The Death penalty is part of capital punishment administered by a state upon an individual who has committed certain crimes deemed serious by the state in question. It requires the life of the person in question be put to an end. Means of capital punishment include but not limited to; hanging, crucifixion, electrocution, stoning etc. Van Den Haag gives five reasons justifying the constitutionality of the death penalty by concluding that the constitution allows for death penalty which is not the case (van den hag 128).The constitution states that “if life was to be taken away as form of punishment, then it must be in accordance with the due process of the law”, this proposition is conditional and accords the government a choice to either abolish it or effect it in light of the due process of the law. For this reason I wish to put forth arguments that would lead to the abolition of death penalty.
Van den hag argues that the death penalty acts as deterrence for future murders. Death being the most severe form of punishment is most feared and a murder would think before carrying out his intention. Previous studies have shown that quiet a number of murders were deterred since the introduction of death sentence. However, the death sentence takes quiet a long time before it is administered and the use of alternative equally feared forms of punishments could be used instead as a form of deterrence. Deterrence has its limitations as someone already imprisoned and sentenced for death would not be afraid to kill their inmates as well as the prison guards. Death sentence can only be effective in deterring murders if it is carried out fast enough which is usually not the case.
Retributive justice comes into play when an imbalance occurs in society due to a loss of life from the hands of a criminal. That balance must be restored by taking away the murderers life.
In rebuttal to deterrence, the death sentence has not been proven to deter future murders. The difference between life imprisonment and death sentence is negligible. Death sentence can have the effect of brutalizing the society, which then makes it a less effective tool for deterring murder as this increases the possibility of more murder (Anckar, 2004, 189).
Most murders are committed by people in altered states of mind. It might be that a person acted in moments of immense emotional imbalance due to anger or substance abuse. Also, the person committing murder does not expect to be found out. It would be suffice to say that the death sentence cannot deter such persons or drug abusing criminals from committing murder as they are not in a position to evaluate the possibility of life imprisonment or the death penalty itself.
The death penalty has not been proven to deter more murders than life imprisonment, as most prisoners serving life imprisonment are involved in routine works and like any other prisoner, they are unlikely to commit any crime. People’s security can be guaranteed by offering life sentence without parole without having to use the death penalty (Bae,2007, 235).
Long-term imprisonment being a severe punishment can deter any rational human being from committing murder; however this is not possible as most premeditated murders involve a criminal who is planning on not getting caught or people who murdered out of sheer emotion..
Police in states with the death penalty are not safe compared to police officers in abolitionist states. Also, prison personnel and prisoners are not safe in states with the death penalty than those without. (Wolftson, 1982, 167)
In rebuttal to retribution, Sanctity of life should not be compromised to death penalty. Retribution being akin to revenge should not be exercised by a civilized society. Capital punishment has so many problems and risks associated with it and the need for vengeance should not justify its existence. Sanctioning killing for revenge motives lowers the dignity of a mature society which is supposed to uphold the highest principles possible even when faced with a challenge of this magnitude for there is a better way of solving it without contradicting its moral principles. It has been found out that many of victim’s family’s objects to death penalty because it is vengeance regardless of how you look at it for instance; a sodomite is not sodomized in return. Thus killing a murderer is a punishment that is disproportional and its sanctioning unrealistic as the U.S. takes long in implementing it and only a few people are executed making it completely unreliable for administering justice for the victim. Life-long incarceration will ultimately bring healing to the wounded souls. Countering violence with violence can only lead to more violence. No amount of punishment can bring healing to the affected families, healing can happen gradually through time and concerted efforts from third parties. It is a tragedy to believe that life can be protected by taking away life (Wolfson, 1998, 167).
The issue of executing the innocent seems to be taken lightly by those concurring where as studies have shown that for every seven people executed, an innocent mans life is lost. Errors occurring in administering the capital punishment are so numerous making its usage completely unreliable. For instance, a study showed that when cases were retried 7% of the defendants were acquitted and 80 % were not put to death. The release of the most innocent victims are facilitated by external factors such as a close scrutiny of the case by the journalists that ends up finding the actual offender. The justice system many a times have declared a person guilty but DNA testing proves the judges wrong. By handing over to the accused a life sentence without parole the likelihood of executing an innocent victim would be lowered to zero in case of an error due to irrevocable punishment (MacNair & Stephen, 2008, 176).
There is also the issue of arbitrariness and discrimination where the administration of the death penalty can be skewed. It can take into account race of either the victim or defendant, quality of defense counsel and such other irrational factors. If the defendant is poor and cannot afford a highly competent lawyer who is able to conduct thorough investigation, he could end up losing his life. If a caucasian person is murdered studies have shown that there is high likelihood of passing a death sentence especially if it was carried out by an African American person than the other way around. The death penalty should be suspended until race and other arbitrary factors are resolved. When one person in a certain state receives the death sentence and another in a different state receives a life sentence, justice in that case has been arbitrarily administered.
Capital punishment does not deter murder since it is virtually impossible to point out the exact citizen who did not kill because he feared for his life. Moreover, it cannot deter crimes of passion. Thus, it is suffice to say that its deterrent effect is trivial given the relatively small number of capital sentences and huge amount of time lags between sentencing and execution. That notwithstanding, it is prone to errors and arbitrariness. Capital punishment is meant to prevent unjustified killings, a notion that is paradoxical in that the government involves itself in many omissions that threaten people’s health and safety e.g. failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, prevent domestic violence, control road carnage etc. All of this goes unaccounted for, as such, the government cannot claim to be protecting lives by imposing capital punishment.
Both arguments for and against the death penalty have a common play field which is to protect the lives of innocent people. However, the death penalty should be abolished until all the issues discussed in this paper have been resolved.
Anckar, carsten.Determinants of the death penalty. N Y: Rutledge, 2004.
Bae, sangmin.When the state no longer kills. Albany: State University of N Y Press, 2007.
MacNair, R. M., & Stephen, Z., Consistently Opposing Killing. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008.
Van Den Haag, Ernest. “The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense.” A University Review Journal,
13.4 (1986): 123-136.
Wolfson, Bedau. The Death Penalty in America, 3rd Ed. “The Death Penalty: For and Against,” Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998.