Debate and controversy swirl around the death penalty. Many countries have banned it and there is an international campaign being waged to try to eliminate it worldwide (EU External, 2008). People have very strong negative feelings about it. Never before in history has the controversial practice appeared to be under such a threat. Some people believe it is ineffective and inhumane. They think it is a vestige of a barbaric old-fashioned world that has gone the way of the dodo. But just because something had been around for thousands of years does not mean it is by definition obsolete (Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1913). But these people are wrong and are misusing evidence. The truth is that when you for the right crimes the death penalty is a deterrent. But more than that, the death penalty is society’s ultimate sanction against those who commit the most heinous crimes. Its elimination is called for by people who in a general sense would tend to see criminals as victims, and refuse to actually see victims of crime at all. When you eliminate the ultimate price from the criminal justice system you simply are left with a bunch of sentencing requirement which vary only in tiny degrees: there is no way to express heartfelt anguish or outrage at a crime. Why the death penalty should continue in its present form is the subject of this essay. The death penalty is a deterrent to crime. Famous critics believe so (Mappes, 2007, 107). The reason why statistics may not always show this to be true—and are so open to misuse and manipulation by death penalty opponents is many homicides are not first degree and do not involve a lot of premeditation. Many are caused by negligence or happen on the spur of the moment. For these sorts of crimes, capital punishment won’t be much of deterrence—and this fact will be reflected in the so-called statistics. But then again no public policy will provide much of deterrence for crimes that do not involve intention or are carried out on the spur of the moment. Indeed, I don’t believe there is much of a correlation between crime rates and the death penalty to begin with. Murder is only a very small portion of crime statistics, and only a very small portion of murder would be deterred. We should always define our terms at the beginning of such debate. Death penalty opponents consistently refuse to do so. Many countries use the fault reasoning explained above to justify their abolishment of capital punishment. I think there’s more study needed. Whatever these studies say, no one can deny that the death penalty absolutely deters the murderer who is killed by it—he will never raise his hand against anyone again (DPC, 2009).
I think the death penalty should be legal. It is a statement society makes about the highest stigma crimes. Some people do thing so bad that society has the right to kill them. Removed from the face of the Earth, these individuals can no longer taunt their victims families (as some do), nor will they have an opportunity to ever walk free again. To some this is a very old-fashioned and severe idea. I would say that opponents of the death penalty are part of a trend of thinking who would like to preserve criminals’ rights above those of the victims of violent crimes. It is disgusting to see people waste their time and energy trying to stop the executions of heinous murderers rather than volunteering or giving money to victims who have suffered so much.
There are some critics of the death penalty who try to confuse the issue and say that it should not be used on young offenders. They try to suggest that there are many 15 years old being executed in the electric chair across the country—a fact that is simply not true. They use this issue to try to publicly paint a picture of what they believe the barbarism of the death penalty to truly be. I would say that as a rule young people should not be executed by capital punishment, but I would not protest an exception to this rule for especially heinous crimes. There should probably be an arbitrary cut off point—for example, 16 years of age—at which youths cannot be executed. But generally speaking I can imagine a terrible crime committed by a 17 year old, which would be appropriately responded to by capital punishment. The penalty exists to reflect society’s disgust with a person’s action—obviously the standard would be higher for a younger person.
It is understandable that so many people have strong opinions about this issue. No life should ever be taken without careful consideration and due process. That said; there is a growing trend around the world to look at criminals themselves as victims of some sort of social injustice, to think about criminals in the same way most people think about victims of crime. This way of thinking has it that criminals come from bad homes and are the subject of discrimination based on race or socio-economic status or what have you. The result is they are unable to control themselves and we should deal with them generously. This idea is very naïve. There truly are bad people out there. The death penalty not only is a deterrent to those who would commit nasty crimes, but it also removes them from human society forever once they are convicted. Opponents of the death penalty will use every trick in the book to try thwart efforts to maintain the status quo. All we can do is remain vigilant, stick to the fact, and stick to the moral argument: crime doesn’t pay.
Bedau, Hugo Adam. “The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies.” 4th ed. New York: Oxford University. (2001).
Beccaria, Cesare. “On Crimes and Punishments and Other Writings.” Edited by Richard Bellamy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. (1995).
Mappes, Thomas A, and Jane S Zembaty. “Social Ethics: Morality and Social Policy.” 7th ed. New York: McGraw Hill. (2007).
“Capital Punishment.” Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. (1913).
EU External Relations. “Eliminate The Death Penalty.” December 10, 2009
“In support of the death penalty.” DPC. December 10, 2009