Capital Punishment Just Or Unjust Essay Research

Capital Punishment; Just Or Unjust Essay, Research Paper Kevin Kearney C. M. V. (RELS 1502) March 29, 2001 Research Paper Capital Punishment: Fair or Unfair

Capital Punishment; Just Or Unjust Essay, Research Paper

Kevin Kearney

C. M. V. (RELS 1502)

March 29, 2001

Research Paper

Capital Punishment: Fair or Unfair

The most severe form of punishment of all legal sentences is that of death. This is

referred to as the death penalty, or “capital punishment”; this is the most severe form of

corporal punishment, requiring law enforcement officers to actually kill the offender. It

has been banned in numerous countries, in the United States, however an earlier move to

eliminate capital punishment has now been reversed and more and more states are

resorting to capital punishment for such serious offenses namely murder. “Lex talionis”,

mentioned by the Bible encourages “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” mentality,

and people have been using it regularly for centuries. We use it in reference to burglary,

adultery, and various other situations, although, some people enforce it on a different

level, some people use it in reference to death. An individual may steal from those who

have stolen from him/her, or an individual wrongs those who have wronged him/her, but

should an individual have the right to kill to seek retaliation? Four issues are on the hot

topic in the United States, stirring up America’s feelings towards this issue.

There is controversy debating capital punishment today and whether or not it

works, or if it is morally right. We have a certain privilege in our own lives, but should

the lives of others belong to us as well. Do we have the right to decide on the lives of

others, of people we may not even know? If we find someone guilty of murder, we

sentence him to death. This makes us murders ourselves, but is there possibility in

justifying these acts?

Those who assist in the death penalty are they not partners in crime? Is the death

Kearney 2

penalty a cruel and unusual punishment or is it now just a necessary tool in the war of

crime? With today’s increase in crime and violence in our society, the death penalty

effects every American, whether interested or not, and has existed for quite some time


The use of the death penalty has actually declined throughout the industrial

Western World since the 19th century. In 1972, a movement in America to have the death

penalty declared unconstitutional arose, during the landmark case of Furman vs. Georgia,

declaring the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment, nonetheless, a Supreme

Court decision in 1975, Gregg vs. Georgia, stated capital punishment did not violate the

eighth Amendment rights, and the executions began again under state supervision. These

inconsistencies and indecisions have obviously sparked a debate. (Horwitz, 124-127)

Four major issues in capital punishment are debated, most aspects of which were

touched upon by Seton Hall’s panel discussion on the death penalty. The first issue stands

as deterrence. A major purpose of criminal punishment is to conclude future criminal

conduct. The deterrence theory suggests that a rational person will avoid criminal

behavior if the severity of the punishment outweighs the benefits of the illegal conduct. It

is believed that fear of death “deters” people from committing a crime. Most criminals

would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives were at stake.

When attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts a positive moral influence,

placing a stigma on certain crimes like manslaughter, which results in attitudes of horror

to such acts.

Studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been conducted for

Kearney 3

several years, with varying results. Most studies have failed to produce evidence that the

death penalty deterred murders more effectively then the threat of imprisonment. The

reason for this is that few people are executed and so the death penalty is not a

satisfactory deterrent. If capital punishment were carried out more often it would prove to

be the crime deterrent it was intended to be. During highly publicized death penalty

cases, the homicide rate is found to go down but it rises back up when the case concludes.

(Bailey, 42)

When comparisons are made between states with the death penalty and states

without, the majority of death penalty states show murder rates higher than non-death

penalty states. The average murder rate per 100,000 population in 1996 among death

penalty states was 7.1, the average murder rate among non-death penalty states was only

3.6. A look at neighboring death penalty and non-death penalty states show similar

trends as death penalty states usually have a higher murder rate than their neighboring

non-death penalty states. (Horwitz, 87)

The second issue in the capital punishment debate is retribution, or the need for

society to express sufficient condemnation for violent murders. Supporters of the death

penalty contend that the only proper response to the most vile murders is the most sever

punishment possible. Therefore, society should literally interpret the earlier mentioned,

“An eye for an eye” principle. When an individual takes a life, the moral balance in

society will remain upset until the killer’s life is also taken.

Although the death penalty opponents disagree, society should be able to express

its outrage with a vile crime by inflicting capital punishment. They suggest that they are

Kearney 4

showing outrage for taking a life by talking the life of another. (Jacoby, 39)

Use of the death penalty as intended by law could actually reduce the number of

violent murders by eliminating some of the repeat offenders thus being used as a system

of justice, not just a method of deterrence. Modern supporters of capital punishment no

longer view the death penalty as a deterrent, but just as a punishment for the crime as one

source stated, “…in recent years the appeal of deterrence has been supplanted by a frank

desire for what large majorities see as just vengeance.” (Bailey, 1994, 55)

The third major issue is arbitrariness, determined by or arising from impulse

rather than judgment.” From the days of slavery in which black people were considered

property, through the years of lynching and Jim Crow laws, capital punishment has

always been deeply affected by race. Unfortunately, the days of racial bias in the death

penalty are not a remnant of the past”, says Robert C. Watters of the NAACP Legal

Defense and Education Fund.

