Capital punishment implies the death penalty and has been used over the ages in punishing people for the commission of different offenses. The Bible has also advocated the death penalty for offenses and crimes such as witchcraft, kidnapping, and murder. The death penalty has become a matter of intense debate with the increasing dominance of human rights groups in every part of the world. Those who are against the death penalty stress the possibility of innocent people being sentenced to death while those in favor emphasize that deterrent punishment must be given to creating the impression in society that such criminals cannot be allowed to remain alive. Presently the issue of the death penalty or capital punishment is hotly debated in the Criminal Justice System. Capital punishment was widely prevalent in the USA until 1972 when it was declared as being against the constitution of the country in violation of the 8th and 14th amendments and in being an unusual and cruel form of punishment or deterrent. The Supreme Court, however, in 1976, went back on its prior judgment in this regard and restored the death penalty in all but 13 states of the USA.
It is much more rational and equitable to legalize the death penalty in all the fifty states of the US instead of abolishing it. It is essential to implement the death penalty since it will deter people from engaging in the act of murder. By sentencing the murderer to death, the crime is put to an end and results in giving peace of mind to the families of victims. The abolition of the death penalty will further create the potential for the criminal to escape and kill again.
Death penalty; deterrent for murder, a boon for society
People who argue that the death penalty should be abolished claim that not much is accomplished in putting a criminal on death row. They say that since the victim is no longer alive, he cannot be brought back and that the act of murder is committed when the criminal is high on passion which does not make him prone to being fearful of being sentenced to death. They also claim that if the death penalty deters murderers, the incidents of such crimes would have been reduced drastically in states where the practice continues, but it is not so. Above all, some examples are cited whereby innocent people have been convicted and their death makes the very purpose of justice a matter of ridicule.
According to Frank Carrington (1978), there is no need for any of the proponents to prove whether the death penalty proves to be a deterrent for the murderer. He says it is common sense in making the case for the death penalty in examining the fact that if the penalty for murder is made less severe and then the numbers of murders increase, it is a justification to implement the death penalty. States, where the death penalty was abolished, have seen an increase in the occurrences of murders which makes the case for the death penalty stronger. There has been a clear tendency of increased criminal activities because too much leniency is being shown while more and more people are being victimized. Criminals can find loopholes in the system which has led to a drastic increase in the crime rate. An increasing number of people are being robbed, raped, murdered, and kidnapped, and in committing such felonies it means that criminals do so as a matter of their free will since anybody is not forced to commit such crimes. The normal citizen does not intend to become a murderer or to be falsely implicated in a murder case, but he is fearful and most concerned about becoming a victim.
Some protagonists have argued that the death penalty does not result in being a deterrent for murderers. But according to Baily (1990) who conducted a study in this regard, the introduction of the death penalty has proved to be a deterrent in 27 states. The number of murders in the country increased by 100% after a moratorium was put on death penalties in the US. The study also found that in countries that had abolished the death penalty, there was an increase of 7% in the number of murders. It is known that on average a murder convict spends about ten years on death row because of the justice appeals not being swift enough. Thus most murder convicts come to believe that in all probability they may never be put to death. Hence there is a case for the murder penalty to be carried out swiftly in making it inevitable which would lead to a decline in the number of homicidal incidents.
People have an instinct to be fearful of death which makes it an inherent trait in humans to think twice about the consequences of their actions. If the criminal does not think about the crime consciously, he will think about the consequences in an unconscious manner. It is like this that if a murderer knew that if he kills someone he too would surely die, the number of homicides would certainly decline because nobody would like to die. It is required of the justice system to make the death sentence more severe and swift which can be done only by changing the laws and making the death penalty faster. In essence, it becomes important to impose the death penalty to save the lives of several people who may be killed. Bedau (1982) has written in this regard, “Actually being dead is no different from not being born, a (non) experience we all had before being born. But death is not realized. The process of dying which is a different matter is usually confused with it. In turn, dying is feared because death is expected, even though death is feared. After all, it is confused with dying.” (Bedau H, 1982). It can be concluded by what Bedau has said that the death penalty ultimately saves the lives of people. Probable murders are deterred and there is an elimination of the practice of repeated murders by the same murderer.
Carrington (1978) has commented in this regard, “if we have the death penalty and achieve no deterrent effect, then, the life of convicted murderers has been expended in vain (from a deterrent point of view)—here is a net loss. If we have the death sentence and deter future murderers, we spared the lives of future victims-(the prospective murderers gain, too; they are spared punishment because they were deterred). In this case, the death penalty is again, unless the convicted murderer is valued more highly than that of the unknown victim, or victims (Frank Carrington,1978)”. Capital punishment is not considered to be an unnecessary and extreme punishment for criminals who commit the crime intentionally and knowingly in taking the lives of fellow human beings. Capital punishment may not have been used very often but it does impose a considerable threat on the potential murderer.
According to Irwin Isenberg (1977), when a person is killed in premeditation, it is dissimilar from robbing him of something. The death penalty is fully justified as a matter of human dignity and justice since the imposed penalty has to be in keeping with the gravity of the crime. By putting the convict to death society becomes free of the worst criminals thus making the world a safer place to live in. It is then a reality that dead criminals become incapacitated and will commit further murders neither in the prison nor after they are released. There are savings from the cost incurred in keeping the criminals alive, which in turn can be used to spend on welfare activities for the sick, old and infirm. Although campaigners against the death penalty emphasize the added costs incurred by the state on executing death sentences as compared to a convict who is sentenced for life, it is primarily due to the practice being allowed by the legal system thus resulting in delays and appeals. Execution of the murder convict is a real punishment for his deeds instead of facilitating some kind of rehabilitation program for him. The criminal must be made to suffer in keeping with the intensity of the offense. This kind of retribution is believed to be the ideal reasoning for the crime (Arlen Specter, 1994).
