Capital punishment is a highly debated subject all over the world. Life is so precious since science or technology failed to unveil the miseries of life till now. Capital punishment is normally given to criminals who cause severe damage to the life of innocent people without any convincing reasons. Advocates of capital punishment argue that hardcore criminals will never rectify their behavior and releasing them from prisons may create threats to the lives of innocent people again. In their opinion, keeping hardcore criminals in prison for a lifelong period is expensive and meaningless and hence giving capital punishment to such people can be justified. At the same time opponents of capital punishment believe that by giving capital punishment to the criminals, the criminal justice system is also repeating the same mistake committed by the criminals even though the criminal justice system may have some convincing reasons
The death penalty has for ages been a common practice among almost all human societies. In fact, it may well be said that the application of execution extends to prehistoric times as communal punishment for certain offenses included corporal punishment, banishment, shunning and death sentence on the law breaker all aimed at compensating the society or the victim of a criminal.
It has indeed been common practice to execute law breakers and political opponents in virtually all societies. The purpose of such executions has mainly been to contain political dissent and to punish criminals. Today, close to 58 countries around the world actively employ the penalty against those who commit capital offenses. Although close to 96 countries have abolished the use of death penalties against humans, several others still have it still entrenched within their judicial systems without practicing it for at least the last ten years owing to its controversial nature.
The death penalty has drawn great and uncommon controversy throughout the world with different groups and members of society taking different stands concerning the subject. In fact, the subject of death penalty is a matter of active debate even among states, nations and territories. With regard to the subject, people often take differing stands even though they may share similar political, religious and cultural ideologies.
According to Sharp, (1997) approximately 5900 persons have been sentenced to death and 358 executed (from 1973-96) in Untied States (See appendix). 56 murderers were executed in 1995 alone, a record number for the modern death penalty. Moreover, executions are seen as the appropriate punishment for certain criminals committing specific crimes. So says the U.S. Supreme Court and so say most death penalty supporters (Sharp, 1997). As of December 2008, United States had executed 1,136 criminals (Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty (Capital Punishment), 2009). Death penalty is a controversial subject all over the world. The right of the government or the criminal justice system to take the life of a criminal under any circumstances is highly debated in United States. Even though imposition of death penalty in United States is extremely rare, many people believe that even if thousands of criminals are escaped from punishments, not even a single innocent should be punished or executed. But because of the loopholes in criminal justice system it is quite possible that innocents may undergo capital punishments. Life is the most precious thing in this world which nobody can create. If we are unable to create something, we have no right to destroy it according to many people. At the same time lack of severity of punishments often result in increased number of serious criminal activities.
According to Ferdic et al (2008), one of the biggest challenges of criminal justice system is to keep its competing notions of due process and crime control in balance. A heavy focus on either of them may have detrimental effect on American society (Ferdic et al, 2008, p.4). Nominal punishments cannot prevent serious crimes in the current era in which suicide bombers are ready to sacrifice even their lives for executing their plots. More focus given to the human right issues will prevent the criminal justice system from enforcing severe punishments like death penalties
Death penalty has been in use in the United States for centuries. It has been used a punishment for capital crimes such as murder, hijackings, conspiracy to commit a capital crime and also treason. The employment of the death penalty has raised controversies about its effectiveness in maintenance of law and order. Various states have had their opinions about death penalty with some upholding it while others scrapping it from the laws. However, there exists no general agreement as to whether the death penalty is an effective punishment to deal with capital crimes.
The proponents of the penalty derive their arguments from the fact that is cheaper than holding convict for life, and acts as a deterrence to crime. However, the proponents are tasked with a heavy burden of proof assignment that has not been successful so far. This leads to the question whether the death penalty deters crime. The paper seeks to answer the question through an argumentative approach.
According to Amnesty International USA, the assertion that the death penalty reduces murder rates are flawed (Amnesty USA n.d). The fundamental basics to prove that it does not deter crimes are evident in the murder statistics difference between states that employ the death penalty and the states that do not use the penalty
Death Penalty Definition
The death penalty is the pre-meditated and planned process of killing a human being in reaction to an offence committed by the person (Banner, 2002).. Also known as capital punishment, the act is normally done by a government against a person who has legally been convicted through a legal or judicial process.
