The Death Penalty
The death penalty is a form of punishment in which a person who has been convicted of a serious crime is executed under the precept of the criminal justice system. The death penalty has been in existence for thousands of years and has gained wide acceptance in the United States since early colonial times. Even those who framed the Constitution specifically the Fifth Amendment approved of it though implicitly (McCord and Latzer 9). Despite the growing acceptance of the death penalty as an appropriate punishment for certain kinds of crimes such as first degree murders, there are still some people who argue against it on certain grounds. The debate as to the justification of the death penalty has raged on for a long time. On one hand, there are those who are of the opinion that the death penalty is a cruel punishment which is morally wrong and a violation of the right to life for its victims. Others defend their opposing views by citing the wave of abolition of other types of corporal punishment such as branding and flogging and propose that imprisonment should also replace the death penalty (McCord and Latzer 9). However, the death penalty has proved to be a punishment befitting certain crimes such as horrific murders as it is the ultimate punishment.
It has taken many harmful elements off the streets besides acting as a deterrent for both the convicted criminals and other potential murderers out there. In essence, it has saved many innocent lives that otherwise would have fallen prey to the evil schemes of murderers. Indeed, there is no course more worthy than saving innocent lives. This essay presents an argument in support of the death penalty by considering its numerous benefits as backed up by ample evidence from credible sources. In order to build the argument, the essay shall also consider some of the opinions of those who oppose the death penalty. Death penalty is a good form of punishment considering that it prevents future murders by acting as a deterrent. Society has always employed different kinds of punishments in an effort to prevent potential criminals from committing crimes.
In other words, there is always a drive to prevent future harm by learning from the mistakes of today. In this regard, the society has a fervent interest in protecting people’s lives from murderers. The best way to prevent murder is to use the strongest form of punishment which is the death penalty (Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty). Evidence from numerous studies has proved that the death penalty has an inherent ability to deter would-be murderers from committing heinous crimes. In fact, the incapacitative benefits of the death penalty occur in two ways. Firstly, by apprehending and executing convicted individual murderers, death penalty totally eliminates any possibility of the criminal going back to the streets and killing again (Ogloff and Honeyman). Apart from this aspect referred to as specific deterrence, the death penalty has even a wider scope of incapacitative benefits through general deterrence. This is because, by executing people convicted of committing horrific murders, potential murderers would be restrained from killing people since they are conscious of what will come over them (Cassell and Bedau 32). Some opponents of the death penalty are of the opinion that the concept of deterrence rests on a shaky ground since it assumes that people always think before acting, so that their actions depend on their rational evaluation of the consequences.
According to them, the assumption made here is that murderers will always think rationally before committing a crime and thus will opt not to commit murder in view of the imminent outcome which is the death penalty. In this regard, opponents of the death penalty nullify this assumption by noting that not all homicides are committed under circumstances that allow rational evaluation of the consequences. They cite homicides that are committed out of passionate hatred in which murderers, overcome by hatred towards their victims, have no time to contemplate about the ultimate consequences of their destructive behavior (Dorpat 114). However, this opposing opinion can only gain support in light of the fact that the Supreme Court only approves of death penalty if a criminal is convicted of premeditated first-degree murder. Just because murders committed out of the heat of passion are treated as second-degree murders in which death penalty does not apply, it does not nullify the deterrent effects of the death penalty. It does not also imply that the presence of death penalty in the criminal justice system lack the capacity to prevent the so-called second degree murders (Cassell and Bedau 32). Moreover, it cannot be implied that despite having the death penalty, homicides continue to be committed in the country.
The outstanding issue is not whether the death penalty prevents every murder, but rather, whether some murders are deterred by the death penalty. Logic, firsthand reports, and statistics have proved that the death penalty at least deters some murders (Cassell and Bedau 32). For instance, an analysis conducted by Isaac Ehrlich in 1973 indicated that at least seven lives were saved for every execution of a convicted murderer. This is because prospective murderers were deterred from going down the same path. Follow-up studies have generated similar results (Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty). Apart from acting as a deterrent, the death penalty stands out as the only punishment that can be equated with the crime of murder. It is worth noting that when a life is taken by another, an imbalance in the justice system is the outcome. If the imbalance is not corrected, society is left to a rule of violence. Therefore, in conformity with the requirement that the punishment accorded should be proportional to the magnitude of the crime committed, death penalty is the right way to go (Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty). Moreover, the U.S justice system is used to the trend of escalating punishments which then qualifies that the most heinous crimes should receive the most severe punishment. Some opponents of the death penalty have argued that death penalty is cruel and denies the person the right to life. However, many forget the extent of cruelty with which the victim was subjected to by the murderer.
