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, have 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). For the countries that continue to support capital punishment, known as retentionist countries, contends 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 stating that in their countries capital punishment is applied only 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 aim of the research is to contend support to the retention of death penalty as a means to address the most serious capital offenses.
The current study would initially present relevant statistics of countries practicing capital punishment, those who support for its abolition and facts about states practicing the death penalty in the United States. In addition, 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 clearly 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, prior to 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 countries worldwide now retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes, and less than half of these carried out executions in 2010” (Amnesty International, 2011, p. 1). The global trend actually 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 executions in 2011 (p. 1). Further, as depicted below, death sentencing likewise exemplified a decreasing pattern:
“The number of death sentences per year has dropped dramatically since 1999.
Year 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Sentences 313 313 315 268 294 277 224 159 166 152 140 139 123 120 119 112 112*
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics: “Capital Punishment 2009.” *Projected, based on DPIC's research” (Death Penality Information Center, 2011, p. 3).
The news article published in The New York Times on “Capital Punishment” revealed that one of the factors that contributed to the declining trend is the availability for the drug used for lethal injection. As noted, “One contributing factor in the low number of executions nationwide is the shortage of one of the three drugs used in most lethal injections – the barbiturate sodium thiopental. 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 it and 29 percent opposed” (The New York Times, 2011, par. 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 status of the death penalty. Legalizing the death penalty not only adds capital punishment as a deterrent but also increases the marginal productivity of other deterrence measures in reducing murder rates” (Liu, 2004, p. 237). The graph below would clearly show that as the number of executions decrease, the murder rates increase.
Source: (Prodeathpenalty.com: Deterrence, n.d., 1).
In addition, Bradbury (n.d.), a Ventury County District Attorney averred that “the death penalty is a necessary tool that reaffirms the sanctity of human life while assuring that convicted killers will never again prey upon others” (Prodeathpenalty.com: The Death Penalty an Affirmation of the Sanctity of Life, n.d., par. 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 say that about those sentenced to prison, even if you are an abolitionist” (Lowe: The Moratlity of Capital Punishment, 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 demand that punishment of crime should be more severe” (Arthur, 1998, p. 163). Maxwell and Rivera-Vazquez (1998) wrote that “the instrumentalist perspective holds that peoples’ attitudes toward the death penalty are driven primarily by their desires to reduce crime and protect society, and that the death penalty is a means to achieve this end” (p. 337) (cited in Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert, 2004, p. 9).
Advantages and Disadvantages of Death Penalty
There are several arguments for capital punishment. Foremost among these is that death penalty serves as a deterrent to people who intend to commit a capital offense (Hinton, 2009). The website studyworld.com stated that death penalty is said to deter crime by putting the fear of death to people contemplating to kill 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, then he will no longer pursue it. As mentioned in the same website, another reason why death penalty deters crime is the fact that there will no longer be a killer if he is killed already. This is applicable especially in serial killer cases.
Another major 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 deserving of respect for his own life. He has 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 the right to their own life” (Prodeathpenalty.com, n.d.).
Another argument presented by Hinton for death penalty is that some people argue that the criminal’s death brings about a 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, death penalty eliminates the possibility for the criminal to commit more crimes. In life imprisonment, the criminal may be granted a parole or may even escape; therefore, may commit another crime.
Opponents of capital punishment claim that there is a danger of taking an innocent person’s life if death penalty is imposed. However, this issue has already been properly addressed by the modern forensics and DNA testing used by criminal investigators (Hinton, 2009). The possibility of killing an innocent person is almost nil.
Based on the above arguments presented, it is believed that 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 the community's belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death” (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
Financial costs to taxpayers of capital punishment is several times that of keeping someone in prison for life.
It is barbaric and violates the “cruel and unusual” clause in the Bill of Rights.
The endless appeals and required additional procedures clog our court system.
We as a society have to move away from the “eye for an eye” revenge mentality if civilization is to advance.
It sends the wrong message: why kill people who kill people to show killing is wrong.
Life in prison is a worse punishment and a more effective deterrent.
Other countries (especially in Europe) would have a more favorable image of America.
Some jury members are reluctant to convict if it means putting someone to death.
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.
The possibility exists that innocent men and women may be put to death.
Mentally ill patients may be put to death.
It creates sympathy for the monstrous perpetrators of the crimes.
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.
It is useless in that it doesn't bring the victim back to life.
The death penalty gives closure to the victim's families who have suffered so much.
It creates another form of crime deterrent.
Justice is better served.
Our justice system shows more sympathy for criminals than it does victims.
It provides a deterrent for prisoners already serving a life sentence.
DNA testing and other methods of modern crime scene science can now effectively eliminate almost all uncertainty as to a person's guilt or innocence.
Prisoner parole or escapes can give criminals another chance to kill.
It contributes to the problem of overpopulation in the prison system.
It gives prosecutors another bargaining chip in the plea bargain process, which is essential in cutting costs in an o
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. From among the published articles, Donohue and Wolfers (2004) examined the primary reason for the imposition of death penalty: its ability to deter crimes. The authors actually examined 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 because it saves other people’s lives,” and further that “It’s the only reason to be for it.” By contrast, earlier that year, Attorney General Janet Reno stated, “I have inquired for most of my adult life about studies that might show that the death penalty is a deterrent, and I have not seen any research that would substantiate 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 death penalty was attributed to “emotional retribution, emotional opposition, morality, and law and order (which) were the only reasons found to have statistically significant effects on attitudes about the death penalty” (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 effective as a deterrent of crime if it would be applicable and imposed on 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 effectively justified. Fagan cited Judge White’s contention that:
“Most important, a major goal of the criminal law — to deter others by punishing the convicted criminal — would not be substantially served where the penalty is so seldom 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 to influence another. I accept also the effectiveness of punishment generally and need not reject the death penalty as a more effective deterrent than a lesser punishment. But common sense and experience tell us that seldom-enforced laws become ineffective measures for controlling human conduct and that the death penalty, unless imposed with sufficient frequency, will make 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 prove the
ineffectiveness of the death penalty 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 serious 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, the effectiveness of capital punishment is diminished (Fagan, 2005).
The capital punishment has been instituted for primarily for crime deterrence. Other reasons that emerged from the research disclosed for retribution, incapacitation, and instrumental perspective (Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert, 2004). To increase its effectiveness, therefore, despite increasing 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 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 the community's belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death” (Prodeathpenalty.com, n.d.). The research supports to the retention of death penalty as a means to address the most serious 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 Penality 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.