There are several methods that have been employed in executing capital punishments against people accused of committing capital offenses as noted by Hood (2002). Historically, the death sentence was carried out mostly in the most painful of ways. In many ancient societies, convicts were often stoned to death while in other societies the convicts’ heads were severed using different means. For example in ancient Russia, executioners used swords to chop of the heads of those who were condemned to die while in France, the victim’s head was cut off using a guillotine.
Ferocious or venomous animals were also used in some societies to cause the deaths of those who were unlucky enough to be convicted of rave and unforgivable mistakes. Commonly, lions, snakes, or leopards were unleashed upon the convicts in an ultimate move to cause their death. Other means of causing the death of wrongdoers in ancient societies included boiling to death, crushing the wrongdoer using various means, crucifixion, and dismemberment. Yet again, wrongdoers in other societies would be slowly sliced, decapitated, or sawed. Both in the Old and New Testaments of the bible, it is recorded of quite a number of instances that wrongdoers were stoned to death. The Jews also, would punish perceived capital offenders by death by crucifying them as was the case of Jesus Christ.
While most of these means were common in ancient societies, their use in some modern societies persists. In some Islamic countries for example, people are still executed by stoning more like the Jews performed their act in ancient times. In modern times, capital punishment is commonly administered through hanging, electrocution, shooting by firing squads and through deathly injections. One main difference between the execution of death penalties in ancient times and many of today’s societies is the fact that previously, some societies demanded that even the members of family of the wrongdoer be executed together with them (the wrongdoer). This was done in association irrespective of whether the relatives participated in the crime or whether they were innocent (Benn, 2002). This has however changed with time as modern societies recognize the concept of natural rights and embrace the idea of citizenship.
Capital Offenses and Capital Punishment Statistics
Across the world, crimes that warrant capital punishment are greatly varied depending on nationality. In many countries and cultures though, crimes such as murder, treason, adultery, incest, sodomy and theft commonly result in the sentencing of convict to the death. Other crimes that warrant capital punishment in various jurisdictions include rape, drug trafficking and homicide. In China, one may also be punished by execution for engaging in high level corruption and for trafficking humans. World military organizations have commonly applied the death penalty for several reasons the common ones being cowardice, mutiny, desertion and insubordination (Bedau and Cassell, 2005). This has always been aimed at maintaining discipline among entities that are commonly referred to as disciplined forces. Apart from executing their own wrongdoers, military units have often punished those of the opposing camp (enemy militants) by executing them using one means or another.
According to Amnesty International’s death penalty annual report for the year 2008, over 2,390 individuals were executed in at least 25 nations while at least 52 nations across the globe sentenced over 8,864 people to death (Amnesty International, 2009). At least 34 states in the United States and the federal government, by October 2009, had officially sanctioned the death penalty according to the organization. The report further states that between 1976 and October 2009, at least 1,177 felons had been killed through capital punishment in the United States alone. Apart from the USA, Middle Eastern and Asian nations are known to favor greatly the application of the death penalty.
Death penalty has been executed in a variety of ways. The most common and ancient method is strangulation. Most of the strangulation scenes were performed in public. With the evolution of execution methods, public executions ceased to exist in the USA. However, there are arguments about the issue of public executions. Both proponents and opponents of the penalty have valid reasons to justify their stands.
Proponents believe that the death penalty can act as deterrence to crime. Consequently, effective use of the penalty can minimize the criminal minds in the society. The impact of execution scenes lingers longer and deeper into the minds of people who have witnessed it. This implies that people will always beware of following the death penalty path. Public executions also involved painful and heartbreaking techniques such as strangulation, which aggravates the need to maintain sanity and avoid capital crimes.
Despite the perceived advantages of public executions, there are numerous issues that show the distastefulness of public executions. The moral basis of the issue and its eventual implementation is a question of interest to the community. First, the public perceptions about executions dwindle when the acts are committed in public. This makes the society wary about the long term impacts of observing the scenes. The disturbing episodes can bring long term physiological complication to people and especially the family members of the convict.
