DEATH PENALTY ARGUMENTS:
DEATH PENALTY ARGUMENTS:
Deterrent or Revenge
(Pros and Cons)
What is Capital punishment? Capital punishment is the death penalty. It is used
today and was used in ancient times to punish a variety of offenses. Even the bible
advocates death for murder and other crimes like kidnapping and witchcraft.
When the word death penalty is used, it makes yelling and screaming from both
sides of extremist. One side may say deterrence, while the other side may say, but you
may execute an innocent man.
Today, one of the most debated issues in the Criminal Justice System is the issue
of capital punishment or the death penalty. Capital punishment was legal until 1972,
when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in Furman v. Georgia stating that it
violated the Eight and Fourteen Amendments citing cruel and unusual punishment.
However, in 1976, the Supreme Court reversed itself with Gregg v. Georgia and
reinstated the death penalty but not all states have the death penalty.
Thirteen states do not have the death penalty: Alaska, District of Colombia, Hawaii,
Iowa, Main, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont,
West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY (CONS)
Death Penalty Fails to Rehabilitate
What would it accomplish to put someone on death row? The victim is already
dead-you cannot bring him back. When the opponents feel “fear of death” will prevent
one from committing murder, it is not true because most murders are done on the “heat of
passion” when a person cannot think rationally. Therefore, how can one even have time
to think of fear in the heat of passion (Internet)?
ACLU and Murderers Penniless
The American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) is working for a moratorium on
executions and to put an end to state-sanctioned murder in the United States. They claim
it is very disturbing to anyone who values human life.
In the article of the ACLU Evolution Watch, the American Bar Association said
the quality of the legal representation is substantial. Ninety-nine percent of criminal
defendants end up penniless by the time their case is up for appeal. They claim they are
treated unfairly. Most murderers who do not have any money, receive the death penalty.
Those who live in counties pro-death penalty are more likely to receive the death penalty.
Death Penalty Failed as a Deterrent
Some criminologist claim they have statistically proven that when an execution is
publicized, more murders occur in the day and weeks that follow. A good example is in
the Linberg kidnapping. A number of states adopted the death penalty for crime like
this, but figures showed kidnapping increased. Publicity may encourage crime instead of
preventing it (McClellan, G., 1961).
Death is one penalty which makes error irreversible and the chance of error is
inescapable when based on human judgment . On the contrary, sometimes defendants
insist on execution. They feel it is an act of kindness to them. The argument here is - Is
life imprisonment a crueler fate?” Is there evidence supporting the usefulness of the
death penalty securing the life of the citizens (McClellan, G. 1961)?
Does the death penalty give increased protection against being murdered? This
argument for continuation of the death penalty is most likely a deterrent, but it has failed
as a deterrent. There is no clear evidence because empirical studies done in the 50’s by
Professor Thorsten Sellin, (sociologist) did not give support to deterrence (McClellan,
Does not Discourage Crime
It is noted that we need extreme penalty as a deterrent to crime. This could be a
strong argument if it could be proved that the death penalty discourages murderers and
kidnappers. There is strong evidence that the death penalty does not discourage crime at
all (McClellan, G., 1961).
Grant McClellan (1961) claims:
In 1958 the10 states that had the fewest murders –fewer
than two a year per 100,000 population -were New Hampshire
Iowa, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin,
Rhode Island, Utah, North Dakota and Washington. Four of
these 10 states had abolished the death penalty.
The 10 states, which had the most murderers from eight to
fourteen killings per100,000 population were Nevada,
Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Virginia - all of them
enforce the death penalty. The fact is that fear of the
death penalty has never served to reduce the crime rate (p. 40).
Conviction of the Innocent Occurs
The states that have the death penalty should be free of murder, but those states
have the most murders, and the states that abolished the death penalty has less.
Conviction of the innocent does occur and death makes a miscarriage of justice
irrevocable. Two states Maine and Rhode Island abolished the death penalty because of
public shame and remorse after they discovered they executed some innocent men.
