From a certain perspective, it is not hard to view capital punishment as a state-sponsored program geared towards the destruction of people’s lives. It is difficult to justify the right to kill another human being. Thus, it is imperative to define and defend the right to destroy lives. Supporters of capital punishment point out the deterrence value of the death penalty. They say that the effective use of the death penalty causes criminals to think twice before committing a heinous crime. This is an assertion that lacks serious evidentiary support. Capital punishment serves only one purpose and it is not a mechanism serving as deterrence against crime.
The Need to Justify Capital Punishment’s Purpose
Consider the impact of curtailing the life of an individual. Forget the criminal records and the alleged crimes. Simply focus on the consequence of death, because it is not difficult to see the seriousness of the idea that a state-sponsored program geared towards the permanent destruction of human lives (Bandes, 2009). It is a staggering thought to consider the long-term impact of lives snuffed out and never again have the ability to contribute to nation-building or child-rearing. It is hard to fathom the origin of the authority to destroy people’s future regardless of capital punishment’s legal basis. For example, people agree that the rehabilitation of the criminal is the primary purpose of incarceration. In other words, capital punishment provides no room for improvement, and with finality, the capacity for growth and transformation ends abruptly.
From a certain point of view, the implementation of capital punishment is a cruel and inhumane process. Thus, it is imperative to develop a solid and irrefutable defense for the use of the gas chamber or lethal injection. Most of the time, the main argument in favor of the death penalty is rooted in the idea of deterrence. In other words, the public knowledge about the use of lethal force against perpetrators of heinous crimes serves as a warning sign compelling criminals to reconsider their wayward life and follow the righteous path of conformity to society’s laws (Bandes, 2009). However, critics are quick to point out that empirical evidence does not support the claims made by death penalty proponents (Bandes, 2009). Critics made the argument that the application of capital punishment serves as a means to satisfy the clamor for justice, especially the victim’s loved ones.
Serving as a Closure Mechanism
Sociologists discovered the use of a sociological concept called “closure”, in the context of capital punishment. Before going any further, it is of critical importance to define the said term. In the world of the criminal justice system, the use of the word “closure” was linked to the idea of catharsis and further defined as a constellation of feelings, such as the feeling of peace, relief, and the ability to move on (Bandes, 2009).
The present use of the concept of “closer” is instrumental in shaping the policies governing and advocating the implementation of capital punishment in this country. As a result, the social application of closure became the motivational goal emphasizing the need for capital punishment on heinous crimes. In other words, the urgency to use capital punishment on hardened criminals and perpetrators of serious crimes reached a higher level of importance (Banner, 2012).
The relatively recent and novel application of the social concept called “closure” became a rallying cry for the expediency in the delivery of justice, especially among the victim’s family. One of the critical consequences of the said new insight on closure made it more difficult for critics of capital punishment to delay or abolish the use of the said system in America’s criminal justice system. There is now another layer of justification for the continued use and celebration of an inhumane form of punishment (National Research Council, 2012).
The said insight into the purpose of capital punishment has made it more difficult to add layers of procedural protection on the hasty application of capital punishment in all cases involving heinous crimes (Banner, 2012). A significant aspect of the debate regarding the deterrence value of capital punishment is the need to improve the procedural checks and balances to ensure that the swift delivery of justice does not cause the miscarriage of justice in the context of errors in punishing those who are not guilty of any crime. It is of the highest importance to prevent the application of death penalty laws in the lives of innocent defendants.
Although the legal system underscores the need to give more time and effort in the study of cases under appeal, the use of closure in the current application of capital punishment laws had made it more difficult to ensure prudence in the speedy application of the death penalty system. At the same time pressure builds up to expedite the process of meting out the punishment required for convicted felons on death row. It is something that has caused alarm in some quarters because the popularity of the said sentiment increases the probability of committing a grievous mistake, especially in cases of mistaken identity or in cases involving mental retardation. It is also problematic to figure out similar cases wherein the perpetrators of the crime did not have a lucid mind when they were in the process of committing the said offense.
A Mechanism for Punishing Criminals
As criminologists and social scientists dug deeper into the issue regarding the deterrence value of capital punishment, the research process did not yield affirmative data or related conclusions supporting the said claim. As they went further into the process of understanding the nature of death penalty laws, it has been made clear that members of the murder victim’s family are being made to accept the idea that there is no other way to resolve the problem except by killing the perpetrators. In the earlier phase of the discussion, the failure to add several layers of checks and balances became the primary casualty in the application of the “closure” principle. However, from the perspective of appreciating capital punishment as primary means of punishing the guilty to achieve a sense of justice, the unintended casualty was the use of restorative justice as another mechanism that the criminal justice system could have utilized to satisfy the requirement of the law, while at the same time satisfy the clamor of the family members to regain a certain level of control and normalcy back into their lives. In other words, it has become more of a challenge to apply the principles of restorative justice in cases involving heinous crimes.
