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Analytical Essay

Death Penalty


In my analysis of A Case Against The Death Penalty by Hugo Adam Bedeau, the author discussed his views on the ethics of capital punishment. He identified eight arguments in his defense against this topic. The author s most compelling arguments were in deterrence, unfairness, inevitability of error and barbarity. I will oppose the author arguments against the death penalty. Specifically, I will argue that (1) justice must be served independent of the debates listed or argued and (2) that our society does not have a place for those individuals who circumvent the laws of civilized nations.

In the summary and critique of Bedau s view, I will argue that his viewpoint on the topic of death penalty is more hypothetically based on a utopian idea of humankind. I will state the opposing view that the death penalty is a matter of justice and equality for our society. I will place my focus purely on the cited examples and that the author may have a very compelling insight for a case against the death penalty but I believe that the loss of innocent lives through malicious and violent or evil acts MUST be respected by bringing the charged felon closer to his maker for final judgment.


The author s most compelling arguments are based on four issues that stir the debate between the pros and cons on the topic of capital punishment and the death penalty. One of the most often cited arguments is that of deterrence. The major purpose of criminal punishment is to deter 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 crimes. Most criminals would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives was at stake. That if attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts a positive moral influence by placing a stigma on certain crimes like manslaughter, resulting in attitudes of disgust and horror to such acts (McCuen, 1985). Bedau states that the facts to support this claim do not exist. He says that the death penalty fails as a deterrent for the following reasons: (1) Capitol punishment could be an effective deterrent if it were administered consistently and promptly; which because of due process cannot. (2) Those that cause premeditated violent crimes are ordinarily concentrating of escaping detection anyway so it would not deter them. As for those crimes not considered premeditated; those individuals are usually highly charged with emotional stress and logical thinking is not a conscious thought, so the threat is not a viable one.

The second issue in the capital punishment debate is unfairness. The author sites several statistical reference to the past in which African Americans were the most discriminated race in regards to capitol punishment and the death sentence. With the cultural acceptance of multiply races and racial discrimination laws, we would think that we as a society have stepped up to equality. However, the author states that there is still a disproportionately large fraction of black minorities on death row today. Both sex and socio-economical class are also factors that play into the determination of who is sentenced to death and executed. Approximately, ninety percent of those on death row could not afford to hire a lawyer when the were tried. (Tabak, 1989)

The third issue in this debate is the danger of mistake or inevitability of error. The unique thing about the death penalty is that it is final and irreversible. Since 1970, 77 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. In this country alone since the 1900 s, there have been an average of more than four cases per year in which an entirely innocent person was convicted of murder. “No matter how careful courts are, the possibility 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.” –J. Marshall (Bailey,)

These wrongful deeds have been a crime in and of itself. Oftentimes, the sentencing is due to overzealous prosecution, mistaken or perjured testimony, faulty police work, coerced confessions, the defendant s previous criminal record, inept defense counsel, seemingly conclusive circumstantial evidence, community pressure for a conviction, or a host of other reasons that flaw the justice system.

On a forth note for the case against the death sentence, the author describes how the traditional modes of execution, no matter what method is chosen, is barbaric in nature.

There have been seven main types of execution throughout history; hanging, firing squad, guillotine and then there was garroting, one of the more recent types is electrocution and finally there is Lethal injection. These last two methods were enacted to bring about humanness to the executions; however know one really knows how painless this method really is.


Bedeau s viewpoints as statistically stated are not argued. He basis his statements on research and provides sound judgment with his examples. The error of statistical reporting is that any researcher can prove his or her point by this type of data analysis. I will site some statistical data as well to prove another point. However right or wrong this topic is one cannot take away the emotional pain one suffers from the wrong doing of the criminal event. Bedeau s article does not bring the emotionally charged viewpoint, which is what I will concentrate on in arguing this topic.

The death penalty effectively saves lives that is, that by executing murderers you prevent them from murdering again. This in effect represents this potential murderer s who did not murder under specific circumstances because of their fear of execution. Several studies throughout the last 30 years have revealed just the opposite of Bedeau s conclusions and statistical data that execution does deter future criminal acts.