Fear of Death Does not Reduce Crime.
The fear of the death penalty has never reduced crime. Through most of history
executions were public and brutal. Some criminals were even crushed to death slowly
under heavy weight. Crime was more common at that time than it is now. Evidence
shows execution does not act as a deterrent to capital punishment.
Motives for Death Penalty - Revenge
According to Grant McClellan (1961), the motives for the death penalty may be
for revenge. Legal vengeance solidifies social solidarity against law breakers and is the
alternative to the private revenge of those who feel harmed.
FOR THE DEATH PENALTY (PROS)
Threat of Death Penalty Rate of Homicide Decreases
Frank Carrington (1978) states- is there any way one can tell whether the death
penalty deters murders from killing? There is no way one can tell whether the death
penalty deters murderers from killing. The argument goes on that proponents of capital
punishments should not have to bear the burden of proving deterrence by a reasonable
doubt. Nor should the abolitionist have to prove deterrence by a reasonable doubt -
neither side would be able to anyway.
Frank Carrington (1978) claims common sense supports the inference that if, the
threat of the death penalty decreases, the rate of murders increases than it may be true.
But if the threat had increased, the homicide rate may decrease.
Justice Stewart held in the Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia:
Although some of the studies suggest that the death
penalty may not function as a significantly greater
deterrent than lesser penalties, there is no convincing
empirical evidence supporting or refuting this view.
We may nevertheless assume safely there are murders,
such as those who act in passion, for whom the threat of
death has little or no deterrent effect. But for many others,
the death penalty undoubtedly, is a significant deterrent.
There are carefully contemplated murders, such as murder
for hire, where the possible penalty of death may well enter
the cold calculus that precedes the decision to act
( as cited in Carrington, 1978. p. 87).
J. Edgar Hoover, late director of Federal Bureau of Investigations, asks the
following questions: “Have you ever thought about how many criminals escape
punishment, and yet, the victims never have a chance to do that? Are crime victims in the
United States today the forgotten people of our time? Do they receive full measure of
justice (as cited in Isenberg, 1977, p. 129)?
A criminal on death row has a chance to prepare his death, make a will, and make
his last statements, etc. while some victims can never do it. There are many other
crimes where people are injured by stabbing, rape, theft, etc. To some degree at least,
the victims right to freedom and pursuit of happiness is violated.
When the assailant is apprehended and charged, he has the power of the judicial
process who protects his constitutional rights. What about the victim? The assailant may
have compassion from investigating officers, families and friends. Furthermore, the
criminal may have organized campaigns of propaganda to build sympathy for him as if he
is the one who has been sinned against. These false claims are publicized, for no reason,
hence, protecting the criminal (Isenberg, I., 1977).
The former Theodore L. Sendak, Attorney General of Indiana delivered a speech
to Law enforcement officials in Northern Indiana on May 12, 1971 (as cited in Isenberg,
“Our system of criminal law is to minimize human
suffering by works or order primarily to forestall
violence or aggression. In the question of the death
penalty, we must ask ourselves which action will
serve the true humanitarian purpose of criminal law.
We should weigh the death of the convicted murders
against the loss of life of his victims and the possibility
of potential victims to murder (p. 129)
In arguments of the death penalty, there are two lives to think about. Too much
emphasis is placed on the convicted murderer, the one being executed, and the victim is
Crime Rate Increases
Millions are being killed and will be killed because our justice system is not
working. Millions have already been killed and will be killed every year. According to
Time Magazine, there are 2,000,000 people beaten in the United States. Some are knifed,
shot, or assaulted (Internet).
Crime growth has been going up in the past because of too much leniency going
hand in hand with the increased rate of people being victimized. There are many loop
holes devised for offenders, and because of that crime rate has increased drastically.
Between l960 to 1968 crime rate increased 11 times. More and more people are being
murdered, raped, assaulted, kidnapped, and robbed, etc. (Isenberg, I., 1997).
