The United States is one of the few industrialized, democratic nations in the world which still permits capital punishment on a state-by-state basis. Not all states have the death penalty but executions are still carried out in the United States and the punishment remains controversial.
Despite the singularity of its status internationally, the death penalty has historically been a popular policy in the United States, even though it has been hotly debated throughout US history in the legislature and the courts. This essay on death penalty will examine its legal status in the United States, its history, and its future.
Table of Contents
The Future of the Death Penalty in America
Why America Has a Death Penalty
Death Penalty: Arguments and Counter-Arguments
Death Penalty Pros and Cons
[ more topics for death penalty ]
A Comparison of the Death Penalty in Different Countries and the United States
The Death Penalty Debate in the United States
The Death Penalty: Is it Just and Fair?
Death Penalty: A Legal Overview of the Death Penalty in the United States
A. Status of the Death Penalty in the United States
B. The Troubled History of the Death Penalty in the United States
C. Arguments Against the Death Penalty
D. Arguments in Favor of the Death Penalty and Counter-Arguments
Given that public opinion has increasingly turned against the death penalty in the United States, combined with the expense of capital cases and concerns about the innocence of convicted defendants, it is time for the United States to take a stand with the rest of the democratic, industrialized world community and abolish the death penalty.
According to a recent poll of US voters which asked them about their views of the death penalty, support for the punishment is at a historic low. For the first time, a minority of US citizens oppose the death penalty, according to a poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. “Only about half of Americans (49%) now favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 42% oppose it. Support has dropped 7 percentage points since March 2015, from 56%” (Oliphant 2016). Support peaked in the mid-1990s, “when eight-in-ten Americans (80% in 1994) favored the death penalty and fewer than two-in-ten were opposed (16%)” (Oliphant 2016). Opposition to the death penalty was also vocal in the 1970s, particularly after the US Supreme Court decision Furman v. Georgia (1972) which briefly declared all death penalty statutes unconstitutional, deeming them discriminatory in the ways in which they were enforced.
The Supreme Court later found in Gregg v. Georgia (1976) that the death penalty itself was not cruel and unusual punishment, provided it was appropriately administrated and so long as its use was “judicious” and “careful” (“Gregg v. Georgia,” 1976 ). Post-Gregg, states with the death penalty have introduced safeguards, such as a separate process for determining if death is warranted, versus the subject’s guilt alone. The existence of the death penalty at all remains controversial within America, particularly given that the United States remains relatively isolated in terms of its insistence upon permitting the death penalty amongst modern, industrialized democracies. Other nations which still permit the death penalty include China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia—hardly illustrious company in the sphere of human rights (“Death penalty statistics by country,” 2011).
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History of the Death Penalty in the United States
The history of the death penalty extends far back into history, longer than the United States has existed as an independent nation. Even in the ancient world, the death penalty was practiced. “Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon codified the death penalty for twenty five different crimes, although murder was not one of them” (Reggio 2014). In Europe, by the tenth century, hanging was commonly used as a means of execution and by the Middle Ages in Great Britain and the rest of Europe, prisoners were often tortured before being executed, even for relatively minor crimes or for their religious affiliations. Well into the eighteenth century, stealing small sums of money were capital offenses although by the early nineteenth century in Great Britain, only serious offenses were capital crimes. This was also true of colonial America. “By 1776, most of the colonies had roughly comparable death statutes which covered arson, piracy, treason, murder, sodomy, burglary, robbery, rape, horse-stealing, slave rebellion, and often counterfeiting” (Reggio 2014). The US Constitution expressly forbids cruel and unusual punishments under the Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
The question of whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual has been hotly debated. It may come as a surprise that as early as the mid-nineteenth century there was a robust movement to abolish the death penalty and many states elected to do so. In 1846, Michigan abolished the death penalty, followed by Rhode Island in 1852 (Reggio 2014). The abolitionist movement was extremely influential in supporting the abolishment of capital punishment as well. However, even while many states banned the death penalty, other states began to simply search for new methods to use to execute prisoners. “Between 1917 and 1955, the death penalty abolition movement again slowed. Washington, Arizona, and Oregon in 1919-20 reinstated the death penalty. In 1924, the first execution by cyanide gas took place in Nevada, when Tong war gang murderer Gee Jon became its first victim,” and the electric chair, versus hanging, became more common (Reggio 2014).
