Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment Capital punishment is a brutal, antiquated concept that must be abolished in the name of civilized society. A humane culture cannot abide the organized extermination of human beings in the name of justice. In the United States, dozens of people are put to death every year like stray animals, only perhaps in less humane ways. The methods of capital punishment vary greatly, but none are publicly accepted as humane. Society’s support for the death penalty is waning, but there is still enough support in the United States to keep it legal in many states. The death penalty exercises only the most primal instincts to kill and extract revenge in an organized fashion. This is why the death penalty must be abolished entirely: to allow society to function in a civilized manner in which every person has the right to live.

Capital punishment is hypocritical, selection is arbitrary and biased, and the practice itself is cruel and inhumane. By allowing the organized extermination of living human beings the government is telling the public that they have the right to extinguish anyone they think is a murderer. The very idea of killing another for killing is inherently hypocritical. By enforcing capital punishment, the government is telling the public that it is okay to kill as long as you have more power than the person you are killing. This is of course a very cut-and-dried interpretation, but it is what the message boils down to.

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The problem with such a hypocritical notion as an eye for eye, is its fundamental inconsistency. In order to practice; what they preach, the courts would have to find a way to steal from thieves, betray traitors, and rape rapists. This is obviously ludicrous. Besides the central hypocrisies and inconsistencies of the punishment itself, the selection of those subjected to it is also unfair and prejudiced. Race, social status, economic status, level of education, and location of crime are key in the selection of those to be executed. The fate of one man’s life often depends on the whims and prejudgements of the jury he is granted.

Only 0.3 % of those convinced of crimes eligible for capital punishment are sentenced to death. Of course, one may think it good that such a relatively small number of people are executed, but this number represents the frivolous inclination of the legal system. In fact, since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States in 1976, only five white persons have been executed for killing a black person. This tells the public that the value of their lives depends on their race and the jury’s opinion of them. This sets back years of struggle for civil rights in the North America. Society suffers in the face of such and pre-dispose ‘justice’. Besides being arbitrary in selection, once selected, the condemned must undergo a series of cruel and torturous events.

The enforcement of capital punishment is a sadistic and macabre activity which appeals to the more grim aspects of human nature: wrath and malice. The condemned is told of his execution date and is then confined in a maximum security prison to await his execution. This is hardly a fitting punishment even if one believes that death is the answer. For there to be an equivalence between criminal homicide and execution, Albert Camus wrote, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who from that moment onward had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life. The fact that society feels such abhorrence for murders is veritably human, but to then do exactly to the criminal what caused them to hate the criminal in the first place is ridiculous. It is fitting that the guilty should be sentenced to life in prison, which is certainly not a pleasant experience by any measure. This should suffice as punishment that does not violate the very fabric of modern society.

The execution, once arrived at after years of waiting in fear, is brutal and primitive. Killing someone is not quite as simple as switching on a light. It requires violent trauma that eventually stops the brain from functioning one way or another. The five methods of execution used in the United States are electrocution, hanging, poisoning, gassing, and even shooting. The process is never as clean and efficient as a humane death should be and occasionally, things go wrong.

Most of the time, those executed are fitted with a hood to spare spectators the gruesome contortions of pain the face undergoes, and allows them to view the person as more of an object. This brutality cannot be tolerated. The main argument against capital punishment as morally objectionable as it is, is cost. It is a documented fact, however, that the cost of a capital trial combined with the jail term and execution is exorbitantly more expensive than supporting the prisoner for the rest of ‘ his life in jail. In fact, in many cases it has been 200% to 400% more costly.

The fact that capital punishment has survived thus far is due primarily to the fact that it appeals to man’s bloodlust and need for revenge. While civilized law in the United States has stated it wrong to simply kill someone deemed deserving, it has not stated it wrong for the government to kill those deemed deserving. Consequently, there are laws in place that allow the punishment of murder, by murder. Society’s integrity is diminished every time a criminal is executed. The very tenets of modern organization are opposed to the notion of capital punishment, yet this is constantly defied and ignored by the American legal system. If no changes are made and the death penalty remains an acceptable form of punishment, it is inevitable that this correctional method will bleed throughout the American legal system and be utilized for potential murderers and small-time thieves.

The mentality that encourages organized murder in the name of justice is doomed to devour the society that supports it, creating a totalitarian culture governed by paranoia. Society must voice its opposition to capital punishment before it pays dearly for a for it. Social Issues.

Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment I once saw a bumper sticker that read, Why do we kill people, who kill people, to show that killing is wrong? Suddenly I thought about what I had read. I am against the death penalty as a solution to crime. Capital punishment is a sign of a deep sickness in our civilization. Execution is an act of violence, but you cannot use violence to end violence. The death penalty is not an effective way to punish a criminal. It is used by the powerful to pretend that violent crime is under control, and being disposed of, but in reality the death penalty disposes of the poor, the uneducated, and the minorities in the world. Even states that use the death penalty seem to have a higher number of homicides than states that do not use it.

