Death penalty or capital punishment is the form of punishment, which involves execution of criminals who commit capital crimes. Execution is achieved through means such as electrocution, hanging, lethal injections etc. (Hood 36). Capital crimes vary according to various jurisdictions. Murder, rape, drug trafficking, treason, mutiny, armed robbery etc. are some of the common offenses that attract death penalty. The history of death penalty runs back to ancient civilizations such as the Romans, Greeks and the Babylonians. The Roman Empire, for example, utilized crucifixion as a way of inflicting pain and death on convicted criminals and errant slaves. The crucifixion of Jesus and some of his disciples in time of the then Roman emperor, Tiberius Caesar, represented by Pontius Pilate, is enough evidence to prove that capital punishment does not have its origins in the contemporary society (Tzaferis 45).
The Hammurabi code of the Babylonians existed as far back as the 18th century B.C. and it is considered as one of the earliest documented histories of the application of death penalty. The Greeks, who are cited as one of the earliest world civilizations, had their Hittite code, which had death penalty as the major punishment for most of the crimes (Bedau 28). However, it is true to say that justice systems in the contemporary society have evolved especially as a result of democracy, which has allowed world citizens to shape the administration of justice through criticism. Consequently, capital punishment has become a contentious issue as the society is divided on the basis of its suitability. This paper will hold the opinion that death penalty should be maintained as a way of punishing capital offenders.
The major reason for punishing criminals is to incapacitate from committing more crimes (Cassel 42). Proponents of death penalty argue that capital punishment is the best way to achieve this goal, especially with crimes that endanger the lives of innocent citizens. Murder, for example, involves cold blooded killing of victims and it is true to say that once a life is lost, there is no way it can be replaced. However, there is no sufficient guarantee that incarceration of murderers has the capacity to incapacitate them from killing another person, whether in the prison or beyond the prison walls. It is argued that incarceration is the best way to rehabilitate criminals but no matter how logical this might sound, criminals must have an intrinsic motivation in order for them to reform. This means that there is a high possibility that letting murderers or violent rapists live is to trust them too much at the expense of innocent civilians in the society. This can only be compared to gambling, whereby the chances of losing are as high as those of winning. There is evidence of murderers who have, in the past, been jailed for life only to have their sentences cut short through parole.
Most of these criminals are aware of their constitutional rights and loopholes in the legislations that determine their prosecution and subsequent incarceration. The courts have no option but to set them free depending on the arguments presented. However, this may turn out to be a major mistake after the criminals go back into the society and continue to commit the same crimes they were incarcerated for. Kenneth McDuff, for example, is an infamous murderer who had been sentenced to death as a result of killing 3 youngsters, including a girl whom he and his accomplice raped before strangling her to death. However, his punishment was reduced to life imprisonment, and, after serving for 13 years in a Texas prison, he was paroled after which his family bribed his parole officers to release him completely in 1989. In a sign of total disregard for the law and lack of compassion towards other humans, Kenneth began his killing sprees 3 days after being released. Between the time of his release and his next arrest in 1992, he had already committed 6 murders, most of which involved women whom he kidnapped and raped before killing them (Stewart 11). This is only an example of why death penalty is important; if Kenneth had been executed after his first trial, then the six lives would have been saved. Though he was executed in 1998, it is difficult to imagine how many more lives could have been lost if death penalty was not acceptable in the society at that time. Similarly, there could be other murderers like him on death row who could be waiting for an opportune time either to escape from prison or to be paroled.
Death penalty is sufficient enough to deter crime. Criminologists argue that in every execution of a convicted criminal, more than 7 lives are saved (Cassel 69). In this context, these experts observe that no person wants to die and, therefore, they will try their best to avoid committing crimes that have the capacity to attract death penalty. However, it is important to understand that the deterrent effect is highly dependent on the causations of crime such as murder. There are those people who commit crime as a result of lack of emotional intelligence; for example, they can kill a person without intent, due to anger or drug abuse. In addition, the effects cannot be felt if the government continues to maintain prisoners on death row without executing them. Execution should be done in a period of not more than 2 years so as to show seriousness and it is only with this that potential criminals will be deterred. Despite this, there is no other punishment, which can deter the prevalence of capital crimes other than death penalty. It does not matter how many lives are saved, and the abolitionists should understand this. A single innocent life is worth a lot and if it can be saved by executing 100 murderers, then it is worth it. Ironically, no person or organization concentrates its efforts to defend the victims of murder. Most of the abolitionists tend to value the lives of criminals, as well as their human rights, more than those of the victims and their families.
Generally, the calls to abolish death penalty are biased and, therefore, should not be considered, especially if they are dependent on the sanctity of life. It is true that human life is a God given gift and he is the only one with the authority to cause death. However, under whose authority do murderers take life? According to Leviticus, “Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury” (qtd. in The Blue Letter Bible). These are the same texts that form the basis of Christianity and are open to different interpretation but it is also important to remember that even God gave kings and individuals the strength to kill their aggressors.
Critics should also ask themselves why the death penalty should be abolished if no one complains when policemen shoot criminals on the streets. The whole of America and the world went on celebratory mood after American soldiers killed Osama bin Laden, a renowned al-Qaida terrorist, who had been credited with thousands of deaths from acts of terror throughout the globe. Surely, the purpose of doing so was to make the world a better place, free of terrorism. Osama is no different from that murderer on the streets, who tortures, rapes, and kills his victims. The society is much better and more secure without some of these criminals.
Critics should not forget that deaths as a result of gang violence continue to occur in the streets of the US and not much has been achieved to curb this menace. Prison gangs, such as the Mexican mafia, are identified as some of the highly dangerous and powerful in terms of the illegal activities they control while in prison. Majority of small street gangs are answerable to the Mexican mafia and their loyalty is rewarded through protection in case they are apprehended. This means that members of these gangs can still receive orders from the mafia to kill or commit atrocities on their behalf. The people who suffer most are the innocent citizens who are subjected to constant mugging, terror, kidnapping, and destruction of their lives as a result of drugs peddled by these gangs. As long as these criminals remain alive, the trend will never change irrespective of whether they are in prison or not (Hood 89).
The right to life is inalienable as critics of death penalty argue (Bedau 65). However, by legalizing capital punishment, every person will know that the consequence of engaging in crime is death. This means that if a person of right mind goes ahead, for example, to commit murder, he will have forfeited his right to life since he has the option to decide on whether to commit the crime and suffer death or to refrain and save his life. Every now and then, drivers are warned not to over speed or to text while driving as this has the potential to cause accidents thereby resulting in fatal injuries and deaths. If a driver decides not to heed to the warning, he puts his life on the line with full knowledge of the consequences. Similarly, death penalty serves as a warning and a consequence of committing crime, and, therefore, the death is definitely in the hands of the offender.
Bedau, Hugo. The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies. Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
Blue Letter Bible. Law of Moses – Leviticus 24 – (NKJV – New King James Version). 1996-2012. Blue Letter Bible. 22 Apr 2012.
Cassel, Paul. Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Case. Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
Hood, Robert. The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective. Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.
Stewart, Bob. No Remorse. Pinnacle, 1996. Print.
Tzaferis, Vassilios. “Crucifixion: The Archeological Evidence.” Biblical Archeological Review 9 (2001): 44-53.