retentionists persevere that the restraint authority of the death penalty reaches across state lines into jurisdictions that have abolished it, and so all benefit by its continued use. Perhaps this is the intended goal of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It applies to federal statutes that previously carried the death penalty and creates many new capital offenses. As a result of the Act, the death penalty may now be imposed for nearly sixty federal crimes. New capital offenses include the murder of a federal prisoner serving a life sentence, and drive by shootings in the course of certain drug offenses” (Internet 3/8/95). Those in defend of capital punishment believe attaining model populace and a better society happen through fear and intimidation.
Part II-Antithesis
Oppositions to the idea implementation of Capital Punishment think that the criminal should be obliged to recompense the victim’s family with the offender’s own income from employment or community service. There is no doubt that someone can do more alive than dead.
Money is of no value in jail. One of the most renowned instances of the criminal causal to the improvement of society is the case of Leopold and Loeb. Leopold and Loeb were nineteen years old when they committed “The Crime of the Century.” In 1924 they kidnapped and murdered a fourteen year old boy just to see what it was like. They were both secured the death penalty and verdict to life imprisonment.
An argument against the death penalty is the basic moral issue of conservation of human rights and humanity. The argument of retribution would be even easier to dismiss if it consisted only of a base thirst for revenge. “Society must manifest a terrible anger in the face of a terrible crime, for nothing less will suffice to “remind us of the moral order by which alone we can live as human beings” (Hertzberg, 49).” This is a serious moral argument. Opponents of capital punishment must be willing to answer it on its own terms. They say that “… the death penalty demeans the moral order and execution is not legalized murder–nor is imprisonment legalized kidnapping–but it is the coldest, most premeditated form of homicide of all. It does something almost worse than lowering the state to the moral level of the criminal: it raises the criminal to moral equality with the social order” (Hertzberg, 49). Indeed, one of the ironies of capital punishment is that it focuses attention and sympathy on the criminal.
The greatest argument in opposition to using capital punishment for retributive principles is the argument that capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, condemning cruel and unusual punishment, is used to protest capital punishment. The fallacy of this argument is that it appears to be a red herring argument, one that takes attention away from the facts of the case. When the constitution was outlined, capital punishment was adept extensively in this country, yet it was not specified as wrong or as cruel and unusual. Many of the authors of the constitution approved capital punishment, as did philosophers from which the constitution draws from.
John Locke went as far to say that murder is not intrinsically wrong. “Everyone, as he is bound to preserve himself and not quit his station willfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind” ( Locke p57). How can murder not be immoral? Citizens under a social contract, agree not to kill only because others also agree not to kill. It is the purpose of penal laws to avert homicide by indicating to everyone that it is not in their best interest to murder. So how can the constitution be brought into this argument, since it makes no mention of capital punishment?
Part III-Synthesis
The first argument that the people against the issue contend with is that capital punishment does not deter crime. Opponents of capital punishment say the death penalty is not necessary. Other countries that no longer have the death penalty have not experienced an increase in the number of murders. The idea is that the death penalty does not deter crime. Countries such as Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, and Belgium have not carried out executions since the early part of the century, yet these countries have not experienced a rise in crime rates (Block, 1983). However, deterrence is not the question when you are looking at the retributive value of capital punishment. In short, deterrence can only work if the threat of punishment is combined with the conviction that the forbidden acts are not only illegal and therefore punishable but immoral. Without the conviction of morality, the easily frightened will not break the law, but the fearless will break the law, the irrational will break the law, and all others will break the law.
Ostensibly certain segments of this culture have been desensitized to the point that human life has no value whatsoever. To that section of the population nothing will hold deterrent value. These people do not think about the consequences of their actions. Lack of foresight and morals, however, cannot be used as an excuse for the toleration of crime. Capital punishment is a retributive integrity, and no direct connection to murder rates can be logically applied with respect to the death penalty’s deterrent value.
Actual statistics about the deterrent value of capital punishment are not available because it is impossible to know who may have been deterred from a committing a crime.
