The Chair, The Needle, The Gas Chamber Essay, Research Paper
The Chair, The Needle, The Gas Chamber.
The death penalty or capital punishment, is a controversial issue that a lot of people have debated. It has been part of the criminal justice system since the earliest of times. During the 1700 B.C., the Babylonians decreed death for crimes, even minor ones. The early Egyptians were also accustomed to the enforcement of the death penalty. Egyptians were sentenced to death for a crime, such as disclosing the location of sacred burial grounds. In today s world, capital punishment is still a part of the criminal justice system. Every time someone is sentenced to death a question of whether capital punishment is right arises. Should it be included in our justice systems?
In dealing with the issue of whether capital punishment is right or not, we should consider all of the arguments involved. We must consider the economic argument, the deterrence argument, the retributive argument, and the utilitarian argument for capital punishment. After understanding these arguments, we will see that, although a majority of people thinks putting criminals to death is wrong and must be banned, the practice of capital punishment is nonetheless a justifiable option.
Capital punishment is the oldest and most commonly used punishment since the earliest times. It is a punishment that is still used in our modern justice systems. Capital punishment is retained in 92 countries and territories in 1990, including the United States (37states), China, and
Islamic Countries.1 In the Collins College Dictionary, Capital punishment is defined as the punishment of death for committing a serious crime. In Roman law the term had a wider significance and meant, besides the summum supplicium (death), those punishment that affected the caput (status) of the citizens, namely banishment ( aquae et igni interdictio ) under the republic or deportatio (deportation) under the empire, and condemnation in opus perpetum (of a life sentence to hard labor).2 The earliest forms of capital punishment were by the guillotine (in France, from 1792), the garrote or strangulation (in Spain), the headsman s ax (in Germany), or by fracturing the neck by hanging (in England).3 Now, some forms of capital punishment used are electrocution, lethal injection and the gas chamber. From the early Roman laws to today s justice systems there are a lot of things that changed in the method of punishment and to which type of crimes the death penalty will be used for. In the early times, the death penalty is sentenced to very minor crimes, like stealing, but today it is only sentenced to criminals who commits crimes like murder and terrorism. The administration of the death penalty also made an evolution from the bloody guillotines to the silent but deadly lethal injections.
Capital punishment can be traced back to the biblical times. In the Bible there are quite a few verses that support capital punishment. In Genesis 9:6, (from the New American Bible,) it states the following passage: If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has man been made. This passage not only supports the death penalty but also approves of it and encourages it. Another biblical passage, taken from Matthew 26:52 also supports the death penalty. It states: Jesus said to him: Put back your sword where it belongs. Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it. This passage proves that Christ himself regarded capital punishment as a just penalty for murder when he said this passage to one of his disciples after he tried to kill a soldier who had come to arrest Jesus.4 Also, in Exodus 21:12-14 it reads the following:
Whoever strikes a man a mortal blow must be put to death. He however, who did not hunt a man down, but caused his death by an act of God, may flee to a place which I will set apart for this purpose. But when a man kills another after maliciously scheming to do so, you must take him even from my altar and put him to death.
This is religious evidence that one need not be God to exact a fitting punishment for the crime of murder.5
These are just some of the evidences that supports the argument in favor of capital punishment. If a person that opposes the death penalty would argue the point that in the 5th commandment in Exodus 20:13, which states: Thou shall not kill But the fact is, if we translate
this from the original Hebrew version it simply states: Thou shall not MURDER. And there is a big difference between murder and punishing someone by death. In murder someone takes away the life of a human being for no valid reason. But in punishing someone by death, we do this because they committed a crime that is against the eyes of men and the eyes of God.
Now, let s look at the deterrent effects of capital punishment towards the criminals. A lot of people say that the death penalty does not deter murders from occurring. For example, it is said that the countries or states with the death penalty also have the greatest murder rate. That might be true, but we never put into account the differences between all these states and countries. There are no two places that are alike. These differences would include the population, the size, and the crime rate of that area. It can t be said that such places with capital punishment produces a higher crime rate. But such places have capital punishment because of its very high crime rate.6 To deter is defined in the Collins College Dictionary, to be, to discourage or to prevent someone from doing something by instilling fear or doubt in them. By this definition, we can say that capital punishment really has a deterrent effect to everyone who cares about his or her life. The author thinks that everyone in this world who cares for their lives and values life would be scared to be taken away of their own life by committing serious crimes. The death penalty has the power to give criminals a feeling to think twice before committing a crime because of the consequence that is in hand. In 1985, economist Stephen K. Layson conducted a study at the University of North Carolina, which showed that every execution of a murder deters an average of 18 murders. The study also showed that raising the number of death sentences by one percent would prevent 105 murders.7 A quote from Edward Kosh, former mayor of New York City, that support s the deterrent effect of capital punishment said:
Had the death penalty been 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. 8
In this case, if the death penalty is abolished in our justice systems, criminals will definitely have
the same perception as Luis Vera. They don t care if they killed someone, as long as they are
going to get killed themselves. This way of thinking can also lead to more crimes. Let s say a
Bum is really having a hard time living on leftovers from the garbage, and living in the streets.
