Argument Against the death penalty
Arguments against the Capital Punishment
In this essay, we aim to provide arguments against the death penalty. In order to understand the issue, we aim to provide a solid historical background to the subject. After doing so, we intend to show the issues behind the death penalty. In that part, we intend to show the social, and political issues behind capital punishment. Then, we shall argument against the punishment, and offer a brief counterargument. Since we cannot argument on a subject, without offering counterarguments, it is the best way to do it. Afterward, we shall conclude with the future of the death penalty in the world.
History of the Death Penalty. The first execution recorded in North America was of a criminal called Daniel Frank who was executed for the crime of theft. In the same way, some colonies were stricter than others in their usage of the capital punishment. For instance, in the colony of Massachusetts, the first execution was in 1630. However, the Capital Laws in New England that went into effect in 1636-1647, stated that only certain offenses were subject of capital punishment. Offenses such as pre-meditated murder; sodomy, witchcraft; adultery; rape; rebellion; perjury and bestiality (Reggio 1). After the independence of the United States, there were only seven offenses subject to capital punishment: Murder; sodomy; burglary; buggery; arson; rape, and treason. (Reggio 1) However, the application of the capital punishment to the criminals has not been constant in the American history.
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In the 19th century, the public hangings that used to entertain large crowds of curious people, were ended, and the executions were conducted in prisons, away from the public eye. In 1840, a reform of the capital punishment laws was passed, and Michigan was the first state of a country in the world to completely revoke the death penalty. There are scholars who considered that if the Civil War would have occurred, the death penalty would have been banned in the whole country. (Feely 1).
Nevertheless, the Civil War changed many things that could have happened and the capital punishment remained. During the war, the authority regarding administering executions was transferred from the local administrations to the state level. Vermont was the first state to revoke the right of towns, and counties to sentence people to hanging, allowing only the state to sanction those executions. The original idea was to prevent unfair trials and unlawful judgments, but in the reality, it institutionalized the capital punishment. At the end of the 19th century, with the advent of the electricity, a reform to do capital punishment more human was instated. The chosen method was the electric chair, as it was perceived as more human, and less painful for the prisoners. (Feely 1)
In the same way, another reform occurred at the dawn of the 20th century when nine states abolished the death penalty. Nevertheless, after the World War I, five of them restored it. After 1930, two more abandoned the capital punishment. Of the remaining two, North Dakota only sentences to death, those who have repeated murder charges, and Minnesota, have not sentenced a person since they abolished the capital punishment. In the 21st century, only twelve states do not permit capital punishment, and although many of them have laws permitting capital punishment, they have not charged a prisoner under them. For those states who still condemn prisoners to the death penalty, the chosen method is the lethal injection, a method less stressful to the prison, and to those present in the execution (Feely 1)
Social issues of the Death Penalty. The death penalty is more expensive than life sentences. It might sound counter-intuitive, but cases, where the death penalty is proposed, tend to be longer and difficult than those with life sentences. The cases tend to cost more taxpayer’s money than simply locking them for life. Studies found that an average trial that turns into a death sentence costs $2.3 million, almost three times the costs of having the offender locked for life. (Wilkins 1)
Political Issues of the Capital Punishment. Politically, the death penalty is a sensitive subject. For instance, in South Carolina it is impossible for a candidate to run a successful election without being favorable to capital punishment. There are many examples of politicians who want to be regarded as hard on crime, that resort to the death penalty to appease the appetites of their voters. However, some political analysts have considered that there has been a steady decline on the usage of the death penalty as a campaign strategy.
Arguments for the Death Penalty In our research, we have found three key arguments that supporters of the death penalty use to argument their case.
1. Deterrence. Deterrence refers to the belief that society would be able to stop crime by making the punishment, and the sentences, more severe than the potential benefits gained in unlawful acts. Deterrence can be general, or specific. It is general when it is aimed to a general public. For instance, there are some executions that are used to give an example of what happens to those who commit a crime. On the other hand, the specific refers to an individual offender (Lambert et al. 5)
2. Retribution. The retribution argument refers to that the punishment should be in the same level as the offense, or the crime committed, hence, if you killed, you might die. This argument is the most emotional of the three we shall present, and it is based on an idea of revenge, instead of in an idea of fairness (Lambert et al. 7)
3. Incapacitation. This argument refers to the idea of keeping the offenders so closely monitored that they will not ever commit a crime. Under the incapacitation ideology, a criminal who is executed cannot victimize other inmates, or the society in general. Many people fear, that when a convicted felon is out in the streets, it might commit the same crime it was sentenced to, that is why the death penalty, as the ultimate form of incapacitation is proposed. (Lambert et al. 8)
Arguments against the Capital Punishment. Using the same arguments exposed for those who are in favor of the death penalty, we shall counterargument against it.
