The Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty

Introduction

The survival of any civilization hinges on the establishment of laws and codes of conduct and the subsequent obeying of the same by the society’s members. Due to the fact that not all members of the society are going to follow the law on their own accord, forms of punishment for wrongs done may be used both for retribution and deterrence purposes. In the United States, capital punishment has been used as the harshest form of retribution for the society’s most vicious offences. However, not all people believe that the death sentence is justifiable notwithstanding the brutality of the crime that a person may have perpetrated. This paper argues that the death penalty is not only necessary but also the most efficient means for deterring future offenders.

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Discussion

An article on “Public Support for the Death Penalty” indicates that the public support for capital punishment has risen over the years with 77% of Americans supporting capital punishment. While this statistics do not in any way offer justification for the death penalty, they do show that many Americans are of the opinion that the death penalty is a just retribution for the evils perpetrated by the accused. In most of the states, capital punishment is only issued when the accused party is convicted of crimes such as first degree murder or treason. Of all the 12 American states, only four states have not convicted anyone to the death penalty since it’s reinstatement in 1976. Nonetheless, some states have a higher number of death penalty as compared to others. Texas leads by far with a total of 369 convicts followed by Virginia, having executed 95 convicts in a span of 30 years. However, the forms of execution utilized vary from death by hanging, electrocution, exposure to poisonous gas, lethal injection and worse still death by firing squad which more often than not is used as the last resort. Actually since 1976 death by firing squad has been used twice only. Capital punishment therefore affords the federal state with a means of dispensing justice. The public and the parties affected by the accused actions can consequently find some solace in the fact justice has been served.

A study carried out in the year 2002 by Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, proved that with the reintroduction of capital punishment through death; there has been a decrease in murder cases in America. In addition, with each convicted murderer hanged or given a lethal injection eighteen lives of potential murder victims are saved.

The most desirable function of punishments should be to act as a deterrence to would be criminals. In an ideal environment, punishments should never have to be executed but their mere presence should cause all to abide to the rules and regulations in place therefore peacefully coexist. Capital punishment presents the highest level of deterrence since death is indeed the ultimate punishment. This is especially so in cases where the criminal feels immune to the other forms of punishment such as restriction on freedom of movement or even hard labor. “Televised Executions” indicates that executions, in this case televised ones, serviced an important social purpose of deterrence as the public is afforded a glimpse as to the fate that awaits those who engage in despicable acts thus making would be future offenders think twice about the results of their acts (“Televised Executions”). Though, most states have ruled out on the live coverage of the executions, this becomes inevitable with the proliferation of technology. Earlier in the 1920’s public executions took the place of televised executions. This has since reduced the number of people allowed to access the execution room to journalists, Clergymen and family members of both the defendant and the victim. In upholding the freedom of the media in America, the journalists are allowed to write and speak about the execution with the hope that this will rise the fear of would be offenders. Apart from the deterrence role, televised executions are also geared towards enabling the citizens to make more informed opinions in regard to capital punishment through execution. In addition televising the executions puts an end to a horrible historical event leaving the victims and citizens peaceful that at least justice has been served.

Since the executions carried out by the federal government are done on behalf of the American citizens, then it is of paramount importance for them to view what the government is doing to ensure justice. According to Proponents of televised executions, inviting only a few guests and family members of the victims looks more like revenge than fulfillment of justice. A criminal who offends one person more or less offends the society. Consequently, members of the public too should be allowed to view the execution.