National and International Support for and against Capital Punishment
Although capital punishment has not been common practice in the United States, Some quarters claim that since colonial times, the country has witnessed close to 13 thousand people get executed on legal grounds. A United States Supreme Court annulled the death penalty in 1972 and reduced the punishment of those on death row to life imprisonment as noted by Palmer (1998). However, another supreme court later in 1976 ruled that the form of punishment was in fact constitutional (Banner, 2002). This dramatic ruling has seen more than 1160 people face the executioner’s wrath between 1976 and early 2009 in the United States.
Although the practice is common among the most populous countries of the world including the United States and China, death penalty is uncommon in certain regions. Close to all European states and countries that border the Pacific Ocean such as Australia, Timor Leste and New Zealand are known to have abolished the death sentence (Council of Europe, 1999).
Public support for the execution of offenders has relatively dwindled among nationals of countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Canada among others. However, special cases such as terrorism, child murder and large sale murder often cause significant ripples in support of the death penalty’s reinstitution.
During one of the United Nations’ (UN) General Assemblies in 2007, the international body garnered for the universal abolition of capital punishment. Quite a number of conventions have also voiced their views with regard to capital punishment. The European Convention on Human Rights, American Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have all pressed for the abandonment of and prohibition of death penalty as a means of punishing wrongdoers (Schabas, 2002).
Many international organization including the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe has required those countries that wish to gain membership to abolish capital punishment (Council of Europe, 1999).
Views about Capital Punishment
One of the main historic events that have drawn great attention to the world’s views and concerns about capital punishment was the case of Nobel Peace prize nominee and author, Mr. Williams, who was executed through capital punishment for his engagement in criminal activities before his reformation. William’s case has forced the public to reflect on the foundations and purposes of applying capital punishment.
Williams’ case has drawn debate over whether or not the aim of capital punishment is to eliminate a person who may cause more harm from society, whether its purpose is to exclude from society an individual who is beyond rehabilitation, and whether the purpose of the death penalty is to deter potential criminals from performing certain activities. The case further draws society to ask whether the punishment is aimed at punishing the criminal, and whether it is meant to be a retribution against acts committed by the criminal to his/her victim(s). The following sections of this report will analyze the advantages, benefits and pros of capital punishment or death penalty.
Arguments in Favor of Capital Punishment or Death Penalty
It has been agreed among different people and experts that the prison serves three main purposes; first, the prison contains the criminal and therefore keeps the society safe from further harm, secondly it is used as a punishment by denying some liberties to the wrongdoer, and finally to rehabilitate the prisoner (Bedau and Cassell, 2005). The third reason is founded on the premise that when the prisoner is finally released from custody, they will not go back to crime. Capital punishment may serve the first two courses but gives no provision for the realization of the third. Once a prisoner’s life is ended, there is absolutely no chance that they could be rehabilitated in death.
Several people have argued in favor of the dreaded capital punishment as a means of punishing people for their grievous acts. The reasoning behind this favor is based on the fact that severe crimes demand or call for equally severe punishments (Bedau and Cassell, 2005). It is also comes from the notion that when a n individual is given capital punishment, other would-be committers of similar crimes are dissuaded from proceeding with their plans in fear of similarly losing their lives. This effectively helps in curbing crime in the community and in the larger society.
One prosecuting Attorney of Indiana has in favor of the punishment stated that some people have ultimately earned the punishment by committing acts such as cold blooded murder (Bedau and Cassell, 2005). The Attorney claims that life is sacred and must be preserved at all costs against those who would be tempted towards killing innocent persons and thus cheapening their lives. In his and many other people’s views thence, the society retains the right to protect itself from further acts of murder among other capital offenses by acting to protect the its members in self defense. In this respect, the society has the right to completely eliminate those who commit capital offenses by applying capital punishments.
Another reason some people favor capital punishment is based on the fact that when an offender is imprisoned, he/she could commit a similar crime or one that is worse once he/she is released from custody. The death penalty in this view offers the best solution to such a problem as it completely eliminates the offender from the society. The society hence remains safe by being devoid of the criminal and others of their ilk. Capital punishment, according to those of this school of thought is most appropriate for those who are considered to be serial killers, and those who even after facing prison life remain unchangeable (Bedau and Cassell, 2005)..
Even in matters of life and death, there are people who consider matters economic very seriously. Some argue that instead of issuing life imprisonment to convicts, the better option would be giving the death penalty. This is so out of the reasoning that it would be better for a person to face death rather than spend the rest of their lives in futility and behind bars – in which case they remain an expensive economic expense to the state and the national of a country (Bedau and Cassell, 2005). In other words, it is better to avoid spending on someone who could as well commit other terrifying crimes by putting them to death.
