The survival of any civilization hinges on the establishment of laws and codes of conduct and the subsequent obeying of the same by the society’s members. Because not all members of the society are going to follow the law on their own accord, various forms of punishment for wrongs done may be used both for retribution and deterrence purposes. In the United States, capital punishment accounts for the cruelest forms of retribution for the society’s vicious offences. Death penalty has become a controversial issue since its reinstitution in 1976 in the United States federal laws. With the proponents arguing that, it is the most effective form of crime deterrence. In as much as death penalty serves to enforce the law in the society consequently punishing heinous crimes, it is important to analyze its clash with the ideals of a moral society. This is because any form of killing is not only immoral but an indicator of the flaws in the justice system.
Conversely, its opponents feel that it is unethical and immoral to take somebody’s life because of delivering justice. However, not all people believe that the death sentence is justifiable, notwithstanding the brutality of the crime that a person may have perpetrated. In as much as death penalty serves to enforce the law, it is important to consider its clash with the ideals of morals any given society. In most societies, death penalty clashes with ideals of ethical basis fundamental to the society. For example, in the United States, any form of killing indicates the flawlessness in the judicial system. Besides, it violates of human rights according to most religious teaching that considers it immoral.
Different religious beliefs and legal laws have always presented divergent views as far as death penalty is concerned. Most religious doctrines such as Christianity, Hindu, Jewish and Islamic cultures denounce murder. However, laws that subject a criminals to death presents great challenges to both religious leaders and other members of the society. The moral philosophies perpetuated by legal systems as well as individuals members of different societies and community groups in America consider death penalty as unethical. They claim that such brutal punishments display heights of utter disrespect to human life. This notion indicates that religious bases for condemning death penalty promote the determent of would be criminals since it only upholds the sanctity of life. This puts the religion in conflict with the legal system, which ideally, is the enforcing authority for death penalty. The jury’s verdict to send a convict to the gallows perhaps resolves the problem objectively. The jeopardy of showing certain criminal mercy based on ethics that protects human life may falter and compromise the same goals in a society where people have to live with virtues at all times. If someone commits an offence that carries death penalty, reducing the charges even to manslaughter often compromises the judicial systems efforts to grant justice. Therefore, death penalty is an abhorrent in as much as it serves as the mean to serving justice. For the judge, it provides absolutely no conditions for changing the ruling once the convict is murdered (Owens, Carlson & Elshtain, 2004, p. 248).
America being more of a Christian state, as opposed to any other religion, should observe the Christian doctrines with respect to death penalty. According to the sixth commandment, it is not right for any person to take away the life of the other, because life is sacred. Intentional murder that committed through the death penalty is against the wisdom of Christianity. One of the factors that have led to the church not to effectively fight execution of criminals is the constitutional separation of the church and state as distinct entities. There are established boundaries that limit the church to exercise its authority over death penalty. One of them is with respect to punishing criminals. The church does not have the authority to influence the manner in which the state punishes criminals.
An “eye for an eye” as broadly suggested in the Mosaic laws in Koran that were fronted by Moses has never made right any situation (Delsman, 1998, p. 57). The main purpose of any form of punishment would be to deter future offenders. However, intentional murder of an accused person sends the wrong message to the citizens of any country that practices death penalty as the ultimate punishment. Any justice system seeks to display what is right and what is wrong. Nevertheless, deliberate killing of a person does not solve the problem much. If the judicial system upholds the sanctity of human life then it is not proper for the state to kill another person on the basis that they killed another person. As indicated earlier, this concept sends a confusing message to the rest of the world about how important human life is.
No matter how heinous an act may be, nothing can justify taking away another’s life. Nonetheless, this does not justify the criminal acts of the accused. Intelligent observations show that that most people who commit some of these capital offences have other underlying factors influencing them. Some of them are normally under the influence of drugs that overshadows their rational thinking. Therefore, they commit capital offences without their full conscience (Stearman, 2008, p. 76). In addition, most people who engage in these anti-social activities emerge frequently from unstable families. Perhaps the government should consider ways in which they can improve the upbringing of our children to achieve a morally upright society. It calls for the government to first investigate and try to understand the root cause of the crime. After understanding, the reasons that led to the perpetrator committing the crime it would be possible to determine the course to take in punishing the offender.
Interestingly, the same institutions of justice that formulated the section on human rights are the same that violate this same principle. The human rights section advocates the undeniable right to life. The ordinary human being literary interprets it to mean that every person should live without any threats to their lives whatsoever, until the time of their natural death. However, when passing judgments that sends the defendant to the gallows, the jury does not observe this particular clause in the human rights section. Most jurors base their arguments on the need to uphold the human right to live. The authorities have failed to come up with a clear demarcation of the right to life through laid down legislations and regulations touching on the protection of human rights.