Arguments Against the Death Penalty
The legal argument most frequently used to protest the death penalty is that it is cruel and unusual punishment and thus a violation of the US Constitution Bill of Rights. However, the US Supreme Court has not found the death penalty in and of itself to be a cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, although it has found abusive treatment within prisons to be cruel and unusual. The Supreme Court performs a so-called “ proportionality analysis” when evaluating a punishment according to the following three tests: “Consideration of the offense’s gravity and the stringency of the penalty; a consideration of how the jurisdiction punishes its other criminals; and a consideration of how other jurisdictions punish the same crime” (“Death penalty,” 2017).
Another important argument against the death penalty is its discriminatory nature. Historically, African-Americans have been executed in greater numbers than whites, even for the same offenses. The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) notes that while “56% of death row inmates are black or Hispanic” and despite the fact that “racial minorities comprise half of all murder victims nationwide, a far greater proportion (77%) of the victims in capital convictions were white,” indicating that the act of an African-American or Hispanic individual murdering a white person may lead to a higher conviction rate (Love 2012). Furthermore, the humanitarian watchdog group Amnesty International notes “20% of blacks nationwide were convicted by all-white juries” (Love 2012).
There is also a significant state-by-state discrepancy that can result in entirely different systems of justice being dispensed, simply depending on the location of where a crime has occurred. For example, “nationally, Alabama ranks 23rd in population, but second in executions in 2011” and “African-Americans are 27% of the population, yet comprise 63% of the prisoners” (Love 2012). The former states of the Confederacy make up the vast majority of the states executing criminals in the US. “Over three quarters of executions take place in the states of the former Confederacy (including 35% in Texas alone) with their history of racial violence, lynching and arbitrary Black Codes and Jim Crow laws, which sanctioned death for blacks for certain offenses” (Love 2012).
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The discriminatory nature of the death penalty is one of the major reasons that the US Supreme Court found the way in which the death penalty was enforced in the US to be unconstitutional in Furman v. Georgia (1972): “The Court reasoned that the laws resulted in a disproportionate application of the death penalty, specifically discriminating against the poor and minorities. The Court also reasoned that the existing laws terminated life in exchange for marginal contributions to society” and found no evidence of any deterrent value (“Death penalty,” 2017). Yet while this temporarily required states to review how their death penalty statutes were written, it merely prolonged rather than terminated the use of the death penalty in the United States, as states reviewed how death penalty cases and sentencing were administrated. “In Gregg v. Georgia, the Court held the death penalty was not per se unconstitutional as it could serve the social purposes of retribution and deterrence” and “upheld Georgia’s new capital sentencing procedures, reasoning that the Georgia rules reduced the problem of arbitrary application as seen in earlier statutes” given that the new death penalty was not discriminatory against African-Americans nor arbitrary as previous death penalty statues of the kind overturned in the Furman case (“Death penalty,” 2017). Yet the statistics still indicate that the death penalty is being administered in a discriminatory fashion.
The US Supreme Court has had to act in numerous instances to prevent certain states in engaging in egregious actions and stepping beyond the bounds of the law to use the death penalty in cruel and unusual ways. A good example is that of the execution of mentally incapacitated defendants with low IQs. In Atkins v. Virginia, (2002), the Court found that executing patients classified as mentally handicapped was cruel and unusual because the nature of their disability “lessens the severity of the crime and therefore renders the extraordinary penalty of death as disproportionately severe” (“Death penalty,” 2017). The Court similarly found this to be the case with the execution of juveniles. In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Court found that given that the justice system does not regard juveniles as mentally competent adults “juvenile offenders assume diminished culpability for their crimes” and death is therefore not a just punishment (“Death penalty,” 2017). The fact that state legislatures permitted such executions upon the mentally incapacitated and very young to take place in the past highlights the extent to which emotion can affect the administration of justice.