According to advocates of the death penalty the main reason some of them take their position is because they feel that capital punishment deters crime. They feel that the murderers in this world will not kill if they know this. My answer to this is that the death penalty does not deter. People who are in the “business” of killing take measures to make sure they do not get caught; they skillfully concoct plans to make sure they are not suspected of criminal activity. A person who gets caught for killing another individual is usually someone who did not plan to murder in the first place. These individuals fall into the “crimes of passion” category. Crimes of passion are defined as unlawful acts of an individual which are unplanned and erupt as a result of a fit or rage or anger. These illegal actions usually stem from drunkenness or a short term loss of logic thinking which can be attributed to anger. The death penalty it would seem would logically deter crime, but the problem is that most murderers are unplanned and are not a result of logic.
There is other indication which counters the efficiency of capital punishment as a deterrent. During the 1930’s the federal government, under the direction of Jack Gibbs, investigated the effectiveness of the death penalty in deterring serious crime. The consequences of Gibbs analysis is that capital punishment did not dissuade. However, during the 1970’s Prof. Isaac Ehrlich found out through his research that capital punishment did deter (Van den Haag, 210). Many advocates of capital punishment base their opinions on his results, but what many of them do not know is that no one else besides Ehrlich has come up with the same results (Blumstein, 358). The conclusion that researches have drawn up during the past decade is that the death penalty does not significantly have an effect on serious crime one way or the other.
Another reason that many people are against the death penalty is that they feel that innocent people will be wrongfully executed all in the name of justice. This is not true at all. There are many defenses assuring fortification of the rights of those facing the death penalty. These safeguards are: 1. “Capital punishment may be imposed only for a crime for which the death penalty is prescribed by law at the time of its commission; 2. Persons below eighteen years of a age, pregnant women , new mothers or persons who have become insane shall not be sentenced to death; 3. Capital punishment may be imposed only when guilt is determined by clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts; 4. Capital punishment may be carried out only after a final judgment rendered by a competent court allowing all possible safeguards to the defendant, including adequate legal assistance; 5. Anyone sentenced to death shall receive the right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction; 6. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentenced; 7. Capital punishment shall not be carried out pending any appeal, recourse procedure or proceeding relating to pardon or commutation of the sentenced; 8. Also capital punishment shall be carried out so as to inflict the minimum possible suffering.”
These safeguards will insure that justice will be served without having it suffer. Also these safeguards ensure that the death penalty is racially bias.
How is the death penalty a punishment that fits the crime? Well, not every prisoner deserves the death penalty. People who kill someone in self defense should not be treated as one who kills just for the sake of killing. This is one instance anti-death penalty supporters will bring up. The criteria for evaluating whether or not a person is sentenced to death vary from state to state. The states that have death penalty laws are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. The choices of execution are: hanging, electrocution, gas chamber, firing squad, and lethal injection (BJS 12-92). These also vary from state to state. There are guidelines that are followed before a prisoner is sentenced to death. Of those, one of the most important reads: Capital punishment may be imposed only when guilt is determined by clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the fact (Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch 5-25-84).
Despite the moral argument concerning the inhumane treatment of the criminal, we return to the “nature” of the crime committed. Can society place an unequal weight on the tragically lost lives of murder victims and the criminal? This is not an exam question in a college philosophy course but a moral conundrum at the core of perhaps the most intriguing issue facing the U. S. Supreme Court today.
Punishment is meted out because of the nature of the crime, devoid of any reference to the social identity of the victim. Sympathy and political estimate have joint to alter victims and their advocates into a potent lobbying force. Beginning in California, 1987, the Supreme Court carved out a crucial exception: Neither the life of the victim nor the suffering of his survivors could be a factor in any state or federal case punishable by death (Shapiro, 61). The catch is that every reduction in the elaborate legal process that has evolved to ensure that only the guilty die increases the chances that an innocent person, victim, will be subjected to this most irreversible and final of punishments, injustices. The possibility of an innocent person being put to death is another factor some people have against the death penalty. According to the 1987 Stanford University survey, at least 23 Americans have been wrongly executed in the 20th century (Kramer, 32).
