Pros and Cons of Capital Punishment Unit essay


Prosand Cons of Capital Punishment



Capital punishmenthas been around all along since the earliest days of humancivilization and has been used in punishment of capital punishment.There have been questions on whether capital punishment achieves itsintended purpose from a legal, psychological, political, social andmoral perspective. As such, there are arguments supported by varioustheories that propose and oppose capital punishment. Philosophicaltheories on morality have also been widely applied to assess whetherthe act is ethically justified or not. At the same time, religion andlegal perspectives have been applied. The assessment of the varioustheories indicates that there is no right or wrong position ofcapital punishment as both arguments are well supported by differenttheories. Thus this paper concludes that the choice to oppose orsupport capital punishment is a matter of personal inclinations.

Legalizing the death penalty simply grants the government the rightto kill people found guilty of specific crimes through a variety ofmethods. Somehow, the government’s most noble role is protectingthe rights of people with the right to life being the most important.Thus, a government keen on punishing offenders must do so with itsmost noble role in mind. At the same time, safeguarding the lives ofthe people might necessitate invoking the death penalty. As such,there are two divergent views on the death penalty the pro-deathpenalty that cites its advantages and the opposing side that citesthe disadvantages of capital punishment. This essay thus drawssupport from relevant sources to examine the pros and cons of capitalpunishment to make an informed conclusion.



Retribution or retributive justice is a theory of justice thatrequires offenders to suffer for their wrongdoing in a manner that isequivalent to the crime committed. As opposed to the notion ofrevenge, retribution in this case means that punishment does not seekpleasure, is directed at wrongs and it is not personal (Wilson 2013).Furthermore, the theory calls for inherent limits on type ofpunishment that also falls within set procedural standards. Theconcept is guided by three main arguments namely: (a) all guiltyoffenders deserve to be punished (b), only guilty offenders deserveto be punished and (d) guilty offenders deserve to be punished inproportion to the severity of their crime (Bohn 2011). Thus, underthe concept of retributive justice, capital punishment allows forguilty offenders to be punished in a manner equivalent to the crimecommitted not as a way of acquiring any form of pleasure for theoffended but as way providing them with revenge, a sense of justiceand restoring human dignity.

Many cultures and religions support capital punishment under theconcept of retributive justice. The Christian Bible comes first incalling for revenge as way of punishing offenders in a manner that isequivalent to the crime committed. The book of Duetronmy19:21 statesthat “show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,hand for hand, foot for foot.” The book also goes ahead tohighlight the role played by this kind of justice by saying that isdeters other people from committing such crimes. Therefore it wouldimply that murders and such similar crimes should be punishable bycapital punishment (Bible NIV). The Koran has also the sameprovisions in the Chapter (5) sūrat l-māidah 5:45 that also callsfor an eye for an eye in punishing offenders (Koran). The ancientChinese culture starting from the Qin Code of 200 BC practicedcapital punishment with many ways of killing offenders depending onthe perceived severity of the crime committed (Duhaime 2011). Thus,capital punishment is justified by major world religions and ancientcultures as a way of punishing capital offenders.


As has been mentioned above, several religions and the Chineseancient cultures support capital punishment in the belief that it candeter potential offenders. This claim is often cited in moderndiscussions and court rulings on capital punishment. Proponents ofcapital punishment argue that the severity of the punishment deterspotential offenders from committing such crimes in the future.However, there is no factual or scholarly evidence to support thisargument. In fact, some of the states such as Texas that continue topermit capital punishment have not recorded any considerable declinein crime. One of the most prominent religious supporters of the deathpenalty, Cardinal Avery Dulles, argued that the death penalty iseffective in deterring crime especially when done public to create asense of horror that would make potential offender fear committingcrime as opposed to the private and least painful methods used inmost judicial system. Dulles’ argument concurs with the ancientChinese death penalty methods (Wilson 2013). The death penalty byLing-chee meant cutting the offender into different pieces in aspecified order such as eye brows, nose, breasts, arms and legs(Duhaime 2011). Such a process was very cruel and performed in publicwith the intention of instilling fear on would-be offenders.


The death penalty is justifiable from certain moral perspectives.Consequentialists and followers of Immanuel Kant’s philosophicalviews argue that the death penalty may not only be required but alsoobligatory for governments in order to safeguard the lives of people.The key assumption here is that the death penalty is the mosteffective means of preventing repeat offenses. Utilitarian ethics,which are also consequentialist, argue that capital punishment isdesirable if it guarantees happiness to the majority of the people(Sustein and Vermuele 2006, p. 705). Assuming that the deathpunishment has a deterrence effect, then the death of an offenderserves the greater good of society by deterring other offenders fromengaging in crime. Thus, it is clear that the death penalty isadvantageous as it promotes the welfare of society.


The death penalty is the ultimate form of punishment that guaranteesno repetition of crime by the offender. From a rational perspective,this option is best suited for offenders who are judged not to beresponsive to rehabilitation. In some cases, the US and othercountries in the world have faced situations of repeat offenders inmany capital crimes such as child rape and murders (Bohn 2011).Proponents of the death penalty argue that the death penalty offersthe best solution to cases of repeat offender who have already proventhat they cannot be rehabilitated as the penal system intends toachieve through incarceration.

