Capital punishment is a heavily debated subject throughout government, religious sectors, and even close to home. There are reasons to support and oppose capital punishment and several different perspectives on these views are examined.
The first argument supporting the death penalty is from the friends and family of the victim for themselves and society. They say the purpose of the death penalty is for retribution and deterrence to other criminals. They use the theory “an eye for an eye” to affirm their vengeance. They use the death penalty as a discharge of the emotions they have towards the criminal. Many go as far as to say that the criminal disrupted order and their death will restore this order. It is argued that without this form of vengeance existing they fear the victim’s friends and family might resort to vigilante justice. Political theorist Walter Berns said,
” A country that does not punish its grave offenses severely thereby indicates that it does not regard them as grave offenses, and if the United States may rightly honor its heroes, it may rightly execute the worst of its criminals.” (Tushnet, 5)
As far as deterrence goes they claim capital punishment would most defiantly act as a deterrent for murders-for-hire.
The next issue that supporters discuss is the constitutionality of the death penalty. They refute the arguments against the 8th amendments “cruel and unusual punishment shall not be inflicted,” as a reason to resist the death penalty. Instead, they point to the fact that the 8th amendment is within the Bill of Rights and the Bill of Rights begins with “Congress shall make no law…” They argue that this amendment is directed towards federal government, not state government where death penalty laws are created. Also, they point out that the 5th amendment was made at the same time and by the same people who wrote the 8th. The Fifth Amendment says “No person shall be held to answer for a capital crime unless on a presentment…..” and it also says ” Nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process.” (Tushnet, 10) Referring to capital punishment and the ability to take ones life in this amendment proves that our founding fathers accepted capital punishment, they argue.
I now address the position supporters make on the risk of wrongful execution of innocent people. The argument is that in this imperfect world, nothing is worth having comes without a risk and after all, far more innocent lives have been taken by convicted murderers than the supposedly 23 innocents mistakenly executed this century. Also, up to 13,000 American citizens are murdered each year by released and paroled criminals. (“Pro Capital Punishment Page”) They believe in the theory that ” One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are statistics.”
Racism is one major factor that has shaped capital punishment into what it is today. Supporters argue that murder has no color, class, or IQ and that a murderer is a murderer. A 1991 Rand Corporation study by Stephen Klien found that white murders received the death penalty slightly more often (32%) than non-white murderers (27%). Also, the study found murderers of white victims received the death penalty more often than murderers of non white victims when controlled for variables such a severity and number of crimes committed, there is no difference in race when it comes to the death penalty. (” Pro Capital Punishment Page”)
The other side of the spectrum has varying opinions when it comes to the feelings of loved ones of the victim. Some say that the death penalty is societies expression of anger and this anger can get out of hand. This can lead to innocent people being killed. In most cases it is found that the anger towards the criminal dissipates as time passes and that the loved ones no longer feel the need to have death for vengeance. As for deterrence, people will murder no matter what consequences may be abolitionist argue. It has even been proven through statistics that some states that currently have the death penalty have a higher murder rate than other areas without the death penalty nonetheless.
Supporters might try to say that capital punishment is less costly for the state than jail time. This however, is not true. Efforts devoted to capital cases are extraordinarily expensive when compared to efforts in non-capital cases. Costs of litigating the murderers are very expensive. Even the costs of maintaining criminals on death row is more costly than maintaining an ordinary criminal.
Prosecutors use in their closing argument typically for jurors to reconsider the death penalty instead of life in prison because of the possibility of a criminal getting off. Two aspects are taken into consideration first the fact that they could escape and also the fact that the Governor could commute a life sentence without a chance of parole to a life sentence with a chance of parole. They also bring up the fact that a murderer could be potentially a large safety threat even in jail. Although it is never noted that the chances of either of these happening are very unlikely. In addition, even people on death row escape and/or have their death sentences commuted. Sociologist Thorsten Sellin said,
” Of the 91 known prison killers in 1964-1965, only 15 were in for capital murder, compared with 28 robbers.” (Tushnet, 3)
Not to mention that by the time appeals are over, criminals have aged and are less likely to commit violent crimes within prison, violent crimes are the young persons occupations.
The last argument abolitionist bring up and there is a large following regarding is the aspect of religion. Religious groups widely reject capital punishment as a moral form of punishment for any crime. They point out that the bible say ” Vengeance is mine, I will repay, Says the Lord.” (Redekop, 37) Most religious people argue that when one is angry we are most vulnerable to the power of evil. While these feelings of anger and vengeance are normal, they should not be acted upon. Christians point out that the sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13 states “Thou shall not kill” they believe this applies to everyone. Whether it is Christianity, Judaism, or Islamic people arguing they all agree that God is to decide how and when revenge will occur and it is not within our own personal jurisdiction.
Whether you are for or against capital punishment there are many interesting and thought provoking arguments that could be made. These particular arguments taken into account the different viewpoints of different activists or people, directly facing the consequences.