The concepts under the banner of “restorative justice” may sound unfair to members of the murder victim’s family. One way to look at the process of applying “restorative justice” is the attempt not to apply the full force of the law, and that is not to send the convicted felon to the death chambers. In other words, the use of restorative justice principles is tantamount to forgiving the offender (Barrile, 2015). This is perceived as a weakness in the justice system especially when viewed in the context of serious crimes like murder, kidnap for ransom, and rape. It may sound like a miscarriage of justice, but only if there is a failure to appreciate the benefits of the said process. The use of restorative justice does not mean that there exists an excuse not to punish crime. The correct application of the terms under restorative justice allows the criminal justice system to hand out appropriate ways to punish the offender. However, there is a deliberate attempt to reduce the punitive aspect of the application of the law. The goal of a restorative process brings out not only the best in the offender but also those who are involved in the said case. It is, therefore, a long-term view that allows for leniency for the sake of building a better community.
Without a doubt, it is of critical importance to allow the in-depth study and consideration of using the restorative process within the criminal justice system. However, it is not an easy task when it comes to certain cases. It is not easy to apply the principles of restorative justice in cases involving death row inmates. Restorative justice makes a lot of sense in a paradigm involving non-heinous crimes, but a tremendous challenge in a scenario wherein parents had lost children due to the actions of a serial killer. It is not a logical or a practical alternative for an advocate of the abolition of capital punishment to discuss to the murder victim’s grieving parents.
In less serious crimes, it makes more sense to discuss the merits of a restorative process due to the long-term benefits of reducing the punitive edge of the criminal justice system. Consider for instance the wisdom of not allowing a first-time offender to get acquainted with hardened criminals. However, in the case of serial killers and multiple offenders, the principles of restorative justice may not apply. Nevertheless, it is important not to rule out the indirect benefits of the said process in the lives of those who were left behind. In cases wherein the offenders demonstrated remorse, the decision to forego the use of the lethal injection or the gas chamber may prove to be even more cathartic as compared to seeing the criminal die due to the injection or ingestion of toxic chemicals.
It is much harder to consider other ways of punishing the guilty when the minds of people are being conditioned as to the perceived value of capital punishment. Researchers uncovered a phenomenon based on the “forgive but die” sentiment (Barrile, 2 015). The desire to see the full display of capital punishment schemes was rooted in the perceived benefits of witnessing the offender’s execution (Sheridan, 2016). Several reasons were identified as the motivators for pursuing the final demise of the offending party. For example, sociologists pointed out that the litigation process unexpectedly became a public spectacle, and this is true in sensationalized cases. Even in cases that did not involve national news, the mere fact that local newspapers and local TV stations took part in the coverage of the trial created an unexplainable amount of stress and difficulty in the lives of the loved ones left behind by the murder victims. Thus, there is also an unexplainable sense of relief in ending a painful chapter in their lives through the execution of one of the most hated personalities they have encountered.
Aside from the need to find a suitable ending to a public spectacle created by the trial, family members also look into the possibility of reducing the fear that they felt with regards to the offender’s capacity for retribution (Clancy & O’Brien, 2013). They also consider the likelihood of repeating the same offense. As a result, they cannot bear the thought of allowing the same thing to happen to other families. These are considered noble justifications for pursuing the end-goal when it comes to crimes requiring the use of the death penalty.
Deterrence and the belief of ending the career of a hardened criminal make it easier for the victim’s family to allow the execution of the offender. However, there are personal reasons as well for desiring the ultimate goal of litigating cases involving heinous crimes. Criminology and justice literature revealed that there are also selfish reasons behind the clamor for the use of the lethal injection or the gas chamber. They want to regain control of their lives. Those who bore the emotional and psychological impact of losing loved ones found the cathartic benefit of witnessing the execution of the offender. This statement is true especially with regards to the psychological problem called post-traumatic stress disorder (Barrile, 2015). As a result, one can argue that there is compelling evidence to support the claim that even in the absence of the rhetoric on deterrence, survivors and family members left grieving after a heinous crime re going to pursue and support the death penalty for entirely personal purposes. In other words, minus the need to satisfy the law of the land, the primary use of capital punishment schemes serves the interest of those who were left behind trying to put back the broken pieces of lives.
