The controversial nature of capital punishment has continued to cause disparate contentions with regards to its imposition or abolishment to address capital offenses. Globally, the organization Amnesty International, a global movement that aims to end grave abuses of human rights, has continued to monitor and report the number of countries that persist in using the death penalty. The recent report entitled “Death Sentences and Executions 2010” has revealed that “at least 2024 new death sentences were known to have been imposed in 67 countries in 2010” (Amnesty International, 2011, p. 5). Countries that continue to support capital punishment, known as retentionist countries, contend that “they are acting responsibly and in step not only with public opinion in their countries but also with international law. In 2010 retentionist countries continued to justify their use of the death penalty by arguing that capital punishment is only enforced in their countries for the “most serious crimes” and after due process, in line with Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)” (Amnesty International, 2011, p. 9). In this regard, the research aims to contend support to the retention of the death penalty as a means to address the most severe capital offenses.
The current study would initially present relevant statistics of countries practicing capital punishment, those who support abolition and facts about states practicing the death penalty in the United States. Besides, the discourse would determine the reasons for implementing capital punishment and discuss what abolitionist countries’ or states’ responses are in terms of the rationale for death penalties. The advantages and disadvantages of death penalty would thereby be expounded before pursuing a review of related literature on what scholars and criminologists believe regarding the practice of capital punishment. A recommendation would be provided after integrating highlights and findings from the discussion, before a concluding statement that reinforces the argument on retaining capital punishment for criminal offenses.
Relevant Statistics of Countries Practicing Capital Punishment
The information provided by Amnesty International (2011) reveals that “in the last decade, more than 30 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Fifty-eight nations around the world now maintain the death penalty for ordinary offences, although in 2010 less than half of those committed executions” (Amnesty International, 2011, p. 1). The global trend shows a decreasing number of countries carrying out executions, as shown in the illustration below:
Source: (Amnesty International, 2011)
In the United States, the Death Penalty Information Center (2011) showed that a similar trend was manifested from the high of 98 executions in 1999 to only 32 performances in 2011 (p. 1). Further, as depicted below, death sentencing likewise exemplified a decreasing pattern:
“Since 1999, the number of death sentences per year has shrunk dramatically.
Sentences 313 313 315 268 294 277 224 159 166 152 140 139 123 120 119 112 112*
Source: Justice Statistics Bureau: “Capital Punishment 2009.” * Projected, based on analysis from DPIC “(Death Penality Information Centre, 2011, p. 3).
The news article published in The New York Times on “Capital Punishment” revealed that one of the factors contributing to the declining trend is the availability of the drug used for lethal injection. As noted, “One contributing factor in the low number of nationwide executions is the shortage of one of three drugs used in most lethal injections-the barbiturate thiopental sodium. Several states have postponed executions because of the scarcity of the drug” (The New York Times, 2011, par. 5). However, the same report has disclosed the relevant fact that “a majority of Americans support the death penalty, with 64 percent of those surveyed by Gallup in 2010 favoring this was opposed by 29 per cent “(The New York Times, 2011, para. 18).
At the point, the study would determine the underlying rationale for the use of implementing capital punishment.
Reasons for Implementing Capital Punishment
One of the most significant reasons for the imposition of capital punishment is for crime deterrence. Liu’s (2004) paper validated the hypothesis that “the deterrent effects of the certainty and severity of punishments on murder depend on the death penalty status. Legalizing the death penalty not only adds capital punishment as a deterrent, but also increases the marginal productivity of other measures of deterrence in reducing the rates of murder “(Liu, 2004, p. 237). The graph below would clearly show that as the number of executions decreases, the murder rates increase.
Source: (Prodeathpenalty: Deterrence, n.d., 1)
Besides, Bradbury (n.d.), a Ventury County District Attorney averred that “a death penalty is a necessary tool that reaffirms the sanctity of human life while assuring that convicted killers Prodeathpenalty.com: The Death Penalty and the Declaration of the Sanctity of Life, n.d., paragraph 12. More importantly, as emphasized by Lowe (2011), “the recidivism rate for capital punishment is zero. No executed murderer has ever killed again. You can’t tell anything for those sentenced to prison, even though you’re an abolitionist “(Lowe: The Capital Punishment Mortality, 2011, par. 15).
Other reasons for imposing the death penalty are for retribution, incapacitation, and instrumental perspective which states that “citizens who fear crime and regard crime as a major social problem are more likely to call for more extreme penalties for crime “(Arthur, 1998, p. 163). Maxwell and Rivera-Vazquez (1998) wrote that “the instrumentalistic perspective holds that the attitudes of the people towards the death penalty are driven primarily by their desire to reduce crime and protect society and that the death penalty is a means of achieving that aim “(p. 337) (cited in Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert, 2004, p. 9).
