Document Sample
					                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.


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,

G., 1961).

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.


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

all forgotten.

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).

Free Will

       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).

Death Feared

       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.

Bible Quotes

        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

at today.

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

very minute.

My Opinion

       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!

Lori Ornellas


       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.


Shared By: