Society needs boundaries. While, according to some theories, anarchism is the only possible form of an individual’s existence, it still goes without saying that people need to know where the line is drawn between the legal and the illegal lies. Thus, the need in-laws and the principles of punishment for committing crimes against the current law arrives. However, sometimes these boundaries infringe basic human rights. Since a death penalty as a concept goes against all principles of humanism, is in no way aimed at reforming a criminal and serves only to satisfy the need for revenge of the victim’s family members, it must be banned from any legal system.
In Favor of Capital Punishment
As a matter of fact, capital punishment in its primitive idea of “life for a life” still exists in a number of states under the name of lex talionis. Presupposing that the punishment for a specific crime must be carried out to the same or at the very least the similar degree as the harm done to the victim, the given principle goes back to the era when the idea of justice was only starting to take a specific shape: “The law of retaliation (Qisas) or blood money (Diyat) deems the sentence for a murder to be a private matter between the perpetrator and the victim’s family” (Ron’el 204).
The key argument for introducing the principles of capital punishment into a legislative system of a state is that leaving a person who has taken someone else’s life away and, to make the matter even worse, committed an aggravated murder, is unfair towards the members of the victim’s family. While the given argument is rather half-baked, one still must admit that in case of a person’s life having been taken in an aggravated murder, it is most likely that some of the family members, if not all of them, might start revenge on the criminal. Thus, a vendetta will be spawn, which will take considerable time to stop. Another frequently voiced argument concerns the justice system itself. According to the results of the recent researches, people believe that police is more sympathetic towards the criminals than it is towards the victims of a crime.
Against Capital Punishment
The first and, perhaps, the most obvious argument against the death penalty is that it reduces the judicial system to the savage concept of a prehistoric eye-for-an-eye justice. To start with, the reason behind the punishment system adopted by the current legislation must be reconsidered. As a rule, in a civilized society, a punishment for a crime is supposed to be a life lesson for a person to learn. Intrinsically, the idea of imprisonment does not presuppose any revenge or humiliation of a criminal; on the contrary, by imprisoning a criminal, society implies that, after paying his/her debt, a criminal is likely to repent and be willing to mend his/her ways, therefore, turning into a normal person. Hence, society gives a person a chance to reform and become a part of society once again (Melusky and Pesto 120).
Capital punishment, on the other hand, does not involve any concept of repentance. On the contrary, a death penalty is a cold and well-calculated decision that cannot possibly presuppose that the jury expects a criminal to repent. Instead, when sentencing a person to death, the jury practically considers the person in question a worthless being, which the society must get rid of as soon as possible. Therefore, the very idea of a death penalty does not live up to the present-day ideas of humanism and the significance of human life.
Speaking of the arguments raised in favor of capital punishment, one must admit that some of them can actually be used as proof to the uselessness of a death penalty. For example, the fact that people accuse police forces of being more sympathetic towards criminals rather than victims can be viewed from a humanistic position. It is not in the place of the justice system to abuse their powers and treat criminals like animals. Justice system is supposed not to take revenge on the criminals, but to make sure that the latter should pay their debt to society and that these criminals should not commit any more crimes.
Reasons With a Universal Appeal
Apart from the pros and cons voiced traditionally concerning the subject of capital punishment, the so-called reasons with universal appeal exist. Truly, the concerns mentioned above are rather general and can be applied to any particular justice system, there are still some issues that concern not philosophical or ethical aspects of the problem, but a mere common sense. First and foremost, the introduction of capital punishment means that no mistake must be made in the course of a court holding; otherwise, an innocent person will be executed. Indeed, in case a person was acquitted after the death sentence has been passed, there is no possible way to compensate for the mistake made by the justice system.
Another important point concerns the rights and freedoms of an individual, the right for an appeal in particular. According to the U.S. Penal Code, any person must have the right to appeal or to make a cassation appeal (Newman 301). The introduction of a death penalty, however, will trigger the breach of the given right, since, after the execution has been carried out, a person can only be acquitted posthumously. Therefore, a death penalty is intrinsically wrong not only from the political, economical and judicial point of view but also from the point of view of common sense.
