Is the Death Penalty a Necessary Action?
The death penalty in the
In order to reach a compromise on the imposition of capital punishment, it is necessary to weigh all of the pertinent arguments on both sides of the issue. Death penalty proponents present compelling reasons as to why capital punishment is appropriate – the punishment should be commensurate with the crime; it should serve as a deterrent to others against future crimes; it is based on fundamental religious principles; and it is economically beneficial to the government and the taxpayers (Robinson). The punishment should suit the crime in order that our society and our system of justice may be maintained. Sentencing an individual to life in prison does not adequately redress the seriousness or the enormity of the crime of murder or acknowledge the value our society places on the protection of human life.
Opponents of this position argue that it is inherently wrong for the government to engage in murder itself in order to punish individuals who have committed murder. Opponents believe that capital punishment is in fact immoral and inhumane and is counter to the very foundations of our society. They strongly believe that the imposition of life in prison for capital crimes is the appropriate and ultimate punishment that should be imposed. They also show evidence of the cost of capital punishment being more expensive than the cost of sentencing one to life in prison.
One of the primary arguments raised by opponents is that if a person who may have been convicted of a crime and had the death penalty imposed, is later determined to have been innocent, the execution cannot be undone. Many people believe that sentencing a criminal to life in prison without parole is simply more moral. The inhumanity of capital punishment and its effect on society are cited as reasons why the death penalty should not be imposed.
The opponents of capital punishment even believe that the actual methods used to carry out these sentences are in and of themselves inhumane. The argument that a lethal injection is an inhumane way to kill a criminal would not be true if the drugs were researched further. Currently, the drug combination does not always work properly all of the time. Instead of numbing the victim and killing quickly, the drugs often simply paralyze the victim so that he or she cannot speak or show pain and they often die much slower than they should. Being electrocuted is a painful death as well. Sometimes the victim does not die the first time and has to be shocked again (deathpenaltyinfo). These instances show how inhumane the death penalty can be. If the technology was researched further and was more effective, then the death penalty could be considered more humane. Often it takes time for the lethal injection to take effect because of its being poorly administered by prison staff. Fortunately, doctors have recently been administering the lethal injection so that the process proceeds properly (Stillman). Many doctors support the death penalty and are not against administering a lethal injection to murderers. More involvement by trained doctors would allow for proper implementation of procedures.
Those favoring capital punishment also cite numerous instances where convicts have escaped and committed further murders and therefore believe that life without parole is not the answer. There are numerous instances where escaped convicts have murdered again. Prison escapes by convicted murderers have occurred over the years. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, a married couple in the 1930’s, were thought to have committed a combined 13 murders throughout 5 escapes (FBI History). Granted that prisons are much more secure today than in the 1930’s, it is still a fact that no prison can fully secure an inmate. In 2001, seven convicts escaped and murdered on Christmas Eve in
With proper prison security, it would eliminate the possibility that convicted criminals could escape and that, in fact, the incidence of prisoners escaping and continuing to commit capital crimes such as murder is relatively small and does not present a true threat to society. A criminal sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole and housed in a maximum-security prison would not present any real threat to society.
One of the most critical debates over capital punishment centers around the issue as to whether or not it is a deterrent. The death penalty serves to deter criminals from killing because it presents them with the real possibility of the ultimate punishment (Robinson). An article in the New York Times on November 18, 2007, reports that, “according to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented (Liptak).” The New York Times, a historically liberal newspaper, reporting this is surprising. Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, said in the article, “the evidence on whether it has a significant deterrent effect seems sufficiently plausible that the moral issue becomes a difficult one…I did shift from being against the death penalty to thinking that if it has a significant deterrent effect it’s probably justified.” There are other arguments that also support execution as a deterrent. Michael Smerconish of the Huffington Post explains, “Roy Adler and Michael Summers, both professors at Pepperdine University, have recently analyzed the relationship between the number of U.S. executions by year and the number of murders in the year thereafter for 1979-2004…When executions leveled off, the professors found, murders increased. When executions increased, the number of people murdered dropped off. In a year-by-year analysis, Adler and Summers found that each execution was associated with 74 fewer murders the following year.” These two arguments for deterrence are backed up by considerable data. Opponents argue that often there is not a convincing amount of evidence or there is fabricated evidence to backup deterrent statistics.