Furthermore, there is mounting evidence that innocent individuals have been found guilty of capital crimes, further highlighting the risks of subjecting criminals to the ultimate punishment. According to Levy (2014), in a study published in the peer-reviewed journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “since 1973, 144 people on death row have been exonerated” and an estimated “innocence rate is 4.1 percent, more than twice the rate of exoneration.” A lack of access to adequate representation can cause many defendants to languish in the criminal justice system.
Despite claims that the death penalty is just because it does not require the tax payer to subsidize a criminal for the duration of his or her existence, the actual evidence suggests that the death penalty is more expensive than imprisoning an individual for life because of the prolonged duration of the judicial process. “Death penalty cases are much more expensive than other criminal cases and cost more than imprisonment for life with no possibility of parole. In California, capital trials are six times more costly than other murder trials” due to “complex pre-trial motions, lengthy jury selections, and expenses for expert witnesses are all likely to add to the costs in death penalty cases” (Dieter 1992). Given the budget-strapped nature of many states, arguably such money is better invested into improving law enforcement and drug treatment efforts, versus the expense of bringing death penalty cases to trial.
The US Supreme Court has also increasingly limited the range and type of offenses which may receive the death penalty. Proportionality is a key criteria for allocating the ultimate punishment to prisoners, according to the Court. In the case Coker v. Georgia, the US Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty cannot be applied to rape cases (“Death penalty,” 2017). Interestingly enough, one of the arguments used by the court in Coker was that public opinion did not support the use of the death penalty for rape. The fact that opposition to the death penalty is at an all-time low is thus extremely significant, given that notions of proportionality and what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment are even, from a court perspective, somewhat subjective. Additionally, the public has also expressed fears and concerns about the way the death penalty is administrated. In the Pew Research study on public opinion and the death penalty, “majorities said there was some risk of an innocent person being put to death (71%) and that the death penalty does not deter serious crime (61%)” (Oliphant 2016). This fear underlines the moral principle that it is better to let a guilty person go free than to see an innocent person condemned to suffer an unjust punishment.
Arguments in Favor of the Death Penalty and Counter-Arguments
Given that a large percentage of the population still supports the death penalty, it is still important to give careful consideration to their counterarguments. When arguing for the death penalty, the punishment’s deterrent value is often cited. Simply put, this suggests that when people fear the loss of their lives if they are convicted of a heinous crime, they are less apt to engage in such crime. The principle of deterrence is inherent to the criminal justice system itself, given that punishment is allocated and based upon the presumption that people are less apt to commit crimes when they will suffer unpleasant consequences.
But according to the humanitarian watchdog group Amnesty International, there is no significant statistical evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent. It cites the nonpartisan National Research Council’s conclusion of a meta-analysis of studies “claiming that the death penalty affects murder rates were ‘fundamentally flawed’ because they did not consider the effects of noncapital punishments” and used “incomplete or implausible models” (“The death penalty and deterrence,” 2012). If life in prison has an equally deterrent effect, it should be used instead, given the possibility of judicial error. Additionally, a 2009 survey of criminologists found that 88% stated that there was no evidence that the death penalty acted a deterrent to heinous crimes (“The death penalty and deterrence,” 2012).
Also questioning the deterrence value of the death penalty is the fact that it is unjustly applied—as noted before, the death penalty’s effects are disproportionately felt by minority communities. The uncertainty as to how this ultimate punishment may be allocated argues against the idea that people, regardless of race or class, will think twice before committing an evil action because they fear the death penalty. There is also evidence that the death penalty is not a deterrent because “murder rate in non-Death Penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in States with the Death Penalty,” suggesting that other social forces are significant in terms of the behavior of individuals and their decision to violate or to act in accordance with the law (“The death penalty and deterrence,” 2012).