When you commit a felony, it is a matter of free will. No one is compelled to
commit armed robbery, murder, or rape. The average citizen does not have a mind or
intentions to become a killer or being falsely accused of murder. What he is worried
about is being a victim.
Deterrent in 27 States
Opponents argue that there is no deterrent effect by using the death penalty.
According to Baily, who did a study from l967 to l968, the death penalty was a deterrent
in 27 states. When there was a moratorium on Capital Punishment in the United States,
the study showed murder rates increased by 100%. The study also reviewed 14 nations
who abolished the death penalty. It (the study) claimed murder increased by 7% from
five years before the abolition period to the five years after the abolition (Internet).
Studies were made by Professor Isaac Erlich between the period of 1933 and
1969. He concluded “An additional execution per year may have resulted in fewer
murders (Bedau, 1982, p. 323)”.
The number of years on the average spent in death row is 10 years. It is known,
with all the appeals, the death penalty is not swift! In fact, most murderers feel they most
likely will never be put to death. If the death penalty was swift and inevitable, there
certainly would be a decrease in homicide rates. (Internet).
Most people have a natural fear of death- its a trait man have to think about what
will happen before we act. If we don’t think about it consciously, we will think about it
unconsciously. Think- if every murderer who killed someone died instantly, the
homicide rate would be very low because no one likes to die. We cannot do this, but if
the Justice system can make it more swift and severe, we could change the laws to make
capital punishment faster and make appeals a shorter process. The death penalty is
important because it could save the lives of thousands of potential victims who are at
stake (Bedau, H., 1982).
In a foot note Bedau (1982) cites, “Actually being dead is no different from not
being born, a (non) experience we all had before being born. But death is not realized.
The process of dying which is a different matter is usually confused with it. In turn,
dying is feared because death is expected, even though death is feared because it is
confused with dying (p. 338)”.
Death is an experience that cannot be experienced and ends all experience.
Because it is unknown as it is certain, death is universally feared. “The life of a man
should be sacred to each other (Bedau, H., 1982, p. 330)”.
Innocent Executed - no Proof
Opponents claim lots of innocent man are wrongly executed. There has never
been any proof of an innocent man being executed!! A study by Bedau-Radlet claimed
there were 22 cases where the defendant have been wrongly executed. However, this
study is very controversial. Studies like Markman and Cassell find that the methodology
was flawed in l2 cases. There was no substantial evidence of guilt, and no evidence of
innocence. Moreover, our judicial system takes extra precautions to be sure the innocent
and their rights are protected. Most likely an innocent person would not be executed
Death Penalty Saves Lives
The question is whether or not execution of an innocent person is strong enough
to abolish the death penalty. Remember, the death penalty saves lives. Repeat murders
are eliminated and foreseeable murders are deterred. You must consider the victim as
well as the defendant.
Hugo Bedau (1982) claims:
The execution of the innocent believed guilty is a
miscarriage of justice that must be opposed whenever
detected. But such miscarriage of justice do not
warrant abolition at the death penalty. Unless the
moral drawbacks of an activity practice, which include
the possible death of innocent lives that might be saved
by it, the activity is warranted. Most human activities like
medicine, manufacturing, automobile, and air traffic, sports,
not to mention wars and revolutions, cause death of
innocent bystanders. Nevertheless, advantages outweigh
the disadvantages, human activities including the penal
system with all its punishments are morally justified ( p. 323).
Wesley Lowe states, “As for the penal system, accidentally executing an innocent
person, I must point out that in this imperfect world, citizens are required to take certain
risks in exchange for safety.” He says we risk dying in an accident when we drive a car,
and it is acceptable. Therefore, risking that someone might be wrongfully executed is
worth saving thousand’s of innocent people who may be the next victim of murder
Death Penalty - Right to Live
Opponents say the State is like a murder himself. The argument here is, if
execution is murder, than killing someone in war is murder. Our country should stop
fighting wars. On the contrary, is it necessary to protect the rights of a group of people.
Hence, the death penalty is vital to protect a person’s right to live! Is arresting someone
same as kidnapping someone? In the same, executing someone is not murder, it is
punishment by society for a deserving criminal.