He can just easily kill someone and go to jail, for he knows he would just get a life sentence to
Paradise where there are free food and lodging.
Although a lot of people think that the death penalty does not deter murders, there are a lot of evidences that exist which nonetheless favor the death penalty as a deterrent for murder. In conjunction with these evidences a study conducted by Isaac Echlich also supported the deterrence theory. He concluded that each execution might prevent eight future deaths by murder.9 With the law of capital punishment imposed, the criminals are now held responsible for all their actions, they now know the consequences that faces them.
The issue of the death penalty also touches upon the economy of the country. It is said that to execute someone would cost more than to place them in life imprisonment. But during life imprisonment, an average of 40-50 years in jail, the taxpayers has to pay taxes to give these criminals a place to sleep, free food, and a simple life in prison. But if we execute them they would only be sentenced to nine years in prison then executed. If we give certain values for a year in prison and the amount of money needed to execute a criminal, we can come up with a conclusion that would clearly show capital punishment would be more economical to the government and to the taxpayers. Let s say that it would cost $20,000 to incarcerate a criminal per year, and it would cost $60,000 to execute them. If we do simple mathematics, to incarcerate a criminal for an average of 35 years would cost about $700,000 but if we execute them after nine years or ten years it would only total-up to $260,000 to $240,000. Even when a criminal s life sentence only lasted for 20 years, it would still cost more than to execute them. Sentencing criminals to death would also help decrease the population inside prisons. Meaning less money spent on bed spaces, food, and construction of facilities needed.
There is no way that life imprisonment would cost less than execution. If the murderers are just sentenced to life imprisonment, they are definitely not getting the punishment that they deserve. But in fact their life is being paid for by the families and friends of the victims, that they murdered. The government could just use the money spent on these criminals for other things like building schools, building hospitals, and improving the status of the country, rather than in housing and supporting criminals, who are a menace to our society.
So far, we have been informed by the historical information, biblical insights, deterrence argument, and economic arguments, which favor the law of capital punishment. Now, let s look at the retributive arguments that favor the death penalty. As we consult the Collins College Dictionary, it says that retribution is the punishment or vengeance for evil deeds. The principles of retribution suggest that a murderer should be executed because he or she deserves or has earned the sentence of death.10 It is just right for murderers to be executed for their actions. They deserve it! If the criminals know that they are going to be executed for their actions and still murders innocent lives, this plainly shows that they don t care about their lives anymore. They don t value life and don t care whether they die or not. So, why should we care about them? If they were given another chance to have a new life, we can t guarantee them to live a life without crime. Capital Punishment is also legitimate under a theory of just deserts . This justification suggests that murderers should be executed for retributive reasons; Murderers should suffer, and life imprisonment is insufficient suffering as retribution for taking a life. 11 In Latin terms there is something called Lex Talionis, which means, an eye for an eye and a life for a life, is justice. The criminals have caused a lot of grief and troubles for the family and friends of the victims, and the only way for justice to be served in this case is for the criminal to die. Let us say that someone stole your money, then something was stolen from the person who stole your money, wouldn t you feel better that this happened to that person? He deserves it! Some people believe that you can t fight violence by implementing violence. But there is a difference between violence and law enforcement, or punishment. Violence is the use of physical force intended to cause injury or destruction. While punishment is the penalty for a crime or offense. We don t enforce capital punishment for the sake of doing violent acts towards criminals; we do this to give them the right and just punishment for such criminal act that they committed.
A quote from Edward Kosh, former mayor of New York City states: it is by exacting the highest penalty for the taking of human life that we affirm the highest value of human life. 12 From this quote, we can say that a crime, after all, is only as severe as the punishment that follows it. Murderers won t take murder seriously if the penalty isn t equally as serious, like death. Another quote taken from the award-winning Chicago journalist Mike Royko states:
When I think of the thousands of inhabitants of Death Rows in the hundreds of prisons in this country .My reaction is: What s taking us so long? Let s get that electric current flowing. Drop those pellets [of poison gas] now! Whenever I argue this with friends who have opposite views, they say that I don t have enough regard for the most marvelous of miracles- human life. Just the opposite: It s because I have so much regard for human life that I favor capital punishment. Murder is the most terrible crime there is. Anything less than the death penalty is an insult to the victim and society. It says that we don t value the victim s life enough to punish the killer fully. 13
This quote by Royko is true and has greatly supported the side that is in favor of the retributive argument of capital punishment. We should all have the same attitude as Royko, to not just stand around and wait for more murders to occur, but instead let s show them that murder is a very intolerable crime to society and is taken seriously.
