Crime And Punishment Essay, Research Paper
Society has always used punishment to discourage “potential” criminals from unlawful action. Since society has the highest interest in preventing murder, it should use the strongest punishment available to deter murder. The death penalty is arguably the strongest deterrent for murder and the strongest punishment for other unspeakable crimes. If murderers are sentenced to death and executed, potential murderers will think twice before killing for fear of losing their own life.
For years, criminologists analyzed murder rates to see if they fluctuated with the likelihood of convicted murderers being executed, but the results were inconclusive. Then in 1973 Isaac Ehrlich employed a new kind of analysis, which produced results showing that for every inmate who was executed, 7 lives were spared because others were deterred from committing murder. (Kanitz) Supporters of Ehrlich in follow-up studies have produced similar results. Additionally, even if some studies regarding deterrence are inconclusive, that is only because the death penalty is rarely used and takes years before an execution is actually carried out. Punishments which are swift and sure, are the best deterrent. The fact that some states or countries which do not use the death penalty, have lower murder rates than those that do is not evidence of the failure of deterrence. States with high murder rates would have even higher rates if they did not use the death penalty.
Ernest van den Haag, a Professor of Jurisprudence at Fordham University who has studied the question of deterrence closely wrote: “Even though statistical demonstrations are not conclusive and perhaps cannot be, capital punishment is likely to deter more than other punishments because people fear death more than anything else. They fear most death deliberately inflicted by law and scheduled by the courts. Whatever people fear most is likely to deter most. Hence, the threat of the death penalty may deter some murderers who otherwise might not have been deterred. And surely the death penalty is the only penalty that could deter prisoners already serving a life sentence and tempted to kill a guard, or offenders about to be arrested and facing a life sentence. Perhaps they will not be deterred. But they would certainly not be deterred by anything else. We owe all the protection we can give to law enforcers exposed to special risks.”(Carlisle, 199)
Although capital punishment cannot deter all murderers, the fear of death must deter some. One cannot measure how many lives this system spares since no concrete numbers can be formed. One must come to the conclusion that the death penalty deters those who conjure thoughts of vicious crimes for they fear the potential death penalty.
When someone takes a life, the balance of justice is disturbed. Unless that balance is restored, society surrenders to an unruly state. Only the taking of the murderer’s life restores the balance and allows society to show convincingly that murder is an intolerable crime, which will be punished in kind. Retribution has its basis in religious values, which have historically maintained that it is fair to take an “eye for an eye.” Therefore, a life for a life.
Although the victim and the victim’s family cannot be restored to the status, which preceded the murder, at least an execution brings closure to the ordeal for the victim’s family and ensures that the murderer will take no more victims.
For the most cruel and heinous crimes, the ones for which the death penalty is applicable, offenders deserve the strictest punishment under the judicial system. The strongest punishment for unthinkable crimes is the death penalty. Any lesser punishment would undermine the values society places on protecting lives.
Robert Macy, District Attorney of Oklahoma City, described his concept of the need for retribution in one case: “In 1991, a young mother was rendered helpless and made to watch as her baby was executed. The mother was then mutilated and killed. The killer should not lie in some prison with three meals a day, clean sheets, cable TV, family visits and endless appeals. For justice to prevail, some killers just need to die.” (Wynn) Mr. Macy’s personal views are very strong and should be taken under consideration whenever the laws surrounding capital punishment are to be revised or edited in any way. Guidelines should be presented to prosecutors and judges that outline the basis for crimes punishable by death.
There is no proof that any innocent person has actually been executed since increased safeguards and appeals were added to the death penalty system in the 1970s. (Bean) Even if such executions have occurred, they are very rare. If improvements are needed in the system of representation, or in the use of scientific evidence such as DNA testing, then those reforms should be instituted. However, the need for reform is not a reason to abolish the death penalty. Also, many of the claims of innocence by those who have been released from death row are actually based on legal technicalities. Just because someone’s conviction is overturned years later and the prosecutor decides not to retry him, does not mean he is actually innocent. If it can be shown that someone is innocent, surely a governor would grant clemency and spare the person. Hypothetical claims of innocence are usually just delaying tactics to put off the execution as long as possible. Given the thorough system of appeals through numerous state and federal courts in the United States of America, the execution of an innocent individual today is nearly impossible.
Discretion has always been an essential part of our justice system. No one expects the prosecutor to pursue every possible offense or punishment, nor do we expect the same sentence to be imposed just because two crimes appear similar. Each crime is unique, both because the circumstances of each victim are different and because each defendant is unique. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a mandatory death penalty, which applied to everyone convicted of first-degree murder, would be unconstitutional. (Paris) Hence, we must give prosecutors and juries some visible guidelines.
The death penalty punishes those whose crimes are heinous enough to justify capital punishment. This is why guidelines that clearly illustrate the prerequisites needed to obtain such a punishment as the death penalty. The guilty should still be punished appropriately, even if their crimes are not punishable by death. High paid, skillful lawyers should not be able to get selected defendants off on technicalities. The existence of some systemic problems is no reason to abandon the whole capital punishment system.
Finally, the death penalty certainly deters the murderer who is executed. Strictly speaking, this is a form of incapacitation; similar to the way a robber put in prison is prevented from committing crimes on the streets. Vicious murderers must be killed to prevent them from murdering again. Both as a deterrent and as a form of permanent incapacitation, the death penalty helps to prevent future crime.
Bean, Ross. The Death Penalty, 24 April 2001.
Carlisle, James. Capital Punishment: Opposing Viewpoints, Atlanta: Powerhouse Publishing, 1999.
Jones, Roy. The Death Penalty, 15 April.
Kanitz, Vicky. Capital Punishment, Toronto: Random House of Canada, 1998.
Paris, Wendy. Capital Punishment. 1 May 2001.
Wynn, Ted. Capital Punishment, New York: Norton, 1974.