, Research Paper
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: PROS AND CONS
Capital punishment is a subject you can always count on for a lively discussion with plenty of opinions and lots of questions. “Capital Punishment is a term which indicates muddled thinking. The dilemma of kill or be killed, which confronts civilized society daily and inexorably, is bedeviled by the jumble of panic, superstition, and angry resentment we call punishment, expiation, propitiatory blood sacrifice, justice, and many other imposing names. The dilemma is a hard fact which must be faced and organized.” (1)
In today’s world, terrible crimes are being committed daily. Many believe that these criminals deserve one fate: death. Capital punishment, the death penalty, is the maximum penalty used in punishing people who kill another human being – and is a very controversial method of punishment.
Criminals guilty of murder receive a verdict of capital punishment. Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being with an intentional or criminal intent. First-degree murder is usually premeditated or by deliberate design. In most states, a person convicted of first-degree murder can be sentenced to the death penalty.
Debate over the merits of capital punishment continues on a daily basis. Proponents of capital punishment defend it mainly on two grounds: death is a fitting punishment for murder, and executions maximize public safety through incapacitation and deterrence.
Capital punishment is meant to be a deterrent to crime, specifically murder. Gordon Tullock, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, states: “Eighty percent of the people who seriously think about crime think of punishment as a deterrent – except for the sociologists, and they wrote all the textbooks.” (2) According to statistics, for each execution there are 50 murders averted. This was documented in the U.S. between the years 1967 – 1984. (3) Murders began to rise during the years that capital punishment was not allowed while states were reinstating new guidelines.
Edward Koch, former mayor of New York City, said:
“Had the death penalty been a real possibility in the minds of ?murderers, they might
well have stayed their hand. They might have shown moral awareness before their victims
died?Consider the tragic death of Rosa Velez, who happened to be home when a man
named Luis Vera burglarized her apartment in Brooklyn. “Yeah, I shot her,” Vera
admitted. “?And I knew I wouldn’t go to the chair.”
The difference between murder and execution, or between kidnapping and imprisonment, is that the first is unlawful and undeserved, the second a lawful and deserved punishment for an unlawful act. The physical similarities of the punishment to the crime are irrelevant. The relevant difference is not physical, but social. (4)
A value on human life is placed by capital punishment. That value says, in essence, “If you take a life, yours will be forfeited.” But, man did not originate the concept of capital punishment. God originated capital punishment
. The Book of Mormon, Nephi 9: 35 states, “murderer who deliberately kills shall die”. Alma 1: 13-14 states, “Nehor condemned to die because he shed blood of righteous man”; 1: 18 (30: 10), “he who murders is punished unto death”; 34: 12, “law requires the life of him who has murdered” The Doctrine and Covenants of the Book of Mormon state in Chapter 42: 19, “he who kills shall die”; Chapter 42: 79, “those who kill will be delivered to law of land.” These are all descriptive of the words “capital punishment”.
On the view of “murder” the Book of Mormon states in Nephi Chapter 9: 35, “wo unto murder who deliberately kills.” In Mosiah 2: 13, “the Lord commands that men should not murder.” In Alma 30: 10 (34: 12) “if a man murder, he was punished unto death.” In Alma 42: 19, “if no law was given, would a man fear he would die if he murder?” In the Doctrine and Covenants, Chapter 42: 79, “any who kill shall be delivered up to laws of land.”
The Bible states in Exodus 10: 13, “Thou shall not MURDER.” (This is the translation taken directly from the original Hebrew version.) And murder is defined in any dictionary as the UNLAWFUL killing of a person with malice and aforethought. John 8:7, “Let he among you who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Matthew 7:1 states, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 5: 17-19.