The pain that a murderer causes to the family of the victim is immense and death penalty is the most appropriate punishment that can guarantee justice. This is not forgetting that it will still not be enough since the affected family will not get back their loved one (Siegel 513). Some opposing arguments have implied that the death penalty is a costly venture which overburdens the taxpayers. This argument does not represent the truth since more expenses are incurred by locking up killers for their entire lives. When these prisoners grow old and become vulnerable to many illnesses, the taxpayers are overburdened even further by the medical expenses. No one wants to spend his/her resources suporting killers when there is a justified means of preventing such costs and delivering justice (Guernsey 62). The death penalty is morally correct as it is even mentioned in the Bible. At the time the U.S constitution was drafted, the death penalty was widely accepted and does not qualify as unusual. According to opponents of the death penalty, the punishment amounts to revenge and that a mature society should not respond by inflicting immediate pain to the point of death.
They argue that the response to murderers should be more measured as the death penalty is too extreme, violates respect for life, and encourages violence (Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty). However, they forget that allowing murderers to live degrades the value that the society places on lives and perpetuates imbalance in the justice system. It creates a society where the families of the victims suffer psychological torture trying to understand how they could lose their loved ones in the hands of criminals who continue to live. Therefore, death penalty is a way of bringing murder crimes to a closure (Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty). It serves to underscore that murder is one crime which when committed, amounts to the murderer forfeiting his/her right to live (Siegel 513). The debate on the legitimacy of the death penalty has also seen hot contention regarding what opponents term as discriminative application of the penalty, where the blacks seem to be targeted than the whites. They argue that even in cases where whites have committed a similar crime for which blacks receive the ultimate punishment, they end up being given lesser punishment. Some have pointed to the findings of Baldus which alludes to these kinds of racial disparities in the 1970s particularly in Georgia (Hill 190). However, recent studies have indicated that Baldus findings cannot be used to represent the current situation where cases are scrutinized more closely to avoid partial or discriminative justice. Moreover, the argument that similar crimes should receive the same sentence is untenable if not misguided.
This is because; prosecutors and juries have the right to their own discretion so that the details of similar crimes may be interpreted differently. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has asserted that it would be unconstitutional to have a death penalty that universally applies to all first-degree murders (Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty). Statistics show that contrary to previous trends where it seemed like the death penalty was racially discriminative, more whites are actually executed than black people. In addition, death sentence cannot be overturned on the basis of disproportionate representation of blacks who are on death row since this might only indicate that more murders are committed by blacks (Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty). Another argument that has dominated the corridors of justice in relation to the death penalty is the opposing opinion that there is a significant chance of an innocent person being executed by mistake.
Thus, opponents regard the death penalty as an unreliable punishment by alluding to statistics that date back to the 1970s when such incidences were notable though rare. The fact of the matter is, given the system of appeals that has been set in place through numerous federal and state courts, it is almost impossible to see such mistakes being made (Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty). Moreover, there are better methods of scrutinizing evidence such as DNA profiling in forensics which are widely used to make the justice system achieve greater efficiency. Opponents of the death penalty cannot provide a solid argument on the grounds of innocent people being executed since there is no proof to this effect. Even if such incidences occurred, they are extremely rare. In an effort to build their case, some opponents of the death penalty rely on the claims of innocence propagated by those who have been pardoned from death row after many years. However, most of these people are released due to legal technicalities and can never be taken to mean that they are actually innocent (Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty).
From this argument, it is clear that the death penalty is a valuable tool in our criminal justice system whose legitimacy cannot be downplayed by any amount of opposing views. It is the ultimate punishment that is founded on the U.S Constitution. By acting as a deterrent, it saves many lives every time a convicted murderer is executed. It is also a punishment that restores balance in the universal justice system and underscores the high value that the society places on human lives. Opponents of the death penalty fail to present a solid argument that innocent people may be or have been executed by mistake and that the application of the death penalty is racially discriminative. It would be unnecessary to rely on statistics accumulated 4 or 5 decades ago and overlook the current improvements that have been made to refine the justice system. The death penalty remains a morally and constitutionally legitimate punishment.
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