Capital punishment has never been shown to eliminate crime more effectively than other punishments. If the death penalty isnt lowering the murder rate then why waste the taxpayers money? It cost more to put a prisoner to death with any method than it does to keep them incarcerated. Our justice system shouldnt just execute the criminal, they should also make his life miserable. Prisons should supply the bare necessities and nothing else. One solution is to eliminate televisions, libraries, gyms and basketball courts.

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Even though our prisons need to toughen up, I do give them credit for taking away a criminals freedom. Many family members want to see the offenders dead. The families emotions are understandable, but death is not a solution. The victims family has to suffer for a lifetime, so why shouldnt the murderer suffer too? Another problem is the chance or executing an innocent person. The executed prisoner cannot be given another chance.

In the last hundred years there have been more that seventy-five documented cases of wrongful convictions in criminal homicide cases. One example is Walter McMillian who was released from Alabamas death row after having spent six years there because of perjured testimony and withheld evidence that indicated his innocence. He was convicted of the shooting death of a storekeeper. On the day of the murder he was at a fish fry with his friends and relatives, many of whom testified to this at his trial. No physical evidence linked him to the crime, but three people who testified at his trial connected him to the murder.

Only sheer luck saved Walter McMillian. After listening to a tape recording of a key witnesses testimony against McMillian, a volunteer lawyer flipped the tape to see if there was anything on the other side. Only then did he hear the same witness complaining that he was being pressured to frame McMillian. With that fourutious break, the whole case against McMillian began to fall apart. All three prosecution witnesses recanted their testimony.

On March 3, 1993, the County District Attorney joined the defense in a motion to dismiss the charges. Walter McMillian was finally freed. There are many other cases of mistaken conviction and execution that occur and remain undocumented. An innocent person can be freed, but neither release or compensation is possible for a corpse. If a man is truly a murder, the thought of execution will not stop him from committing murder.

So if capital punishment is not lowering the murder rate, is more expensive, and being alive is more of a punishment than being dead, then why not abolish the death penalty?.

