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Capital Punishment Essay, Research Paper

A Permanent Death – Capital Punishment

There are five basic reasons that society uses when imposing “punishment” that I’ve been able to conclude from my readings. I will discuss these societal concepts and show that the death penalty does not serve to further them. As a result William Smith should not be subject to the death penalty and in fact the same should be abolished from our system of “punishment”.


Deterrence is basically defined as “the punishment should fit the crime.” Under this concept, the individual committing the crime and society are prevented from committing this action again. In the case of the death penalty, an individual kills another human and he is “punished” for it by death. Punishment is supposed to be a temporary penalization for a wrongful action. Death is far from temporary. One is to learn from one’s mistakes. How can the person learn if they are paying for their mistake with their life? In Ernest van den Haag’s article, “The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense” he states, “The death penalty is our harshest punishment. It is irrevocable: it ends the existence of those punished, instead of temporarily imprisoning them.” (Haag, 251). By imposing the death penalty the individual does not learn from their mistakes and neither does society.


Under this concept, punishment should be economical. As Haag points out, “…the monetary cost of appealing a capital sentence is excessive.” (Haag, 253). Further, “…actual monetary costs are trumped by the importance of doing justice.” (Haag, 253). Additionally there are specific costs associated with keeping an inmate on death row, (i.e. the cost of the specially built prison blocks, the need for maximum security, etc.) and more. These costs clearly out weigh the regular costs incurred to house a regular inmate. Deterrence is clearly not served by imposing the death penalty and society aims for justice are thwarted.


Society demands that the punishment should fix the harm it has done. By sentencing a person to death no harm has been fixed. You can not bring the murdered person back by taking the prisoner’s life. “Punishment-regardless of the motivation is not intended to revenge, offset, or compensate for the victims suffering or to be measured by it.” (Haag, 253).


The community demands that justice be served. Would justice not equally be served and in fact may be better served by life imprisonment? I believe it would be a worse punishment to endure a life sentence in prison. The individual is deprived of his liberty. He will then suffer and live the rest of his or her life within three lonely walls and a set of bars. It gives the individual time to think and wallow in his own guilt.

Someone kills another. The State then proceeds to kill him for doing so. This is not punishment but revenge. Revenge is inconsistent with society’s demands that justice be served because the punishment has to fit the crime. Justice Brennan has insisted that the death penalty is “uncivilized, ” “inhuman,” inconsistent with “human dignity” and with the “dignity of life.” (Haag, 254). Brennan speaks of moral imperatives. It is morally wrong for someone to kill someone. If so, then the state is committing a morally wrongful act. As they say, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”


Society desires for its members to reintegrate themselves into society. Punishment includes preparing the person to reenter society and lead a productive life. Without doubt, if you impose the death penalty there is no opportunity for rehabilitation.

Overview of the William Alvin Smith case

William Alvin Smith robbed and killed the owner of a grocery store in Georgia when he was 20 years old. He turned himself to the police and signed a confession. The local jury condemned Smith to the electric chair but a federal judge ordered a new sentencing hearing for Smith on the grounds that he lacked the ability to understand the significance of waiving his rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present. Smith has the mental capacity of a ten-year-old.

Analysis of the William Alvin Smith Case in Relation to Society’s Expectations of Punishment

William Smith stands before you guilty but guilty of what? That is the question. I propose to you that the only thing we can condemn William Smith for is being guilty of being a child and acting the way a child would. Let us examine his actions. William Smith in whatever state of mind he was at the time he committed this act fully acknowledged that he did in fact do something wrong. I propose that he did that in exactly the manner that a child would go to a parent and admit their wrongdoing in order to obtain the parent’s forgiveness or perhaps their help.

The State now stands in the role of parent in this case. Let us examine the position the State has taken when dealing with children that have committed violent crimes. I have but one question to ask: Do we kill our children? Let me give you a recent example – the teenage girl in New Jersey who knowingly and premeditatedly murdered her newborn baby at the prom and then went back to the prom dance. Another case comes to mind of the teenagers who conspired and did murder the girlfriend’s “competition.” An even better example would be the rash of murders committed in the nation by children in schools. In all these cases these children knowingly committed the heinous crime of murder.

Once again I ask you: Do we kill our children? Has the State, exercising its discretion decided to impose the death penalty on any child? In every single case that I have just cited, these children have not been condemned to murder but their ability to comprehend the seriousness of their actions and other factors related to their youth have been taken into account. All have been sentenced to prison terms to be served in a youth facility.

Another legal fact comes to mind in that some teenagers that have committed murders have petitioned the Court to treat the minor as an adult. The law allows a juvenile to be treated as an adult if it is determined that the juvenile in fact is a juvenile in age only yet has the mental capacity of an adult and should be treated like one. It stands to reason that there is room in the law for the inverse to apply.

Why should this man die? He can not think, act or feel like a “normal” 20 year-old man. In this case, we have a situation of a person who has been adjudicated to have the mental capacity of a ten-year-old. How can we then shut our eyes to this basic fact of William Smith’s mental capacity and just look at age as the overriding factor to consider when punishing him for his crime?

Society demands that the punishment fit the crime. I have outlined above what society expects from punishment and the punishment that the State decides to give out to children in these matters. On both accounts it is clear that society is not served. Can you examine your conscience and decide to give a child, maybe your child, the death penalty? If so, go ahead and sentence William Smith to death and in doing so, that’s exactly what you will be doing. You will be deciding – let’s kill our children.

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