There are many quotes from the Bible that state that the religious should be in favor of the death penalty. One of these in Revelations 13: 9-10 states, “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”
“Certainly, capital punishment shouldn’t be promoted as a deterrent to
murder. The people who commit atrocities often say they already feel dead
inside. They don’t give a damn about consequences. Plus, if they were
acting rationally, so as to be able to weigh such things as consequences,
they probably wouldn’t be going around committing atrocities in the first
place. No, people who commit these kinds of crimes are going to commit
them no matter what society threatens to do about it. Which is perhaps
another reason for why we SHOULD have the death penalty. These people
are damaged beyond repair-as a matter of sheer practicality, society
needs to take them out of circulation.”(5)
Those against capital punishment state that society cannot allow brutalities of criminal violence to set limits of appropriate punishment. According to opponents, premeditated murder by the state is wrong. Abolitionist use the quote, “Judge not, that you be not judged” to say the death penalty goes against the Christian values since we have to judge to sentence someone to death. Many will refuse to sit on juries that may have to enforce the death penalty as a maximum penalty for the crime committed. But, if you look at the entire picture of what Jesus was saying in Matthew 5: 17-19, we find that Jesus was speaking to the hypocrite. For example, if I cheat, and I see someone else cheating, I cannot judge him or her for cheating. I would be a hypocrite. First, I myself must stop cheating before I could judge the other person. That is called judging in a fair manner, and not being hypocritical. Christians should take the entire scope of the Bible into account when they quote certain passages lest they make the passage look like a hypothetical contradiction. There is a popular saying that only God has the right to take the life of a human being. But, nowhere in the Bible does this statement meet confirmation. God states in Genesis 9: 6, “Whoever sheds Man’s blood, by Man his blood shall be shed.” He also states in Numbers 35: 31, “Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall be surely put to death.”
People against the death penalty will argue that it’s cheaper to keep murderers “out of circulation” by putting them in jail than by putting them to death. Well, this argument is well taken. Steps need to be taken to make capital punishment less expensive! The best argument against capital punishment, though, is that of responsibility. Society creates these killers and the conditions within which they operate, and it’s a serious shirking of responsibility for society to turn around and heartlessly dispose of the bad people it produces. I agree that as a society we cannot look to capital punishment as a cure, or even a treatment, for the evils we’ve generated. The death penalty is a consequence, a just reward, and nothing more. If there is a cure for murderers and rapists, and really criminals of any degree, it is to make sure that every child grows up in a loving and disciplined environment. We must never confuse these issues.
The moral argument against capital punishment has not been effective in the United States despite the biblical injunction against killing. Religious supporters of capital punishment often invoke a presumed distinction between “killing” and “murdering”, and avow that God forbade the latter but not the former. Self-defense and just wars are cited as cases of morally justified killing. When cases of justified killing in self-defense or just wars are altered to include an element of delay, disarming, and premeditation, they too become murder. Since capital punishment clearly involves the elements of delay, disarming, and premeditation, capital punishment is murder in the biblical sense and ought to be abolished in any God-fearing society. (5)
“Capital punishment should be abolished in this country because it is archaic and cruel. There are thousands of men and women on death row in this country awaiting execution. Capital punishment seems to be a political agenda and not the will of the public. Politicians have excited the public into frenzy, expounding that the death penalty must exist and be applied.
Politicians have stated it is deterrence. It has never been proven to be a deterring factor. Virtually every study has reached the result that capital punishment has no deterrent effect. Retribution is not constitutional according to our laws.”(6)
In earlier times -where capital punishment was common, the value of life was less, and societies were more barbaric – capital punishment was probably quite acceptable. However, in today’s society, which is becoming ever more increasingly humanitarian, and individual rights and due process of justice are held in high accord, the death penalty is becoming an unrealistic form of punishment. Also, with the ever-present possibility of mistaken execution, there will remain the question of innocence of those put to death. Finally, man is not a divine being. He does not have the right to inflict mortal punishment in the name of society’s welfare, when there are suitable substitutes that require fewer resources. I ask society, “?. why don’t we stop the killing?”(7)
The argument of proponents is best summed up in this quote from a senator who spoke anonymously: “Opponents equate execution and murder, believing that if two acts have the same ending or result, then those two acts are morally equivalent. This is a morally untenable position. Is the legal taking of property to satisfy a debt the same as auto theft? Both result in loss of property. Are kidnapping and legal incarceration the same? Both involve imprisonment against one’s will. Is killing in self-defense the same as capital murder? Both end in taking human life. Is rape and making love the same? Both may result in sexual intercourse. How absurd? Opponents’ flawed logic and moral confusion mirror their “factual” arguments – there is, often, an absence of reality. The moral confusion of some opponents is astounding. Some equate the American death penalty with the Nazi holocaust. Opponents see no moral distinction between the slaughter of 12 million totally innocent men, women and children and the just execution of society’s worst human rights violators (DP.com, WWW).”
