Death penalty is a debate that elicits legal, political, moral, ethical, philosophical, and even religious views. Among the debate is the rationale and effectiveness of the death penalty in behavior control. Proponents of death penalty promote deterrence, human dignity, incapacitation and meaningful lives as reasons for the death penalty. On the other hand, the opponents find death penalty as degrading to humanity, expensive and ineffective in managing crime. The current paper looks at the arguments for and against death sentencing with an intention of establishing a view. The paper concludes that death penalty degrades humanity and is not viable for behavior control. Killing people is a vice hence cannot be a solution for correcting bad character. Two wrongs cannot make a right. Judicial systems also make mistakes. A dead person cannot be brought to life for wrong conviction. Furthermore, there are alternate correctional instruments that can achieve desired results than the death penalty.
Death penalty is a form of capital punishment deeply rooted in the evolution of human civilization. Death penalty is borrowed from European civilizations. The penalty was first practiced in the tenth century in Britain. In the eighteenth century, Babylon was the first country to ratify death penalty laws. The laws were applicable to twenty five different offenses. With time, the penalty spread to other parts of the world. The practice moved to the United States, U. S through migration of European settlers. Death penalty was first implemented in Virginia in 1608. The victim was Captain George Kendall who had been accused of being a spy for Spain. Legally, the death penalty was first ratified in 1612 in Virginia under the Divine Moral and Martial Laws. In practice, the law was applied to both minor and major problems. The current paper evaluates arguments for and against the use of death penalty with a view of establishing an opinion on the topic.
The application of death penalty in history has various forms. In the olden days, people were beheaded, hung or burnt. In recent time, electrocution and lethal injections have been applied. The controversy behind death penalty is based moral, religious, social and legal grounds. Arguments for and against the death penalty have greatly influenced its application. In 1972, death penalty was suspended by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. However, various states rewrote the death penalty laws and eventually the punishment was legally reinstated. The drafters also included guidelines for application of the sentence for both judges and jurors. The procedure is a two tier system where the proof of guilt is first determined. Subsequently, the bench determines whether the death sentence is the most viable option. Conversely, the application of death penalty varies from state to state. The states of Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Texas commonly apply the penalty against capital crimes.
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According to Johnson, the drafters of death penalty argue that it promotes law and order. The desire is to reduce crime and promote citizens. Death penalty is a tool for achieving this objective. Death penalty is an example of correctional instrument that works through existence and application. Through existence, the penalty works through deterrence while in application it serves to eliminate bad behavior. The latter can also achieve the deterrence function. Hence, death penalty is a strong tool for creating law and order.
Proponents argue that the death penalty is a tool that deters crime. According to Lamperti, deterrence is a practice of making people keep off crime by making the punishments more severe. The punishment is so severe that a person avoids or does not repeat an offense again. At the same time, the punishment is used as an example to deter other people. Thus, people learn to keep off the crime after witnessing the application of the punishment. To achieve this result in behavior control, death penalty is viewed as a stronger tool that life in prison. Particularly, the death penalty is fronted for crimes such as murder and treason. Supporters argue that such crimes are so serious for lesser punishments. Deterrence works through fear and the fear factor governs human behavior. According to Lamperti, this is an instrumentalist idea where people who greatly fear crime believe the death penalty is an instrument of building a safe and secure society.
Similarly, Kramer notes that death sentence achieves the function of denunciation in managing crime. The use the penalty generally condemns capital offenses through public condemnation. Death penalty expresses public hatred and revenge to these crimes. Thus, it is a worthy moral stance. The system effectively communicates its dissatisfaction to the public through death sentences.
According to Gavril, death penalty causes incapacitation. Incapacitation is the creation of an atmosphere where offenders are placed in controlled environments by the government. As a result, the offense cannot be repeated. The idea is that a person who has been killed cannot kill, rape or terrorize other people again. In the end, the person possesses no threat to the society. Incapacitation thus justifies the need to apply death penalty. Equally, the death penalty is a tool for reducing the number of bad people in the society. It is a harsh stance that eliminates socially unfit people from the society.
Similarly there are arguments that life in prison without parole as a punishment does not adding meaning to life for prisoners. It in calculates a culture of hopelessness that is solved through death penalty. Thus, to save prisoners from living a frustrated and meaningless life a death sentence should be applied. Thus, to dignify life, death penalty allows offenders to appreciate their lives until the point of death. On the other hand, death is viewed as a normal practice. According to Gavril, people lose their lives daily therefore validating the use of the death practice as a normal tool. This school of thought equates death from execution to work related or accidental deaths. Death is an everyday event that should be embraced.
According to Warden, death sentences reduce congestion in the correction systems. Correction facilities are faced with tight budgets. As a result, there is shortage of manpower and resources to maintain the ever increasing numbers of inmates. Thus, the application of punishment creates some room. However, the author argues that the tool is insignificant since the attrition rate caused by the death penalty is small. Further, it takes time before an inmate is executed.