These two articles are amongst a limited number that can be found supporting capital punishment as a deterrent. Opponents note that there are numerous articles that show studies of capital punishment not being proven to be a deterrent. These are often more convincing. These studies also usually show that life in prison proves to be an equal deterrent. Capital Punishment refers to Roger Hood’s statement that econometric analysis has not shown enough evidence to prove that capital punishment provides more deterrence than alternative penalties, such as life in prison (Hodgkinson). The debate as to whether it is a deterrent or not has not truly been proven by either side. There are convincing statistics and studies that could induce someone of either persuasion to believe in or to be against capital punishment as a deterrent.
For the most part, critics find arguments on both sides of the deterrence issue lacking real data. William J Bowers and Glenn L Pierce have written a critique of Professor Isaac Ehrlich’s research on capital punishment, concluding that he failed to produce any reliable evidence that the death penalty deters murderers (Bowers). They went on to say, “his data are inadequate for the purposes of his analysis and he misapplies the highly sophisticated statistical techniques he employs.” However, criticism goes both ways. In the New York Times article, scholars and even the author criticized the studies done for not producing enough conclusive evidence. Clearly, this demonstrates that deterrence can be argued either way and is not a convincing factor in the debate for or against capital punishment.
Proponents of capital punishment also want their opponents to realize that the Bible recognizes the death penalty as appropriate for a variety of crimes, including murder. Bible passages are still used to promote the retaining of capital punishment for murderers (Robinson). This goes against the religious arguments that many people use to oppose the death penalty. If the Bible states that the death penalty is necessary at times, then arguably there is little basis for people to oppose it on religious grounds. Executing convicted murderers when the circumstances warrant is the only appropriate way to render justice. Retribution is necessary when justice has been violated, and to fulfill it, the offender’s life may have to be taken. The primary biblical texts that refer to this argument are Genesis 9:5-6 and Romans 13:1-4, both of which emphasize this retributive aspect (Owens). Since many religious texts as well as laws from ancient times support capital punishment, it would seem appropriate. Some crimes are simply so atrocious that execution is the only reasonable response.
Death penalty advocates also argue that the penalty actually benefits the state and therefore the taxpayers economically. Once a convicted murderer is executed, they believe, there are no further maintenance costs as opposed to the enormous cost to the government for the housing, the health care, and the guarding of a criminal who is serving life in prison. Opponents of the death penalty aptly argue that this is not the case. As to the economic benefits to the government and the taxpayers, most statistics actually support life in prison over the death penalty. It is much more costly for society to attempt to impose the death penalty as a punishment than to impose a sentence of life in prison. In death penalty cases, on average, it costs about $470,000 in court and legal costs at the trial level. The appeals for death penalty cases versus other cases can add an additional $100,000. Petitioning these cases through the court system can add $137,000 (deathpenaltyinfo). Opponents argue that the money saved by not imposing the death penalty, but rather imposing life sentences, could be put toward increased prison security and in turn reduce the costs to taxpayers.
Clearly, capital punishment should be enforced only on a case by case basis and dependent on the nature of the crime and special circumstances of each case. Since it has not been absolutely proven as to whether capital punishment acts as a deterrent, it is unknown whether criminals are truly affected by the threat of the death penalty. The cost of the death penalty as well as its inhumane infliction makes it inappropriate to impose in all cases. However, given the fact that society is also safer from criminals without the potential to escape jail or eventually be let out on a technicality, capital punishment should continue to have its place in the justice system but only on a limited and well-founded basis. In certain cases, such as mass killings or when the accused murder is guilty beyond a doubt of a heinous crime, it may be necessary to enforce the death penalty.
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