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An Argument For Capital Punishment Essay, Research Paper

An Argument For Capital Punishment “Legal execution–society’s ultimate sanction has existed as long as human culture” (Bender 13). It has been an emotionally charged issue in the United States for over two- hundred years. The death penalty is corporal punishment in its most severe form; it is used to execute criminals who take the life of an innocent victim. In most cultures, the death penalty is used for severe crimes such as murder, violent sexual assault, and treason. Because society has different views on the death penalty, there continues to be much controversy over this topic. One argument states that capital punishment is morally justified by society, is a deterrent to capital offenses, and is advantageous for society. “Some crimes are so vicious that they produce a universal revulsion and moral outrage” (Wolf 64). In cases of severe crimes, it is just and necessary for society to seek retribution. People want to punish the perpetrator in the most drastic way, which is to kill her. Society continues to follow the biblical quote “an eye for an eye” which means to seek personal revenge after a crime has been committed. Most people are not concerned about the murderer; they are worried about the sanctity of the victim’s life. They believe that if retribution is not achieved, then the value of human life becomes irrelevant. The death penalty is then demanded as compensation for the loss of the victim. For example, according to Professor Ernest van den Haag, “All religions that I’m aware of feel that human life is sacred. Its sacredness must be enforced by depriving of life anyone who deprives another person of life” (Kronenwetter 31). This statement illustrates that the execution of a killer is the ultimate proof of the value that society puts on human life. Paul Kamenar of the Washington Legal Foundation also has the same view on the death penalty as Professor Haag. He says, “It is not the death penalty but the failure to impose it that demeans the value of innocent human life” (Kronenwetter 32). Capital punishment is morally justified by society; it is also a deterrent to capital offenses because it diminishes some crimes. Capital punishment as a deterrent to capital offenses has been at the center of the debate for numerous years. According to Robert Wolf, “Someone who contemplates murder may be willing to risk a jail sentence, but if faced with the ultimate punishment– the loss of his or her own life–the person may decide that the crime is not worth the risk”(66). The death penalty sends out a message that if a crime is committed then a severe consequence will occur for the perpetrator. For example, in 1975, an economist named Isaac Erhlich published a study to show the deterrent value of the death penalty. From 1932 to 1970, he concluded, “homicides increased while executions declined.” Using mathematical formulas, he also concluded “that each additional execution during that time might have resulted in seven or eight fewer murders” (Baird 126). The threat of capital punishment has not deterred all criminals who committed capital offenses; it has deterred some criminals and prevents some crimes. In the early 1970’s, the Los Angeles Police Department reported interviews conducted with ninety-nine criminals who had not carried lethal weapons in their crimes: Roughly half of the criminals gave fear of the death penalty as the reason for their decision to reject weapons. The others claimed that they it had no effect on them, either because they worried it or because they would have never carried a deadly weapon anyhow. (Kronenwetter 20) Economist Stephen K. Layson published another study of deterrence in 1985: Every execution of a murder deters, on average, eighteen murders. Raising the number of death sentences by one percent would prevent one hundred five murders. However, only thirty-eight percent of all murder cases result in a death sentence, and of those, 0.1 percent are actually executed. (Lowe Internet) The deterrence of crimes continues to be the biggest issue of capital punishment. The execution of a criminal instead of life in prison also raises much controversy in today’s society. It is advantageous for society to execute the perpetrator instead of life in prison. Putting a murderer away for life is not beneficial for society because there is a chance that she will attack again. According to Nancy R. Jacobs, “The government should not waste its money on guarding, feeding, and housing a criminal for the rest of her life” (5). People who truly value public safety demand the death penalty because it prevents the murderer

from repeating her crimes. For example, “Prisoners without parole face, on average, thirty or forty years in prison while the annual cost of incarceration is $40,000 to $50,000 a year for each prisoner or more” (Lowe Internet). The cost of executing criminals can be reduced if only relevant appeals were used to prove their innocence. If the justice system becomes more economical, then millions of taxpayer dollars would be saved each year. Also, the enormous cost can be saved if the legal system stopped treating death in a different way. “They should conduct capital crime trials in the same manner as ordinary criminal cases. The courts need to start defending society; the judges need to be less sympathetic toward the rights of the criminal” (Kronenwetter 30). For example, “Under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Court has been increasingly unsympathetic and even hostile to repeated appeals to the federal courts” (Kronenwetter 30). The issues of cost, morality, and capital punishment as a deterrent to crime are extremely controversial issues that will continue to touch the heart of many people for numerous years. The opponents of capital punishment have a different view on this topic. They feel that killing criminals is a brutal and uncivilized act. The retentionists believe that killing a criminal is just and necessary for decreasing the overwhelming number of crimes. Based on moral issues, the abolitionists believe that killing a person, even a convicted murderer, is not an expression of how much society values human life. They believe in compassion and forgiveness which is practiced by many religions. According to Congressman O. J. Kvale, “The death penalty cheapens human life, and human life should be sacred” (Bender 63). On the other hand, the supporters of capital punishment insist that it is the sacredness of human life itself that demands the death penalty. According to Professor Ernest van den Haag, “The sacredness of human life must be enforced by depriving of life anyone who deprives another person of life” (Kronenwetter 31). Second, the opponents reject the deterrence theory of capital offenses. They perceive that most murders can not be rationally deterred by any penalty, including death. According to Albert Pierrepoint, the legendary British executioner, “The death penalty never once acted as a deterrent in all the jobs I carried out…and I have executed more people than anyone this century” (Baird 125). The retentionists believe it is sufficient that the death penalty deters some criminals and prevents some crimes. The economist Isaac Erlich says, “An additional execution per year…may have resulted, on average, in seven or eight fewer murders” (Kronenwetter 21). Last, the abolitionists argue that it is cheaper to feed, house, and guard a criminal for life than to execute her. In 1995, The Economist magazine cited a study that showed the higher cost of execution. “The study indicated that the cost of trying, convicting, and sentencing a killer to death, plus keeping her on death row for eight years, is two million to three million dollars, which is the same amount it costs to keep three prisoners in a maximum security prison for forty years” (Wolf 68). The supporters of capital punishment perceive that maintaining the death penalty can be reduced if capital crime trials and appeals are conducted in the same manner as everyday criminal cases. They are fighting for “habeas corpus reform” which will reduce the amount of time between sentencing and the execution date. The issue of capital punishment will always remain a controversial topic in the American society. The use of the death penalty represents justice because it demonstrates that human life is sacred. Anyone who takes the life of an innocent victim deserves to die for her crime. Even though capital punishment does not prevent all crimes, it is a necessary tool for deterring some offenses. If the death penalty is not enforced, then people will always use violence as a method of solving disputes. It is the only solution that compensates for the loss of another human being. The execution prevents the perpetrator from repeating her crimes; therefore, the sanctity of the victim’s life is preserved. Last, human life is a precious gift, and nobody has the right to take it away.

Baird, Robert M., and Stuart E. Rosenbaum. Punishment and The Death Penalty. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1995. Bender, David L. The Death Penalty: Opposing Viewpoints. St. Paul: GreenhavenPress, 1986. Jacobs, Nancy R. Capital Punishment: Cruel and Unusual. Wylie: Random House,1994. Kronenwetter, Michael. Capital Punishment. Santa Barbara: Greenhaven Press, 1993. “Wesley Lowe’s Pro Death Penalty Webpage.” 1 Jan 1995. Online.http://www.rit.edu/ wwl2461/cp.html. Wolf, Robert V. Capital Punishment. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers,1997.

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