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Death Penalty
There are several arguments for capital punishment. Foremost among these is that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to people who intend to commit a capital offense (Hinton, 2009). The website studyworld.com stated that the death penalty is said to deter crime by putting the fear of death to people contemplating killing someone (Studyworld.com, n.d.). It went on further to say that if a person thinks that harm will befall him if he does something wrong, he will no longer pursue it. As mentioned on the same website, another reason why the death penalty deters crime is that there will no longer be a killer if he is killed already. This is applicable, especially in serial killer cases.
Another significant advantage of adapting capital punishment is that the penalty is justified by the crime itself (Hinton, 2009). If a person kills another person, it is but fitting that he suffers the same fate too.
The criminal’s lack of respect for the value of human life does not make him deserve respect for his own life.
He had given up the concern for life when he took away somebody else’s life. As Kozinski (U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals) rightly puts it, “Most of us continue to believe that those who show utter contempt for human life by committing remorseless, premeditated murder justly forfeit their own right to live “(Prodeathpenalty.com, n.d.).
Another argument presented by Hinton for the death penalty is that some people argue that the criminal’s death brings about closure for the victim and his family (2009). It is easier for the victim (if still alive) and his family to move on if they know that the perpetrator of the crime has been duly punished.
As opposed to life imprisonment, the death penalty eliminates the criminal’s possibility of committing more crimes. In life imprisonment, the criminal may be granted parole or escape; therefore, they may commit another crime.
Opponents of capital punishment claim that there is a danger of taking an innocent person’s life if the death penalty is imposed. However, this issue has already been adequately addressed by the modern forensics and DNA testing used by criminal investigators (Hinton, 2009). The opportunity to kill an innocent person is almost zero.
Based on the above arguments presented, it is believed that the death penalty is a justified punishment for criminals of capital offenses. To stress this point, the Supreme Court of America once stated, “Indeed, the decision that capital punishment may be the appropriate sanction in extreme cases is an expression of It is the conviction of the nation that such offenses are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only reasonable answer can be the death penalty “(Prodeathpenalty.com, n.d.).
The BalancedPolitics.org presented Messerli’s (2011) two sides of the argument responding to the question: should the death penalty be banned as a form of punishment? , as shown below:
In a Nutshell
|1. Financial costs to taxpayers of capital punishment is several times that of keeping someone in prison for life.
2. It is barbaric and violates the “cruel and unusual” clause in the Bill of Rights.
3. The endless appeals and required additional procedures clog our court system.
4. We as a society have to move away from the “eye for an eye” revenge mentality if civilization is to advance.
5. It sends the wrong message: why kill people who kill people to show killing is wrong.
6. Life in prison is a worse punishment and a more effective deterrent.
7. Other countries (especially in Europe) would have a more favorable image of America.
8. Some jury members are reluctant to convict if it means putting someone to death.
9. The prisoner’s family must suffer from seeing their loved one put to death by the state, as well as going through the emotionally-draining appeals process.
10. The possibility exists that innocent men and women may be put to death.
11. Mentally ill patients may be put to death.
12. It creates sympathy for the monstrous perpetrators of the crimes.
13. It often draws top talent laywers who will work for little or no cost due to the publicity of the case and their personal beliefs against the morality of the death penalty, increasing the chances a technicality or a manipulated jury will release a guilt person.
14. It is useless in that it doesn’t bring the victim back to life.
Source: Messerli, 2011.
Review of Literature on the Practice of Death Penalty
There is a wealth of academic sources that discussed various facets of the death penalty. A website on the Death Penalty Information Center contains information ranging from issues, resources, facts, reports on the topic. Among the published articles, Donohue and Wolfers (2004) examined the primary reason for the death penalty’s imposition: its ability to deter crimes. The authors observed a balanced discourse of deterrence by citing George W. Bush and Janet Reno, as quoted below:
“George W. Bush stated in the 2000 Presidential debates, “I think the reason to support the death penalty is that it saves other people’s lives,” and further that “It’s the only rationale for that. “In comparison, attorney general Janet Reno said earlier that year,” For much of my adult life, I’ve been inquiring about research that could prove that the death penalty is deterrent, and I have not seen any research justifying that point” (Donohue & Wolfers, 2006, p. 1).
The deterrence reason for capital punishment has likewise been identified by the following authors: Ellsworth and Gross, 1994; Thomas, 1977; Zeisel and Gallup, 1989. Lambert et al. (2004) concluded that the diversity in opinion regarding the support or opposition to the death penalty was attributed to “emotional retribution, emotional opposition, morality, and law and order (which) these were the only reasons found to have statistically significant effects on death penalty attitudes “(Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert, 2004, p. 29).
The Testimony before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts Legislature on House Bill 3834 by Jeffrey Fagan, a professor of law and public health at Columbia University, has justified that the death penalty would only be useful as a deterrent of a crime if it would be applicable and imposed on the majority of criminals found to be guilty of capital offenses. At the present rate, where only a selected few are being executed, the rationale for deterrence is not adequately justified. Fagan cited Judge White’s contention that:
“Most importantly, a major criminal law objective — to dissuade others by punishing the convicted criminal — would not be served substantially where the penalty is so rare invoked that it ceases to be the credible threat essential to influence the conduct of others. For present purposes, I accept the morality and utility of punishing one person for influencing another. I do strongly support the effectiveness of punishment and do not need to disregard the death penalty as a more effective deterrent than a lesser punishment. Yet common sense and experience warn us that rarely implemented laws are ineffective mechanisms to regulate human behaviour, and that the death penalty will result, unless it is applied with sufficient frequency little contribution to deterring those crimes for which it may be exacted (emphasis added)” (Fagan, 2005, pp. 23-24).