Fairness requires that people who break the same law under similar circumstances

must meet with the same punishment, however the justice system is in no way consistent.

Statistics show that a black man who kills a white person is eleven times more likely to

receive the death penalty than a white man who kills a black person! Blacks who kill

blacks have even less to worry about.

The fourth debate is the danger of mistake. In the past, many people have been

wrongfully executed for crimes that they did not commit, all by the name of justice. It has

happened that after the execution of the alleged guilty party, the real murderer had

confessed to free his guilty conscience. “No matter how careful courts are, the possibility

Kearney 5

of perjured testimony, mistaken honest testimony, and human error remain all too real.

We have no way of judging how many innocent persons have been executed, but we can

be certain there were some”, Watters says.

The unique thing about the death penalty is that it is final and irreversible. Since

1970, almost eighty people have been released from death row with evidence of their

innocence. Researchers Michael L. Radelet andHugo Adam Bedau found twenty three cases

since 1900 where innocent people were executed, and the numbers are still growing.

Stories like that of Rolando Cruz, released after ten years on Illinois’s death row, despite

the fact that another man had confessed to the crime shortly after his conviction, and that

of Ricardo Aldape Guerra, who returned to Mexico after fifteen years on Texas’s death

row because of a prosecution that a federal judge called outrageous and designed to

simply “achieve another notch on the prosecutor’s guns.” (Jacoby, 38)

Now, there are actually some safeguards guaranteeing protection of those facing

the death penalty. The safeguards for convicts are: The defendant can not be insane, and

the man’s real or criminal intent must be present. Also, minors rarely receive the death

penalty because they are not fully mature, not knowing the consequences of their

actions. Lastly, the mentally retarded are very seldom executed. The reason for not

executing in this case is that they often have difficulty defending themselves in court,

such as problems remembering details, locating witnesses, and testifying credibly on their

own behalf. These safeguards are to try to insure that justice will be served without

having it suffer.

In the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, the death penalty was required for

Kearney 6

a numerous range of offenses, both civil and religious. The following is a passage from

the King James’ version of the Bible as Jehovah required the state to execute a person for

murder: Genesis 9:6 states: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be

shed: for in the image of God made he man.”, serving as sufficient proof that if a person

had committed a crime, the state imposed the death penalty on the guilty person. They

were either stoned to death, impaled or burned alive. Witnesses who testified at the trial

would often participate in the killing. Though, to their credit, the courts of ancient Israel

required very high levels of proof of criminality before they would order the death

penalty. (Horwitz, 36)

I believe that there must be a punishment that serves the purpose of teaching a

lesson. Personally, I have always believed the death penalty was just, and that it taught

the criminal a lesson. But after examining a lot of information, and attending the Panel

Discussion, I have come to realize that capital punishment serves very few purposes. It is

bias towards Caucasian, it relieves the criminal from a lifetime of misery in prison, and it

is not even rendered to the true guilty party in some cases, reinforcing the fact that

negatives to the death penalty greatly outweigh the positives.

“An eye for an eye.” Many people believe that capital punishment does not

belong in a civilized society. I believe a form of it is needed because we do not live in a

civilized society, whereas mass murders and those who create such devious and heinous

crimes will surface at different times, and there needs to be a way of ending their

madness. We live in a day and age where killing happens everyday though, and first

time offenders, for example, should receive a life sentence, teaching the individual, and

Kearney 7

those around the individual that if “You do the crime, you pay the time.” Stricter bans on

parole for those who receive life, more equality in sentencing and, a lot fewer death

sentencings to capital punishment would vastly improve the United States’ legal system,

and put an end to this exhausting argument.

Sources Cited

#1.) Jacoby, Jeff. “The Accuracy of Capital Punishment.” Boston Globe Feb. 2000: 37+.

#2.) Horwitz, Joshua L. Frontline: The Execution. New York: Knopf, 1998.

#3.) Bonevac, Daniel. Today’s Moral Issues; Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. California, Mayfield, 1999.

#4.) Bailey, William. Social Science & Capital Punishment. Boston: Beacon, 1996.

#5.) Discussion: Topic on Capital Punishment, Joseph Chapel, Tony Fusco, Raymond Brown, Deborah Jacobs. Seton Hall University, 2001.