Ethical Question: Should capital punishment be used for crimes other than first-degree murder?
Capital punishment has always been one of the most controversial issues. The controversy behind the enactment of capital punishment lies in the perplex of multiple considerations including, race, human dignity, constitutionality, and practical effectiveness in preventing crimes. As the severe constitutional challenge on capital punishment began in the 1970s, one of the pressing questions was whether the judicial system should use it for crimes other than first-degree murders (Karge, 1978). Obtaining a consensus on the integrity and constitutionality of capital death has primarily revolved around interpreting the constitutional ban on the “cruel and unusual punishment” (Karge, 1978, p. 180). Cregg and Georgia case in 1976 has instated that “capital punishment per se was not unconstitutional” (Karge, 1978, p. 187). Later, Coker plurality deriving from the Gregg and Coker case decided that the “ultimate penalty of death” would only be applied to instances of first-degree murders but for no other offense (Karge, 1978, p. 195). Hence, the ambiguous language of the Eighth Amendment added with the subjective considerations of the public and justices challenged the uniform and consistent decision on the subject and extended the debate for decades.
Regarding the definition, the capital penalty can be defined as the state-sanctioned killing of an individual as punishment for crime. It can include multiple methods of execution such as shooting, electrocution, hanging, the lethal injection, among others (Karge, 1978). Nevertheless, capital punishment’s legal and ethical practices are also under continuous discussion and disagreement due to the difficulty of interpreting “cruel and unusual punishment” above. Crimes other than first-degree murders include second-degree, third-degree murders, sexual violence, including rape, child sexual abuse. Hence, the unique difference of first-degree murders from other types of crimes is that they are the practice of killing with the deliberate, intentional plan of killing using the most violent, inhumane methods.
The judicial system should not use capital punishment for crimes other than first-degree murders since it imposes disproportionate level of punishment and violates inherent human dignity.
Reasons in Support of Your Position
Applying the death penalty for all crimes would create a society and legal system that loses fundamental respect for human dignity. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment,” which describes the nature of capital punishment (Stein, 2017, p. 4). Capital punishment is ethically and constitutionally legitimate in first-degree murders since they are within the category of most extreme, brutal crimes committed with inhumane methods. However, crimes other than first-degree murders do not involve the intentional taking of human lives. Hence, given that the intensity of inflicted harm an offender’s intent is different, the punishment should also be proportionate.
Opposing Position Statement
The judicial system should use capital punishment for all crimes, including first-degree murders because the government must provide retribution and justice for victims and their families.
Reasons in Support of the Opposing Position
One of the arguments that proponents of capital punishment emphasize is the government’s obligation to ensure justice for the victims and their families through executing the offender. The urge for retribution is a strong argument supporting the capital penalty since it invigorates a substantial emotional response from the public (Walsh & Hatch, 2018). The public feels that the offender’s mere detention in jails for several years is not a proportionate punishment as execution due to the low intensity of the harm inflicted in the former compared to the latter.
Karge, S. W. (1978). Capital punishment: Death for murder only. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 69(2), 179–196. Web.
Stein, R. A. (2017). The history and future of capital punishment in the United States. San Diego Law Review, 54(1), 1-20. Web.
Walsh, A., & Hatch, V. L. (2018). Capital punishment, retribution, and emotion. New Criminal Law Review, 21(2), 267-290.