1. Deterrence. Studies have determined that the death penalty is a proved deterrent to homicide. An 85% of the country’s criminologists do not believe that the death penalty is a deterrent to homicide. In the same way, many of them do not believe that the abolition of the death penalty would have a significant effect on murder rates. Also, many of them consider that the debates about abolishing the capital punishment or not, are distracting the legislators from focusing in real solutions to crime. (Radelet & Lacock 490)
2. Retribution. The retributive idea of those who want to match the crimes committed, with the retribution the perpetrator must receive. However, this might lead to vengeance and unlawful punishments. The only way on which the retribution can be regarded as a possible way is by finding a way to provide a moral equivalent to the crime committed, and the punishment. (Finkelstein 14). However, it is not human to submit a person to the anticipatory suffering of being many years in the death row, without knowing when you will going to die. Also, retribution is mainly misunderstood, and people take the “an eye for an eye” far too literally, and use it to cover for their desire of vengeance
3. Incapacitation. Incapacitation as a way to stop crime to happen is a flawed measure as it only stops the criminal, but not the crime. If someone murders and you kill that person, you are only addressing to the murder, not the issues behind it. To remove a person like a rotten limb, is not the best way to ensure proper control, or not even proper justice. If you castrate a rapist, he will never rape, but the desire is still there, the same goes to the murderers. That is why to incapacitate criminals is like removing them from society, it can be regarding as the society giving up on them. (Mandery 67)
The Future of the Death Penalty. The death penalty has become less prevalent in the United States with the years. And although there are regions where the policy is more used than in others, the trend is changing. As we said before, many politicians try to advocate the usage of the death penalty to appear tough against the crime. If the politicians would stop regarding the death penalty as a political subject, it is possible that the trend could change faster. As long as people associate the death penalty with the law and order, the politicians would still campaign its usage. As we saw in our essay, the death penalty abolition is a politic subject, and sadly, instead of being regarded as a social issue, it is seen as a political measure to gain votes (Burton & Lai 1). However, there is still light at the end of the road, as the new techniques regarding crime detection, are making the guilty culprits, easier to identify. The de-trivialization of the death penalty has also changed the way people see the punishment, and many people are advocating for different measures that are equally tough on crime, but more useful. America is in the brink of change, we just have to wait, and hope for the best.
Burton, B., and Michael Lai. “Reevaluating the Death Penalty – Harvard Political Review.”Harvard Political Review Reevaluating the Death Penalty Comments. 1 Jan. 2010. Web. <http://harvardpolitics.com/united-states/reevaluating-the-death-penalty/>.
Finkelstein, C. “A Contractarian Argument Against The Death Penalty.” New York University Law Review 81.1283 (2006). NYU Press. Web. <http://www.nyulawreview.org/sites/default/files/pdf/NYULawReview-81-4-Finkelstein.pdf>.
Lambert, E., A. Clarke, and J. Lambert. “Reasons for Supporting and Opposing Capital Punishment in the USA: A Preliminary Study.” Internet Journal of Criminology (2004). Web. <http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com/Clarke Lambert – Reasons for Supporting and Opposing Capital.pdf>.
Mandery, Evan J.. Capital Punishment in America: A Balanced Examination. 2nd ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011. Print.
Radelet, M., and T. Lacock. “RECENT DEVELOPMENTS DO EXECUTIONS LOWER HOMICIDE RATES?: THE VIEWS OF LEADING CRIMINOLOGISTS.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 99.2 (2009). Northwestern University School of Law. Web. <http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/files/DeterrenceStudy2009.pdf>.
Reggio, M. “History of the Death Penalty.” PBS. PBS. Web. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/execution/readings/history.html>.
Wilkins, W. “The Legal, Political, and Social Implications of the Death Penalty.” 41.4 (2007). University of Richmond Law Review. Web. <http://lawreview.richmond.edu/the-legal-political-and-social-implications-of-the-death-penalty/>.
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