Other grounds

There are other grounds for support of capital punishment though theyare considerably weak. One of the supposed advantages of capitalpunishment is closure and vindication for survivors and families.This approach to justice is victim-based as seeks to shape theoffender’s path to justice by considering more the rights of thevictims as opposed to the offender. Basically, the approach isgrounded in emotions that evolve with respect to structures assupported by cognitive neuroscience, sociology, psychology andpolitical science. Bandes (2008) indicates that the manner in howsurvivors and families recover or grieve largely depends on theirexpectations of a judicial process. Therefore, it is only right thatjustice is only served to survivors and families if a death penaltyis applied in such a case. However, this claim has a major weaknessin the sense that it assumes that all survivors and families wish torevenge and wish death upon the offenders and hence leaves no roomfor forgiveness.



Trying and handling capital punishment cases takes longer andconsumes more resources that non-death penalty capital offenses.Procon (2009) cites John Roman and his colleagues at the District ofColumbia Crime Policy Institute who sampled fourteen studiesassessing the cost of capital punishment. All the fourteen studiesrevealed that the cost of trying a death penalty case was higher interms and resources. On average, additional costs in trying everysingle capital punishment case ranged from $100, 000 to $1.7 million.Ordinarily, the cost of drugs required in executing an offender isless than $100 according to 2011 estimates in Texas but the trialprocess is longer compared to life without parole (LWOP), which makesthe former an expensive option (Procon 2009 Phillips 2014).Therefore, from a cost analysis perspective, death penalty isdisadvantageous to the American economy and taxpayers.


Deontological ethics hold that capital punishment is wrong. Theargument is based on the deontologists believe that the rightness orwrongness of an action is not based on the consequences or theoverall effect on the welfare of the people but rather based on agiven maxim. The key maxim here that makes the death penalty is theargument that no single person or institution has the right to takethe life of another no matter the situation or crime. Although theethical theories accept the death penalty, Bohm (2008, p.121)believes that the ultimate view on the morality of the act depends onlocal social values. In this case, some Americans view the deathpenalty as immoral.

From a different ethical perspective, capital punishment is perceivedas immoral as it does not guarantee justice to the poor. Thisargument is hinged on the notion that the world’s major justicesystems are unable to provide justice equally with the rich havingbetter access to justice compared to the poor. Ideally, the rich canafford the best defense attorneys and even in some cases are capableof corrupting the system to work in their favor. For instance, in theUS, the issue of race and ethnicity has featured strongly in thecriminal justice system with the system being accused of unfairlytargeting African Americans who are unfairly overrepresented inAmerican jails and capital punishments over the years (Allen andClubb 2009). Accordingly, African American lead in the number ofexecutions and the situation does not communicate any sense of moraljustice to this group and other minority group in the country.


Although Christianity and Islam encourage the notion of revenge, bothreligions also preach the need for forgiveness and the sanctity oflife. Some scholars have termed Christianity to be in contradictionin some of the teachings with the case of the death penalty being agod example. The call for revenge through the concept for “an eyefor an eye” is viewed as not as a means of achieving justice but asmeans of encouraging revenge. On the contrary, the New Testamentrecognizes the sanctity of life and indicates that only the creatoror the giver of life has the authority to take that life back. Thebook of Romans 12:19-20 encourages Christians to show love to theirenemies and to leave revenge unto the lord as He always punishesthose who err against His people. Islam also encourages forgivenessin many verses. As such, these two key religions do not support thedeath penalty.


Capital punishment does not offer room for correction of mistakescommitted by the judicial process. This is very true considering thenumber of Americans under the capital punishments and on life withoutparole have been proven innocent through advances in technology. DNAtesting and fingerprint technology have in the last few years changedthe way in which criminal investigations and the judicial processesare carried out. The technology has enabled collection and processingof new evidence that has shown that in some cases, innocent peoplewere already executed. Where mistakes in the judicial process occur,as is expected of all human processes, capital punishment does notoffer the judicial process a chance to correct mistakes. As a result,many innocent individuals may be executed and thus the option is notdesirable in any way.

Failureto deter

There is no clear evidence whether the death penalty deter or doesnot deter capital offences. Therefore, there are no grounds assuggested by some scholars that the death penalty does indeeddiscourage others from committing crime. However, the death penaltybased on deterrence is immoral simply because there no moral groundsfor one to pay for the predicted future crimes of other people. Thereis no guarantee that the death of capital offenders will serve as alearning lesson to potential offenders. Again, the motivation to setan example to other potential offenders using one offender mayencourage the fabrication of evidence in order to achieve theobjective (Bohn 2011). This is because the judicial systems might bemotivated by the need to set an example to others as opposed toserving justice to both the victim and offender.


The eight amendment of the US constitution provides for the mostbasic opposition to capital punishment. The amendment states that“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed,nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Under this provision,death penalty is considerably cruel. However, the Supreme Court hasruled that the death penalty can only be considered unconstitutionalif the penalty is disproportionate to the crime (Allen and Clubb118). Based on the eighth amendment and societal values, some stateshave abolished the death penalty and made it illegal.


Based on the above arguments, there are two clear sides on the issueof capital punishment. As one of the most hotly contested issuepolitically, the pros of and cons of the death penalty clearly lieswith the value that a given society attaches to human life and thedignity of the same. Most importantly, it also depends on socialvalues and beliefs which also play a great role in formulating lawsand constitutions. This is because, some religious beliefs or legalprovisions can be used to either defend or oppose the death penalty.In this case, it is only right to conclude that the stand on deathpenalty largely varies with societal values as there is no universaltheory that clearly addresses the issue.


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