, Research Paper
Pros and Cons of Capital Punishment
Each year there are about 250 people added to death row and 35 executed. The death penalty is the most severe form of punishment enforced in the United Sates today. Once a jury has convicted a criminal of an offense they go to the second part of the trial, the punishment phase. If the jury recommends the death penalty and the judge concurs, then the criminal will face some form of execution. Lethal injection is the most common form used today. There was a period from 1972 to 1976 that capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The reason for this decision was that the death penalty was deemed cruel and unusual punishment under the eighth amendment . The decision was reversed when new methods of execution were introduced. “The fundamental theory of punishment is that it is used for deterrence, for retribution and for reformation, and in the case of capital punishment there is a further basis urged for its retention-the need of eliminating those who menace the life and security of society.” Capital punishment is a difficult issue and there are many different opinions such as its deterrent value, the religious aspect, the safeguards against killing an innocent individual, the suffering of the family of the executed, the inequality of its utilization, and the economics of the death penalty.
Fear of death deters people from committing crimes, proponents say. They also believe that if attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts a positive moral influence by placing a stigma on certain crimes like manslaughter, resulting in attitudes of disgust and horror to such acts. Furthermore, retentionists insist that the deterrent influence of the death penalty reaches across state lines into jurisdictions that have abolished it, and so all benefit by its continued use. Perhaps this is the intended goal of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It establishes constitutional procedures for the imposition of the death penalty for federal crimes. It applies to federal statutes that previously carried the death penalty and creates many new capital offenses. As a result of the Act, the death penalty may now be imposed for nearly sixty federal crimes. New capital offenses include the murder of a federal prisoner serving a life sentence, and drive by shootings in the course of certain drug offenses . Those in support of capital punishment think achieving model citizens and a better society happen through fear and intimidation.
Many other people say capital punishment does not deter crime. Opponents of capital punishment say the death penalty is not necessary. Other countries that no longer have the death penalty have not experienced an increase in the number of murders. The idea is that the death penalty does not deter crime. Countries such as Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, and Belgium have not carried out executions since the early part of the century, yet these countries have not experienced a rise in crime rates . However, deterrence is not the question when you are looking at the retributive value of capital punishment. Deterrence can only work if the threat of punishment is combined with the assurance that these acts are not only illegal and therefore punishable but immoral. Without the conviction of morality, the easily frightened will not break the law. However, the fearless, the irrational, and all others will break the law.
Apparently certain sections of society have been desensitized to the point that human life has no value whatsoever. To that segment of the population nothing will stop them from doing whatever they may want. To the ‘born killer’ type no deterrent is effective. These people do not think about the consequences of their actions. “But how many there are who do not fear death, or to whom its remote threat is less impressive, less admonitory than the temptation of some desperate exigency!” Lack of foresight and morals, however, cannot be used as an excuse for the crime. Some say capital punishment is a retributive justice, and no direct correlation to murder rates can be applied with respect to the death penalty’s deterrent value. Actual statistics about the deterrent value of capital punishment are not available because it is not possible to know who may have been discouraged from a committing a crime. Yet, if you are dead you will not perpetrate any more crimes.
Religious Aspect (Pro)
The Bible requires the death penalty for a wide variety of crimes, including sex before marriage, doing work on Saturday and murder. If we still lived by this code, not many people would be left alive. Even God imposed the death penalty directly for various transgressions. Some of these infractions included: wickedness, being abusive to strangers, lying about church donations, practicing birth control, and even being overly curious. Almost all if not all the populace would be eradicated if God still practiced this.
State Senator James Donovan, speaking in support of capital punishment said, “Where would Christianity be if Jesus got eight to fifteen years with time off for good behavior?” This is an interesting point. The government in Jesus’ time must have put him to death or there would be a radically different Christianity. Each Christian must be grateful to the death penalty for their faith and eventual afterlife.
Opponents of capital punishment often cite the Sixth Commandment (”Thou shall not kill”) as proof that the death penalty is divinely prohibited. Actually, in the original Hebrew, the Sixth Commandment reads, “Thou Shalt Not Commit Murder.” It seems that there is no commandment forbidding a government from executing wrongdoers.
Religious Aspect (Con)
However, God appears to dislike it when mankind tries to ‘play God’. That is, when we execute a human being. Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Only God is without sin, therefore He does not agree with capital punishment rendered by society.
“When God forbids us to kill, he not only prohibits the violence that is condemned by public laws, but He also forbids the violence that is deemed lawful by men. Thus it is not lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself. Nor is it [lawful] to accuse anyone of a capital offense. It makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or by the sword. It is the act of putting to death itself, which is prohibited. Therefore, regarding this precept of God there should be no exception at all. Rather it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred creature. ”
This appears to contradict the lack of a commandment against killing.
Almost all of the modern-day churches are opposed to capital punishment. American Baptists issued a resolution on capital punishment in 1958 that questioned the infallibility of the legal system.
Baptists made yet another statement in which they called capital punishment discriminatory. They went on to say that the death penalty is mostly used in cases where the defendant is poor, powerless or educationally deprived. This seems to be true. Only 3.4 percent of death-sentenced murderers from 1923 to 1972 went to college. The offender who is of wealth, position and influence seldom goes to the electric chair. The accused who is friendless and destitute pays the extreme penalty while the accused through well-trained counsel, legal technicalities, and influence usually manages to escape death. This was demonstrated in the O.J. Simpson murder trail. If a man like me, having very little money and even less command with the court system, were to murder my wife, I don’t think I could get away with my life.
