Nowadays, one of the most debateable topic is that of Death Penalty. There is a great tension between the two types of people i.e. the ones who give more importance to justice as compared to human life and the others who give more importance to human life as compared to justice. Among all the punishments given to criminals, death penalty is the worst and fierce. It shows the extreme of barbaric nature of a human and that how cruel can a human be with the other human. It represents the lowest level of the society to which it has sunk. When prisoners are given death penalties in the court and outside it people cherish the news, a problem arises. When a value is assigned to a human life and other alternatives are being weighed against it, a problem arises. When confusion, rage and animosity hide under the name of justice, a problem arises.
If we try to find out the reason of Death Penalty, we will not get any answer other than vengeance. Though, it is quite disappointing that the people in our culture have sunk to the level that they have accepted even vengeance (Banner 281). Natural Law Philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and St. Thomas Aquinas were against capital punishment as it is unnatural to end one’s life. Capital punishment in Plato’s penology is reserved for the incurable and the bad men themselves would seem better candidates for this penalty than those who in spite of propensities to vice yet succeed in avoiding the greatest judgement.
There are cases when a person who has not done the crime is accused of it and is given the death penalty as in the case of Steven Truscott. Steven Murray Truscott was sentenced to death at the age of 14 when he was just a student. He was accused of murdering Lynne Harper who was his class fellow. But fortunately his death penalty was altered to imprisonment for the whole life. After 48 years of imprisonment the judgment of death sentence was confirmed as a failure of justice and he was officially held not guilty of the crime.
Also, Rubin Carter who was an energetic and successful boxer was imprisoned because he was accused of triple murder. He was wrongfully imprisoned and was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. Later, in 1988 all charges were dropped against Carter and was also held blameless for any of the accused crimes.
The introduction of the death penalty was to discourage criminals from committing crimes but the research has shown the opposite. Mark and Hurwitz are of the view that if a state wants to decrease the level of criminal activities then it should control the use of drugs and use of weapons by the public. These writers are of the view that in the list of the ways in which crimes can be controlled death penalty comes in the last (Mark and Hurwitz 70).
Plato’s theory of punishment distinguishes scientifically administered measures, which may or may not take the form of actual punishment designed to cure a criminal of his offence which is a disease of the soul, not something which is an inseparable part of the concrete criminal act. He is aversive to retributive punishment which is designed merely to make the criminal suffer as a kind of primitive compensation for his crime. Plato does not commit himself to the view that all forms of punishment benefits the criminal as he reasons that only just punishment has this effect. The mere infliction of suffering (timoria) makes people worse than they already were; they will not be cured or deterred as they will go from bad to worse, ultimately become incorrigible and bound to be executed as an example to others. Curing or rehabilitating the criminal in practice will mean the reshaping of his character to a pattern approved by the authorities.
The death penalty is imposed for the worst offenders but in Plato’s opinion it is not considered to be an extreme penalty. This paradox can only be understood when pondered through Platonic assumptions about morality, happiness and existence after death.
Banner, S. The Death Penalty – An American History. First Harvard University Press (2003). pp. 281
Peffley, M. & Hurwitz, J. Justice in America: The Separate Realities of Blacks and Whites. Cambridge University Press (2010). pp.70