Of course, another popular argument used to defend the death penalty is the idea that it is just retribution for a heinous act. Once again, this traces back to the ancient notion of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth being the only fair and just punishment to be meted out for the taking of a life. But once again, the fact remains that not all murders are punished by death in the US and the ways in which the death penalty is enforced vary considerably based upon the state where the trial takes place and the racial identity of the criminal versus the victim. Furthermore, given the presumption that murder is the most evil action which can be performed, the potentiality of the state taking the life of an innocent person, which is a very real possibility, argues against the notion that the death penalty is in any way just.
Opponents of the death penalty also argue that it is irrelevant if other nations, including most industrialized European nations, have prohibited the death penalty. They argue that it is important for the United States to take a stand for its own moral values. However, given that the United States wishes to take a bold stand in favor of human rights, it cannot afford to disregard what other nations do and the standards other moral nations have set regarding how criminals are treated within their justice systems. According to a 2011 study published in The Guardian: “China, together with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the US (the only G7 country to still execute people) carried out the most executions last year” (“Death penalty statistics by country,” 2017). The US is in a poor position to criticize other nations when it carries out similar policies in regards to its prisoners. The United States should stand as a beacon of moral light to other nations in regards to its policies versus engage in troubling practices in terms of the ways in which it treats its own prisoners.
The history of executing prisoners has had a long and troubling history throughout civilization since the ancient world, but particularly in the United States, which espouses the value of freedom and democratic values. Today, the tide of public opinion is increasingly against the idea that capital punishment is aligned with the principles of the United States. There has been increasing attention drawn to notable cases of individuals who were exonerated after languishing for years on death row. The potential failures of the justice system suggest that wielding a permanent punishment is unwise, unjust, and cruel and unusual. The US Supreme Court has increasingly restricted the ability of state legislators to execute criminals, even though it has drawn the line against declaring the death penalty itself to be cruel and unusual. Finally, the fact that the death penalty has been disproportionately used against persons of color and historically-discriminated against minorities, versus in a fair and just fashion, further underlines the need to abolish the death penalty.
References (APA Format)
Furman v. Georgia. (1972). Capital Punishment in Context. Retrieved from: http://www.capitalpunishmentincontext.org/resources/casesummaries/furman
Death penalty. (2017). LII. Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/death_penalty
The death penalty and deterrence. (2012). Amnesty International. Retrieved from: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/death-penalty/us-death-penalty-facts/the-death-penalty-and-deterrence
Death penalty statistics by country. (2011). The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/mar/29/death-penalty-countries-world
Dieter, R. (19992). Millions misspent: What politicians don’t say about the high costs of the death penalty. Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved from: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/millions-misspent
Gregg v. Georgia. (1976). Bill of Rights Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/educate/educator-resources/lessons-plans/landmark-supreme-court-cases-elessons/gregg-v-georgia-1962/
Levy, P. (2014). One in 25 sentenced to death in the US is innocent, study claims. Newsweek. Retrieved from: http://www.newsweek.com/one-25-executed-us-innocent-study-claims-248889
Love, D. (2012). Racial bias of the US death penalty. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/jan/03/racial-bias-us-death-penalty
Oliphant, B. (2016). Support for death penalty lowest in more than four decades. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/29/support-for-death-penalty-lowest-in-more-than-four-decades/
Reggio, M. (2014). History of the death penalty. PBS. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/execution/readings/history.html
Works Cited (MLA Format)
“Furman v. Georgia.” Capital Punishment in Context. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
“Death Penalty.” LII. 29 Mar 2011. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
“The Death Penalty and Deterrence.” Amnesty International. 2012. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
“Death Penalty Statistics by Country.” The Guardian. 29 Mar 2011. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
Dieter, R. “Millions Misspent: What Politicians Don’t Say About the High Costs of the Death Penalty. Death Penalty Information Center. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
“Gregg v. Georgia.” Bill of Rights Institute. 29 Mar 2011. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
Levy, P. “One in 25 Sentenced to Death in the US is Innocent, Study Claims.” Newsweek. 2014. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
Love, D. “Racial Bias of the US Death Penalty.” The Guardian. 3 Jan 2012. 29 Mar 2011. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
Oliphant, B. “Support for Death Penalty Lowest in More than Four Decades.” Pew Research Center. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
Reggio, M. “History of the Death Penalty.” PBS. Web. 16 Mar 2017.
