Is the death penalty moral? Does it curb crime? The issue of the death penalty raises many questions and the answer on its effects varies depending on the respondent. The crucial dilemma lies on the legality of the death penalty and its effectiveness in curbing crime. Death penalty is defined as the use of death to punish criminal law offenders. It has been applied as a form of punishment since the colonial era. Recent statistics on the crime rate indicate that the death penalty is ranked amongst the least effective measures for curbing crime. Punishments are meant to rehabilitate the criminals and enable them to reform. Therefore, if the criminal is killed, the punishment loses its worth. The measure is effective because it scares off other potential criminals. The opponent perspective terms death penalty as immoral, uncivilized and ineffective in curbing crime. The proponent perspective portends that some crimes are so affront to humanity such that they can only be punishable through death. This paper is an opinionated argument detailing why the death penalty should be retained and the reasons causing the controversy.
Death penalty is applied for vicious crimes such as murder and treason. Some of the methods of execution include lethal injection, electrocution and hanging. The 15th century witnessed widespread public executions in Britain, which fuelled a movement that was geared towards abolishment of the penalty. Death penalty was introduced in the United States by the country’s colonial masters, the English. According to Stuart Banner, the first American State to ban the death penalty was Michigan in 1846 (Hood 2). In America, the penalty was first opposed by Ben Franklin when writing the Bill of Rights in the Eighth Amendment. Michigan was the first American state to repeal the penalty in 1846, and by 1917 the norm was adopted by ten states. The 1960s witnessed almost complete extinction of the death penalty – only one execution was performed in 1966. However, the penalty’s near extinction was retracted in 1976 in the case of Gregg vs. Georgia, on which the court ruled that the death penalty does not violate the constitution. Although the death penalty is constitutional, the practice has been characterized by controversy due to the conflicting opinions among the opponents and proponents.
The controversy on the use of the death penalty is related to the effectiveness and moral acceptability of the practice. The use of the death penalty in curbing crime is the most controversial measure taken as far as jurisprudence and human rights in a democratic nation are concerned. Proponents and opponents differ over whether the punishment violates human rights and if it is fair to both the victim and the criminal. Application of the penalty towards perpetrators of this vice is a reprieve to the victims. Additionally, it is more effective than other measures such as imprisonment, as criminals fear death more that prisons. Opponents portend that the practice is unusual and cruel as it undermines human dignity. However, the idea of referring the penalty as undermining the human dignity is a one sided school of thought; the victims view is opposite. Some of the disadvantage of the death penalty is that it does not decrease the rate of murder crimes. The most prominent challenge related to its application is its finality.
Discussing finality in CatholicPhilly.com, Chaput portends that once the sentencing is carried out there is no retracting like in the case of lesser punishments. The contradicting views among the opponents and proponents revolve around which crimes are vicious enough to merit the death penalty. The obvious crime in this case is first degree murder. However, the dilemma revolves around what is meant by intent and preplanning to warrant the murder as the first degree. For instance, if the murder occurs when a person is committing a lesser crime, does it include intent and planning? When considering treason, should the death penalty be imposed at any time or only during the war? Death penalty can be imposed if there is proof of intent and prior planning. The argument that execution violates the Bill of Rights that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment is controversial. The amendment states, “Excessive punishment will not be a requirement, nor excessive fines be imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment be inflicted” (“The Controversy Surrounding the Death Penalty”). According to this clause, unconstitutionality of the death penalty is based on the reasoning that the act is cruel and unusual. Acker and Bellandi relate the controversy to the fact that the Constitution does not state clearly whether the death penalty violates the intent of the eighth a discussion on whether the death penalty should be amended. The outcome of the trial may also be faced with possibilities of errors that may be intentional or accidental. If the trial outcome was influenced in any way, the death penalty is unfair and an abuse of human rights. Another concern involving the death penalty is based on discrimination related to racial profiling where the black people feel disfavored compared to their white counterparts. Addressing such concerns to chant the way forward requires collective involvement of everyone.
Controversies surrounding the death penalty are created by people and can be solved only by people and thus the need to have everyone participate in the debate. The Constitution was formulated by people, and they are the ones tasked with the role of amending it to fit legal requirements. The opponents of the death penalty should value the lives of both victims and criminals equally. Morals and safety of the society cannot be rejected by everyone if the cost of terminating another person’s life is rehabilitation. Everyone can be a victim to such cruel or unusual acts of these criminals. Death penalty should be retained as a measure of holding the Constitution accountable for exercising fairness to both the victim and the criminal. However, the methods used should not be cruel or unusual. Mental and emotional anguish of the convicted should be avoided through establishing a spontaneous date for execution. According to Acker and Bellandi capital punishments serve to scare those who may be tempted to commit vicious crimes. The authorities should realize that death penalties are subject to flaws; that is, there is always a probability that the person being convicted of the crime may be innocent. The severity and cruelty of crimes punishable through death should encourage people to abandon their personal bias and support the efforts aimed at ensuring justice for everyone. Murder or treason should not be compared with reversible misconducts such as libel or robbery. If a person cannot respect the lives of the others, the price paid should be appropriate to the offense.
Death penalty is bloated with many pros and cons. However, if people weigh them properly with some empathy to the victims, their opinions will favor the capital punishment. If implemented, the practice can help in curtailing any future murders; thus, saving more lives. The chances of executing an innocent suspect are very minute. I am of the opinion that murderous should be executed and eliminated from the society because the chances of committing additional murders are high after they are released. Most murderous would be encouraged to commit more murders if convinced that they are going to spend minimal life in jail. Life sentencing is not appropriate enough as the murderous are later given parole. Executing may not replace the lost life but loss of more lives through murder can be prevented. Therefore, let us all support the death penalty.
“The Controversy Surrounding the Death Penalty.” 123HelpMe.com. n.d. Web. 17 September 2012.
Acker, James, and Rose Bellandi. “Firmament or Folly? Protecting the Innocent, Promoting Capital punishment and the Paradoxes of Reconciliation”. Justice Quarterly 29.2 (April 2012): n. pag. Web. 17 September 2012.
Acker, James. “Life, Death and Race – How Color-Blind is Justice, Especially in Capital Cases?” Timesunion.com. 21 April 2012. Web. 16 September 2012.
Banner, Stuart. The Death Penalty: An American History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002. Print.
Chaput, Charles. “Justice, Terrance Williams, and the Death Penalty”. CatholicPhilly.com. 7 September 2012. Web. 15 September 2012.
Hood, Roger, Capital Punishment: The USA and World Perspective. Center for Human Rights and Global Justice working paper, No. 3, 2005. PDF file.