The Irony of Capital Punishment
The Irony of Capital Punishment Capital punishment has been a part of our justice system since the beginning. For many years the controversy of the death penalty has created social issues that question the validity and fairness based on concerns of moral and human rights. Even though many other nations use this form of justice, the fact that the United States views itself as a leader of human rights brings question to whether we are practicing what we preach. Nevertheless, the majority of US citizens are in support of the death penalty but does that make it rational?In the following paragraphs I will discuss my opinions on capital punishment and talk about issues concerning the death penalty as a deterrent to crime, should it be abolished and whether should youths convicted of violent crimes receive the death penalty. I will also explain how the irony of capital punishment makes it an issue of ethics having that both sides of this issue have valid positions that will keep the idea that as long as there is crime, capital punishment is here to stay whether we like it or not.
One of the main purposes of capital punishment is to prevent other violators from committing violent crimes; yet and still crime rates remains relatively high in the United States. I feel as though when people participate in acts of violence, especially murder, the thought of some sort of extreme punishment is considered. In an article, The States and the Death Penalty by David C. Nice, he informs how conservatives feel severe penalties are needed to deter crimes and that liberals believe that some crimes are due to forces beyond an individuals control and can be rehabilitated.On the other hand, there are some criminals that do not care about the fate of their own lives and in some cases commit suicide after they have killed. Once this has happened capital punishment is no longer a deterrent but just another form of retribution. The fact is the death penalty is not an efficient way to deter crime and I believe saying that it does deter crimes is “sugar coating” the issue.
We would like to think that if people knew they would be extremely punished for heinous crimes, violence would cease, but in a world with no remorse capital punishment is a solution to settle the score.My position on the death penalty is parallel to the majority of most citizens. I do believe that it is necessary in certain cases, but there should certainly be fairness across all margins to prevent specific groups, such as the poor and minorities, to not be subjected because of inadequate defenses. The article, The Death Penalty in the United States and Worldwide, from the text points out that “poor people cannot afford to hire the best lawyers, but must rely on court-appointed attorneys, who typically are overworked and underpaid” (pg 177). Also criminals who are proven to be mentally ill should be exempt.Other scenarios, however, call for the merciless alternative of justice; for example individuals involved in mass murders such as shootings, bombings and other terror attacks are a major threat to society and should be put to death. Life is so precious and valuable to me and someone with no regard for the lives of innocent people to easily kill is inhumane; therefore should not be able to walk this earth with mankind.
I also feel that criminals who assassinate important figures such as the president should also get the death penalty. I do not feel the death penalty should be abolished mainly because it can deter acts of retaliation.Families of killed victims will always seek justice and the death penalty may be the only way they feel justice is served. Without capital punishment families may feel the need to put the law in their own hands. For those who are in favor of the death penalty feel that justice is practiced when people suffer for their wrongdoings based on the level of crime. Each criminal should get what their crime deserves and in the case of a murderer what their crime deserves is death. The degree of punishment in a given case must depend upon the brutality of the crime, the conduct of the criminal, and the defenseless and unprotected state of the victim.
Imposition of proper penalty is the manner in which the courts respond to the society’s cry for fairness against the criminals. Another case that supports capital punishment is the idea of “an eye for an eye” but to argue like that demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what that Old Testament phrase actually means. In fact the Old Testament meaning of “an eye for an eye” is that only the guilty should be punished, and they should punished neither too lenient or too severely. It seems to me that the argument of “eye for an eye” I believe that it has more to do with vengeance than retribution or justice.The anticipatory suffering of the criminal, who may be kept on death row for many years, makes the punishment more severe than just depriving the criminal of life. Some believers in the death penalties see this issue as an undeniably efficient way to insure offender will not commit anymore crimes. On the other hand, many people don’t think that this is sufficient justification for taking human life, and argue that there are other ways to ensure the offenders do not re-offend, such as imprisonment for life without possibility of parole.
Although there have been cases of persons escaping from prison and killing again, these are extremely rare. But some people don’t believe that life imprisonment without parole protects society adequately. The offender may no longer be a danger to the public, but he remains a danger to prison staff and other inmates and execution would remove that danger. On the other side of this ethical argument, just as many found reasons to support capital punishment. I found that the most important reason many oppose the death penalty is because of the strong belief in the value of life.Although some think that the death penalty is very necessary others feel as though life is so valuable that even the worst murderers should not be deprived of the value of their lives. Every person has an indisputable human right to life, even those who commit murder; sentencing a person to death and executing them violates that right (Brettschneider).