To respond to the arguments offered above, one might bring up the fact that, when it comes to defining the guilt of a person accused of murder or another type of felony, court holdings are typically carried out in a very careful manner. Therefore, the possibility of making a mistake is reduced to zero. In addition, when the rights of the accused are mentioned, the rights of the family members of the victim are also reminded of. Most counter-arguments state that the family members also have the right to see the person responsible for the murder being punished accordingly (Gershman 248).
Responding to the Counter-Arguments
Most of the counter-arguments listed above revolve around the idea that a specific crime must be punished accordingly. In addition, the suffering of the victim’s family is often brought up. However, there is one major point that each of the aforementioned counter-arguments misses out on. The execution of a criminal will not bring a person’s life back. Therefore, the ones who insist on turning capital punishment back are mostly guided by vengeful motives, which must not be the fundamental idea of a justice system (Stack iii).
My Own Point of View
Personally, I think that the death penalty is inappropriate since it is aimed at taking revenge on a criminal instead of trying to reform him/her. Therefore, with the implementation of a death sentence, the basic principles of justice are being tossed aside.
It cannot be denied, of course, that over the course of history, various states often used tortures and death sentences as the only way to deal with their prisoners or enemies. However, the Medieval Ages should not be blamed for being unjustifiably cruel and completely lacking humanity; the reasons for treating their criminals in the given way were actually rather economical than philosophical. Indeed, for a Medieval France, say, holding a person prisoner for a year and providing for him/her would have meant that a considerable amount of money should be spent on a prisoner. Instead, the leader of a state preferred to dispose of his/her money in a different way, spending more on political affairs and on the economical issues concerning the free citizens.
Therefore, in my personal opinion, when considering the possibility of adopting a death penalty as a possible punishment for certain crimes, one must first consider the factors that led to creating the concept of a death sentence. As the world history shows, in most cases, the idea of a death penalty was inspired either by the economic issues within a state (i.e., the inability to feed and dress the prisoners and, therefore, the instant need to dispose of them as swiftly as possible), or by the principle of lex talionis, known mostly as the eye-for-an-eye principle, or a very basic concept of revenge. In my opinion, herein lies the reason why death sentence must not be adopted as a possible punishment in any state of the world that lives by the XXI-century idea of justice and legislation. According to the existing interpretations of a death sentence, it conflicts with the very nature of the legislative and judicial power, seeing how the latter is supposed to be unprejudiced and provide an adequate punishment for a corresponding crime, whereas a death penalty is, in fact, inadequate, for it does not give a criminal a chance to reform and is aimed at taking revenge on a criminal for what (s)he has committed.
For a number of people, the death penalty might seem an adequate kind of punishment for the felons who have committed truly revolting crimes and whose reasons were beyond mean and inhumane. Truly, the given approach has been a time-honored tradition in a number of states as the echo of the eye-for-an-eye concept. As the aforementioned principle of lex talionis shows, even nowadays, the idea of an eye-for-an-eye seems reasonable for a number of people in a number of cases. However, when it comes to considering a death penalty as an appropriate punishment for committing, say, a murder, one of the key principles of the system of law is being misunderstood.
In present-day society, the humanistic basis beyond the judicial system is founded not on the idea of revenge, but on the idea of reforming a person, changing one for the better and turning a criminal into a decent citizen, at the same time making the criminal pay his/her debt to the society. Therefore, the key idea is to help a criminal rise up to the current social standards and turn socially adequate. Murdering a criminal, even in response to a hideous crime, quite on the contrary, presupposes that the existing judicial system reduces itself to treating a criminal on the terms of the latter. In other words, capital punishment is no longer an adequate measure for the current judicial system to use; it is based on the principles that people were guided by in the Middle Ages, which is why the death penalty should be left in the Middle Ages where it belongs.
Gershman, Gary P. Death Penalty on Trial: A Handbook with Cases, Laws and Documents. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 2005. Print.
Melusky, Joseph A. and Keith A. Pesto. Capital Punishment. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 2011. Print.
Newman, Graeme. Crime and Punishment around the World. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 2010. Print.
Ron’el, Nal. First International Conference of the South Asian Society of Criminology. Jaipur, India: K. Jaishankar. 2011. Print.
Stack, Richard A. Dead Wrong: Violence, Vengeance, and the Victims of Capital Punishment. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. 2006. Print.