In every society there are laws that define what acts are considered crime. These laws also provide for the imposable penalty for their violation. The purpose of which is to maintain order within the community. Though there may not be rewards for compliance and observance with these laws, there are always punishment for their violation. Punishment is the effect of a violation of a law enacted by the duly constituted authorities of the state. Punishment can either be the payment of fine and indemnities for injuries caused.
It could also be imprisonment of the individual which may last for several days or for several years or the imposition of what is considered as the ultimate form of punishment – capital punishment. This essay seeks to focus on the issue of capital punishment as the state’s response for the violation of its laws against capital crimes. Some argue against the imposition of capital punishment because it is mainly arbitrary while some argue in favor of capital punishment. I aim to discuss the arguments for and against capital punishment. In the concluding portion, I aim to take a stand on this issue.
Capital Punishment Capital Punishment is defined as the execution of a convicted criminal by the state as punishment for crimes known as capital crimes or capital offences (“Capital Punishment”) It is also known as death penalty. The formal execution of individuals for violation of communal rules had always been practiced ever since the beginning of our history. Even when there were still no formal written laws, execution had always been a part of the communal justice system. This was used to regulate the behavior of the members of the community.
This is usually imposed by the tribal leader against those who violate the laws of the tribe. Even in the past decades, capital punishment was still being practiced for those convicted of a particular crime. To date, capital punishment is still imposed by some countries, though fewer countries are imposing it. For those countries which still practice it, the trend today is the movement towards a less painful and more humane executions.
Hanging and Guillotine which were being practiced before were gradually replaced by electrocution and gas chamber and later the lethal injection. (John J. Patrick, Richard M. Pious & Donald A. Ritchie, p. 2) Arguments against Capital Punishment The main argument against capital punishment is that it is arbitrary. Perhaps, the strongest support for this argument is found in the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution which states that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. ” It is the argument of the Abolitionists that capital punishment is tantamount to torture. It is cruel and inhuman.
Further, citing Black’s Law Dictionary, they argue that capital punishment fits the definition of an arbitrary punishment since it is imposed in an unreasonable manner or it is something which is done at the pleasure, whims and caprices of the government authorities. Supporting this premise are studies which are cited by the Death Penalty Information Center. It is said that in a comprehensive study covering 20 years and thousands of capital cases in Ohio, the Associated Press found that the death penalty has been applied in an uneven and often arbitrary fashion.
Offenders facing a death penalty charge for killing a white person were twice as likely to go to death row than if they had killed a black victim. Death sentences were handed down in 18% of cases where the victims were white, compared with 8. 5% of cases where victims were black. ” (“Major Study Finds Arbitrary Application of Death Penalty, 2007) Arguments in Favor of Capital Punishment On the other hand, the retentionists argue that the US Supreme Court has already spoken on this issue and has already ruled on its constitutionality.
As the highest court of our country, it is but proper that we give deference to their ruling. Initially, in the case of Furman v Georgia (408 US 238), the Supreme Court declared that the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment. However in the latter case of Gregg v Georgia (428 US 153) the Supreme Court reversed itself and ruled that death penalty does not violate the US Constitution.
It cannot be said that capital punishment is arbitrary because it is imposed only in cases of heinous crimes which are specifically defined by the legislature. It cannot be imposed for any other crime. Further, before capital punishment is finally imposed to a convicted prisoner, he must go through the usual lengthy process of prosecution and conviction. It must be stressed that even if the accused is convicted by the lower courts, once the case goes up on appeal to the United States Supreme Court the case may still be reversed if the court finds that the state fails to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
Thus, the defendant only has to instill doubt in the mind of the court to avoid capital punishment. It only goes to show that before the conviction is affirmed by the appellate court or the United States Supreme Court, they must have found strong and convincing evidence that the accused indeed has committed a heinous crime. Further, capital punishment as a penalty is imposed to all those prisoners who may be found to have committed a heinous crime. It is imposed regardless of one’s color, race, sex, financial capacity or social status.
If there appears to be discrimination in its imposition, then the proper response would be to correct the error and not by abolishing the whole system of capital punishment. It cannot likewise be said that capital punishment amounts to torture or that it is cruel because any infliction of pain in capital punishment is merely incidental in carrying out the death penalty. Capital punishment does not fall within the constitutional prohibition against cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment. It may be said that anything that results in pain is cruel. But this does not that crime will go unpunished.
The cruelty which the Eighth Amendment speaks of here is cruelty which is inherent in the method of punishment and not merely the suffering that is involved in any method employed to extinguish life humanely. In sum, capital punishment is not merely an act of violence imposed by the state. Rather, it is imposed by a legitimate authority based on a law passed by the Legislative Branch of our government. Capital punishment is not cruel and inhuman neither does it violate the fundamental human rights. Rather, it is the ultimate punishment for those who have severely disregarded the value of human life.