According to some theorists, it is difficult to prove whether the death penalty proves to be a deterrent since there is limited data on the pattern of actual execution of death sentences against the number sentenced to death. But it is quite evident that in countries where the death sentence is executed at the earliest, the intensity of crime is much less (Van Haag, 1983). Typical examples in this regard are the Islamic countries and others such as Singapore where justice is imparted without delay. The death penalty is a certain deterrent in places where it is carried out with certainty. In most states of the US, the number of executions against the number of criminals sentenced to death is abysmally low. America is characterized by having five times the number of murders as a proportion of its total population as compared to Britain, while in Singapore the number of murders is lesser by fifteen times (Blumstein, 1978)). This is accountable simply by the fact that Singapore is culturally different and believes in speedy justice. It also becomes clear that in the coming future, with the crime rates reaching proportions that will become unacceptable, more and more countries will adopt the Singapore-style justice systems since the purpose of justice is not fulfilled entirely in non-penal societies. Most of the people who believe in carrying out the death sentence on criminals are not sadists but develop desperate feelings in becoming overwhelmed by the increasing incidents of crime and the attitude of the government is not doing much to reduce the fear and suffering.
Walter Berns (1991) has researched and found that the present criminal law coupled with the recent judgments of the Supreme Court regarding the legalities of capital punishment do not pay much heed to the need for deterring, rehabilitating, or in the retribution of criminals. He further says that the constant moderation in law has not resulted in a corresponding moderation of the criminal procedure or the safety of people. In making a frank appraisal of the uncomfortable consequences of capital punishment in the US, Robert Johnson (2005) has outlined in his book Death Work: A Study of the Modern Execution Process, the gory details of the death convict’s life in spending years in prison without a conclusive decision being taken about his fate. Such tendencies and patterns ultimately deteriorate the justice process without leading to a positive reform process. Banner, (2002), has presented a detailed historical account of the execution of death penalties in America since the colonial era and describes how the nature of capital punishment has changed over the decades. He says that the administration’s interpretation of the constitutional provisions outlined for capital punishment has been changing in making the punishment less deterrent for offenders. Schonebaum (1998) has presented both sides of the issue of capital punishment. He has based his opinion and conclusions on reports that appeared in publications and magazines and provided details of all arguments for and against capital punishment being a deterrent in the society of today.
There may be several things in society that ought to be banned, but not so in the case of the death penalty. As has been done down the ages, it is certainly the right thing to do in meting out punishment to criminals that commit the ultimate crime in taking the lives of fellow humans (Vila Bryan et al, 1997). It is indeed outrageous that murderers have started to believe that they can get away by doing just anything. In some US states such as Alabama and Texas, where the death penalty has been implemented very effectively, a stark improvement in the law and order situation has been observed as compared to other states that have not yet legalized capital punishment. Such states have witnessed lower rates of violent crimes. It is essential to send a clear message to criminals regarding capital punishment that they cannot go free by committing severe crimes.
I strongly believe that capital punishment should be legalized in all US states. The issue of capital punishment is indeed a much-debated topic in judicial circles and if the arguments are weighed in the right context in having empathy with the victims and their families, people will certainly be inclined in pushing for death sentences to be legalized in all states. What is required now is the willingness of all states to carry out the death sentences in making life more safe and free of fears. Death penalties will assist a great deal in curtailing the incidence of murders thus leading to safety and saving of lives. Life is sacred and needs to be protected, valued, and respected. In the current legal scenario, convicts on death row can conveniently lead normal lives for a few years before they are executed. They can prepare for death by making their last statements and wills. If some of them manage to get free for whatever reason, they are likely to be encouraged in going back to their old ways since despite having committed a murder they are again free. This gives added strength to the belief that after having committed a murder there is no deterrent for them in adopting the same pattern of behavior again.
- Arlen Specter, Congress must make Death Sentences Meaningful Again, 1994, Human Events
- Bailey, W. C. (1990). Murder, capital punishment, and television execution publicity and homicide rates. American Sociological Review, 55, 628-633.
- Banner, Stuart. The Death Penalty: An American History. Cambridge, 2002, Harvard University Press
- Blumstein, Cohen, Deterrence and Incapacitation, 1978, National Academy Press
- Carrington, Frank Neither Cruel Nor Unusual, New Rochel.le, NY, Arlington House, 1978
- Hugo Adam Bedau, The Death Penalty in America, 1982, Oxford University Press
- Irwin Isenberg, The Death Penalty, 1977, Hw Wilson Co
- Robert Johnson, Death Work: A Study of the Modern Execution Process, 2005, Wadsworth Publishers
- Schonebaum, Stephen E, Does Capital Punishment Deter Crime? 1998, Greenhaven Press
- Van Haag, John P. Conrad, The Death Penalty: A Debate, 1983, Plenum Press
- Vila Bryan and Cynthia Morris Capital Punishment in the United States: A Documentary History, 1997, Westport, CN: Greenwood Press
- Walter Berns, For Capital Punishment, 1991, University Press of America
- Williams, Mary E, Death Penalty : Opposing Viewpoints, 2001, Greenhaven Press