There have been cases of mentally handicapped persons and juveniles sentenced to death. For instance, in 1989, in Penry v Lynaugh, the high court passed that it was unethical to execute mentally handicapped persons as long as they committed murder crimes (Gaile, 2005, p. 12). This seems immoral sense of such judgment defies the opinion most of these people are not usually conscious of their acts or were unable to prevent it. Sentencing them to death penalties does not play any role in curbing crimes among this group. According to psychological researches, juveniles behave like toddlers, because they are still young. Thus, some of their thoughts are impulsive rather than rational. Though most states have reviewed the clause that permits the jury to sentence juveniles to the gallows, some states still uphold it. However, most jury, defend their decisions based on the analysis carried out on the juvenile during the trial (Jones, 2010, p. 213). Yet, as stated earlier most of the juveniles who engage in these heinous acts have a poor upbringing. Most of them grew in violent homes. Therefore, they tend to believe in violence a way of life. The sentencing of mentally retarded people is even more barbaric. Reviewing the cases of mentally retarded criminal has no effect on the initial and existing problem. Though committing heinous crimes is not permissible to anyone, the mentally retarded people are more often than not, unaware of what they are doing. Brought before the jury, they display no signs of remorse simply because they do not have an understanding of the seriousness and consequences of their acts. Perhaps the only solution that would deter the mentally retarded from getting involved in some of this crimes would be to incarcerate them in special homes whereby close supervision and personalized care is provided to each of them.
A society with a high level of literacy has never agreed on one single issue. Each person bears their different way of reasoning and opinions on the same. Away from the ethical and moral issues, most Americans are proponents of the death penalty. According to them, death penalty offers the best solution in terms of deterring future criminals. Due to the value placed on life, no one would commit a crime when fully aware of the penalty awaiting him or her. This has been the argument put forward by the supporters of televised executions. They believe that seeing what happens to the capital offenders rather than just hearing goes a long way in deterring those who would be criminals. The death penalty serves as deterrence especially in cases whereby the criminal feels immune to other forms of punitive and correctional services meted on lawbreakers. However, the sentence does not effectively help the juveniles and the mentally handicapped to reform. Despite them witnessing the execution of death row convicts over the television, most of them do not understand what is going on. This calls for other measures in punishing them.
Though killing the criminal does not bring back the life of their loved one, the emotional fulfillment of the victim’s family cannot be overlooked whatsoever. According to the proponents of the death penalty, families of the victim live in perennial fear of another attack, and convicting the criminal to the gallows brings a profound peace in their lives (Bedau & Cassel, 2004, p.54). They feel that justice prevails. Hence, they can continue with their lives normally. The alternative of the death sentence would be to hand life imprisonment verdicts without parole (Miethe, T. & Lu, H., 2005, p. 215). However, this would mean providing the necessities to these criminals using the taxpayer’s money. This very costly affair eats into the budget of the country because money for other worthy courses such as improving the healthcare system of a country may end up in keep such offenders in police custody.
According to the recent statistics, Texas leads all the other states with 452 executions and 352 death row inmates since 1976, followed by Virginia with 106 executions and 13 death row inmates. The disparity is even greater when compared to the whites populated states such as Washington. According to the opponents of the death sentence, more often than not, an all white jury convicts the Afro-Americans for allegedly committing a crime against a white American. At this, America finds itself at the crossroad of ensuring justice and institutionalizing racism (Allen, Clubb & Lacey, 2008, p.184).
The intensity of pain inflicted upon by the convicts is unjustifiable. This is evident in cases whereby electrocution or death by hanging is used. Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging, and this televised episode just indicated how humiliating the whole concept is. However, the proponents of the death penalty advocate for lethal injection, which they allege to be painless (Walter, 1919, p.89). However, research has proved that administered wrongly, lethal injection can be as painful as electrocution (Zimring & Hawkins, 1989, p 107).
A person remains innocent until proved otherwise by the court of law. Nevertheless, the court has reportedly made irreversible mistakes by sentencing an innocent person to death, only to learn hat the court took the wrong course after a person has already been executed (Jones, 2010, p.36). Reversing the judgment now is useless since an innocent soul has already been lost. The loopholes in the judicial system are wanting.