Death punishments face massive opposition on religious, moral, social and legal social grounds. According to Warden, proponents argue that offenders need room for retribution, forgiveness and a second chance. The position foresees a situation where people change their character for better beings. Religious and moral arguments find the death penalty as unnecessary. Further, within the belief system only the supernatural being has the right to take life. Thus, no matter the crime committed including murder, a fellow human being cannot kill another person. The argument is further instilled in social propositions. The commission of a crime that in itself is naturally wrong does not justify the commission of death that is also wrong. In other words, laws are against killings thus permitting the act through the system is not socially viable. It is about using a wrong act to correct a wrong act.
According to Warden the existence of the death penalty counters deterrence of crimes. People continuously commit capital crimes. This indicates that people are not scared of the penalty. The penalty is therefore not effective in controlling human behavior and in some instance promotes crime. Thus, the psychological landscape in commission of a crime should be used to rectify it. There are instances where persons kidnap victims and move them to death penalty jurisdictions before murdering them. These irrational acts imply how people might embrace the death penalty. In other cases, it is viewed that the penalty actually motivates commission of capital offenses. In an event where a person thinks to have committed or commits a capital offense, the person might resort to eliminating witnesses. Therefore, to avoid the penalty more crimes are committed. According to Lambert, Clarke and Lambert, the death penalty achieves the brutalization effect. The brutalization effect in academic literature is the increase in violence due to capital punishment.
According to Sarisky, the mental health of convicts is another reason against the death penalty. In an event where the offender is not of sound mind alternate behavior control should be applied. The convicts should be placed under medical care and death sentence is not an option. The persons are never in their right minds when capital crimes are committed. In application of justice it is like trying different person for a crime committed by another. Thus, it is fair for lesser penalties to be applied.
Legally, the application of the death penalty goes against true justice. There are proven cases in persons are wrongly convicted. The case of mistrials death penalties cannot be reversed. Convicts may also lack the services of a well-trained advocate to argue their cases before court case. Further, judicial process is subject to manipulation from external forces. The interference includes witness coaching and evidence tampering to influence a precise result. Therefore, there is possibility of applying the death penalty to the wrong person. The death penalty once executed cannot be reversed as such it does not provide a sustainable solution. For instance in the state of Georgia of the 7400 sentenced to death, 135 have been released for wrong conviction.
According to Sarisky, it is very expensive to maintain a death row convict that an inmate on life imprisonment. The average cost of conducting an execution is $1.2 million. The rationale in costing is derived from the urge to achieve the correct justice. As a result, the best services are sought in the trial. Further, investigations are greatly detailed hence require more manpower and equipment. Equally, the judicial process requires expert witnesses. Whereas, arguments for death penalty validate the monies as an opportunity cost for a better society, the process is very costly to governments and citizens. The costs depend with states. In the last eight years, the state of Illinois has spent $60 million on 20 executions translating to $3 million per penalty.
The reasons provided for and against the implementation of the death penalty bear the need for a better society. The application of the death penalty seeks to deter people from committing serious crimes. However, killing is wrong there is no justification for using it as a correction tool. As noted by Warden, it is like using a wrong to correct a wrong. Ideally, two wrongs do not make a right. Morally, the death penalty is degrading. If the society intentionally kills her citizens then it means that the lives of the citizens are not valuable. Furthermore, there are various alternate correctional instruments to death penalty. Rationally, institutionalizing death does not make it the most superior form of correction. Irrationally, the practice justifies increased violence as argued by different scholars. It is true that persons with nothing to live for would commit a crime with the death penalty as an incentive.
Subsequently, the judicial process is a man-made process thus it is not free from human flaws and manipulation. A definite result, that comes from subjective process in not justifiable. In reference to the Georgia cases, 135 represent 2% of the convictions. This indicates the possibility of wrongful trials. Due to this possibility alternate punishments should be applied to capital crimes. There is no justification for subjecting a person to such torture. Equally, the costs for death penalty related cases are very high. It is therefore unsustainable to the economy of the country and is a burden to tax payers. Whereas, arguments aligned to costing allude to a just system, the justice system should reflect a similar mandate to all cases. Thus, elimination of the death penalty removes the need for double trials within one case.
In conclusion, the reasons against death penalty are stronger. The correction system has alternate solutions for capital crimes. The main catch point is occurrence of an error during trial. At the same time, the objectivity of trials is often compromised in high profile cases. The death penalty is a cruel and degrading practice to humanity. It provides an opportunity where a person is wrongly executed. Since it is irreversible, it is grossly unfair to the accused, their families, victims and communities. Further, it has been statistically proven that maintaining the death penalty is expensive than life in prison. Thus, there is no rationale of maintaining the penalty. Finally, the commission of crime is not related to fear but socialization. Thus, it is justifiable to address social factors since the penalty has not reduced capital offenses. The fact that the penalty motivates crime even makes its presence worse. Its censure would save more lives.