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There are vast differences in the way people view the death penalty. Some oppose it and some agree with it. There have been many studies trying to prove or disprove a point regarding the death penalty. Some have regarded the death penalty as a deterrent, and some have regarded it as state sanctioned murder and not civilized. The death penalty has been attributed to societies for hundreds of years. More recently, as we become more civilized, the death penalty has been questioned to be the right step towards justice. During the course of this paper I will review the pros and cons of the use of the death penalty as we, Americans, know it. The death penalty is a highly controversial subject.No one knows who’s right or who’s wrong-it’s fifty percent speculation and fifty percent research. It’s just a lot of thoughts and beliefs from people who have contributed to the death penalty hype. Who’s right and who’s wrong? That is the question.
First I need to highlight briefly into to the history of the death penalty to fully understand why people feel the way they do about the death penalty. Almost all nations in the world have had the death sentence and had enforced it in many ways. It was used in most cases to punish those who broke the laws or standards that were expected of them. Some of the historical methods of execution were restricted only by one’s imagination-they include flaying or burying alive, boiling in oil, crushing beneath the wheels of vehicles or the feet of elephants, throwing to wild beasts, forcing combat in the arena, blowing from the mouth of a cannon, impaling, piercing with javelins, starving to death, poisoning, strangling, suffocating, drowning, shooting, beheading, and more recently, electrocuting, using the gas chamber, and giving lethal injection (Silverman 73). The ancient societies had some pretty brutal methods that were just plainly inhumane. Fortunately, most of the disgraceful practices were largely unknown in Anglo-American tradition. America inherited most of its capital punishment from the United Kingdom or English laws. But not so many generations ago, in both England and America, criminals were occasionally pressed to death, drawn and quartered, and burned at the stake (Isenberg 35). Had any of these punishments survived the eighteenth century, there is little doubted that public reaction would have forced an end to capital punishment long ago (Isenberg 35). Throughout England, the rotting corpses of executed criminals specked the country, which sent out a warning to all those who dare defy the law, or otherwise acted as a deterrent. Executions were always conducted in public and often became the scene of drunken gatherings to witness the execution. It reminds me of all these horrifying blood-ridden movies we watch today. People are drawn to such spectacles, because they are not getting killed. Furthermore, death is one of the great unknowns in all of mankind. Crimes of every description against the state, against the person, against property, against public peace were made punishable by death in early English laws (Isenberg 26). It is somewhat curious that any of these horrendous and inhumane methods of execution survived as long as they did, for the English Bill of Rights of 1689 proscribed “cruel and unusual punishments” (Isenberg 27). Which is still in use today in the American Constitution. Even with fairly relaxed law enforcement after 1800, between two thousand and three thousand persons were sentenced to death each year from 1805 to 1810 (Isenberg 26). Which is a very large amount even by today’s standards. Furthermore, several decisions, later on in history, handed down by the Supreme Court in the post-World War II years have had a significant affect on the effects of both proponents and opponents of capital punishment. They include Louisiana v. Resweber (1946)- cruelty dealing with humane ways of execution, next was the United States v. Jackson (1967)- the provisions that dealt with kidnapping, next was Witherspoon v. Illinois (1968)- determined excluding juries that had a bias towards death penalties being unconstitutional, and finally McGautha v. California (1971)- juries discretion upon the death penalty and the fourteenth amendment’s “equal protection clause” (Isenberg 23-24). All of these have impacted the nature of the death penalty, as we all know it today in the United States. These have all influenced the way people view the death penalty and help explain why some people oppose it and some impose it.