Capital punishment

The use of capital punishment has been a permanent fixture in society since the earliest
civilizations and continues to be used as a form of punishment in countries today. It has
been used for various crimes ranging from the desertion of soldiers during wartime to the
more heinous crimes of serial killers. However, the mere fact that this brutal form of
punishment and revenge has been the policy of many nations in the past does not
subsequently warrant its implementation in today’s society. The death penalty is morally
and socially unethical, should be construed as cruel and unusual punishment since it is both
discriminatory and arbitrary, has no proof of acting as a deterrent, and risks the atrocious
and unacceptable injustice of executing innocent people. As long as capital punishment
exists in our society it will continue to spark the injustice which it has failed to curb.
Capital punishment is immoral and unethical. It does not matter who does the
killing because when a life is taken by another it is always wrong. By killing a human
being the state lessens the value of life and actually contributes to the growing sentiment in
today’s society that certain individuals are worth more than others. When the value of life
is lessened under certain circumstances such as the life of a murderer, what is stopping
others from creating their own circumstances for the value of one’s life such as race, class,
religion, and economics. Immanual Kant, a great philosopher of ethics, came up with the
Categorical Imperative, which is a universal command or rule that states that society and
individuals “must act in such a way that you can will that your actions become a universal
law for all to follow” (Palmer 265). There must be some set of moral and ethical
standards that even the government can not supersede, otherwise how can the state expect
its citizens not to follow its own example.
Those who support the death penalty believe, or claim to believe, that capital
punishment is morally and ethically acceptable. The bulk of their evidence comes from the
Old Testament which actually recommends the use of capital punishment for a number of
crimes. Others also quote the Sixth Commandment which, in the original Hebrew reads,
“Thou Shall Not Commit Murder.” However, these literal interpretations of selected
passages from the Bible which are often quoted out of context corrupt the compassionate
attitude of Judaism and Christianity, which clearly focuses on redemption and forgiveness,
and urges humane and effective ways of dealing with crime and violence. Those who use
the Bible to support the death penalty are by themselves since almost all religious groups
in the United States regard executions as immoral. They include, American Baptist
Churches USA, American Jewish Congress, California Catholic Council, Christian
reformed Church, Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church in America, Mennonite General
Conference, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, Northern Ecumenical
Council, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church of America, Southern California
Ecumenical Council, Unitarian/Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the
United Methodist Church (Death Penalty Focus).
Those that argue that the death penalty is ethical state that former great leaders
and thinkers such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Kant,
Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Mill all supported it (Koch 324). However,
Washington and Jefferson, two former presidents and admired men, both supported
slavery as well. Surely, the advice of someone who clearly demonstrated a total disregard
for the value of human life cannot be considered in such an argument as capital
punishment. In regard to the philosophers, Immanuel Kant, a great ethical philosopher
stated that the motives behind actions determine whether something is moral or immoral
(Palmer 271). The motives behind the death penalty, which revolve around revenge and
the “frustration and rage of people who see that the government is not coping with violent
crime,” are not of good will, thereby making capital punishment immoral according to
The question of whether executions are a “cruel” form of punishment may no
longer be an argument against capital punishment now that it can be done with lethal
injections, but it is still very “unusual” in that it only applies to a select number of
individuals making the death penalty completely discriminatory and arbitrary. After years
of watching the ineffectiveness of determining who should be put to death, the Supreme
Court in the1972 Furman v. Georgia decision “invalidated all existing death sentence
statues as violative of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and
thus depopulated state death rows of 629 occupants” (Berger 352). This decision was
reached not because it was believed that the death penalty was intrinsically cruel and
unusual but because, as Justice Stewart put it, the “death penalty as actually applied was
unconstitutionally arbitrary” (Berger 353). Local politics, money, race, and where the
crime is committed can often play a more decisive role in sentencing someone to death
than the actual facts of the crime. According to Amnesty International, the “death penalty
is a lethal lottery: just one out of every one hundred people arrested for murder is actually
executed” (Death Penalty Focus). In regards to racial discrimination in sentencing, it has
been found that “racial bias focuses primarily on the race of the victim, not the defendant”
(Berger 355). Only 31 out of the more than 15, 000 recorded executions in this country
have been of white defendants convicted of killing black victims, while black defendants
convicted of raping white women were commonly sentenced to death (Death Penalty
Focus). Stephen Nathanson, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University
addresses the problems of discrimination and randomness best by saying, “as long as
racial, class, religious, and economic bias continue to be important determinants of who is
executed, the death penalty will continue to create and perpetuate injustice” (Nathanson
Proponents of capital punishment believe that the argument that the death penalty
is discriminatory and arbitrary does not give support to the abolition of capital
punishment, but rather to the extension of it. Edward Koch, the former mayor of New
York from 1978 to 1989 and death penalty supporter, states that the discriminatory
manner of the death penalty “no longer seems to be the problem it once was,” yet in 1987,
the Supreme Court case of McCleskey v. Kemp established that in Georgia someone who
kills a white person is four times more likely to be sentenced to death than someone who
kills a black person (Death Penalty Focus). In response to this, supporters of the death
penalty believe that the death penalty should be extended to all murders. This is what was
attempted after the Furman decision. A number of states sought to resolve the
discriminatory and arbitrary nature of the death penalty by simply sentencing to death
everyone convicted of first-degree murder, but the Supreme Court rejected this proposal
saying that “mandatory death sentence laws did not really resolve the problem but instead
‘simply papered it over’ since juries responded by refusing to convict certain arbitrarily
chosen defendants of first-degree murder” (Berger 353).
An argument against the death penalty which to sensible and decent persons should
seem undeniable is the fact that innocent people have been murdered by the state in the
past and in all probability more will follow. The wrongful execution of an innocent person
is such an awful injustice that in any civilized society could never be justified, yet this is
the message that the United States is willing to pronounce. Simply put by Professor
Nathanson, “to maintain the death penalty is to be willing to risk innocent lives.” In 1987,
a study conducted by Hugo Bedau and Michael Radelet appeared in the Standford Law
Review concerning the execution of innocent people. The study concluded that in the
period between 1900 to 1980, about “350 people were wrongfully convicted of capital
offenses, 139 of the 350 were sentenced to death, and 23 were actually executed”
(Nathanson 344). Over this eighty year period this figure averages out to the death of an
innocent person about every 3.4 years. This fact is extremely disturbing and rightfully so,
yet death penalty advocates blatantly disregard the information or attempt to justify it in
Those who support capital punishment claim that such cases of innocent people
being executed have never occurred. For instance, Edward Koch quotes Hugo Bedau in
support of his claim that such cases are not true, saying “it is false sentimentality to argue
that the death penalty should be abolished because of the abstract possibility that an
innocent person might be executed.” Koch, in an attempt to gain political support, acted
quite unethically by quoting Bedau out of context and implying that such cases have not
occurred. According to David Bruck, a prominent lawyer for South Carolina Office of
Appellate Defense, “all Bedau was saying was that doubts concerning executed prisoners’
guilt are almost never resolved.” Koch also failed to relate in his essay that Bedau, who
had not yet released the 1987 study, had already comprised a “list of murder convictions
since 1900 in which the state eventually admitted error” in about 400 hundred cases.
Another response to the fact that innocent people have been executed is that the
small number of innocents executed outweighs the number of lives that will be saved since
the possibility of being executed will deter others from committing a murder, and also lives
will be saved since that murderer cannot kill again. Scientific studies have failed to prove
that executions deter other people from committing crime. According to Dr. Ernest van
den Haag, a well-known scholar in favor of the death penalty, “one cannot claim that it has
been proved statistically that the death penalty does deter more than alternative penalties”
(Haag 338). However, Haag supports his stand on the death penalty by stating that,
“when they have the choice between life and death, 99 percent of all prisoners under
sentence of death prefer life in prison.” This statistic proves nothing but the fact that man
has an innate desire for survival. Those asked the question have already committed the
crime and thus does not reflect the sentiment of those considering a crime. Also, people
often kill when under great “emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol –
times when they are not thinking of the consequences” (Death Penalty Focus). Career
criminals and those that plan a crime do not expect to get caught, thus making the
In response to the fact that a executed murderer will never kill again, society must
ask itself whether it is morally and ethically acceptable to risk killing an innocent person
when an alternative such as life imprisonment without possibility of parole exists. In
California since 1978, more than 1,000 people have received this alternate sentence which
includes no appeals process. The public can be assured that those who commit heinous
murders and receive this sentence will never be free again. According to Death Penalty
Focus, “a recent Field Poll showed support for the death penalty plummeted when
alternative sentencing is available. Just 29 percent favored death over life without parole
plus requiring the defendant to work in prison and give part of his earnings as restitution
The use of capital punishment has endured throughout the ages, yet its use today
in a “civilized” society should no longer be acceptable to morally and ethically conscience
individuals. The vast majority of countries in Western Europe and North and South
America – more than 80 nations worldwide – have abandoned capital punishment, yet the
United States remains an avid supporter in company with countries such as Iran, Iraq, and
China as one of the major users of capital punishment (Death Penalty Focus). The use of
the death penalty in its discriminatory and arbitrary methods “only magnifies inequalities of
race that persist in the criminal justice system and in American society generally (Berger
355). Even with the death of a guilty man, innocence is lost, for even Edward Koch
admits that “the death of anyone – even a convicted killer – diminishes us all.” But it is a
sad commentary on the state of this country when we are willing to accept the avoidable
death of an innocent man and allow the “death penalty to continue to create and
Bibliography:
Berger, Vivian, “Rolling the Dice to Decide Who Dies,” New York State Bar Journal,
October 1988.
Bruck, David, “The Death Penalty,” The New Republic, May 20, 1985.
Death Penalty Focus (DPF), “Myths and Facts about California’s Death Penalty,” pamphlet
Koch, Edward, “Death and Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life,” The New
Republic, April 15, 1985.
Nathanson, Stephen, “What If the Death Penalty Did Save Lives?” An Eye for an Eye?
The Morality of Punishing by Death, 1987.
Palmer, Donald, Does the Center Hold? An Introduction to Western Philosophy, Mayfield
Publishing Company, London, 1996.
Van den Haag, Ernest, The Death Penalty Pro and Con: A Debate, 1983.

Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment
After centuries of nearly universal implementation, the death penalty
remains a deeply debated political issue. While one execution takes place, other
murders occur, and the question still stands: Will the death penalty safeguard
society and deter murder, or will it not? The death penalty cannot be considered
a proper economical and moral means of punishment to deter those who might
commit capital offenses, or can it?
In the past, capital punishment horrified people, which deterred them
from committing crime. In England, the country from which the United States
adopted the death penalty, the death penalty was imposed for a rather large
number of offenses in an effort to discourage people from committing crimes.

Methods of inflicting the death penalty have ranged “From stoning in biblical
times, crucifixion under the Romans, beheading in France, to those used in the
United States today: hanging, electrocution, gas chamber, firing squad, and
lethal injection”(Bedau 124). There were drastic penalties for such serious
crimes as homicide. Execution was a suitable punishment for those times. Today,
though, the law is not as strict. This leads potential criminals not to fear the
death penalty because government today uses more “humane” methods of execution,
rather than the brutal punishment that history portrayed.

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People who oppose the death penalty say that “there is no evidence that
the murder rate fluctuates according to the frequency with which the death
penalty is used” (Masur 153). It is more likely that the convict would be
paroled instead of being executed because of the present practice of allowing
unlimited appeals. Convicted criminals are not exposed to cruel punishment, but
rather given a long waiting period. If the criminal is put to death, it is
usually done as mercifully as possible.


One problem with the death penalty, presently, is that crime is not
decreasing, but rather increasing. If capital punishment is supposed to deter
crimes such as murder, it is not serving its purpose. Even philosophers, such as
Beccaria, Voltaire, and Bentham of the Enlightenment Period, argued that “the
death penalty was needlessly cruel, overrated as a deterent, and occasionally
imposed in fatal error” (Fogelson 89).


Another problem with the death penalty is the enormous amount of money
being spent on implementation. It costs taxpayers millions of dollars more to
execute a criminal than to lock him up for life. The number of prisoners on
death row has been steadily increasing and will soon meet all time highs. This
fact brings up the question of economic feasibility of the implementation, as
well as the question of weather the death penalty is actually an effective
deterrent to crime.


Currently, Texas leads the nation in both death row population and in
the number of executions. Texas has 351 condemned men and 4 women awaiting
sentence, and has had 46 executions since 1977. These prisoners spent an average
of eight years on death row and cost Texans an average of 2.3 million dollars
per case (“Execution” B8). The legal process a condemned prisoner goes through
is very lengthy and costly.