Huggo A. Bedau (1982) states one popular objection to Capital punishment is that
it gratifies the desire for revenge regarding as unworthy. The bible quotes the Lord
declaring “Vengeance is mine” (Romans 12:19). He thus legitimized vengeance and
reserved it to Himself. However, the Bible also enjoins, “The murderer shall surely be
to death” (Numbers 35:16-18), recognizing that the death penalty can be warranted
whatever the motive. Religious tradition certainly suggest no less (p. 330).
All religions believe having life is sacred. If we deprive someone else life, he
only suffers minor inconvenience; hence, we cheapen human life—this is where we are
Death Penalty Deterrent Effect
If we do not know whether the death penalty will deter others, we will be
confronted with two uncertainties . If we have the death penalty and achieve no deterrent
effect, than, the life of convicted murderers has been expended in vain (from a deterrent
point of view)—here is a net loss. If we have the death sentence, and deter future
murderers, we spared the lives of future victims-(the prospective murderers gain, too;
they are spared punishment because they were deterred). In this case, the death penalty is
a gain, unless the convicted murderer is valued more highly than that of the unknown
victim, or victims (Carrington, F., l978).
Capital Punishment is not excessive, unnecessary punishment, for those who
knowingly and intentionally commits murder in premeditation, to take lives of others.
Even though capital punishment is not used so often, it still is a threat to the criminal.
Justice requires punishing the guilty even if only some can be punished and
sparing the innocent, even if all are not spared. Morally, justice must always be preferred
to equality. Justice cannot ever permit sparing some guilty person, or punishing some
innocent ones, for the sake of equality—because others have been spared or punished. In
practice, penalties could never be applied if we insisted that they can be inflicted on only
a guilty person unless we are able to make sure that they are equally applied to all other
guilty persons. Anyone familiar with the law enforcement knows that punishments can
be inflicted only on an unavoidable “shudder” selection of the guilty (Bedau, H., 1977).
Irwin Isenberg (1977) said, when you kill a man with premeditation, you do
something different than stealing from him. “I favor the death penalty as a matter of
justice and human dignity even apart from deterrence. The penalty must be appropriate
to the seriousness of the crime (p. 135).
Life is Sacred
In an interview with Professor van den Haag, a psychoanalyst and adjunct
professor at New York University, was questioned, “Why do you favor the death
penalty?” His answer was that the Federal prison had a man sentenced to Life who, since
he has been in prison committed three more murders on three separate occasions .They
were prison guards and inmates. There’s no more punishment he can receive, therefore,
in many cases, the death penalty is the only penalty that can deter. He went on saying “I
hold life sacred, and because I hold it sacred, I feel that anyone who takes some one’s life
should know that thereby he forsakes his own and does not just suffer an inconvenience
about being put into prison for sometime (as cited in Isenberg, 1977, p. 135)
An Eye for an Eye
Some people argue that the capital punishment tends to brutalize and disregards
society. Do you agree? Some people say the that penalty is legalized murder because it
is like “an eye for an eye”. The difference between punishment and the crime is that one
is legalized and the other is not! People are more brutalized by what they see on T.V.
daily. People are not brutalized by punishments they are brutalized by our failure to
serious punish, the brutal acts.
Could the same effect be achieved by putting the criminal in prison for life? “Life
in prison” means in six months the parole board can release the man to 12 years in some
states. “But even if it were real life imprisonment, it’s deterrent effect will never be as
great as that of the death penalty. The death penalty is the only actually irrevocable
penalty. Because of that, it is the one that people fear the most (Isenberg, I., 1977).
The framers of the constitution clearly believed that Capital punishment was an
acceptable mess of protecting society form “wicked dissolute men” Thomas Jefferson
liked to talk about it (Carrington, F., 1978).
My research on issues on the death penalty is one of the most debatable in the
criminal justice system. Today, there are many pros and cons to this death penalty issues.
