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Capital punishment can be defined as the lawful termination of a person’s life as a punishment for capital offenses. It is the death sentence given for some crimes such as planned murder, repeated crimes, treason, multiple murders, robbery with violence rape and murder where such criminals endangers the society. It is the ultimate punishment inflicted upon a person for a crime. It can be done through electric chair, lethal injection, gas chamber, hanging, stoning or by firing squad. It is the sole responsibility of the state to pronounce the sentence to a person. Every country defines the offense that requires death sentence differently.
In the past, almost all nations in the world practiced capital punishment. Today, a number of countries such as Britain and most of the European nations do not have the death sentence in their judicial systems. Others such as USA (36 States) still execute capital criminals. The Amnesty International reported in 2009 that 58 countries still retain death sentence and, about 25 of these carried out executions in 2008 (Hood, 2011). China was leading with 1,718 executions followed by Iran 346, USA 111 and Saudi Arabia 102. The latest country to abandon capital punishment was Gabon in September 2007(Hood, 2011). The support for the abolition of capital punishment is gradually increasing.
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Many debates in the world on this form of punishment have revolved around various questions. These questions are: Is capital punishment a primary form of punishment? Does the death penalty eliminate criminal acts? Is the aim of the death penalty to prevent others from committing murder? Do murderers have a right to life? Is it fair to take life for a life? What are the comparative economic merits and demerits of capital punishment? Is death punishment a right method of protecting the society from criminals? Is execution a right method of justice to the victims? Are the innocent people likely to be convicted of murder? This paper addresses these and many other questions. First let us examine the arguments brought out by those who still retain capital punishment, and then we will examine the other side.
Arguments for capital punishment
First death penalty terminates the ruthless destruction of life. A person who may be convicted of committing capital crimes such as murder, intentional killing, and robbery with violence, rape and such offenses should be given the death penalty. In so doing, it dissuades other society members engaging in such criminal acts. All humanities fear death. This natural fear would restrict a potential murderer from the act. The society in the long run will refrain from action of this kind.
Some people argue that this is a right measure of eliminating or reducing the rate of crimes in the society (Haine, 2000). They point out that capital punishment is one hundred percent effective method of separating criminals from the society. It is a permanent method of incapacitating criminals. It is self explaining that the murderer cannot commit the crimes any more. In addition, death penalty is a right measure of deterrence. Reports point out that one death sentence can deter 18 murders (Haine, 2000). Countries such as Singapore known for carrying out death sentence have fewer serious crimes. This clearly demonstrates that a death sentence deters people from committing murder as a result of planning.
Taking Britain as a practical example, studies show that the rate of murder since the abolition of death sentence in 1964 has increased from 0.68 per 100,000 people to 1.42 per 100,000 (Hood, 2011). The number of unlawful killings reported was 300 in 1964 and rose to 565 and 833 in 1994 and 2004 respectively. The total convictions against murder from 1900 to 1964 was 29 per year while a year after abolition it rose to 57 per year and rose to 107 in 1975, 173 in 1985 and 214 in 1995 (Hood, 2011). From these evidences, prosecutors should exercise a variety of punishment for the perpetrators of death.
Execution is not just another method of rehabilitation but, it is a real punishment. It is proportional to the offense committed. The basic principle of justice I believe that the punishment should fit the magnitude of the offense. It is a fair retribution for a person who plans and murders another person. The religious books advocates for "an eye for an eye".
Alternative of execution such as life imprisonment may not be the right method of separating capital criminals from the law abiding society. There are chances of committing the same crime once released, and the society is, therefore, not protected from them. Many people believe that serial killers have a violent personality and may threaten the life of fellow prisoners and the guards. What will happen if such a criminal escapes?
At the same time, life imprisonment makes the convicts live futile life behind bars. There are many nations with overcrowded prisons, and life imprisonment has heightened this. In addition, it is more expensive to put the criminals behind bars than executing the persons. The government spends on food, clothing, shelter and extra guarding on a criminal for the entire life time. It is quite unreasonable to spend the tax payer’s money on a person who does not value the life of others.
Administering the death penalty is giving preeminence to the victim more than the criminal. Other form of punishment to murderers allows the justice systems to have sympathy on the criminal rather than the victim who, at the time of crime, had no one to sympathize (Baird & Rosenbaum, 2005). Death to a serial killer is giving justice to the current and the past victims.
Punishment by death is an appropriate method of avenging for the pain and suffering inflicted on the victims. Some strongly believe that a person responsible for taking the life of another does not value life and has no right to live. Death sentence provides relief and justice to the family of the victim (Baird & Rosenbaum, 2005).
On the other hand, there are many of us who, giving many reasons, stand opposed to this method of punishment. Let us also examine these arguments.
Arguments against capital punishment
Execution of perpetrators of death violates the human rights. Everyone in the society has the right to life; death sentence and execution is against this right. The life of the accused is also sacred and valuable and should be preserved by all means. No one should deny the murderer the right to live. The offender’s criminal conduct is not enough reason to destroy their lives. If we kill a person for murder, what makes the difference between the person and us? It makes no sense at all. It is quite ironical to find a country like the US conducting death penalty through electric chair, lethal injection, gas chamber, hanging or by firing squad while her own constitution is against “cruel and unusual punishment” (Baird & Rosenbaum, 2005).
