Capitalpunishment refers to the legally approved killing of a person aspunishment for an offence (Evans 107). The execution of criminals hasbeen widely used in human civilization to punish and to serve as adeterrent of potential offenders. Depending on respective societies,capital punishment is carried out in various means such as hanging,electrocution, firing squad, lethal injection, crucifixion, burning,and stoning among others. Nevertheless, in modern times capitalpunishment has been an increasingly controversial topic especiallypertaining to ethical implications Prejean 703). Killing for thepurpose of retribution or punishment is highly questionable becauseit gives some people the right to oversee the livelihood of others.Furthermore, there are other implications pertaining to error injudgment and sentencing. The objective of this essay is to discussthe fact that capital punishment is wrong and should not be used as ameans of punishing offenders.
Ethicallyspeaking, killing is never right because human life is very valuablebecause there is always the possibility for reformation. Capitalpunishment is carried out on individuals who commit unthinkablecrimes such as murder, severe cases of rape, or treason. However,while such crimes are very serious there is no justification forkilling a human being despite the dreadful nature of a committedoffense. In fact, the argument against capital punishment is has morejustification because it is supported by the implications of humanrights. Whenever a decision is made to legally kill a human being itlowers that person’s sense of worth from human to something lesser.Subsequently, this goes against the very premise of fairness andregard for human life. Quite frankly, government has the obligationto uphold human rights despite the surrounding circumstances. But inmost cases, many governments have ignored this obligation by failingto consider the ethical grounds of taking a person’s life. Forexample, the United Constitution clearly shuns capital punishment inthe 8thamendment. The 8thamendment clearly prohibits the government from imposing cruel andunusual punishment (Fitzpatrick 427). This idea has been widelyignored by the government since many offenders have been executedsince the amendment was introduced in the 18thcentury. The Supreme Court has been guilty of overstepping the lawparticularly in the Greggvs. Georgia casein 1976 when it upheld the execution of Troy Leon Gregg (Fitzpatrick427). In this case, the Supreme Court unethically set the legalframework for imposing cruel and unusual punishment. According tosources, the Supreme Court argued that the death penalty should onlybe imposed on the most severe crimes.
Retributionis another word for payback, revenge, or retaliation. Many peopleconsider capital punishment as the most effective means of punishingoffenders. However, punishment without giving an offender the chanceto repent is simply selfish and outrageous. Therefore, capitalpunishment can only be considered as a means of retribution and notpunishment. Retribution or revenge is a result of human emotion andnot a product of logical thought. Forgiving a wrong is not anemotional reaction because it emanates rational reasoning. Rationalreasoning is not veiled by emotions and it is usually characterizedby fairness and understanding. The desire for revenge is actually oneof the worst human emotions which and it is easily understandablesince it’s a normal intrinsic human reaction. Killing someone forkilling another person only begets a continuous cycle of retribution(Evans 322). For many, retribution is a form of providing closure tooffended individuals. But in the real sense this sense of closurewhich comes from killing an offender is a product of a continuouscycle of retribution. According to Raymond Schroth who is a professorat St.Peter`s College:
“Expressingone’s violence simply reinforces the desire to express it. Just asexpressing anger simply makes us angrier. It does not drain away. Itcontaminates the otherwise goodwill which any human being needs toprogress in love and understanding" (Evans321).
Therefore,capital punishment emanates from clouded thinking which does notpermit room for constructive thought. From this perspective it isactually easier to understand Justice Andrew Blackmun’s statementin Callinsvs. Collins casein 1994. In the case Justice Blackmun claimed that:
"Itseems that the decision whether a human being should live or die isso inherently subjective…rife with all of life`s understanding,experiences, prejudices, and passions…that it inevitably defies therationality and consistency required by the Constitution”(Greenhouse).
Thissubjective approach when deciding on whether a person should live ordie can only be directed on an emotional level. The focus here isonly on retribution and not from a disciplinary state of mind by thesentence.
Theeffectiveness of capital punishment in deterring crime is alsoquestionable. As mentioned above, capital punishment is anemotionally based means of attaining closure. However, the punishmentonly leads to a cycle of retribution which damages the offender andthe avenger (Bowers & Glenn 189). As a result, there is no realdeterrence even for potential offenders. Realistically, very fewoffenders commit capital crimes thinking about the consequences.Therefore, the assumption that capital punishment deters crime is amere assumption. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, therate of capital crimes has not changed in states which have abolishedcapital punishment laws (Bowers & Glenn 190). In fact, socialscience research discredits the claims that capital punishment lowersthe numbers of homicide related deaths. The research actuallyindicates that long term imprisonment actually is more effective indeterring capital offenses compared to the death penalty.