This is very similar to the ‘value of life’ argument, but approached from the perspective of human rights. The counter-argument is that a person can, by their actions, forfeit human rights, and that murderers forfeit their right to life (Brettschneider).For example when a very violent person begins murderous assaults on someone, they have given up their right to live simply because a victim also has the right to defend his/her self even if that means taking the life of the attacker. Thomas Aquinas, who was a medieval philosopher, gives and explanation of the need and legitimate use of capital punishment as follows: “Therefore if any man is dangerous to the community and is subverting it by some sin, the treatment to be commended is his execution in order to preserve the common good…Therefore to kill a man who retains his natural worthiness is intrinsically evil, although it may be justifiable to kill a sinner just as it is to kill a beast, for, as Aristotle points out, an evil man is worse than a beast and more harmful”.
Aquinas explains how a malicious act, such as murder, can be turned into a good act by killing to renovate the violation of justice done by the person killed, and killing a person who has forfeited their natural worthiness by killing another (Radelet and Borg). Another concern that non supporters of capital punishment argue is the possibility of sentencing the innocent to death.Great effort has been made in pretrial, trial, appeals, writ and clemency procedures to minimize the chance of an innocent being convicted, sentenced to death or executed. Since 1973, legal protections have been so extraordinary that 37% of all death row cases have been overturned for due process reasons or commuted (Ehrlich). Nevertheless our judicial system still is not perfect. Trial witnesses, prosecutors and jurors can all make mistakes. When this is coupled with imperfections in the system it is inevitable that innocent people will be convicted of crimes.
Where capital punishment is used such mistakes cannot be put right. There is ample evidence that such mistakes are possible – in the USA, 116 people sentenced to death have been found innocent since 1973 and released from death row. The average time on death row before these exonerations was 9 years (Ehrlich). As far as a deterrent to other murderers, likewise, the death penalty has proved a signal failure, as may be seen by comparing the criminal statistics of those countries where the punishment is in force with those of countries where it has been abolished (Rankin).It is also not the reason of this failure far to inquire about. Murders are almost always committed in sudden fits of passion or temporary insanity, when no contemplation of reason or self-interest can appeal to the doer. With that said, such uncertainty attends the consummation of the death sentence which is due to the natural hesitation and partiality to the mercy of judge and jury, to the chances of reprieve and commutation that this penalty is far less deterrent than are those penalties which, though less severe, are also more certain.
Finally, we have not answered the question whether there are not other and more effective deterrents. There are such deterrents, in comparison with which capital punishment is seen to be clumsy and unsuccessful in the extreme. Some non supporters of the death penalty also feel as though it is a waste of not only money but also resources. Although supporters of the death penalty would argue that capital punishment is more economically efficient than life in prison, it consumes the time and energy of courts, prosecuting attorneys, defense counsel, juries, and courtroom and correctional personnel.It disproportionately burdens the system of criminal justice, and it is therefore counterproductive as an instrument for society’s control of violent crime. It epitomizes the tragic inefficacy and brutality of the resort to violence rather than reason for the solution of difficult social problems. From a Christian point, I feel as though capital punishment is synonymous to a denial of the divine nature of mankind.
On what principles of religion or philosophy can we justify the policy of depriving a human being like ourselves of all possibility of reform?If we profess to revere a God of mercy and justice, and if we ourselves plead and rely on that divine mercy and justice, how can we reconcile it with our duty, as men created in the divine image, to dismiss in consequence roughly a fellow human being from our midst and send him into the presence of the holy being whom we have outraged? Surely it is our duty and our privilege to be the agents of divine justice and mercy, and to exert to the highest our god-given powers in the endeavor to assist our fallen brother to his feet.In a debate with such strong feelings on both sides, data is open to manipulation by parties wishing to influence public sentiment. Data such as that above seems to strongly favor the continuation of capital punishment since it makes an all or nothing correlation between the death penalty and deterring crime. Studies from the other side of the debate counter these data stating that publicized executions did not have an effect on the murder rate but that it is naturally prone to statistical variation.In conclusion, although there are literally thousands of studies championing one side or another, even implicitly, it is difficult to get figures every group agrees upon. This suggests that greater public opinion research is needed as well as a greater and non-biased effort at data collection processes. While this is not meant to take sides it is worth suggesting that the debate about capital punishment is so divisive because it appeals so directly to emotion and personal feelings.
As is the case in other arenas that instigate such strong sentiment (the abortion or stem cell arguments, for example) sometimes the facts are overlooked in favor of these moral internal ethical questions.