The Death penalty is the execution of an offender sentenced to death after being found guilty of a criminal offense by a court of law. This term is at times used interchangeably with capital punishment. However, the two differ in that the death sentence is the sentence itself, while capital punishment is the actual execution. Imposition of the death sentence does not necessary mean that the offender will be executed since there is a chance of appeal or even commutation to life imprisonment.
This paper, therefore, tries to answer the question: should the death penalty exist? There are different views and opinions regarding the question and this paper will try to address the arguments for and the arguments against. The paper will also analyze the ethics in the justice system regarding the death penalty.
Arguments against the Death Penalty
Those who are against the death sentence have their concrete reasons why they think that it should not exist. They define the penalty as an unbearable denunciation of civil liberties and term it as being inconsistent with the basic values of the democratic society. They believe that the penalty is a theory that is uncivilized, unmerited, and unfair in practice. Most who argue against it are of the view that the system of the penalty is applied in an unjust and unfair manner against people. This unfairness largely depends on the amount of money they have, their attorneys’ skills, the victim’s race, and the place of occurrence of the crime (American Civil Liberties Union).
It is true that human life is valuable. This can even be justified by the Bible during the creation process when God created man in His image. Therefore, those against the death penalty are of the belief that even the most horrible murderers ought not to be killed themselves. The offender’s life value cannot be destroyed due to his or her bad conduct even in the case where they have killed another person. They argue that life should be preserved.
A Right to Live
Every other person has an absolute human right to life. This is defined by the Bill of Rights. This right to life is a right for every person even those that have committed a murder. By imposing a death penalty and executing a murderer, the state violates that person’s rights. However, some argue that when a person commits a murderous act, then that individual gives up his or her right to life (Ethic Guide).
Execution of the Innocent
This is a familiar argument in opposition to the death sentence and it insists that in the imposition of capital punishment, innocent people sometimes are killed for flaws or mistakes in the justice system. Prosecutors, witnesses, and jurors are all human beings and, therefore, can make mistakes. This together with flaws in the system renders some innocent people conviction of crimes that they did not commit.
Retribution is Wrong
Most people are of the view that retribution is a problematic and morally flawed practice and concept. The argument is that you cannot edify that killing is immoral by killing. Taking a life, when another life is lost, only amounts to revenge and not justice (Ethics Guide).
There are arguments that retribution is employed in a unique way when it comes to the death penalty. Other crimes do not receive punishments that mimic them. For example, those found guilty of physical attack are not assaulted ceremonially, rapists are not sexually assaulted, but murderers are murdered. This therefore indicates that retribution is not fair when it comes to the death sentence. The argument is that the defensive distress of the offender prior to the execution most likely outweighs the defensive anguish of the victim of the offender’s crime. The argument, therefore, is that the death penalty imposes a double punishment in the sense that it executes, and there is the preceding wait. Offenders can be kept on death row for up to 10 years.
Failure to Deter
Capital punishment does not seem to stop people from committing violent crimes or homicides. What usually deters people is the possibility of being caught and punished. Social scientists generally agree that the death penalty’s deterrence effect is unproven. The penalty was just a harsh punishment which was not however harsh on crime. Therefore, deterrence remains a morally flawed concept that is based on the belief that future crimes would be deterred if offenders of the current crimes are punished harshly.
The Death Penalty is Brutal
Statistics reveal that the penalty causes the brutalization of individual, the society and the state at large. It also leads to the increase in the murder rates. In the United States, in states where the penalty is allowed, there are more murders taking place. It also brutalizes the law since it creates a link between law and violence, that is unacceptable. Capital punishment also lowers the society’s tone. Societies that are civilized are intolerant to torture. This is despite the fact that torture might tend to have good outcomes. The death sentence can be considered as a form of torture. This is an inappropriate practice in a modern civilized society.
Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading
Despite the moral status of the death penalty, some people argue that the ways used to execute offenders cause a lot of anguish to the damned individual and can, therefore, be said to amount to torture. These methods cause a lot of pain and suffering for example hanging by rope, strangulation, electrocution, or lethal gas. The most common form of capital punishment today is usually by lethal injection (Ethics Guide). This method, however, has its major moral flaw in that it requires the direct involvement of medical personnel in the killing. This contravenes medical ethics. Other factors that come up include free will and that the penalty is unnecessary. If a person does not trust in free will, then the contention of whether or not it is moral to impose any kind of punishment arises.
Arguments for the Death Penalty
Those who advocate for the existence of the death penalty also have their reasons for doing so. They believe that it gives closure to the victim’s families. Family members of crime victims might sometimes take years to recover from the shock of losing their loved ones.
Unlike those arguing against the death penalty, those in favor deem that it is an able way to deter violent crime. They argue that with the issuance of the penalty, many offenders are afraid to commit crimes for the fear of being sentenced to death. Another argument is that justice is better served. According to deathpenalty.procon.org, the principle that guides justice is that the punishment imposed should fit the crime (Federal Judicial Center). Therefore, if someone brutally attacks and murders another individual, then the perpetrator should suffer the same fate, death.
The death penalty also deters prisoners from committing murders. If a prisoner is serving a life sentence in prison, he may constantly murder his fellow inmates while in prison. The death penalty, however, serves a stern warning for people who might to want to kill and, therefore, preventing more deaths. Other arguments include reducing overpopulation and overcrowding in prisons. It also eliminates the chance of parole or escape since this could see the same murderer back in the society (ProCon.org). The argument that therefore stands out is that if a person commits a murder, then that person forfeits his or her right to life.
The most accepted option to the death sentence would be life imprisonment devoid of the likelihood of parole plus compensation. This alternative is less costly than capital punishment and confines the criminal in penitentiary for the remaining part of his life. This means that the criminal cannot at any one time return back to the community.
One such alternative is prison with parole. The average death sentence for a person convicted of murder is about 20 years. The time that a convicted murderer can spend in prison before being released is about 8.5 years. This means that these people do get parole and resume their lives in the community. When a person is handed a death sentence, they are executed between 10 to 20 years (U.S Department of Justice). This means that the state executes a completely different person from the one arrested. Probably these people have reformed. Therefore, prison with parole could also be a viable alternative. Another possible alternative is reformatories or rehabilitation. These institutions can be used to reform criminals by working with the mental, physical, and moral issues of the inmates. Offenders are given a chance to turn their lives around by working for the society.
The death penalty can also be made voluntary rather than being scrapped. The offender can be given the option of capital punishment or life sentence without parole or even prison with parole. In this way, no people are executed forcefully.
Summarily, the death penalty debate continues to elicit different views from the proponents and the opponents alike. The question is whether the death penalty should exist or not. Personally, I am of the view that the death penalty should be scrapped. This is because every individual is entitled to live right regardless of whether that particular person has committed murder or not. Only God gives life and, therefore, only God has the power to take life.
There are possible solutions and alternative ways that can be applied instead of the death penalty. The criminal justice system therefore needs to know that the death sentence is an unethical, which does not respect humanity.
American Civil Liberties Union. The Case Against the Death Penalty. Web. 8 April 2013.
Ethics Guide. Arguments against Capital Punishment. Web 8 April 2013.
End the Death Penalty. Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Web. 8 April 2013.
Federal Judicial Center. 2004 Annual Report. Web. 8 April 2013.
ProCon.org. Should the Death Penalty be Allowed? Web. 8 April 2013.
U.S. Department of Justice. Capital Punishment. Web. 8 April 2013.