For And Against Capital Punishment Philosophy Essay

A variety of justifications for and against capital punishment has been advanced. Often the debates over these justifications become as heated as the debates over the death penalty itself. One common source of disagreement between those supporting and those opposing the death penalty is whether the death penalty really acts as a deterrent to crime. The basic idea here is that society has always lived by a system of negative reinforcement. Punish criminals, even if means applying the death penalty and potential criminals will be discouraged from crime. Although anti-death penalty crusaders often talk in terms of the Eighth Amendment and the constitutional proscription against cruel and unusual punishment that argument is often tempered by some more critical factors.

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Arguments for

Amongst the most powerful arguments made by death penalty supporters postulates that it is a unique and effective deterrent against murder. Although killing is generally immoral, certain kinds of murders are justifiable. These include killing in self-defense and in defense of other members of the society. Those who assert this dimension of executions see the death penalty as a social exercise of value reinforcement rather than as the isolated activity of a distant legal system. Proponents of capital punishment also often claim that it deters potential murderers from crime in general and homicide in particular. In some public opinion polls, deterrence appears as the most often cited reason for supporting capital punishment. More than once on the campaign trail President Bush reiterated his support for capital punishment because it saves lives.

Most people believe that criminal justice systems exist, in good part, to deter others from committing crime. Through imposing just punishment, a civilized society experiences its sense of revulsion toward those who, by violating its laws, have not only harmed individuals but also weakened the bonds that hold communities together. Some professionals laud the American death penalty for its inspiring ability to strengthen the community’s retributive and deterrent messages. They further exalt our capital justice system as a humane mechanism for expressing and strengthening community moral bonds. To them the death penalty serves as an awesome promoter of community union.

Statistical evidence further proves that severe and punishment acts as a reliable deterrent to future criminal activities. For instance between the years 1995 and 2000, there were 71 executions on average every year. This led to a 44% in the rate of reported murders. Moreover, life sentences cost between $1.2 million – $3.6 million dollars more compared with carrying out the death penalty. Moreover, the benefit of a justice system is fully appreciated when it addresses the problem in the most efficient financial manner. The cost of death penalty cases average $2 million in taxpayersaˆ™ money. However, this figure is significantly lower compared to the costs of housing and caring for prisoners serving life sentences. Prisoners serving life sentences spend 30-40 years in prison creating an unnecessary burden on existing resources. Therefore, the economic benefit of the death penalty also forms a strong basis for promoting its acceptance.

The death penalty largely serves and upholds the best interests of society. For instance, the biggest benefit of the justice system is ridding the society of killers, rapists, and other heinous criminals. Approximately 71% of American citizens support the death penalty. It would therefore be prudent to abolish executing hardcore criminals against this popular support. Moreover, are frequent, their direct effect on murder rates and other violent crimes rate is clearly evident. It is therefore worth appreciating that criminals are essentially incapacitated through execution thereby reducing the chances of repeat offenders. Moreover, the public takes comfort in believing such prisoners are ultimately executed. Instances of prisoners serving life escaping, killing or stirring violence have further raised concern for upholding the death penalty. Continuous executions in China have significantly led to lower crime rates. Globally, China and Iran are adequately addressing crime through effective application of the death penalty.

Arguments against

Largely, citizen myths about the death penalty appear in public opinion polls. Our nation’s capital supporters include within their ranks a committed, ideologically driven core of citizens and politicians. This group comprises of people whose devotion to the death penalty exists independently of changes in the legal culture, public opinion, or social science research. Some Americans in this core group support the death sentence punishment in their gut. They assert itaˆ™s supposedly retributive, deterrent, therapeutic, or economic advantages without the need for recourse to any social science confirmatory data. Some advocates express support for it even while acknowledging that it can be unfairly applied, be ineffective, or even entail the conviction and sentencing of innocent people.

The support for capital punishment must therefore consider such reservations about its shortcomings. Occasionally, this pro death penalty segment of the community finds its concepts of justice well served by deep-seated, perhaps unconscious, beliefs in myths about justice that override the shortcomings of our penal system. Proponents of capital punishment tell us that an executing government acts in the best interests of the entire community. An act of execution in this perspective appears as a way to re-assert, even re-invigorate, easily overlooked basic community values, like differences between right and wrong, responsibility for one’s behavior, respecting other lives and learning consequences.

The criminal justice system should always reflect the moral views of the society. Consequently, inflicting the penalty of death on its citizenry entirely violates religious teachings on the sanctity of life. Nationally, prosecutors charge death in less than one in every fifty-homicide prosecutions, meaning that even before trial begins the odds in 98 percent of homicides favor a sentence less than death. At the sentencing end of the system, of the nationwide cohort of murderers actually sentenced to death, only about one in eight of this group eventually suffers execution. Thus, nearly 90 percent of convicted murderers receiving a death sentence escape execution, which means that even an imposed execution is unlikely to occur.

