Why the Death Penalty Is Wrong

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Capital punishment has posed a moral dilemma that is attracting conflicting opinions from various scholars. Capital punishment is based on the assumption that justice for particular offenses can only be attained by putting the prospective perpetrator to death. In modern times, capital offenses usually comprise murder, crimes against humanity, genocide, and attempted coup, aircraft hijacking, drug trafficking, sedition, child sexual abuse, among other violations. Death sentences have left many unanswered questions: Do some humans have the right to deprive others of life? Are there humane ways to kill people? This essay will reach a considered conclusion in which the case will be made that capital punishment is unethical. First, death sentences are archaic practices that can lead to the execution of blameless citizens. Second, executions deny the victims of capital offenses their right to justice. Finally, death penalties go against almost every established religion and are thus unethical. Death penalties must be abolished to prevent the murders of innocent individuals.

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Empirical evidence supports the fundamental premise that capital punishment can be wrong, thus leading to innocent people’s execution. Death laws were formulated in the early 18th century B.C, having been found in the Hammurabi code of law (Berlin 26). During the 18th century B.C, a person could be executed for trivial crimes such as theft or perjury depending on their social status. It was not until the early seventeenth century, during the colonial period, that these capital punishment laws were introduced to the United States (Stinneford 662). During the colonial period, mere offenses such as stealing grapes from a white man’s farm or striking one’s parents were punishable by death (Stinneford 663). In the twenty-first century, several states in the United States, including Maryland and New York, have implemented statutory bans on judicial murder (McLeod 1139). More rigorous studies indicate that “the United States has experienced a significant decline in the death penalty during the first part of the twenty-first century” (Jones 226). After the introduction of DNA testing, more death-row prisoners have been exonerated. Since evidence shows death penalties might be wrong, most proponents of capital punishment have reconsidered their moral stance (McLeod 659). In the 21st century, capital punishment has been deemed outdated.

Capital punishment, having its roots in the early human civilizations, is a barbaric practice that has no place in modern society. It is irrational to indulge in a serious crime such as murder to prevent it (McLeod 1157). Compared to other crimes, rapists are not subjected to rape as a punishment or thieves punished by theft (Jones 252). Apart from that, killing someone for a crime they have committed is an act of retaliation instead of justice (McLeod 1117). In most cases, the relevant authorities avoid carrying out investigations to reach a fair judgment and wrongfully convict the defendants (Jones 230). It is immoral since, in the case of new evidence to acquit the accused, there is no possible way to bring them back to life (McLeod 1118). As a result, injustice is a significant concern that has been associated with death sentences.

Execution denies the victims of the capital offense their right to justice. Putting the accused person to death only provides false consolation to the victims of that crime (Sarat et al. 769). Most victims do not support the cruel punishment inflicted on the criminals by the relevant authorities (Sarat et al. 769). What is important to them is finding the truth and seeing those involved being held responsible in a fair hearing (Sarat et al. 769). This form of justice is contrary to various religious teaching.

Moreover, it is important to note that capital punishment goes against religious beliefs and moral values. Modern religions regard life as the most fundamental moral entitlement (Jones 237). Although in the past Catechism of the Catholic endorsed capital punishment, it was to be practiced under one condition: being the only possible and effective way to protect human life (McLeod 1187). Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, is famously known for firmly declaring the death sentence inadmissible (McLeod 1150). According to religion and ethics, it is unethical to violate the sanctity of life (McLeod 1150). As such, more ethical and rational methods of punishment should be used.

Capital punishment is based on a flawed assumption that subjecting the culprits to death can reduce future crimes. However, there is no scientific proof that the death penalty can prevent wrongdoings (Stinneford 681). As stated by Stinneford, “for more than half a century, academic commentators have criticized the Supreme Court for failing to articulate a substantial constitutional conception of criminal law” (653). In drug trafficking, the death penalty has been rendered ineffective (Stinneford 698). According to Stinneford, murders in drug trafficking cannot be reduced by threatening those involved with execution (698). The reason is that these people have already risked their lives by competing with other drug dealers (Stinneford 698). There is a growing importance for the abolition of the death penalty. Since execution is both unfeasible and inhuman, the government should implement new possible approaches to capital crimes.

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An incapacitation is an alternative form of punishment, even though it may limit most of the criminal’s rights. Most importantly, it protects the offender’s fundamental right to life (McLeod 1142). The person sentenced to death is incarcerated and awaits the execution date in a special cell (McLeod 1163). As stated by McLeod, “the idea that execution may be justified to prevent further violence by dangerous prisoners is often ignored in death penalty commentary” (1123). Incapacitation is, as such, one of the less cruel forms of punishment. Moreover, it allows for further investigations to be conducted regarding the offense, such as determining the criminal’s mental state.

Famous criminal activities have been associated with individuals suffering from severe mental problems. Such criminals will likely commit offenses without premeditating their consequences (McLeod 1172). In this regard, rehabilitation is one of the most workable means to stop many capital crimes (McLeod 1181). It is usually a sentence tailored to positively alter the offender’s personality, beliefs, and values (McLeod 1128). Unlike deterrence which relies upon the fear of execution, rehabilitation provides psychological treatment and education to lower the probability of future criminality (McLeod 1128). As many studies have indicated, rehabilitation is the most humane objective of retribution.

In sum, the above research demonstrates how unethical capital sentence is. The proponents of capital punishment argue that it is ethical to deprive some people of life as long as it helps society live peacefully. However, empirical research shows that the death sentence is based on a faulty premise that murder can deter criminals. Most religions have regarded such practice as utterly wrong. Death sentences can also lead to the execution of innocent citizens considering that DNA evidence has been used in the past to exonerate death-row prisoners. Since this research is limited to moral perspectives, further studies should be conducted to understand the death penalty’s psychological effect on death-row prisoners.

Works Cited

Berlin, Adele. “Numinous Nomos: On the Relationship between Narrative and Law.” A Wise and Discerning Mind: Essays in Honor of Burke O. Long, edited by Saul M. Olyan and Robert C. Culley, Brown Judaic Studies, Providence, Rhode Island, 2020, pp. 25–32. JSTOR. Web.

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Jones, Ben. “The Republican Party, Conservatives, and the Future of Capital Punishment.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 108, no. 2, 2018, pp. 223–252. JSTOR. 

McLeod, Marah Stith. “The Death Penalty as Incapacitation.” Virginia Law Review, vol. 104, no. 6, 2018, pp. 1123–1198. JSTOR.

Sarat, Austin, et al. “The Rhetoric of Abolition: Continuity and Change in the Struggle Against America’s Death Penalty, 1900-2010.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), vol. 107, no. 4, 2017, pp. 757–780. JSTOR.

Stinneford, John F. “Punishment without Culpability.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 102, no. 3, 2012, pp. 653–723. JSTOR.

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