A person is only given the death penalty for certain crimes in Texas. A
death sentence is handed down if a person is convicted of the murder of a police
officer or fireman, murder during certain felonies, murder for pay or reward,
multiple murders, or murder during prison escape. Once a criminal has been
sentenced, he or she can appeal the decision.


In addition to the courts appeals, the cost of an average of $180,000
per case, the $150,000 prison cost also escalates the economic burden to the
state. This cost does not include the $21,000 execution cost or the $19,500
needed for extra security (Van den Haag 123). To have a death row prisoner means
that the state must provide police, fire, and public safety protection. They
also require special housing units, extra guards, food, and around-the-clock
security (Van den Haag 123).


To cut down costs, several alternatives to the death penalty have been
discussed by public officials. One alternative is to sentence criminals to life
imprison without possibility of parole instead of execution. Although this plan
would save millions of dollars, it would create problems in the prison system.

The end result would be killing each other and killing prison guards without the
threat of serious consequences (“Execution” B8).


In the following interview with the U.S. Attorney, Demetrius Bevins’
aide, some interesting responses were made:
Q:What do you think about the death penalty?
A:Depending on the circumstances of the crime, on some criminals it should
be enforced. On others, they should just get life in prison.


Q:What do you think is the best method of execution?
A:I think the best method is lethal injection. Is is the mo…..st humane, and
in my opinion, the least expensive. It involves much less preperation than the
electric chair, and it is safer and cleaner.


Q:Do you have any suggestions for alternative solutions to the death
penalty?
A:Yes. Life in prison with absolutely no possibility of parole.


The following is an interview with local attorney Chuck Hardy.


Q:What do you think about the death penalty?
A:I think it serves its purpose. I think it cuts down on crime, and from
my experience with the prisoners I have met, most if not all are scared of the
lethal injection method used here in Texas.


Q:What is the best method of execution?
A:The electric chair. It is scarier than lethal injection because one must
first go through intense pain. With the lethal injection, one just goes to sleep
and never wakes up.


Q:Do you have any suggestions for alternative solutions to the death
penalty.


A:Doing hard time in a maximum security prison and never seeing the light
of day.


In legal history there is a tendency “to leave cruel executions behind
and to humanize’ capital punishment by the pursuit of technical perfection”
(Bockle 43). The death penalty is a form of torture trying to be justified with
advanced technology. How does this form of torture differ from the torture that
takes place in “Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, South America, Guatemala, Bangladesh,
Afganistan, and even Israel?” (Bockle 4). The techniques in those countries
would certainly be considered to go against human morality, but the end result
is the same, a man dies. In this country, the debate goes on as to weather or
not the death penalty is in fact going against human morality regardless of hoe
“humanly” it is done.


Some people turn to the Bible to determine what is right, but the Bible
can be interpreted as arguing either way. The Old Testament can be interpreted
as arguing for the death penalty. This interpretation is formulated from the
passage in which God sentences Cain to walk the Earth without food or human
contact. Cain killed his brother Able, and therfore was punished by banishment.

This type of punishment would be impossible to impose on an individual at this
day and age. Those for the death penalty justify the use of capital punishment
as a necessary for the preservation of the society of the twentieth century.


The same Old Testament can be interpreted as against the death penalty.

The quotation, “Vengeance said the Lord, is mine, and if anyone kills Cain, it
shall be taken on him sevenfold,” is most accurately interpreted as anti-death
penalty (Berns 11). This statement steers society into allowing God to take care
of the sinful individual in His own manner. Cain was banished and considered an
outcast just as the prisoner is an outcast from society.


Many questions have been raised as to the effectiveness of the death
penalty, and whether it should still be used today. Everywhere in the United
States the death penalty has been under fire. The awareness of the people and
arguments made by lawmakers have led to an anti-death penalty sentiment in the
United States. Arguments in favor of the death penalty, such as “the punishment
fitting the crime” and the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent
against crime, are made. These ideas are the basis for pro-death penalty views
among the population and court systems of America.


Important legal arguments against the death penalty are usually made
from what is stated in the Constitution. Many people believe that the death
penalty is unlawful because it violates the cruel and unusual punishment clauses
under the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution (Punishment 82).

Another argument that the abolitionist group make is that the death penalty
violates the discriminatory clause of the Constitution. Of all executions that
took place in the United States between 1930 and 1966, over half of those who
died were black (Punishment 2).


The controversy over capital punishment began in the eighteenth century
and continues today. Throughout the world innocent people are executed in
several inhumane forms which the United States should not follow. Today there
exists a raging debate on wether the death penalty is economically, morally, and
legally justifiable, or still just cruel and inhumane.


BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bedau, Hugo Adam. “Capital Punishment.” Collier’s Encyclopedia. 1990.


Berns, Walter. For Capital Punishment. New York: Basic Books, 1979.


Bockle, Franz, and Jacques Pohier. The Death Penalty and Torture. New York: The
Seabury Press, 1979.