The courts have declared the death penalty for most crimes other than murder, such as rape, to be unconstitutional because cruel. If the government were to threaten a rapist with the death penalty, it would be regarded as a deterrent from rape. Why then, should the rapist keep his victim alive? By killing his victim, he would remove a witness without risking additional punishment. There are no easy answers when it comes to capital punishment.
It is extremely hard to kill a wrongly convicted felon. However, it sometimes happens. There are many safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. Capital punishment may be imposed only for a crime for which the death penalty is prescribed by law at the time of its commission. If someone is already in jail for some crime, there can’t be any new trial to have the prisoner killed. Persons below eighteen years of age, pregnant women, new mothers or persons who have become insane shall not be sentenced to death. Capital punishment may be carried out only after a final judgment rendered by a competent court allowing all possible safeguards to the defendant, including satisfactory legal assistance. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentenced. Obviously, capital punishment is not a device that is approached lightly.
Undo Hardships on the Family of the Accused
Capital punishment does not only affect the accused. It is a punishment, too, that’s falls most severely on the family of the offender. When it’s all said and done, the families of the now dead still suffer. “It is not the offender that suffers months and even years after the execution; it is the mothers, wives and sisters.”
Lets imagine for a moment there was no death penalty for a moment. The only reasonable sentence would a life sentence. This would be costly to the taxpayers, not only for the cost of housing and feeding the prisoner but because of the numerous appeals which wastes man-hours and money. By treating criminals in this manner, we are encouraging behavior that will result in a prison sentence. If there is no threat of death to one who commits a murder, other than that person is guaranteed to be provided with a decent living environment until their next parole hearing, they are certainly not receiving the punishment they deserve. Killing a deserving person has to be cheaper than housing, feeding, and putting up with his or her constant appeals. If capital punishment did not ever exist, just life imprisonment, we would have many more costly prisons.
Legal execution, society’s ultimate sanction, has existed as long as human culture. At this time more than half of the world’s nations practice capital punishment. Capital punishment has always been discussed and debated. Countless pamphlets, articles, and books have been written on the subject. For one to be executed, one has to be convicted a capital offense, then they go to the second part of the trial, the punishment phase. If the judge concurs with the jury recommending the death penalty, the criminal will face some form of execution. For a four year periods in the 1970’s, capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. New methods of execution were introduced and the decision was repealed. There are many different opinions on capital punishment such as its deterrent usefulness, the point of view of religion, the safeguards against killing an innocent individual, the suffering of the family of the executed, discrimination in its utilization, and the money issue. “?and if we begin killing off the murderers, why not the insane, the hopelessly deformed, or corrupt? Where does it end?”
1)Bill of Rights: Eighth Amendment
2)Lewis E. Lawes. Man’s Judgement of Death: (New Jersey: Patterson Smith Publishing Corporation, 1924), 9.
3)Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
4)Eugene B. Block. When Men Play God: The Fallacy of Capital Punishment. (San Francisco:
Cragmont Publications, 1983)132.
5)Lewis E. Lawes. Man’s Judgement of Death: (New Jersey: Patterson Smith Publishing Corporation, 1924), 53.
6)Lewis E. Lawes. Man’s Judgement of Death: (New Jersey: Patterson Smith Publishing Corporation, 1924), 11.
7)http://www.religioustolerance.org/execute.htm#forcp (11/17/98 date retrieved)
8)http://www.religioustolerance.org/exe_bibl.htm#old (11/17/98 date retrieved)
9)David L. Bender. The Death Penalty: (St. Paul: Greenhaven Press, 1986), 81.
10)The Bible: John 8:7
11)Lactantius. The Divine Institutes, Book 6, Chapter 20
12)J. Gordon Melton, ed. The Churches Speak On: Capital Punishment: (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1989), 53.
13)J. Gordon Melton, ed. The Churches Speak On: Capital Punishment: (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1989), 54.
14)J. Gordon Melton, ed. The Churches Speak On: Capital Punishment: (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1989), 54.
15)James W. Marquart and others. The Rope, The Chair, And The Needle: Capital Punishment in Texas, 1923-1990: (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 72.
16)Lewis E. Lawes. Man’s Judgement of Death: (New Jersey: Patterson Smith Publishing Corporation, 1924), 10.
17)Ernest van den Haag and Joseph Conrad. The Death Penalty: A Debate: (New York: Plenum Press, 1983), 203.
18)” Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of those Facing the Death Penalty.” (11/17/98 date retrieved).
19)Lewis E. Lawes. Man’s Judgement of Death: (New Jersey: Patterson Smith Publishing Corporation, 1924), 10.
20)Lewis E. Lawes. Man’s Judgement of Death: (New Jersey: Patterson Smith Publishing Corporation, 1924), 10.
21)David L. Bender. The Death Penalty: (St. Paul: Greenhaven Press, 1986), 13.
22)E. Roy Calvert. Capital Punishment in the Twentieth Century: (New York: Kennikat Press, 1927), 195.
3) van den Haag, Ernest and John P. Conrad. The Death Penalty: A Debate: New York: Plenum Press, 1983.
4) Lawes, Lewis E. Man’s Judgement of Death: New Jersey: Patterson Smith Publishing Corporation, 1924.
5) Lactantius. The Divine Institutes:
6) Calvert, E. Roy. Capital Punishment in the Twentieth Century: New York: Kennikat Press, 1927.
7) Melton, J. Gordon, ed. The Churches Speak On: Capital Punishment: Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1989.
8) Bedua, Hugo Adam. The Death Penalty in America: Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1964.
9) Marquart, James W. and others. The Rope, The Chair, And The Needle: Capital Punishment in Texas, 1923-1990: Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
10) http://www.religioustolerance.org/execute.htm#forcp (11/17/98 date retrieved)