Moreover,capital punishment does not necessarily deter crime it actuallycreates a need for retribution. The loved ones of an executedindividual are likely to feel alienated especially in cases ofwrongful convictions. As a result, based on their temperament it ispossible that they seek revenge through killing. From thisperspective it is very difficult to see whether the thought of facingcapital punishment is present. In fact, the criminal justice systemis not fair since approximately 2 out of 3 sentences are overturneddue to poor legal representation and prosecutorial delinquency(Bowers & Glenn 195). This is an alarming statistic whichactually supports the fact that capital punishment is wrong andshould be abolished.
Rightsof Tax Payers
Accordingto the DeathPenalty Information Center, capitalpunishment is an expensive affair since each case costs tax payersapproximately $2 million (Fitzpatrick 427). However, tax payers don’tget their democratic right of personally seeing what their money ispaying for. Sources indicate that only a handful of people areallowed to view executions including members of the media and a fewhandpicked witnesses. Democratically speaking this is wrong becauseit is the people who make the rights the government is only thevoice of the people. Zachary Shemtob and David Lat are right in theirclaim that executions should be televised (Gariola). People need tosee the grim nature of executions because it will help them get arealistic perspective. Most people support capital punishment butthey have never the opportunity to see exactly what they arecondoning. It is the government’s responsibility to be transparentin all areas of governance and administration (Gariola).
Capitalpunishment is very discriminatory since it only affects minoritiesand the poor. Statistics provided by the National Association for theAdvancement of Colored people indicate that approximately 50% ofinmates on death row are African Americans (Ehrlich 96). This isquite shocking because African Americans make up approximately 13% ofthe American population. After taking into account the long historyof racism in America is safe to assume that African Americans havebeen unfairly targeted by the American criminal justice system.Additionally, poor people are also the most likely to get executedbut not because they are guilty of the crimes they are accused of.Being poor and facing the possibility of capital punishment isdevastating because it is directly related to the quality of legalrepresentation. State or federal appointed legal representatives areoften nonchalant in carrying out their roles. Consequently, manyalleged offenders face execution even when they are not guilty.Statistics indicate that approximately 200 death penalty sentenceshave been overturned in the US during the last 30 years. Most ofthese individuals are of African American descent and are also on thelower income bracket. According to anti-death penalty activist HelenPrejean, capital punishment is very unfair because individualswithout the capital get the punishment (Prejean 701).
Beingcolored and poor is very deadly because it makes an individualvulnerable to police and prosecutorial delinquency and incompetentand inexperienced defense attorneys. Therefore, the criminal justicesystem is essentially broken since it is unable to provide equality.It is highly unlikely for a wealthy citizen who has committed acapital offense to receive the death penalty.
EdwardKoch is one of the many individuals who support the death penalty.According to the essay: Deathand Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life, Kochbelieves that the death penalty is necessary in society (Koch 483).Moreover, capital punishment forces an offender to appreciate thetrue importance of life. However, this is a distorted perspectivebecause capital punishment is an irreversible form of punishment andthe offender does not get to learn anything because he or she is soondead. According to Bruce Fein who is a constitutional lawyer, capitalpunishment is necessary because it “honors human dignity”. Bruceclaims that human life is valuable and there needs to be punitivemeasures for anyone who chooses to dishonor that dignity (Ehrlich58). While this perspective is true, killing an offender is a meansof creating a chain of murder in a broken system which is full ofhuman error. Retribution is not a means of honoring life because itdoes the direct opposite because offenders are also human beings whoare subject to the same dignity.
Inconclusion, capital punishment is wrong and should be abolished fromsociety. A closer look reveals that human error and discriminationmake capital punishment unfair and unethical. Capital punishment isonly a means of retribution which leaves people destroys. In the endcapital punishment only further hampers the society’s moral fiber.
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Ehrlich,Isaac. "The deterrent effect of capital punishment: A questionof life and death." (1973).
Evans,Richard J. Ritualsof Retribution: capital punishment in Germany, 1600-1987.Oxford University Press on Demand, 1996.
Fitzpatrick,Kirk. "Gregg v. Georgia (1976)." TheEncyclopedia of Civil Liberties in America(2015): 427.
Koch,Edward I. "Death and justice: How capital punishment affirmslife." TheNew Republic (1985):13-15.
GARIOLA,AMANDA. "Our Obsession with Bad."
Greenhouse,Linda. "Death Penalty Is Renounced by Blackmun." NYTimes Al (Feb 23, 1994) (1994).
Prejean,Helen. Deadman walking: An eyewitness account of the death penalty in the United States.Vintage, 1994.