The people who oppose the death penalty have very different reasons than people who agree with it. Those who oppose it feel that no matter how bad of an offense that the criminal has committed, they should not be executed. One argument is that the convicted could be innocent. Once the state kills an innocent person, the effects are irreversible. There have been at least 96 instances since 1973 of wrongfully convicted people set free before the states had a chance to kill them (Internet). If there are 96 cases, caught before they could be sentenced to death, then think about all of the cases that haven’t been caught. DNA evidence has come a long way to help these innocent people to their freedom. The following person is an example of one of those people wrongfully condemned by lack of evidence. “Nate Walker. In May 1976, Nate was sentenced to life in prison for a 1974 Elizabeth, N.J., kidnapping and rape. Ten years later Nate’s trial prosecutor agreed that Nate Walker was an innocent man. A twelve-year-old semen specimen was located and analyzed. It proved that Nate had a different blood type from the real rapist. Nate was officially cleared and freed by the county’s presiding judge. His release won national attention (Dicks 237).” This can only prove that if the state had executed him, or any other case that were similar, the effects would be irreversible. This is among one of the highest regards to the abolitionist movement towards the death penalty. Thousands have been put to death under one government and when another government came in, or new evidence came in, they were proven to be innocent (Dicks 226). The only way to prevent this from happening is to abolish the death penalty altogether. These wrongful convictions clearly occurred due to some ill proper investigating, prejudice, courtroom laziness, or politics. The discrimination that is inescapable in the selection of the few to be killed under our capital punishment laws is unfortunately of the most irreversible and unacceptable nature (Isenberg 114). Among the more high-powered nations in the world the United States remains the leading advocate of death as a punishment for crime, even though innocent people may have been put to death (Isenberg 117).
The abolitionists also assert that the deterrent theory does not actually work. It merely produces a brutalizing effect that says to others that killing is o.k. Since the state has the right to kill, having the death penalty reinforces the perpetrator in that it says it is o.k. to kill when not respected by others. Similar to the state killing, when citizens don’t respect the states laws. It is clear that American prosecutors, judges, and juries are not likely to cause the execution of enough capital offenders to increase the claimed deterrent effect of capital punishment laws or to reduce the “jackpot” effect of unlikely odds (Isenberg 112). To even approach the number of people to be sentenced to death, to reach the deterrent effect, is unimaginable. Hundreds of thousands, in my opinion, would have to be put to death to reach the deterrent goal. Isenberg believes that, “most Americans, even those who feel it is necessary, are repelled by capital punishment; the attitude is deeply rooted in our own reverence to live, the Christian belief that man is created in the image of God” (107). So those juries that are commanded to use the death penalty have often acquitted, due to beliefs, or charged the perpetrator with a lesser offense (Isenberg 112). Even though hundreds of thousands go to trial for murder, juries are reluctant to convict. So our system clearly does not even give room for the deterrent effect, which would be hundreds of thousands put to death, to affect the way perpetrators would think before killing. States in the United States that do not use the death penalty usually have lower murder rates than states that do (Internet). For example, between 1945 and 1954, the average murder rate among seven abolitionist states ranged from a high of 1.6 per 100,000 (Iowa) to a low of 1.0 per 100,000 (Rhode Island) (Galliher 209). A closer look shows that murder rates play a contributing role in death penalty arguments across the United States (Galliher 209). An example is, between 1945 and 1955, the states of West Virginia (not yet an abolitionist state) and Michigan had relatively higher murder rates of 5.3 and 4.4 per 100,00 comparatively (Galliher 209). Therefore, reinforcing the fact that the brutalization effect is right. Also, reinforcing theorists saying, “that executing murderers both legitimates killing as a means of dealing with conflict and also stimulates those who have violent tendencies” (Nathanson 28). So if it doesn’t act as a deterrent, then it comes down to the fact that we are willing to put up with the extermination of human beings as long as we don’t know who they are. Maybe since we are in the television revolution, we should televise it more than the little it is today.
