The existence of the Criminal Justice System is vital to the survival of the modern human civilization. It is through this system that the government provides legally sanctioned ways to deal with lawbreakers. The various punishments available for use by the justice system serve a deterrence function as well as providing a tool for retribution against wrongdoers. Among the different forms of punishment available, the death penalty is the most severe.
It is the ultimate form of punishment and it is used for what the society considers the most vicious crimes such as murder and treason. In spite of the arguments made that the death penalty is reserved for vicious crimes, some people feel that this form of punishment can never be justified, regardless of the crime.
This paper will argue that the death penalty should be abolished since it might lead to injustice, it imposes a financial burden to the society, and it is a barbaric form of punishment that has no place in our society. The paper will address some of the arguments offered in favor of this punishment and demonstrate that they are flawed.
Arguments Against Capital Punishment
A major argument made by opponents of the death penalty is that this punishment can cause great injustice when an innocent person is wrongfully convicted and subsequently executed. An uneasy fact is that the Criminal Justice System is not impervious to errors. There are numerous instances of wrongful convictions, which are overturned during appeals (Yost, 2011). If an innocent person is executed through the death penalty, there is no hope that a wrongful conviction will be overturned.
The flawed nature of the justice system makes it likely that innocent people might be convicted of capital offenses. Opponents of capital punishment point out that there is a possibility that some of the people facing death row might be innocent since most of them receive poor legal representation during their trials. Yost (2011) contends that the irrevocability of the death punishment makes it impossible to undo the mistake of wrongful conviction. The likelihood that an innocent person might be executed makes this punishment unjustifiable.
Another strong argument made against the death penalty is that it imposes an unnecessary financial burden on the society. Up until the 1970s, advocates of this punishment argued that it was cheaper than incarcerating offenders for extended terms. However, this view has changed and today capital punishment is more expensive than life imprisonment (Radelet & Borg, 2000). To begin with, capital cases are handled differently from other cases.
The prosecution and defense side have to be thorough and employ expert witnesses in the course of the trial. In addition to this, once a person is sentenced to death, it might take years or decades before the actual sentence is carried out. During this time, the offender is eligible for numerous appeals that are expensive and time consuming (Radelet & Borg, 2000).
Implementing the death penalty therefore ends up being more expensive than any other alternative form of punishment. Opponents therefore argue that the high cost of this punishment is unjustifiable and the money could be better spent improving law enforcement or assisting the relatives of the victims to the crime.
Finally, opponents call for the abolishment of the death penalty since it is a barbaric form of punishment. They argue that this punishment should have no place in a modern and civilized society such as our own. Undoubtedly, the death penalty is the severest punishment and it is sometimes carried out in a gruesome manner (Steiker & Jordan, 2010).
While advocates of the death penalty argue that the lethal injection (which is the favorite method of execution for most states) is almost painless for the offender, there are instances where the execution malfunctions causing the victim significant pain. Steiker and Jordan (2010) admit that in some cases, the offender suffers from excruciating pain while being executed.
Opponents of this punishment argue that the government cannot expect to convince its citizenry of the evils of murder when it is at the same time engaging in the judicial killings of its citizens through the death penalty.
Defense for the Death Penalty and Counterarguments
One of the strong arguments made in support of the death penalty is that it leads to the ultimate incapacitation of the criminal. By killing the offender, the society is assured that he/she will never engage in criminal activity again. Proponents of the death penalty argue that this punishment is the ultimate protection against recidivist crimes since the criminal is permanently stopped from engaging in crime. Sunstein and Vermeule (2005) agree that without capital punishment, there is a real risk of the individual engaging in future crime.
Even when the alternative to capital punishment, which is life in prison without parole, is used, the individual can engage in crime behind bars. Opponents of the death penalty point out that while this punishment offers ultimate incapacitation, it ignores the rehabilitation capability of the prison system. According to Radelet and Borg (2000), prisoners often reform during their stay in the penitentiary.
Another strong argument offered in support of the death penalty is that it provides sufficient retribution against certain crimes. One of the roles of punishing criminals is to offer retribution. Retribution is only provided if the punishment is equal to the crime. Licht (2008) declares that a sense of justice only prevails if the punishment is deemed proportionate to the crime. Advocates of the death penalty assert that this is the only appropriate punishment for certain grievous crimes.
While this punishment serves a retribution purpose, this does not benefit the society or the individuals affected by the criminal. Licht (2008) agrees that the friends and relatives of the victim continue suffering whether the criminal is sentenced to life imprisonment or executed. Opponents of the death punishment declare that using this punishment as a form of revenge does not benefit any person in the society.
This paper set out to demonstrate that the death penalty should be abolished in our society since it does not fulfill any positive role. It began by discussing the role that the criminal justice system and legally sanctioned punishments play in modern society. The paper then highlighted some of the most important disadvantages of capital punishment. It noted that this form of punishment might lead to great injustice if a person is wrongfully convicted and subsequently executed.
The punishment also imposes a huge financial burden to the society and finally, it is a barbaric form of punishment that should not take place in modern society. The paper has also reviewed some of the arguments made in support of the death penalty and showed how they are flawed.
The incapacitation argument fails to consider the rehabilitation role of the prisons system while the retribution argument fails to consider that revenge does not reduce the suffering of the people affected by the crime. From the discussions offered in this paper, it can be declared that the death penalty does not serve the needs of the society and it should therefore be abolished.
Licht, A. N. (2008). Social Norms and the Law: Why People Obey the Law. Review of Law and Economics, 4(2), 715–750.
Radelet, M.L., & Borg, M.J. (2000). The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates. Annual Review of Sociology, 26(1), 43-63.
Steiker, CS., & Jordan, S.M. (2010). Capital Punishment: A Century of Discontinuous Debate. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 100(3), 643-689.
Sunstein, C.R., & Vermeule, A., (2005).Deterring Murder: A Reply, Stanford Law Review, 58(1), 847–857.
Yost, B.S. (2011). The Irrevocability of Capital Punishment. Journal of Social Philosophy, 42(3), 321-340.