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The most severe of all sentences is in fact the death penalty. Also known as capital punishment, it’s the most severe form of corporal punishment as it requires law enforcement officers to kill the offender. It has been banned in many countries, in the United States, an earlier move to eliminate capital punishment has now been reversed and more and more states are resorting to capital punishment for serious offenses such as murder. Like they say: An Eye for and eye, or a life for a life as it applies in this case. The Bible mentions it, and people have been using it regularly for centuries. One steals from those who have stolen from him, one wrongs those who have wronged him, but do we really have the right to kill those who have killed. Today, there is a big controversy over capital punishment whether or not it works, or if it is morally right. Do we have the right to decide the kind of lives others can or cannot live? We find someone guilty of murder and sentence him to death, does that not make murderers out of ourselves? Those who assist in the death penalty are they not partners in crime? Is the death penalty a “Cruel and Unusual” punishment or is it now a necessary tool in the war on crime? With the increase in crime and violence in our society, how does the death penalty affect a North American family. There are three major issues in the capital punishment debate, the first being deterrence, the second being retribution and the last is the danger of mistake.
A major purpose of criminal punishment is to prevent 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. 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. Studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been conducted for several years, with varying results. Most of these 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 it would prove to be the crime deterrent it was partly intended to be.
The second issue in the capital punishment debate is retribution. The need for society to express sufficient condemnation for heinous 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 “eye for an eye” principle when an individual takes a life, society’s moral balance will remain upset until the killer’s life is also taken. 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, one source said, “…in recent years the appeal of deterrence has been supplanted by a frank desire for what large majorities see as just vengeance.”
The third debate is the danger of mistake. In the past, there were many people wrongfully executed for crimes that they did not commit all in the name of justice. It has happened that after the execution of the alleged guilty party, the real murderer confessed to elevate his guilty conscience. 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 a few. 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. With stories of people like Rolando Cruz, released after 10 years on Illinois’s death row, despite the fact that another man had confessed to the crime shortly after his conviction.
Now, there are safeguards guaranteeing protection of those facing the death penalty. These safeguards are: The defendant can not be insane, and the man’s real or criminal intent must be present. Also, minors very rarely receive the death penalty because they are not fully mature and might not know the consequences of their actions. Finally the mentally retarded are very seldom executed. The reason for not executing the retarded is that they often have difficulty defending themselves in court, have 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. It costs a lot more to keep a prisoner on death row than it would be to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives. The expense comes from the long drawn out appeals process that we are giving our criminals, and the court appointed attorneys that the poor are receiving. However, it is also a form of insurance that the criminal will never commit another crime again.
Of course, a person may think it’s immoral to kill someone no matter what they have done. How can this be called punishment if no lesson is taught, right? 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. It is important that 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 and more funds for the government to spend elsewhere. 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. No executed murderer has ever killed again.
1- Death Penalty Information Center
2- Kessler, Gary.ed. Voices of Wisdom: A Multicultural Philosophy Reader, “The Death Penalty”, Second Edition, Belmont: Wadsworth, 1995.
3- Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 16, “Crime and Punishment”, pages 812-813, 15th Edition, 1989.
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