There are those that are pro-death penalty advocates. They believe that the death penalty serves as a deterrent. They believe others will see that the offender is getting executed for their heinous crime, and this will deter them from ever committing such an act. They feel that not only is the person who is executed unable to commit another murder, but other potential killers may also be dissuaded from killing (Silverman 46). One scientist concluded that every additional execution prevents about seven or eight people from committing murder (Bender 114). It mainly deters rational calm everyday citizens. Not those who act on emotion or the heat of the moment. One could argue that there are far more rational civilized people in this country than there are emotionally disturbed people. The death penalty works because it instills psychological resistance to the act of murder, not because it offers a rational argument against committing the act at the time that the decision to murder is made (Bender 115). So every day citizens have instilled into their heads that it is bad to murder someone. But murders still occur on occasions when people are in an irrational state of mind. Even though a person may be rational one day they could become irrational on another day. The irrational people are mainly at the hands of alcohol and drugs, but there are occasions where unusual circumstances exist. For example, a husband catching his wife in the act of adultery could drive him mentally into a rage and into a very irrational state of mind, which could ultimately lead to murder. But there are also those people who are just straight up mentally disturbed that kill for no reason at all. But for the most part most Americans are rational people who are able to properly control themselves, because of proper patience and problem solving learned through schooling. Most Americans have goals to look forward to in life also. So the death penalty is a deterrent for the most part of society. That’s one reason most drugs (poisons) are illegal in American society, because they tend to cause people to act in an irrational manner. Therefore the greater the punishment, the fewer people will behave in the irrational state of mind, because of the fact that the vast majority of Americans are (most of the time) drug free. So the punishment of death deters their rational minds from the act of committing murder, because (I would like to believe) most Americans are rational, free thinking people. Those who oppose the death penalty can only picture the offender being executed, they do not think about how many innocent people would be killed if there wasn’t a death penalty to act as a deterrent (Bender 118).
Another reason pro-death penalty advocates give for their belief is that it serves as retribution, or an eye for an eye. These are the two main types of retribution: revenge, in which the victim gets satisfaction, and “just deserts”, which the offender should have an obligation to repay society (Silverman 44). An eye for an eye relies on what people deserve for their crime, which determines what kind of punishment they will receive (Nathanson 73). Or in other words we should treat people the way they have treated others. If someone murders someone, then they should be murdered. This type of punishment would not have any prejudice, because they would receive whatever they dished out. It tells us that the punishment is to be identical to the crime (Nathanson 73). Which in a way is a repayment towards the victim’s family, or “just deserts”. This view of the death penalty wouldn’t rely on a jury to decide what should be done to the offender. Let’s say the offender was black and raped a white woman, and the jury sentenced them to life in prison. People could say in the same circumstances a white man would only get ten years. But using an eye for an eye, both men would be raped in return. No discrimination. And the same goes for the death penalty, there wouldn’t be no prejudice, it would just simply be “you kill, you die—end of story”, enough said.
Nobody can really prove that any of these views are right or wrong. In my opinion, God should have the final say on life. But on the other hand the offender didn’t let God give the victim an O.K. to die. So who knows what to do? As a society we should determine the fate we have dealt ourselves. We have developed these offender’s, we should therefore deal with them as a society. It is true that the varieties of ways in which men have put one another to death is horrific (Isenberg 35). It is society that should determine if we (as a society) want to be murderers. These offenders, murderers, and killers are a mirror image of our own reflection in society. Two wrongs don’t make a right! You choose! Civilization or Brutalism?
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