The Need to Review the Claims
Before going further into the analysis of the deterrence value of capital punishment in the context of the reduction of crime rates, it is imperative to look into the rationale for the abolition of the death penalty law in this nation. It is not possible to talk about deterrence without touching on the other side of the issue, and that is the clamor of many to abolish the application of capital punishment laws within the United States. Thus, there is greater urgency to prove the deterrence value of the said law especially if one will consider the negative consequences of the death penalty from critics of the said legal framework.
The first area to consider with regards to the need for a judicious analysis of the consequences of capital punishment law is in the context of errors in judgment. Martina Correia became famous in her fight to free her brother after he was sentenced to die via lethal injection. Troy Davis’s sister fought the good fight for him after witnesses recanted and changed an earlier testimony that was detrimental to the case of Troy Davis. In other words, there are cases of mistaken identity or failures in the criminal justice systems that would have allowed a state-sponsored murder of an innocent man.
Robert Tower’s diary was not only filled with anecdotes about life in death row, but it also chronicled the life of an inmate whom Towery believed had the mental cognition similar to a retarded child (Warren, 2015). Towery was discussing the fate of a mentally disabled person named Bob Moorman (Warren, 2015). When critics of capital punishment employed greater effort to understand the journals that Towery left behind after he was put to sleep via a deadly chemical cocktail, they discovered errors and inconsistencies when it came to the litigation of Moorman’s case. In other words, even in the use of sophisticated systems, it is still possible to make mistakes in the attempt to determine the mental fitness of an offender to go through trial and to receive the death penalty.
William Van Poyck was laid to rest via lethal injection that was administered inside one of Florida’s prison facilities. He was a prolific writer. Aside from publishing books, he maintained a blog that he utilized to write to his sister, and as a result made public the musings of a death row inmate (Basu, 2013). Poyck confessed the depth of his sorrow and grief over the death of the person he allegedly murdered in cold blood. In this case, the issue is not about restorative justice or the need to commute the sentence based on good behavior.
The most pressing issue is the realization that capital punishment brings with it a certain finality that goes beyond the need to punish criminal behavior. In the case of William Poyck, he can no longer provide insight into the world of the murders, especially the struggles that they go through before and after the commission of the crime. It is not only the rehabilitation of the offender or the criminal that is at stake in this issue, but it is also the capability to prevent crime based on acquiring insights in studying the confessions and thoughts of the men and women in death row. Thus, there exists a greater urgency to demonstrate the deterrent capability of capital punishment in the sense of crime prevention and crime rate reduction.
Capital Punishment is not a Deterrent
Death penalty experts are becoming more vocal in the expression of their opinion regarding the failure of capital punishment as a deterrent against crime (Donahue & Wolfers, 2009). It does not require social scientists or a criminology expert to see that capital punishment does not serve as an effective mechanism in discouraging the commission of a crime or lower the crime rate in this country. Readily accessible data reveals an undisputed fact, that countries without death penalty laws have lower crime rates compared to the United States (Donahue & Wolfers, 2009). It is not irresponsible or an exaggeration to say that if the claims regarding the positive impact of capital punishment are true, then, one should expect a radical change with regards to the country’s crime rate.
Aside from the use of common sense to argue against the inherent value of capital punishment, the failure of this legal framework in deterring crime stems from the difficulty in measuring key factors to support the said claim (Scherdin, 2016). It is extremely difficult for even the most ardent supporter of the death penalty law to provide a clear framework that would allow an unbiased measurement of the direct impact of capital punishment with regards to the goal of lowering the country’s crime rate. For example, it is extremely difficult to show that a person about to commit murder stopped cold in his tracks because he suddenly considered the pain of a lethal injection or the degradation brought about by the gas chamber. It is just impossible to establish a correlation between this two different behavior. It is difficult to see the link between a criminal’s impulse to commit a certain heinous crime and the realization that his actions may cause his untimely death. No one in his right mind will call a researcher or government official to confess that he was contemplating murdering someone but decided to change course after reading a news article about the fate of William Poyck or Bob Moorman.
Applying a scientific method in understanding the connection between deterrence and capital punishment makes it more difficult to make a positive correlation between the two. It is a challenge to establish the method of the delivery of information. In this case, it is hard to establish the process of transformation due to acquired knowledge regarding the death penalty. In other words, it is impossible to claim that the idea of capital punishment proved to be a powerful influence in the decision of a potential criminal to abandon his plan and become a law-abiding citizen. To do so, a researcher must first establish how the person was able to get acquainted with the idea of death through lethal injection or the electric chair. Using the principles inherent in the scientific method it is not enough to cite an isolated case. It is of critical importance to find similar cases under similar situations to prove that there were no other forms of persuasive influences that made that person think twice regarding the crime that he was about to commit.