The final argument, which favors the practice of capital punishment, is the utilitarian argument. In the Hutchinson Encyclopedic Dictionary, utilitarianism is said to be: A philosophical theory of ethics outlined by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham and developed by John Stuart Mill. According to utilitarianism, an action is morally right if it has consequences that lead to happiness and wrong if it brings about the reverse. This society should aim for the greatest happiness for the greatest number, or the greatest good for the greatest number of people. What is the greatest good for the greatest number of people? Is it letting criminals roam around our neighborhoods after their sentence is over or during their parole? The answer to this question would be answered by most to be NO! Families would not feel same and secure knowing that a serial killer that is in parole is leaving two blocks away from their house. We should think about the safety and welfare of the people in the community. Wouldn t you feel safe if a serial killer were put to death for the crimes that he had committed? Every time a murderer is put to death, that would be sign of relief to the community, knowing the fact that he will never have a chance to take away another life of an innocent victim.
Let us look at the whole reason why governments and law enforcers exist. They exist to serve a purpose. Among the many purposes that they have, one of this is to defend their decent citizens from the vicious criminals. When it fails to do so, they become of no use to the citizens. What s the point in having a government that does nothing about the murderers, who is a threat to society? Nothing! If they just put these criminals to jail, can the law enforcers assure us and guarantee us that they will not be able to escape and go out and kill again? If the law executes the murderers they will be one hundred percent sure to incapacitate them of doing such evil crimes. In a research that was conducted, of the 2,575 prisoners sentenced to death in 1992, 1 out of 11 had a prior conviction of homicide, before being sentenced to death.14 This statistic shows that, we can save and secure the lives of the public by implementing capital punishment. If we had done this the first time the criminals were arrested we could have prevented a lot of additional people being killed. Is that what they think law enforcement is all about? In an unsigned article, published by the American Life League, states:
In reality—murders—are not executed as payment for their crimes, because their deaths could not begin to repay the horror and suffering they have caused. [They] are executed because of the violence they have done to the virtue of justice. Society must eliminate its worst elements, or by tolerating them it will itself fall into despair. 15
Like the statement above, the author greatly believes that we don t punish criminals to get revenge, but we do this because we have laws that we need to follow and for every law that is broken there should be a punishment that is equal to the crime that has been committed. If capital punishment is not enforced we are not only risking the lives of the public but also the lives of the prison guards and the other prisoners. Even in jail there is also a chance for a criminal to kill another person since already in jail. The only way to stop a serial killer from endangering the lives of a lot of innocent people is by bringing him to his death.
By considering the historical information, deterrence argument, economic argument, retributive argument, and the utilitarian argument for capital punishment, we can see that, although a majority of people think putting criminals to death is wrong and must be banned, the practice of capital punishment is nonetheless a justifiable option. In fact, capital punishment is not just an option but a must and a necessity for everyone in a community, state, or country. For those who believe that it is wrong to put someone to death because he took away someone else s life, think again. Does life seem to be so unimportant that the only punishment we can give the criminals are life sentences?
To truly understand and develop a sense of the importance of capital punishment in our justice systems, we looked at four main arguments that are in favor of the death penalty. But before that, we were given some historical information about capital punishment. The death penalty was the earliest form of justice that was followed by many. From the times of Jesus to the Roman times and at present, we still apply the death penalty to our justice systems. The bible itself contains a lot of passages and verses that supports and even encourages the enforcement of capital punishment. After having some knowledge about the history of capital punishment, we went to the first main argument that is for capital punishment, the deterrence argument. We learned that the argument of deterrence should not be used against the death penalty. Because even though studies has shown that places with capital punishment produces a higher crime rate, we haven t considered some factors that might affect this conclusion. We should consider the size of the area, the population and the crime rate in that area. Crime rates do not increase because of capital punishment, but capital punishment is imposed because of high crime rates. The next argument that was discussed was the economic argument. We learned that is would cost a lot of money to impose life imprisonment rather than capital punishment. Also, why should we be giving those criminals that are a menace to our society a place to live, free food, and a decent life, when they have caused a lot of misery to the families and friends of their victims? The third argument we touched upon was the retributive argument. Those criminals deserve to die for committing serious crimes like murder. As a Latin saying goes, An eye for an eye and a life for a life, is justice! The final argument, which supports capital punishment, is the utilitarian argument. The theory of utilitarianism is that the society should aim for the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. And having the death penalty in our justice systems is the best for the greatest number of people. This would make families and people in the communities feel safe and secure at night knowing that there is one less criminal to worry about.
Now that we have been educated by some arguments regarding the death penalty and by its historical information, we can conclude that capital punishment is a law that should be openly accepted in our society today. Without it, our lives are at stake from lingering criminals that are in parole. Our safety is in the hands of the lawmakers. Life in jail won t deter the prisoners from hunting down their next pray. We should do something about these killings. If we don t act now, when are we going to make our first step? Let s not sit around and wait for more innocent victims and their families to suffer. Let s start punishing those murderers. Without capital punishment life won t have a value anymore. And without it, JUSTICE won t be SERVED!!!