“Execution Costs an Average $2.3 Million in Texas.” San Antonio Light. 9 Mar.

1992, B:8.


Fogelson, Robert M. Criminal Justice in America. New York: ARNO Press, 1974.


Masur, Louis P. Rites of Execution. New York: Oxford U.P., 1989.


Van de Haag, Ernest. Punishment of Criminals. New York: Basic Books, 1975.

Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment
Many positions can be defended when debating the issue of capital punishment. In Jonathan Glover’s essay “Executions,” he maintains that there are three views that a person may have in regard to capital punishment: the retributivist, the absolutist, and the utilitarian. Although Glover recognizes that both statistical and intuitive evidence cannot validate the benefits of capital punishment, he can be considered a utilitarian because he believes that social usefulness is the only way to justify it. Martin Perlmutter on the other hand, maintains the retributivist view of capital punishment, which states that a murderer deserves to be punished because of a conscious decision to break the law with knowledge of the consequences. He even goes as far to claim that just as a winner of a contest has a right to a prize, a murderer has a right to be executed. Despite the fact that retributivism is not a position that I maintain, I agree with Perlmutter in his claim that social utility cannot be used to settle the debate about capital punishment. At the same time, I do not believe that retributivism justifies the death penalty either.

In Martin Perlmutter’s essay “Desert and Capital Punishment,” he attempts to illustrate that social utility is a poor method of evaluating the legitimacy of it. Perlmutter claims that a punishment must be “backward looking,” meaning that it is based on a past wrongdoing. A utilitarian justification of capital punishment strays from the definition of the term “punishment” because it is “forward looking.” An argument for social utility maintains that the death penalty should result in a greater good and the consequences must outweigh the harm, thereby increasing overall happiness in the world. Perlmutter recognizes the three potential benefits of a punishment as the rehabilitation of an offender, protection for other possible victims, and deterring other people from committing the same crime. The death penalty however, obviously does not rehabilitate a victim nor does it do a better job at protecting other potential victims than life imprisonment. Since a punishment must inflict harm on an individual, deterrence is the only argument that utilitarians can use to defend the death penalty. The question then arises as to whether capital punishment actually deters people from committing the same crime.

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Jonathan Glover attempts to answer this question in his essay titled “Executions.” According to Glover, the statistical evidence measuring the effectiveness of the death penalty is extremely vague. It is difficult to determine whether alterations in the murder rates and the presence of capital punishment have a causal relationship. The only other method of justifying the deterring ability of the death penalty is through an intuitive argument. Hypothetically, if a person knows that murdering another will result in their own execution, he or she will not commit the crime. The intuitive argument fails however, because murderers do not face certain death when they go to trial. The long-term effects of murder seem so distant that capital punishment may fail to act as a deterrent at all. Such is the case with cigarette smokers. Any educated person knows that cigarette smoking can cause lung cancer and many other fatal health problems. The negative results of this activity are so distant though, that people believe that “it will not happen to me.” Another failure in the intuitive argument defending the deterring ability of the death penalty is whether it actually serves as a greater deterrence than life imprisonment. Bodily mutilation may deter many people from committing a multitude of crimes, however this sort of punishment is inconceivable in American society. Glover does not believe that the argument of deterrence can be effectively defended, however he feels that the social utility of capital punishment is the only thing that can justify adding more misery to the world.

Perlmutter disagrees with this point because he believes that the validity of a punishment should correlate with the extent of the crime, as opposed to the benefits that result from imposing it. Social utility should not be used to determine the fairness of a punishment. A punishment occurs because a rule exists and someone broke it with full cognizance of the negative consequences. After outlining the utilitarian approach to capital punishment, Perlmutter criticizes it because reform, protection, and deterrence do not involve harm or deprivation, which is essential to the definition of punishment. He claims that by living in a society with laws, everyone enters a social contract or a promise to abide by those regulations. Breaking this promise is a conscious decision by the offender and the punishment is a result of the crime. Perlmutter states that by rejecting the death penalty, a fair punishment for murder, a criminal fails to be treated as a person because their choices cease to be honored. Since people know that murder is wrong and choose to disregard this fact when the crime is committed, Perlmutter’s retributivist view can be defeated by demonstrating specific examples of the cruelty of the death penalty.

Glover contends that people could oppose the retributivist perspective by claiming that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. Although a murder has been committed, a criminal has to live the remainder of life knowing when and how he or she will die, and what people will think of him or her. The person’s family may be deeply disturbed as well during this entire process, thereby affecting even more people’s lives.
The possibility also exists of wrongly executing innocent victims, which seems far worse than being murdered. Historically capital punishment has had lifelong psychological effects on the executioner and many of the prison guards. Most importantly, the desire to view an execution or become aware of one reveals a disturbing interest in violence that could become inherent in a society. All of these objections to capital punishment are considered to be utilitarian in nature because they are dependent on the idea that the death penalty increases the misery in the world and therefore is wrong. However, if utilitarianism cannot be used to justify capital punishment, can it be used to reject the legitimacy of it? And if it could be proven that capital punishment saved ten lives for every execution could it then be validated? The answer to both of these questions is no.