The moral imperative though is that even if the opposite were true and we did not execute for capital punishment crimes, we have erred on the side of another potential killing. The test for deterrence is not whether executions produce lower murder rates; but that executions produce fewer murders than if the death penalty did not exist. For example, the fact that the state of Delaware executes more people per capita (1/87,500) than any other state and has a murder rate 16 times lower than Washington, D.C. (5/100,000 vs. 78.5/100,000) is not proof, per se, that the death penalty deters murder in Delaware or that the lack of the death penalty escalates murders and violent crimes in Washington, D.C., which has the highest violent crime and murder rates in the U.S. (Sharp, 1997). Of the roughly 52,000 state prison inmates serving time for murder in 1984, an estimated 810 had previously been convicted of murder and had killed 821 persons following their previous murder convictions. Executing each of these inmates would have saved 821 lives. (Stanford Law Review, 1988). Using a 75% murder clearance rate, it is most probable that the actual number of lives saved would have been 1026, or fifty times the number legally executed that year. This suggests that some 10,000 persons have been murdered, since 1971, by those who had previously committed additional murders (JFA, 1995). So, if we err on any side of this debate of deterrence, lets err on the side of saving innocent life and not sacrificing them.

A strategy of death penalty opponents is to use propaganda to nurture hatreds and mistrust between race and class. Some researchers have found just the opposite of Bedeau s statements, for example: (1) In the most extensive study of the economics of death row inmates, it was shown that, while 74% of Georgia murderers were poor, on 38% of those on Georgia s death row were poor (Sharp, 1997); (2) the majority of those n death row are white (NAACP, 1996); (3) white murderers, no matter who they kill, are more likely to get the death penalty than black murderers (11.1% to 7.3%). Furthermore, whites that kill whites are slightly more likely to be on death row than blacks that kill whites. Finally, whites who kill blacks are slightly more likely to be on death row than blacks who kill whites. (Talor, 1992). Overwhelmingly, sentencing studies show that the offender s prior criminal record and the aggravated nature of the crime are the key factors in making imprisonment decisions (GAO, 1994).

In light of the possibilities of a wrongful conviction, it would be difficult to name a single sphere of human activity that has not been marred on some occasion by a deplorable mishap; capital punishment is not the exception. But, as G. Edward Griffin reminds us in The Great Prison Break: If we design a legal system that will be so generous to the suspect that there is absolutely no possibility of unjustly convicting that one out of ten thousand defendants who, in spite of overwhelming evidence, is really innocent, then we have also designed a legal system that is utterly incapable of convicting the other 9999 about whose guilt there is no mistake. (Lee, 1990). Critics of the death penalty would love to have us lose sleep over worrying about the possibility of convicting the wrong individual through our misguided legal system, however, do they shed any tears for the demonstrably large number of innocent people who have died due to judicial leniency and erroneous psychiatric evaluations of these offenders?

On the last issue barbarity of methods used in the death penalty, my only thought is of the many methods these convicted felons chose to murder their victims. Did any of their victims have any choices on the method of death, cruel or unusual? If in fact these criminals were convicted and sentenced to die by a jury of their peers after hearing all evidence based on the case, then these criminals deserve to die by what ever methods are available at the time they walk down the green mile towards their death. I would vote for a method that is less spectacular for the viewers, however that should be left to the state carrying out the sentencing.


The author provided great forethought and just reasons in his article on The Case Against the Death Penalty. I would tend to agree on most issues, however, my deepest emotional level could not side with a non-executionary sentencing if I had suffered a loss of a loved one from the cruelty of a senseless murderer. Of course, a person may think it is immoral to kill someone no matter what they have done. In my opinion, the only way for justice to be served is to have the criminal pay with their life, ” an eye for an eye.” Many people believe that capital punishment does not belong in a civilized society. I believe it is needed because we do not live in a civilized society, if we did there would be no crime. We live in a day and age where killing happens everyday, and many get away with it. Those who do get caught, don’t stay in a jail cell for the rest of their live. If we could rid our streets of murderers, it could mean a safer place for everyone. Men and women could feel safer jogging or doing errands at night. Single women could feel safer in their homes. Children could feel safe playing in their yards.

More than 130 years ago, the eminent philosopher John Stuart Mill spoke eloquently on this issue: Does fining a criminal show want of respect for property or imprisoning him, for personal freedom? Just as unreasonable is it 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, most emphatically our regard for it, by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself.

In our understandable desire to be fair and to protect the rights of offenders in our criminal justice system, let us never ignore or minimize the rights of their victims. The death penalty is a necessary tool that reaffirms the sanctity of human life while assuring that convicted killers will never again prey upon others (Bradbury).

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