Pojman and Reiman (1998) argue that the death penalty can be equated to the pain and suffering that victims of a crime face when they are attacked or harmed by the convict. In this regard, some people believe that anyone who takes the life of another person should themselves have no right to live. Thus, by applying capital punishment to such a one, the criminal’s victim’s family members get the feeling that justice has been obtained eventually.
Yet another argument that has been postulated in favor of capital punishment is with regard to the safety and security of prison guards and fellow inmates. Some people argue that those who have committed horrifying crimes such as murder generally retain their violent personalities even when placed under custody (Phil for Humanity, nd). They could therefore attack other prisoners or wardens and commit the same crimes s they had earlier committed. In order to avoid such cases, others prefer that some criminals should be placed under in death row.
A critical review of the arguments in favor of capital punishment reveals that when foundation of such arguments is roughly for the development of a better society. The arguments however place very little concern or emphasis on the issues of morality, ethics, and religious beliefs and affiliations. The following section will discuss the arguments that have been stated against the death penalty.
Positives of Death Penalty or Capital Punishment
In the absence of capital punishment, criminal activities may increase a lot. We are living in a world in which people are ready to even sacrifice their lives for protecting their beliefs. Suicide bombers succeeded in killing even the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. If capital punishments were prohibited, it is easy for criminals to commit serious crimes and escape from the punishments with the help of loopholes provided by the criminal justice system. Even if they were convicted; still they can enjoy the luxury of facilities like probation, parole, bail etc and live a substantial period of their remaining life outside the prison. Under such circumstances, the number of criminal activities may grow up. If capital punishment is in force, criminals will think twice before committing a serious crime as there is no chance for them to escape from the prison if they were convicted for capital punishment.
According to the supporters of capital punishment, a criminal, who is deliberately taking the life of others don’t have the moral or ethical right to live in this world. In their opinion, if taking the life of a criminal saves the life of other innocent people, there is no harm in doing so. Man cannot live like animals as he has superior wisdom compared to animals. But before declaring capital punishment to a criminal, the criminal justice system should consider all the dimensions of the crime happened and also the future threat the criminal may raise to the lives of innocent people. “It is said that it dissuades others in society from committing such severe offences when a criminal is given a death penalty. Because of fear of losing their life, they would refrain from such offenses. This would assist to reduce the crime rate in society.” (10 Pros and Cons of Capital Punishment, 2010)
In Coker vs Georgia case the Supreme Court of America held that the death penalty was a disproportionate penalty for the crime of rape of an adult woman considering the severity and irrevocability of death penalty. Moreover, Louisiana State Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the capital punishment for the rape of a child below 12 years of age in State vs Bethley case (Ferdic et al, 2008, p.42). Keeping a criminal in prison for a prolonged period is an expensive act. The criminal has no right to sustain his life if he has not shown any sign of rectifying his mistake at the expense of the mercy of the tax payers. Under such circumstances, capital punishment may save money and reduce threat to the society. In many cases, persons with criminal behavior repeat the crimes once they released from the prisons. For example, there is no point in believing that Bin Laden like hardcore terrorists may correct themselves if we succeeded in arresting and sending him to the prison. Such criminals have the belief that sacrificing the life for the religion may bring salvation to them. In short, advocates of capital punishment argue that hard core criminals must be executed in order to save the lives of other innocent people.
Arguments in Favor of Capital Punishment based on the Interview with a Sociologist
The sociologist has taken an entirely opposite view with respect to capital punishment. In response to question related to the justification of capital punishment, life of the innocent people is more important than the life of the criminal. In his opinion, people should obey certain laws in order to sustain a society in a healthy manner. In his opinion, hardcore criminals will never change their behavior even if we give them second or third chance. He has pointed out that majority of the current criminal activities are performed because of the awareness that a criminal can escape from severe punishments with the help of expert lawyers. In his opinion, capital punishment will force a criminal to think twice of thrice before committing a serious crime.