When comparing the two views of Glover and Perlmutter, a sense of circularity can be realized. Perlmutter rejects the utilitarian approach that reform, protection, and deterrence legitimize capital punishment. At the same time, utilitarian ideas can be used to defeat his retributive argument. However, it has already been demonstrated that social utility is a poor method of justifying or defeating the death penalty.

In conclusion the best view that can be taken in regards to the death penalty is that of absolutism. Absolutism rejects both the retributive and the utilitarian approaches to capital punishment by stating that it is entirely wrong. Capital punishment infringes on a person’s right to life and cannot be justified simply because the criminal infringed someone else’s rights in the past. An absolutist believes that “legal murder” cannot be justified by any school of thought. By murdering citizens, the government sets a highly negative example to the people in the society. Is it justifiable to murder someone because twelve rational people in a courtroom decided that it should be so? By the same token, a murderer can claim that their victim had violated their rights and did not deserve to live. Obviously that cannot be rationalized in any manner. No matter from what perspective it is viewed, capital punishment is murdering another human being. Even if a law is broken and the person has made the world a worse place to live, killing someone else can never be justified, especially by measuring its social utility. The world would be a better place if many people did not exist, but it would not be legitimate to exterminate everyone who does not increase the happiness in the world. Social utility cannot justify the existence of capital punishment, nor can it be used as rationale to reject it. Retributivism fails as well because the death penalty may be regarded as cruel and unusual punishment. Absolutism seems to be the only school of thought that cannot be logically dismantled. No evidence exists that would demonstrate the benefits of capital punishment and statistically the only thing that is accomplished is another death in society.

Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment Capital Punishment has been an issue of arguments for centuries. This topic was even of more importance during the 1700’s than the present, because the quantities of punished people were significantly larger than now. In that time it was easy for an individual to loose his life for a small crime. In this research paper we will examine the views of two different types of people on this subject. The first person is a reverend from 18th century London, and the other is an American doctor from the same period.

In the arguments of both gentlemen we can find similarities that lead us to understand the sentiment toward the issue during the 17th century. Revered E. Gillepsy begins his sermon with the definition of the meaning of being virtuous. He states that some one with good virtue will wish for world happiness. That person is to apply that wish through actions.

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These actions will be rewarded in both the present life as in the future one. Another strong point that Rev. Gillepsy presents is that the laws of nations should be made according to religion. They should obey God instead of man. Even if the rules of man justify taking away lives, this does not mean that God agrees with such laws. He means that the feelings taught by religion should overrule feelings extracted from political affairs.

Rev. Gillepsy also talks about the sentiment of the people. He claims that is mankind was influenced entirely by the spirit of Christianity, they would never seek the death of another human being. People should see themselves in the shoes of other people, Do on to others as you would like done upon you. Man should never have to fall under a human executioner. Instead he should care for the criminal and give mercy. Rev.

Gillepsy has many thoughts on the punishments that follow criminal apprehension. He says that the system does a poor job in the prevention of crimes. He also mentions that if the system is not changed, there is a risk of revenge from heaven. His worries on capital punishment are related with the little proportion between crime and punishment. He provides the reader with examples of some crimes that have been punished with death.

One of those is the stealing of property. Amounts as low as 12-Pence have been seen as enough to kill a man. Other crimes include: breaking a fish pond, causing the fish to die; cutting a tree in a garden; associating with gypsies; witchcraft; sorcery, charm and enchantments. He cannot understand how society can possibly think that the life of fish or a tree can be seen as equal to the life of a human being. Rev. Gillepsy states that sanguinary laws are sign of disorder in a state.

For example, the laws of the Romans Decemuiri were full of cruel punishments. Then there were the partion law which exempted all citizens from death sentence and they flourished. Under the emperors severe punishments were delivered and their empires fell. Gillepsy asks how capital punishment can be seen as an act of prudence, when the greatest act of prudence is preserving life. They are acting criminally by destroying life.

Rev. Gillepsy also expresses a sentiment of possession. He says that God gave man the Earth for him to rule. He also gave him control over all things on Earth, but he did not give him control over each other. Therefore, God does not permit to ultimately control each other by taking away the lives of those facing punishment.

Some alternatives to the death sentence are also given in the sermon. He says that a convicted felon should be forced to work until he repays what he owes. He sees this alternative as very effective because it restores property, employs the culprit and it answers to al ends of justice and society. However he suggests that the price of labour be less than the price of regular labourers and their diet be poorer. All these in order to deter people from committing crimes.

Another alternative to capital punishment should be the exile of criminals. By sending the accused to another part of the world he is returning to duty of a community and he also becoming a useful and helpful member of society. Rev Gillepsy also critiques the organisation and availability of the laws. He states that there are too many laws and that one cannot expect all subjects to understand them all. He backs that statement by saying that not all people have enough money to afford buying a copy of the laws and others do not have the time to read them carefully. Also if one had the money and time to study them, chances are that they might find them complicated to understand.