According to “Update: Death Penalty”, one of the most unique attributes of capital punishment is that it irrevocably protects the society from repeat offenders. This is especially a significant point since convicts have been known to reenter society either as a result of parole or more dramatic happenings such as jail breaks. The death penalty ensures that some of the society’s most vicious criminals; murderers, arsons, etc. are rid off the society for good. The society can therefore continue without fear of these undesirable elements ever coming back and causing chaos. From an economic point on view, the cost of maintaining prisoners in the correctional facilities is fairly expensive. Opponents of the death penalty propose that in its place, life imprisonment without parole should be implemented. What this boils down to is that the prisoner will have to be maintained in the penitentiary for his entire life. This is a very costly affair and the brunt of it is bore by the taxpayer. Capital punishment as executed by methods such as the lethal injection is not only radically cheaper but it also spares the state of the resources it would have utilized to ensure that the prisoner is maintained for a lifetime. While most of the opponents of the death penalty point to its execution being inhumane and hence torturous to the victim. According to “Death Penalty: Follow Up” the American supreme court advocated for the lethal injection method used by the federal government and thirty four other states for execution as it did not infringe the eighth amendment which prohibited any kind of unnecessary pain during the execution. Nonetheless, the constitution does not prohibit the risk of pain when carrying out the execution as it is clear that no matter how humane the method used is, there exists some possibility of pain. However the Supreme Court invited all opponents of this method to provide an equal alternative that would considerably reduce this pain as well as be feasible. A report on “lethal injection” indicates that,” not only is the lethal injection method (which is greatly favored by most states) almost entirely painless but the method presents a great advancement from past methods such as hanging and the use of the gas chamber (“Lethal Injection”). As such, capital punishment provides a cheap and human and relatively human method of dealing with criminals.

Executions carried out by the state would be more preferable since they are done in a more humane way as compared to the victim’s family or members of the public taking the law into their hands. Apparently at the height of the crime most people would agree with the jury that an equal punishment be handed to the defendant. Then what else would be more commensurate to a proven murder case than an equal death penalty?

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Since time immemorial, the death penalty has been a contentious issue in criminal jurisprudence of the United States. Some consider the death penalty as the most extreme form of vendetta or vindictive punishment for criminals who committed felonious crimes in this country. Most of the people are not agreeing with this because they state that it is an immoral activity for the state to kill a person even if they commit aggressive crimes, or even committed ruthless murders. Through this punishment, the law is giving a wrong message to the public that by killing the person who killed the other person they illustrate ‘killing is immoral’. “One argument, based in morality, commonly used against the death penalty is that it is an affront to the sanctity of human life. This is succinctly put in the bumper sticker: “We kill people to show that killing people is wrong” (“The Death Penalty – A Balanced Debate”).

Perhaps, more than the crimes committed by persons, it is necessary to consider that by hanging the accused, the family of the victims would neither get their loved one back, nor could any amount of money be sufficient to comfort their loss. But at the same time, it would be a miscarriage of justice if a person is allowed to go free, or with a mild sentence after committing heinous crimes. There needs to be an accurate balance between the degree and extent of crime and the punishment that needs to be meted out, excluding capital punishment. It could be in terms of life imprisonment without parole, or something equally drastic. As a matter of fact, according to this writer, life for life is not an appropriate punishment.

Due to this reason, most of the citizens in US are against imposition of capital punishment- death penalty. The execution of a single innocent among a thousand criminals makes the system a maligned one. Many people who are not guilty are being sentenced to death. Even if they claim that they are innocent, there is really no one to hear them. They are being hanged mercilessly. But after their death many have been proved innocent. But this becomes no use to him and his family. The people who had imposed a crime on him and sentenced him to death can not give his life back. They have done a mistake that can never be corrected or justified. Generally the death penalty is given for those who have committed murder. But death penalty for the murderer is never a re-compensation for the victim’s life. Sometimes the victim’s family gets a lot of money from the murderer’s execution. After the murder these people may sometimes feel guilty because they have received the money on the murder of a person. Further, the person who has been sentenced for death penalty also has a family. No one is concerned about his family and their sufferings are not considered by any court. “Opponents argue that high rates of error in the criminal justice system make it quite possible to execute someone who is innocent, making the state itself guilty of murder. Since 1973 at least 88 people on death row were released after evidence emerged indicating their innocence” (“Death Penalty”).

In addition opponents of capital punishment through death argue that most of the criminals handed this ruling are African- American. This in itself puts America at the cross road of providing social justice to the victims and racism. This is the reason as to why the number of death penalties handed down to criminals is high in Texas where African- American are populated as compared to Washington or New York which is populated with white Americans. To prove that this is institutionalized racism, critics of the death penalty argue that more often than not the sentence is handed to an African- American for murdering a white American in which case more often than not the jury is all white.

