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Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper

The most severe of all sentences, known as the death penalty, capital punishment is the most severe form of corporal punishment as it is 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. An Eye for and eye, a life for a life, who has never heard of the famous lex talionis? We use it in reference to burglary, adultery, love and many other situations. However, some people use it on a different level, some people use it in reference to death. 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. We have a certain privilege on our own lives, but do the lives of others belong to us as well? 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? Can justice justify our acts? Those who assist in the death penalty are they not partners in crime? With the increase in crime and violence in our society, how does the death penalty affect a North American family.

Use of the death penalty has declined throughout the industrial Western World since the 19th century. In 1972, movement in America to have the death penalty declared unconstitutional during the landmark case of Furman v. Georgia, which declared the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment. However, after a Supreme Court decision in 1975, Gregg v. Georgia, which stated capital punishment did not violate the eighth Amendment, executions commenced again under state supervision. (Bedau, 1975, 3-4)

There are four major issues in the capital punishment debate, the first being deterrence. A 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 outweigh 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. (Bender, 1985, 11)

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. During highly publicized death penalty cases the homicide rate is found to go down but it goes back up when the case is over. (Guernsey, 1994, 42)

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