“People that favor the death penalty agree that capital punishment is a relic of barbarism, but as murder itself is barbaric, they contend that death is a fitting punishment for it” (Jayewardene 87). Retentionists are most frequently adopters to the “an eye for an eye” attitude and feel that execution is the only way to satisfy the public as well as themselves. Who doesn’t enjoy it when, for example, someone steals ten dollars from you and then the person who stole your money has the same thing happen to them? Retentionists feel much the same way about murderers who are sentenced to die. As far as they are concerned, the criminal brought his punishment upon himself; they deserve what they get. When proponents of the death penalty are thrown the arguments of capital punishment being a tragic loss of human life, the majority respond “even in the tragedy of human death there are degrees, and that it is much more tragic for the innocent to lose his life than for the State to take the life of a criminal convicted of a capital offense” (Bedau 308).
Use of the death penalty as intended by law could actually reduce the number of violent murders by eliminating some of the repeat offenders thus being used as a system of justice, not just a method of deterrence. Opponents of the death penalty will argue that although it is said to exist as a crime deterrent, in reality it has no effect on crime at all. Modern supporters of capital punishment no longer view the death penalty as a deterrent, but as a just punishment for the crime, a shift from the attitudes of past generations. (Norman 1) Previously the deterrence argument put the burden of proof on death penalty advocates, but recently this argument has become less effective due to what one source said, “…in recent years the appeal of deterrence has been supplanted by a frank desire for what large majorities see as just vengeance.” (Dionne 178-180)
Retentionists do not see the death penalty as being morally wrong. For them, the almost certainly foundation of constitutional complexity with capital punishment is the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” otherwise known as the Eighth Amendment. When told by the opposing side that the death penalty is cruel, inhumane and degrading, most proponents argue that murder is too. In reality, some retentionists believe capital punishment to be more humane that life imprisonment because it is quick and instantaneous. Those in support of capital punishment feel that making the prisoner suffer by rotting in jail for the rest of his life is more torturous and inhumane than execution. To sum up the basic views of the proponents, imprisonment is simply not a sufficient safeguard against the future actions of criminals because it offers the possibility of escape and release on parole. “We think that some criminals must be made to pay for their crimes with their lives, and we think that we, the survivors of the world they violated, may legitimately extract that payment because we, too, are their victims” (Bedau 317).
If it is clear that a person is guilty of murder, then that person should be sentenced to death. Justice must be served. Placing murderers in prison isn’t a tough enough punishment. In jail they would have a possible chance for parole. If they happen to make it back out to the world, who’s to say he wouldn’t kill again. Of the 2,575 prisoners sentenced to death in 1992, 1 out of 11 had a prior conviction of homicide (BJS 12-92). This means additional people had to die before these murderers were sentenced to death. What kind of justice is that? If the murderers were sentenced to death the first time they were convicted, innocent lives would not have had to perish. By executing the murderers the first time a round, justice will be served. Thus, the punishment would fit the crime and the victims’ family and society would be helped knowing one less murderer is out in the streets.
Capital punishments amplify public safety because of a form of incapacitation and deterrence. Weakening a person is grudging him of the physical or intellectual ability of natural of illegal rights (Webster, 574). Executing a person takes away the capacity of and forcibly prevents recurrence of violence. Deterrence is the action or course of daunting and thwarting an action from occurring (Webster, 307). The possibility of execution would give a potential pause in the thought process of the murderer, using fear as an incentive for preventing recurrence or quite possibly the first occurrence of murder.
More timely enforcement of the death penalty would help to reduce the crime problem by instilling a sense of respect for the law in that sentences are more than words on a page. Crimes carry consequences which should be understood. This change in the ideology also would affect reduced costs. “One of the many problems with the death penalty is that it is anything but swift and sure…”(PD Chiefs: Death Penalty Fails) As in the case of Ted Bundy, the system fell down by allowing him to remain on death row for 10 years after murdering more than 50 women. The justice system cannot allow oversights of this type to occur. It is the liability of all citizens to perform to improve the current laws and regulations adapting the death penalty and its execution.
Works Cited
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Isaac Ehrlich, (1975) “The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment A Matter of Life and Death”            American Economic Review
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Simson, Gary J. and Stephen P. Garvey, (2001). “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: Rethinking the Role of            Religion in Death Penalty Cases,” 86 Cornell Law Review 1090
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