Using simple powers of observation, rudimentary research skills and common sense makes it an easy task to prove the non-deterrent value of capital punishment. The absence of any form of concrete evidence supporting the claim strengthens the argument that deterrence does not serve as a credible justification for the use of capital punishment within the current criminal justice system. Mass shootings on campuses, supermarkets, and other public places are insurmountable challenges to the claims made by death penalty supporters. It does not make sense to continually advocate the use of capital punishment as a means to reduce the country’s come rate, because even as thousands of death row inmates had been executed throughout the nation’s history, news of senseless deaths of children and innocent people continue to hog headlines regularly.
It is more prudent to assert that it is for the benefit of the survivors or the victim’s family members that the nation continues to support and implement capital punishment laws. There are several reasons for the surging popularity of capital punishment schemes even in the absence of evidence supporting its primary function. Those who were left behind to grieved the loss of a murder victim found it beneficial to use the cathartic power of witnessing the end of a costly and emotionally draining litigation process. Since the ultimate goal of a litigation process in the context of a heinous crime is the death of the convict, it appears as if the grieving family members are compelled to finish what they have started.
The cathartic effect can come from two sources or root causes, and these are the sociological concept called “closure” and the punitive aspect of the justice system. The closure comes in various forms. However, the bottom line of closure enables the suffering survivors to move on with their lives. It is also a process of creating a significant degree of separation from a traumatic event. A closer look at the concept of closure should also include the idea about the person’s attempt to erase an emotionally and psychologically traumatic event of his or her life. There exists an overwhelming feeling that the only way to deal with a negative emotion is to go along with the legal process, and the prescribed end to the litigation aspect of the said exercise.
It is imperative to point out the unintended impact of seeing the death penalty as a mechanism that allows closure within grieving relatives. The growing popularity of the concept of closure makes it tantamount to a prescribed cure when it comes to dealing with the painful and traumatic aftershocks of a terrible crime. As a result, the inadvertent consequence is the creation of a narrow point of view regarding the acceptable and proper end to all litigation processes involving heinous crimes. Aside from the need to demand another type of ending, there is now the added urgency to bring the guilty party inside the death chamber and hasten the demise of his or her life.
It is more prudent to acknowledge the ultimate purpose of death penalty laws. It is unwise to advocate the deterrent value of capital punishment because of the absence of solid empirical evidence that substantiates this claim. It is best to acknowledge that the real value of capital punishment is found in the way to administer a lethal form of justice to the perpetrators of heinous crimes. Survivors and the victim’s loved ones feel a certain degree of satisfaction in the knowledge that they had placed an end to the career of a dangerous criminal. In some cases, the need to finalize the last phase of capital punishment was not only accomplished to deliver justice but also in acquiring a certain feeling of peace, assurance, and safety that there can never be any form of retribution coming from the perpetrator of a violent crime.
It is imperative to establish the deterrent value of capital punishment due to the violent nature of the act of ending the life of a human being. It is a tremendous challenge to justify the creation of a state-sponsored system that extinguishes the life of human beings. There is a good reason for the transition from the crude method that calls for death by hanging to the more sophisticated termination system called the lethal injection. However, there is no way to mask the ugly truth about the destruction of human lives even if it was done in the context of the administration of justice. Thus, there is tremendous pressure applied to the supporters of capital punishment so that they must justify perpetuating a brutal system of suppressing crime. Social scientists and criminology experts were unable to establish a strong link between the use of the death penalty framework and a significant reduction to the country’s crime rate.
The use of capital punishment serves a different purpose. Its value is not in the eradication of crime but in the creation of a platform that allows survivors and the victim’s family to experience a profound sense of closure. Also, it creates a powerful punitive edge to the country’s justice system. The twin application of the principles of closure and the serious punitive capability of the death penalty strengthens the argument that capital punishment does not benefit the general public in a significant way minus its deterrent value. Only the victim’s family and loved ones benefit from its application. The inadvertent consequences of such a phenomenon make it more difficult to improve the criminal justice system’s capability to apply restorative justice in the discussion with grieving family members. Finally, it makes it more difficult to add different layers of accountability measures designed to prevent the death of an innocent man inside the lethal injection chamber. It is an important consideration to protect innocent lives, however, the expediency required due to the need for closure may increase the probability of leaving the guilty unpunished.
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