The tiny proportion of murderers who were executed supposedly proves the death penalty’s ineffectiveness as a deterrent. In view, therefore, to make it more effective, a more structured process should be imposed to increase the rate of execution to serve its ultimate objective of deterring crimes.
From the highlights of the information gathered on the current study, one recommends that the death penalty be retained as a means to address the most severe capital offenses. The proof from the statistics presented that by decreasing the execution rates, subsequent increases in murder rates occur (Prodeathpenalty.com, n.d.). Further, by executing only a minute proportion of murderers, capital punishment’s effectiveness is diminished (Fagan, 2005).
Capital punishment has been instituted primarily for crime deterrence. Other reasons that emerged from the research disclosed for retribution, incapacitation, and instrumental perspective (Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert, 2004). Therefore, to increase its effectiveness, despite growing public opinion for its abolition, to attain zero recidivism, the only way for criminal offenses to be minimized is to retain the death penalty.
It is believed that the death penalty is a justified punishment for criminals of capital offenses. To stress this point, the Supreme Court of America once stated, “indeed, the decision that capital punishment may be the appropriate sanction in extreme cases is an expression of it is the conviction of the nation that such offenses are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only reasonable answer can be the death penalty “(Prodeathpenalty.com, n.d.). The research supports the retention of the death penalty as a means to address the most severe capital offenses. Its effectiveness could be improved through a closer review of the frequency and rate of execution to serve and justify its ultimate purpose of crime deterrence.
- Amnesty International. (2011). Death Sentences and Executions, 2010. Retrieved August 17, 2011, from http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT50/001/2011/en/ea1b6b25-a62a-4074-927d-ba51e88df2e9/act500012011en.pdf
- Arthur, J. (1998). Racial attitudes and opinions about capital punishment: Preliminary Findings.
- International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, Volume 22, 131-144.
- Death Penalty Information Center. (2011, August 19). Facts about the Death Penalty. Retrieved
- August 21, 2011, from http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf
- Donohue, J., & Wolfers, J. (2006). The Death Penalty: No Evidence for Deterrence. Economists’ Voice, 1-6.
- Ellsworth, P. a. (1994). Public opinion and capital punishment: A close examination of the views of abolitionists and retentionists. Crime and Delinquency, Volume 29, 116-169.
- Fagan, J. (2005). An Act Reinstating Capital Punishment in the Commonwealth. PUBLIC
- POLICY CHOICES ON DETERRENCE AND THE DEATH PENALTY REVIEW (pp. 1-24). Massachusetts: Columbia Law School.
- Hinton, P. (2009, January 15). The pros and cons of the death penalty. Retrieved August 10, 2011, from suite101.com: http://www.suite101.com/content/the-pros-and-cons-of-the-death-penalty-a90241
- Lambert, E., Clarke, A., & Lambert, J. (2004). Reasons for Supporting and Opposing Capital Punishment in the USA: A Preliminary Study. Internet Journal of Criminology (IJC), 1- 34.
- Liu, Z. (2004). Capital Punishment and the Deterrence Hypothesis: Some New Insights and Empirical Evidence. Eastern Economic Journal, Vol. 30, No. 3, 237-258.
- Lowe, W. (2011, January 17). Pro Death Penalty Webpage. Retrieved August 18, 2011, from http://www.wesleylowe.com/cp.html#contents
- Maxwell, S., & Rivera-Vazquez, O. (1998). Assessing the instrumental and symbolic elements in Attitudes toward the death penalty using a sample of Puerto Rican students. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, Volume 22, 329-339.
- Messerli, J. (2011). Should the death penalty be banned as a form of capital punishment?
- Retrieved August 17, 2011, from BalancedPolitics.org: http://www.balancedpolitics.org/death_penalty.htm
- Prodeathpenalty.com. (n.d.). Death penalty issues. Retrieved August 10, 2011, from prodeathpenalty.com: http://www.prodeathpenalty.com/issues.htm
- Studyworld.com. (n.d.). Benefits of capital punishment. Retrieved August 10, 2011, from studyworld.com: http://www.studyworld.com/moral_issues/capital_punishment/benefits_of_capital_punishment.htm
- The New York Times. (2011, August 21). Capital Punishment. The New York Times, p. 1.
- Thomas, C. (1977). Eighth Amendment challenges to the death penalty: The relevance of informed public opinion. Vanderbilt Law Review, Volume 30, 1005-1030.
- Zeisel, H., & Gallup, A. (1989). Death penalty sentiment in the United States. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Volume 5, 285-296.