He has quoted the opinions of Van den Haag in order to substantiate his argument in favor of death penalty. “Distribution, Miscarriages of information and Deterrence are often cited as reasons to justify death penalty. Equality is morally less important than justice and justice is independent of distributional inequalities” (Van den Haag, 1986). Both equality and justice are travelling in opposite directions. He explained that if we leave criminals alive in the name of equality, innocent people may not get justice as their lives will keep on losing. So equality cannot be equated against justice while analyzing capital punishment.
I asked about the possibility of avoiding capital punishment in certain exceptional cases. The sociologist cited Ferdic et al’s view to answer my query ; “partisan advocacy on one occasion from both sides will encourage the ultimate goal of convicting the guilty and freeing the innocent” (Ferdic et al, 2008, p.37). He has argued that guilt needs punishment under all circumstances. However, he has pointed out that if the court is convinced by the repentance of a criminal, it can consider the replacement of death penalty by life term.
Ethical Theory related to the Argument of the Sociologist
One of the most popular ethical theory; “Utilitarianism says “do the best you can—actually achieve the best outcome available given your opportunities, resources, skills, knowledge, and so on””(House, 2007, p.2). In other words, utilitarianism justifies all the actions based on the utility it provides to the society. Giving death penalty to criminals will help the society to reduce crimes and also to reduce the threats to the lives of innocent people.
“Utilitarianism firstly expounded by Jeremy Bentham, says moral actions are those which produce, the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people” (Discuss the idea that capital punishment is only justified because criminals are permanently disabled of causing harm, 2011). Since the execution of a criminal reduces the threats to the lives of many innocent people, capital punishment can be justified when we analyze it with respect to utilitarianism. Life of more people is more important than the life of one person, especially that of a criminal.
Pros of Death Penalty or Capital Punishment
Capital punishment has been the most popular punishments for most heinous crimes. The arguments for and against the punishment are based on the extent of damage and the message to be sent to potential criminals. In the light of offenses that deserve highest punishment, the proponents have reserved their arguments on the advantages of having capital punishment. The arguments have been supported by the following issues;
Capital punishment is considered just and cost effective. Despite serving justice to the victims, the costs of holding capital criminals for life are reduced. Holding criminals for life implies various costs to the states and the government in terms of resources spent in maintaining the convict at the penitentiary institution. Such costs include food, clothing, security and medical services. All the mentioned services come at a cost to the taxpayer. So, the more life sentences, the more taxpayers dig deeper into their pockets. The overall costs of maintaining penitentiary services can thus be reduced by sentencing extreme crimes by death.
Death penalty is regarded as the most severe form of punishment in the world. This implies that capital offenses should be punished by capital punishment. The advantage of execution is that it offers enough lessons to potential criminals who are deterred from risking their lives through the penalty. Moreover, death penalty is regarded as the best way to serve justice to victims of murder and other capital crimes. Safety of the community is preserved by death sentence because hardened criminals can exploit the imperfections of the penitentiary facilities to escape can pose imminent danger to the public. Consequently, a chilling example is set to other criminals thus dissuading them from following the death penalty path.
Research has it that most capital punishment victims are very violent or swift in criminal acts. This implies that they pose a danger to every person they are in contact with. It beats the logic when such an individual is locked in a cell with other inmates of lesser crimes. The main issue is that the criminal history and the degree of damage can determine the behavior of an inmate even in prison. For example, given a maximum of a life sentence, a convict is at liberty to cause any mayhem since he or she is under the most extreme punishment. The action may hurt, or even lead to deaths of fellow inmates. In rare cases, capital criminals, such as terrorists, may radicalize the inmates who are serving lesser sentences. This poses a greater danger to the national security. As such, it is better to carry out the execution.
It may generally be stated that death penalty or capital punishment is the pre-meditated and planned killing of an individual in reaction to an offence committed by the person. In modern times, punishment by death is normally done by a government against a person who has legally been convicted through a legal or judicial process. Capital punishment may perhaps be considered to be the greatest and worst punishment that a normal human being can go through as it involves the termination of the individual’s life.
Death penalty or capital punishment is a highly controversial topic. Even though America is a democratic country, death penalties are more in America compared to many other countries. There are many arguments in favor and against capital punishment. Proponents of death penalty believe that it is better to give capital punishments to the hardcore criminals in order to save the life of innocent people, save money, reduce criminal activities etc.