Even more contentious is the death penalty handed to juveniles. The opponents of death sentence argue that the brain of an adolescent is not fully developed at this age and though they might look mature they behave just like children. However even a small child understands that taking the life of an animal let alone a human being is wrong. More so, the cry of the victim when the murder is being carried out should be enough to bring the murderer into their senses. On the contrary brain capacity cannot be used to make right a heinous act such as murder or rape (Montaldo, Charles. “Juvenile Death Penalty”). More so the juries and the courts make their decisions after putting into consideration various contributing factors that might have led the juvenile to commit the act. On that basis then grouping all the young offenders and drawing the conclusion that they should not be penalized with a death sentence is misplaced (Montaldo, Charles. “Juvenile Death Penalty”).

As indicated earlier the introduction of death sentence has greatly reduced repetitive murders. Thus if the young offenders were to be totally exonerated from the death sentence, it is justifiable to conclude that some would involve in this heinous acts knowingly. After all the court will not hand them harsh verdicts on the basis of being like children.

On the same basis, most of the states in America, have ruled out the execution of mentally retarded persons. This clearly indicates that the federal government is not totally inhuman to the prevailing conditions of mankind. According to the Supreme Court handing a death penalty to a mentally retarded person infringes on the rising standards of decency and the development of the nation.

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In some ways death penalty is also a type of murder itself. The only difference is that it is socially approved and court-ordered, or legalized murder. Courts make a lot of errors in many cases. “A June 2000 study headed by James Leibman, a Columbia University law professor, concluded that “serious errors” were made in 68 percent of all death penalty cases in the prior three decades” (“Cruel, but not Unusual, Judicial Mischief”).

Whether drunk drivers who cause accidents leading to death should be sentenced to execution has also raised a lot of questions and emotions in America. Opponents of the death penalty argue that drunk drivers do not mean to cause the accidents and should therefore be exempted from this capital punishment. However drinking is a personal choice which is made by the person when they are still sober. Responsible citizens planning to drive after a drink would therefore limit their drinking. But those who over drink and drive present a prevalent risk to the society. This is especially so if they are treated in a different way, for causing the death of an innocent person. Sentencing such offenders to execution acts as a deterrence to what would be referred to as intentional murders caused by irresponsibility (“Drunk Drivers and the Death Penalty”)

Conclusion

This paper has argued about the imposition and rebuttal of death penalty. It does possess numerous advantages that make it a necessary tool in the justice system. It has been articulated that through the death penalty, retribution is served and the society is purged off its most vicious criminals. In addition to this, capital punishment presents the strongest form of deterrence to would be offenders as an example is made of those who have already been convicted. While some people do contend that the death penalty should never be imposed on anyone, regardless of their crimes, it can be authoritatively stated from the above discussions that capital punishment does serve a significant role in the society and as such, it’s use should be perpetuated albeit with a lot of caution so as to avoid subjecting innocent parties to this ultimate form of punishment. This is why the death penalty is not only necessary but also the most efficient means for deterring future offenders.

Works Cited

“Cruel, but not Unusual, Judicial Mischief.” Tempknak.home.at.net. Web. 2010.

“Death Penalty. Almanac of Policy Issues.” policyalmanac.org. Sponsor 2001. Web.

“Death Penalty: Follow- up”. Issues & Controversies: n.pag. Issues and controversies. 2008. Web.

“Drunk Drivers and the Death Penalty (Sidebar)”. Issues and Controversies”: n. pag. Issues & controversies 1998. Web.

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Montaldo, Charles. “Juvenile Death Penalty”. Issues & controversies: n. pag. Issues & Controversies 2009. Web.

“Lethal Injection.” Issues & Controversies: n. pag. Issues & Controversies 2007. Web.

“Public Support for the Death Penalty Remains Strong (sidebar).” Issues & Controversies n. pag. Issues & Controversies. 1995. Web.

“Televised Executions.” Issues & Controversies.: n. pag. Issues & Controversies., 2001. Web.

“The Death Penalty – A Balanced Debate.” angelfire.com. Sponsor Web.

“Update: Death Penalty.” Issues & Controversies: n. pag. Issues & Controversies. 2004. Web.

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