Secondly, the court processes that lead to death sentences clogs the judicial systems. The endless appeals, motions, hearings, and the need for proper investigation and evidences requires a lot of time. This monopolizes a lot of time spent by juries and court employees. In addition, it uses up courtrooms and facilities which would otherwise be well used for other cases. The amount of money spent on these procedures is much more than that which would be spent on a person serving life imprisonment. One court case that leads to a death sentence in the USA is twice to five times that of life imprisonment (Baird & Rosenbaum, 2005).
The third support for the abolition of death sentences is the possibility that innocent people may be put to death. Forensic studies, including DNA testing have shown that execution of innocent people occurred wrongly (Baird & Rosenbaum, 2005). Poor people who were unable to afford expensive lawyers receive minimal legal attentions. Should we continue to blame the imperfect court systems while we continue to risk the life of people? In such cases, there is no appropriate method of compensating them. There are likelihoods that a person convicted of murder could have killed the victim but unknowingly admit having committed murder instead of manslaughter. Is that justice? There are concerns that the court systems, as recorded in many countries, cannot administer justice correctly.
Public execution does not deter people from committing serious crimes. Although the frequency of capital punishment is exceptionally low, the statistics available in the USA show that the death penalty is not an effective method of controlling the rate of homicide. According to a study by the New York Times, the rate of homicides in the last 20 years was 48 percent in 36 states that retain capital punishment compared 23 percent in states without capital punishment (New York Times, 2005).
People who killed due to their ill mental condition can be put to death. It is self evident that there are people born with mental defects that can explain certain behaviors. These people may take a long time to be understood and sometimes no correctional measures can change them. Is it fair at all for a person to undergo death penalty just because they were unlucky to be born abnormal? Apart from these, there are those persons, suffering from emotional trauma, violence, and neglect who commit such heinous crimes. Conditions that mitigate capital crimes can have devastating effects. Such justifying conditions need consideration before passing out judgment.
Moreover, one can defend the feelings of family of the victim but ignore that the feelings of the murderer’s family are vital too. The prisoner’s family normally undergoes a lot of suffering seeing their family member put to death by the government. Seeing your loved one die brutally is agonizing and traumatizing. These families bear the punishment of their member for a life time. At the same time, the many appeals involved are usually emotional and financially draining. The murderers might be killed, yes, but the sufferers are their families. Administering capital punishment is doubling the suffering of others not directly involved.
Retribution is wrong. Many religious sects including most Christians argue that retribution is morally evil, and no one can teach that killing someone is wrong by doing the same. The Nobel Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, pointed out that taking a life after a loss of life is revenge and there is no justice in so doing. Retribution is a form of sanitized vengeance. He emphasized by saying that vengeance belongs to God and not on human hands.
Capital punishment is not rehabilitative. It denies the accused a second chance of living and correction. What will the accused gain by putting his life to an end? Imprisoning someone for the entire life is more logical than killing the person. There are many life prisoners who have shown a complete change through the rehabilitation measures. These people adopt new habits and have become significant to the society.
Capital punishment has negative effects to the society. In fact, public executions brutalize the society. The lesson and the attitude left behind after such acts is “revenge is essential” (Haine, 2000). Witnessing or hearing of such acts makes the population start to believe that violence and death is necessary to curb evildoings. We are all aware of situations where the mobs have punished wrongdoers. These can further increase instances of mob justice.
The sensitivity and the media attention of the capital crime cases attract top lawyers and lead to release of guilty people. Murder cases always attract world class attorneys who cover up facts, obscure evidences and misdirect the juries thinking. Their clients escape punishments or may be given much lesser punishment. These people end up going back to the society.
Evidences supporting both sides can lead to a conclusion that capital punishment is both disastrous to the society, and at the same time it is beneficial. We have seen that, to some extent, death penalty separates the society from the monstrous people. From the arguments above, we can observe that capital punishment is in itself dangerous and does not value life. If one has to value life, he has to protect it in all means. Life of a person is sacred, and no one but God can take it out of a person. The time for “an eye for an eye, a life for a life” is past and modern civilization allows for valuing of human life.
I am of the opinion that capital punishment be abolished and we use life imprisonment as the fair means of seeing justice done to the victims. It is logical to give someone punishment that is corrective and rehabilitative. Justice is ensuring fair treatment to everyone in the society, and no one is better than the other. Judicial systems would be effective only if they will consider the feelings, and resources of both the victim’s side and the perpetrator’s side when passing out judgments. Drawing from the statistics of the countries that have abolished capital punishment, it can be clearly stated that most people in the world are against this form of punishment. Life imprisonment instead is the fair judgment in cases where the jury mistakenly convicts innocent people of murder. Capital punishment, in my opinion, is morally disrespectful. The brutalizing effect to the society is more dangerous than the criminal themselves.
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