Nineteenth-century English philosopher and reformer John Stuart Mill, stated:
“Does fining a criminal show want of respect for property, or imprisoning him, for
personal freedom? Just as unreasonable it is to think that to take the life of a man who has
taken that of another is to show want of regard for human life. We show, on the
contrary?our regard for it, by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in
another forfeits it for himself and that while no other crime that he can commit deprives
him of his right to live, this shall.”
Syndicated columnist Charley Reese made an interesting analogy while criticizing the way abolitionists typically behave when he wrote:
When I think of all the sweet, innocent people who suffer extreme pain and who dies every
day in this country, then the outpouring of sympathy for cold-blooded killers enrages me.
Where is your sympathy for the good, the kind and the innocent? This fixation on
murderers is a sickness, a putrefaction of the soul. It’s the equivalent of someone spending
all day mooning and cooing over a handful of human feces—sick and abnormal.
I favor a fair trial, one quick appeal and prompt execution. I don’t think murderers ought
to live much beyond 12 months from the day their victim is buried?(and) As for not being
able to correct a mistake, so what? Virtually all-accidental deaths are deaths by mistake.
Why impose a standard of perfection only on the criminal justice system? There are no
perfect human institutions. Our system is, more than any other, designed to protect the
rights of the defendant. The chance of a truly innocent person being executed is
exceedingly slim. But, if it happens, it happens just as things happen to people every day.
“Laws gentle are seldom obeyed; too severe seldom executed.” (8)
Personally, as for convicted criminals, I see no wrong in imprisonment; or, for that matter, corporal punishment, including putting the criminal, in certain circumstances, to death. What I do take objection to, is being a victim to criminals. Aside from taking all the personal steps I can, to lesson my risk of being a victim of a criminal – I would like to live in a community which takes a full set of steps to discourage criminal activity. Punishment is a one of these steps.
As for capital punishment: I take the moral high ground: life is precious. However, that life is precious is no reason to object to capital punishment, –indeed, this is the primary justification for capital punishment. A legitimate use of punishment is its use as a deterrent: so too, it is a legitimate use to satisfy the need, which the victim and his family have for retribution. Thus, in this question of capital punishment, both deterrence and retribution play a role; but there is an additional reason: to permanently rid ourselves of murderers.
Capital punishment must be the standard by which each and every state must abide by. If we cannot join together and defeat crime, it will most certainly take us over. We can no longer sit and let our lives be terrorized. No longer can we sit back and watch criminals be released and then kill again. No longer must we draw the line on crime. We must make the world safe so that our children and we may once again live in a world without the fear of being senselessly killed or losing our loved ones. For a cold-blooded killer, capital punishment is the only true justice.
In closing, let me say, after much study for and against, capital punishment is a hot topic of debate, a debate that reaches far back into history. In a moral perspective, abolitionists have a very strong case, but proponents have the stronger legal and fact-based case. Debate on capital punishment, and its constitutionality will rage unabated, with no foreseeable conclusion.
(1) The Atlantic Monthly, June, 1948, Capital Punishment by George Bernard Shaw
(2) “Capital Punishment,” Biblical Principles, (Plymouth Rock Foundation), 1984, p. 17
(4) The Death Penalty: Pro and Con (Copyright 1986 Harvard Law Review Association), The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense, Ernest van den Haag, John M. Olin, Professor of Jurisprudence and Public Policy, Fordham University.
(5) A Non-Pacifist Argument Against Capital Punishment, Roy Weatherford
(6) The Coastal Post – May, 1997, Abolish Capital Punishment, Rob Phillips
(7) Grisham 404, Grisham, John. The Chamber. New York: Island Books, 1994
(8) Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1738.