However, if people weigh the arguments properly, and have empathy for the victims,
they will be more inclined to favor capital punishment. As a matter of fact, most people
in the U.S. today are in favor of it. But we need more states to enforce the death penalty.
As you may have read in the arguments, the death penalty help to curtail future
murderers, thus, we can save more lives. The chances of murdering an innocent man is
In my opinion, I am in favor of the death penalty, because we can save innocent
lives. Life to me is scared as Professor Haag stated. My innocent nephew, Sean
Burgado, who was brutally murdered by a shot gun to the chest, did not have a choice to
make a last statement or make a will before he died. The people on death row can
watch T.V. and enjoy their lives for another 20 years before they are executed. They can
prepare their death by making a will and a last statement. Sean’s murder is still
unsolved, and the killer is enjoying his life somewhere. The murderer(s) will probably
murder another person some day.
I heard on the news last month, February 2000, where a 62 year-old grandmother,
Betty Beets, was pleading for her life because she was on death row and was going to be
executed. At first, I felt very sorry for her, but after doing research on her, I learned she
had five husbands. She had already killed the fourth one, and served a prison sentence
for murder, and she got out of prison early. She murdered the fifth husband-she shot
him, and buried him in her back yard. Betty Beets was imprisoned a second time, and
now was pleading for her life? It has been proven these killers do it again and again. The
rate of recidivism is high for people who commit murder and crimes. I feel murderers
should be executed the first time because chances are they will come out of prison and
kill another innocent person again. We need stricter laws and swift death penalty.
I belong to a group called Parents of Murdered Children (POMC). One of the
woman came forward and told me how her husband shot and killed her five year-old
daughter which she witnessed on her birthday. He attempted to kill the two-year old son,
too, but fortunately, the gun he was using didn’t go off a second time, because it was too
old and the son’s life was sparred. Her husband’s intention was to kill the two children,
and himself on her (the wife’s) birthday. He said, if I can’t have my children you won’t
either. Everything to her is still a nightmare.
He (the husband) was sentenced to death, but committed suicide in prison. She
recently learned that prior to the killing he had contracted someone $5,000 to burn their
house while she and the kids were inside.
She said she would have gone to see her husband being executed if he lived
because she didn’t want him out again. She said, “To me, I think for the most part, I
didn’t care what happened to him. I just didn’t want him to be out again after what he
did. I told the District Attorney that I was afraid that he would get out and try to finish
what he started” (Email, personal communication- March 31, 2000).
There are too many stories like these where people deserve the death penalty for
killing other people. If they are released from prison, they will kill other innocent lives
I believe life is sacred, therefore, one who takes a life should have his own life
taken away, too. The Lord said in Exodus “Thou shalt not kill!”. It is one of the Ten
The laws today are too lenient. If there is no death penalty in your state, and a
criminal kills someone, it is because he felt he could get out in 10 years or less from
prison. There is no fear of death for him. They see other murderers in the state get away
with murder, so they, too, can get away with it. They don’t have to fear the death
penalty. In fact, I read where a husband intentionally moved to a non death penalty state,
so he could murder his wife and get away with it. Many murders are premeditated.
People in the “heat of passion” should make it a point to evade the argument or the
environment. Remember it could be one of your loved ones. Can you imagine what it
would be like to have your loved one murdered? There are no words that can explain the
loss of your loved one to murder. Call your state legislature representatives today to
enforce the death penalty in your state!
The purpose of this paper is to look at both sides of the arguments of the death
penalty-the pros and cons, and how our criminal justice system makes legislatures, courts,
and the U.S. Supreme Court chose to resolve issues. Interesting issues are brought up
like the fear of the death penalty, bible quotes, how life is sacred, and the execution of the
innocent. You will note too much emphasis is placed on the convicted murderer and not
on the victim. The murderers get out of prison early and murder again. There are
evidence to both sides of the argument in whether the death penalty is a deterrent or not.
In question of the death penalty, I ask you to weigh both sides of the argument carefully
and make your decision based on the action that will serve the best humanitarian purpose
of criminal law.