Rev. Gillepsy also sees a great danger in carrying on with capital punishment. He claims that this behaviour disobeys the Deity. The Deity can punish us by forfeiting their protection. Our punishment would lead to numerous punishments being set loose upon us.

We could visualise the presence of a thousand ghosts and apparitions, which exists in our mind. This punishment will not happen to the virtuous and innocent. The Deity inflicts the punishment by making our conscience our greatest torment instead of our greatest comfort. Benjamin Rush was a medical doctor in Philadelphia. His views have been regarded world wide as very influencing.

In 1793 he wrote a document about capital punishment. Comparing both the Rush and Gillepsy documents is quite interesting because one is able to find similarities and contrasts between two people, a scientist and a religious leader. Benjamin Rush begins his document with several arguments against the existence of capital punishment. He says that because there have been several death sentences, this will lessen the horror of taking a life away. The people are likely to become desensitised to murder and this can lead to an increase of murderers. He also says that capital punishment produces more deaths, even if it criminals being killed. People of good morals might be reluctant to report a criminal because they would be afraid of being the cause for another death.

If the punishment was long confinement and/or hard forced labour, this would seen good enough and everybody in society would be a ‘watchman’ and they would be glad to apprehend a murderer and bring him/her to justice. Another argument by Rush is that capital punishment goes against universal justice: to prevent murder and take care of every living person. Rush says that it has been proven that the opposite of capital punishment is ideal for society and it brings happiness and order. For example the Empress of Russia, the King of Sweden, the Duke of Tufany have all reduced murder from their regions by punishing murderers by having them do beneficiary acts towards society and by reforming the criminal who disrupt the peace. Rush claims that capital punishment also goes against divine revelation.

Religion commands the people to forgive thy neighbour and to love thy enemy. The powers above never authorised punishment by death. Revenge is mine. I will repay. Religious beliefs also lead to other point of views by Rush. Rush gives his reader some insights on the reasons why there is capital punishment in society.

He says that from the beginning people misunderstood the law of Moses. He that killeth a man shall be put to death. The ignorance and cruelty of man in addition to the misapplication of this text of scripture has so for years seen the religion of Jesus Christ as one of folly and revenge. Man has a criminal nature and they could not comprehend that Moses meant that man was to be put to death by the creator himself, not by another creation. There is no argument that proves a justification for capital punishment, instead there is plenty argument against it. Rush gives some arguments that lead one to believe that the laws of Moses were misinterpreted.

Death punishment is contrary to reason. God wants man to love one another, not the opposite, killing a criminal cannot be accepted by God. The order and happiness of society is the will of God. Capital punishment destroys order and happiness of society; therefore, capital punishment destroys the will of God. There is proof that the laws of Moses were given to the ignorant and hard-hearted Jews; the divine legislator states, I gave them status that were not good and judgements where by they should not live.

Examples of this are the law of divorces and the law of retaliation. Rush states that there are several messages in the church that tells us that death punishment is not allowed by heaven. He says that it is believed that the Deity has a way of punishing murderers. The punishment is the horrors of a guilty conscience. His guilty conscience will lead to restoration of his wrong doings, Let him live to suffer the reproaches of a guilty conscience, let him live, to make compensation to society for the injury he has done it, by robbing him of a citizen, let him live to maintain the family of the man he has murdered; let him live.

Clearly we see the point that Rush send through, he strongly beliefs that there are other ways of pursuing justice to avoid the shedding of more blood. Rush provides the reader with examples from the bible that argue the existence of capital punishment. The heavens do not punish Cain for killing his own brother by taking away his life. Also his father, Adam, does not inflict the punishment of death when he finds out his tragedy. Not even God acts as a judge nor executioner but he exiles him from society and fixes in his mind a ‘dying worm.’ God subject Cain to the need of labour; to make sure that his punishment lasts, God places a mark of prohibition upon him that prevents other people from killing him.

Whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. Another example from the bible is when the whore is about to be stoned to death, Jesus saves her from her. Also, when Peter attacks a servant of the high priest, Jesus quickly regretted that action and he healed the wounded man. Rush wishes that the following phrase became the motto of humankind: The son of man is not come to destroy man’s lives, but to save them. Both documents by Rev. Gillepsy and Benjamin Rush provide with clear points in discouraging capital punishment.

They both use references to religion and beliefs. It is clear to see that the main battle in society at this time was the reasoning between religion and law. Both conflict in many ways. One is sanguinary and the other is forgiving. They both have similarities in suggesting alternatives for the deadly sentence. However, they lecture on some unique points that the other might be lacking.

Studying both authors does an effective role in understanding the sentiment felt during this era of tragic punishment. Both men tried to change their country’s brutal ways, especially in a time when the price of a life was relatively low. Bibliography Unavailable.

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