Capital punishment remains one of the most controversial topics in the United States. According to Palmer, there are many reasons why death sentence was introduced as the best way of addressing some form of crime. However, there are those who are strongly against capital punishment. In this research paper, the goal is to present both arguments for and against this sentence.
Argument in Support of Capital Punishment
Proponents of capital punishment have presented various reasons why it is the most appropriate way of punishing specific offenders. One of the reasons is necessary and still practiced in some states is that it is considered a deterrent to some form of crimes. Harris and Bodden explain that even some of the worst psychopaths and narcissists in society are afraid of the death penalty. When society is aware that some specific crimes are only punishable by death, people will avoid engaging in such crimes. Although the punishment is stiff and may be viewed by other members of society as being unfair, it eliminates the possible incentive that an individual may have to commit crimes such as murder or raping of a child. It means that society will be safer as the vast majority of the population will avoid such crimes for fear of capital punishment.
Some forms of crime only deserve death penalty as the most appropriate punishment. Sullivan gives the case of Theodore Robert Bundy, who is believed to have raped, tortured, and murdered over 30 women and young girls. When the evidence against him became overwhelming, he confessed to the numerous murders. So cruel were the murders that many jury members struggled to listen to the accounts as he narrated them. He would target young defenseless girls and women and cut their lives short ruthlessly after sexually assaulting them. Bundy was sentenced to death and executed through electrocution on January 24, 1989 (Cowton 35). The jury was convinced that it was the only appropriate punishment for the crimes he committed.
When a criminal is given a life sentence, there is always the fear that they will find their way back to society. It may be through a presidential pardon or bold prison breaks, as has been witnessed in the past (Sarat 42). When one becomes a serial killer, such as Pedro Lopez or John Wayne Gacy, they get to derive some form of satisfaction from such crimes. Sarat explains that they no longer kill to rob a person or commit other crimes. Instead, they commit murder because it becomes a form of pleasure. When such individuals are released back to the community, for any reason whatsoever, they are likely to kill again. It does not make sense to allow someone who is already confirmed to be capable of planning and executing such heinous crimes to go back to society. The only sure way of ensuring that such threats are permanently eliminated is to execute such criminals.
Cost is another factor that has always been considered in the debate about the need for capital punishment. According to Steiker and Steiker, the cost of holding an individual in a high security prison can be as high as $ 70,000 per year. It includes the constant security they have to be subjected to, the kind of food they eat, their medication, and other costs meant to ensure that they remain safe but unable to escape. The average income in the country over the same period is $54,132 (Harris and Bodden 61). It does not make economic sense to spend such money on a criminal who has been found guilty of a heinous crime. Taxpayers, including families of individuals affected by these crimes, should not be subjected to the burden of caring for the criminals.
There is always the need to serve justice to the victims of heinous crimes. Palmer explains that the pain of losing a loved one in brutal murders is often too great to bear. Given opportunity, some family members would want to revenge such deaths. It is easy for someone who has never been a victim of these crimes to criticize death penalty because there is always the belief that such misfortunes may not befall them. When it does, however, then death penalty becomes the most just way of avenging the murder. It becomes sensible to take the life of a person who took a life.
Arresting some of these serial killers poses a great threat to the law enforcement agencies. According to Palmer, the United States has lost thousands of law enforcement agents in the line of duty over the last few decades. It is natural for these hardened criminals to do everything within their powers to avoid being arrested and taken to court and finally prison. It explains why some of the worst rapists and armed robbers choose to murder their victims because they want to eliminate incriminating evidence against them (Harris and Bodden 27). The police are risking their lives to hunt down and finally arrest and arraign in court a dangerous criminal. If such individuals are allowed back to the community, which is always possible for various reasons irrespective of the length of their sentence, then lives of the officers will be in greater danger. Some of these criminals will make deliberate efforts to hunt police officers who arrested them and attack them or their family members. The only way of ensuring the safety and boosting morale of these officers would be to execute criminals believed to have committed the worse offenses.
Argument Against Capital Punishment
A section of the society is strongly opposed to capital punishment for various reasons. Magnuson explains that not all those who are found guilty in a court of law committed such offenses, and the case of George Stinney Jr. is a perfect example. The young boy was denied a fair trial and the biased jury only took about 10 minutes to find the 14-year-old guilty of multiple murders. Neither the defense nor the prosecution team bothered to determine if the boy had the capacity to commit the offense. He was sentenced to death and executed through electrocution soon after (Goran and Schabas 56). It later emerged that he was not guilty and in a retrial, the judge vacated the conviction. However, it was too late to save him. Such injustices are common in a society where racial discrimination is still a major social problem.
Death penalty tends to make some criminals more brutal when engaging in unlawful activities. Kucuradi argues that even the worst criminals tend to fear death. When they are aware that a given crime is likely to earn them capital punishment, then they are likely to be more brutal in their actions. They would want to eliminate anything that may lead investigators back to them. In such cases, they are likely to kill their victims or witnesses even if that was not their original intention. It means that this form punishment will be exposing members of the public to greater danger instead of eliminating or reducing the threat.
Some critics of death penalty argue that it is an inhumane practice that should not be tolerated in the modern society. According to Magnuson, capital punishment remains the most barbaric practice in the criminal justice system. This form of punishment achieves no meaningful goal. Statistics have shown that death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. Ryan and Possley give the example of Missouri, which is one of the states with the highest executions since 1976. It is strange that such a state is also ranked as having some of the highest cases of crime in the country, some of which are violent (Yost 29). These statistics discredits arguments put forth by proponents of capital punishment who wrongfully state that this form of punishment deters individuals from engaging in some form of crime. In some cases, it achieves the opposite of what was expected.
Executing a death penalty exposes the officers involved to immense mental torture. Kucuradi explains that putting a person to death through poison, electrocution, or any other form, poses a great challenge. Sometimes all does not go as planned and the executioner has to witness the pain and suffering the individual goes through before they die. It is common for the executioner and the criminal to engage in a conversation and even develop a bond within that short period. The fact that they have to proceed with the execution may expose them to emotional torture. Goran and Schabas believe that most of these executioners have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They have to live with the emotional pain of having taken away the life of another person.
Capital punishment is the most extreme punishment that any offender can get. However, the number of those opposed to death penalty is just as high as those who support it. There is a need for a further public discourse to determine if the country should completely abolish this form of punishment.
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Goran, Franck, and William Schabas. The Barbaric Punishment: Abolishing the Death Penalty. BRILL, 2004.
Harris, Duchess, and Valerie Bodden. Capital Punishment. Abdo Publishing, 2020.
Kucuradi, Ioanna. The Death Penalty: Justice or Revenge? Lit Verlag, 2020.
Magnuson, Ken. Invitation to Christian Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues. Kregel Academic, 2020.
Palmer, Louis. Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment in the United States. 2nd ed., McFarland & Company Inc., 2020.
Ryan, George, and Maurice Possley. Until I Could Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois. Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.
Sarat, Austin. The Death Penalty on the Ballot: American Democracy and the Fate of Capital Punishment. Cambridge University Press, 2019.
Steiker, Carol, and Jordan Steiker. Comparative Capital Punishment. Edward Elgar Publishing 2019.
Sullivan, Kevin. The Bundy Murder: A Comprehensive History. 2nd ed., McFarland & Company Inc., 2020.
Yost, Benjamin. Against Capital Punishment. Oxford University Press, 2019.