The death penalty is a severe form of vendetta or vindictive punishment for criminals who committed felonious crimes in any country (Stearman, 2008, p.57). Opponents of the death penalty argue that it is immoral to kill any person despite the crime they have committed. As stated earlier, killing another person as a way of ensuring social justice sends the wrong message to the society. One argument, based in morality, commonly used against the death penalty is that it is an affront to the sanctity of human life.
Perhaps, more than the crimes committed by persons, it is necessary to consider family of the victim would never get their loved one back, or could any amount of money be sufficient to comfort their loss when the accused was killed. Nevertheless, at the same time, it would be an injustice if a person goes free, or with a mild sentence after committing heinous crimes. There needs to be an accurate balance between the degree and extent of crime and the punishment for capital gross offence. It could be in terms of life imprisonment without parole, or something equally drastic. As a matter of fact, Waller (2008, p.108) asserted that life for life is not an appropriate punishment. Generally, the death penalty serves for those who have committed murder. However, death penalty for the murderer is never a re-compensation for the victim’s life.
It is only human for somebody to seek justice for crimes committed against him or her. It is very wrong if the society allowed their emotions to cloud their rational reasoning especially in relation to the death penalty. Matters of life have always been emotional, that is the reason there are many opponents and proponents of the death penalty. In opposing death penalty, it does not necessarily mean that I am very inconsiderate of the victim’s feelings. Nonetheless, the accused is also a human being whose has got feelings and human rights need to be considered.
As much as the jurors look inhuman in the ordinary man’s view, they too have emotions and fears of handing the wrong verdict. Many times, they have convicted innocent victims to death; a ruling that is irreversible once the person dies. In addition, this brings their credibility into disrepute as the whole affair questions their capability. Most of them are religious followers whose doctrines are against taking somebody’s life regardless of the situation. As a result, they find themselves at the crossroads of social justice and moral obligation.
Both the opponents and proponents of the death penalty place their arguments on moral grounds. The proponents of the death penalty argue that if a criminal goes free or worse still handed a more lenient sentence, the society would be plunged into an era of moral decay (Delsman, 1998, p. 67). Criminals and would be criminals would commit heinous crimes knowingly, due to the lack of a strong deterrence. However, the opponents think otherwise. Killing someone as a means of retribution and deterrence is immoral. Executing a defendant, worse still an innocent one, is a form of murder in itself (Waller, 2008, p. 89).
Death penalty continues to draw great controversies among various communities. On the one hand, there are the proponents who argue that its victims deserve to pay for their misdeeds in equal measure. On the other hand, there are the opponents who argue that it is unethical and immoral to take somebody’s life for the sake of delivering justice. In most societies, death penalty clashes with ideals of ethical basis fundamental to the society. Besides, it violates human rights according to most religious teaching that considers it immoral. A case in point here is in the United States where any form of killing symbolizes flawlessness within the judicial system. Opponents of the death [penalty argue that no matter how heinous an act may be, nothing can justify taking away another’s life. Human rights activists who advocate for the undeniable right to life have also echoed similar sentiments. On the other hand, those who are pro death penalty argue that although killing criminals does not bring back the life of their loved one, the emotional fulfillment of the victim’s family cannot be overlooked whatsoever. Without doubt, it is not hard to realize the arguments by both opponents and the proponents of the death penalty hinges on a moral ground. Whereas criminals who take away the lives of others ought to face the full wrath of the law, nonetheless, no justifiable reason can ever be offered for taking another’s life whether through murder or otherwise through the judicial system.
Allen, H., Clubb, J., & Lacey, V. (2008). Race, class, and the death penalty: capital punishment in American history. New York: State University of New York press.
Bedau, H., & Cassell, P. (2004). Debating the death penalty: should America have capital punishment? New York: Oxford University Press.
Delsman, E. (1998). Morality and the death penalty. Amherst: Amherst College.
Gaile, M. (2005). The death penalty: Specific issues. Web.
Jones, S. (2010). Coalition Building in the Anti-Death Penalty Movement: Privileged Morality, Race Realities. New York: Lexington Books.
Miethe, T. & Lu, H. (2005). Punishment: a comparative historical perspective. New York: Cambridge University press.
Owens, E., Carlson, J., & Elshtain, E. (2004). Religion and the death penalty: a call for reckoning. Cambridge: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing.
Stearman, K. (2008). The Debate about the Death Penalty. New York: Rosen Publishing.
Waller, B. (2008). Consider Ethics: Theory, Readings, and Contemporary Issues (2nd ed). New York: Pearson/Longman
Walter, B. (1991). For capital punishment: crime and the morality of the death penalty. California: University Press of America.
Zimring, F., Hawkins, G. (1989). Capital Punishment and the American Agenda. New York: Cambridge University press.