If the death penalty is to appear certain to a potential murderer performing the premeditated cost-benefit calculus, these statistics would need to be reversed. The deterrent role of the death penalty is just not working. However, re-arranging the justice system to achieve such a reversal in these trends appears impossible given today’s legal complexities. Our penal system suffers from a spiral of declining expectations of executions because of subjective prosecutorial discretion at its front end and appellate complexity at its back end. In the front end, most homicides do not qualify statutorily for a death sentence. When one does qualify, such a sentence is unlikely to be sought by the prosecution. At the back end of the system, when it is imposed it is highly unlikely to be carried out. Therefore, rather than proclaiming execution certainty, our capital liturgy today sends a message proclaiming the exact opposite. There is high improbability of the death sentence being meted out on the accused.

Proportional severity deterrent and economic theories of human nature both imply, that penalties must appear severe enough to a calculating criminal to outweigh the supposed benefits of crime. Ideally, in making an economic calculation of costs and benefits in a rational manner the would-be murderer consequently revert from committing the offence. Through the realization that the pain of execution out-weighs the expected psychological pleasures from the contemplated crime, homicides would be nonexistent. The founders of modern utilitarianism adopted this calculus to suggest to legislators that they could ensure that costs outweigh the pleasures of crime by the simple expedient of increasing the degree of pain inflicted. However, the growing statistics of homicide dispute this argument that the severity of a painful punishment acts as a deterrent simply because the murderer’s anticipation of this brutal pain trumps any expected pleasure front the murder.

Fairness in execution

As U.S. jurisprudence in the twentieth century has shown, the wealthy with their phalanx of high-priced lawyers get better justice than the poor. In addition, besides the question of class, race is a huge factor. Black men in the South receive the death penalty in disproportionate numbers to whites. To make it worse, opponents cite statistics that show that black men who kill whites are executed at a higher rate than either blacks or whites who kill blacks. This racial impropriety alone should strike down the death penalty. Finally, the same crime calls for the death penalty in one place but not in others. This has consequently undermined the equal application of the death penalty. Prosecutor discretion is often put in question as to indiscriminate application as regards the death penalty.

However, proponents say the death penalty is fair. The fact that the administration of the death penalty varies from place to place reflects the diversity of the nation. Moreover, every crime is unique, and every jurisdiction has the right to administer justice within the demands of its own community. Since the Supreme Court demands individual attention to each case and rejects the idea of a mandatory death penalty, the differences among jurisdictions indicate the independence of the justice system rather than compromise it.

Supporters further argue that the racial statistics are false. They claim that more crimes are committed by blacks than by whites, therefore more blacks get executed. However, the fact that not everyone who deserves to be executed is executed does not make the penalty unfair. The goal therefore should be to make sure, in most cases that those folks who deserve to be executed are. Supporters of the death penalty also argue that this is a cost-effective way to deal with the most sordid elements of society. However, as opponents argue, it can cost more to execute an individual than to incarcerate him for life.

Justice requires the elimination of the unfair advantage. The criminal must repay their perceived debt to society. They must not be punished in the same way as his or her offense, but the punishment must fit the crime. The death penalty is modeled on the act getting an unfair advantage over others. The criminal may obtain an unfair advantage over others by evading taxes, by killing a rival for a job, or by stealing another’s purse. However, this model of unfair advantage does not work as well with sadistic crimes that may leave the criminal psychologically worse off. The rapist may be worse off, not better off, than before his crime. The terrorist who detonates a bomb on the crowded bus he is riding does not gain any advantage over others, for he no longer exists

If the death penalty deters possible murderers, the society should support some of its applications. For instance, it should apply to perpetrators who commit murder in the first degree. Alternatively, other heinous crimes such as burglary or rape also justify application of the death penalty.

Argument for

It is justified to punish criminals for raking unfair to discourage potential criminals from repeating such acts. Traditionally, deterrence has been given as a utilitarian rationale for punishment, in which suffering imposed on actual criminals is justified by its tendency to dissuade others from com-mining crimes, thereby reducing suffering overall. Far from being deserved by the criminal because of the evil she has done, punishment can work as deterrence even if the one punished is innocent and only publicly believed to be guilty. For the utilitarian, the relationship between guilt and punishment is a pragmatic one. We get a deterrent effect only if we punish individuals who are believed to be guilty. If individuals believed innocent were also punished, then citizens would not be able to avoid punishment by avoiding crime, and thus there would be no incentive to do so. As a practical matter, the safest way to punish people who are believed guilty is to punish those who are guilty. However, they are not punished because they deserve it rather they are punished because it is the best way to get other people to refrain front committing crimes.


Most people strongly believe that the death penalty will deter murders more effectively than long-term imprisonment. However, there are many reasons for disputing this argument it. At the basic level of psychology, reflections on people’s behavior suggest that the fear of death is less powerful a motive than one might think. Statistical studies further fail to state conclusively that executions prevent homicides. Another significant finding is that executions simply do not deter crime more than other severe punishments. Finally, one might conclude that we just do not know and cannot know whether the death penalty saves lives. However, the death penalty can be justified as analogous to defensive killing only if it can be shown that it does save lives. Since that has not been shown, one cannot appeal to this protective function as providing a moral ground for its long term adoption.

Punishment must he perceived as highly or absolutely certain to follow crime. Such punishment must therefore appear roughly proportionate in view of the original crime. Moreover, it must always be applied to uphold societal principles and values. Most critically, the threat of punishment must always yield effective results of deterring crime as the actual punishment itself.