The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is the killing of a person as a punishment for an offense he or she has committed. Crimes that result in executions are known as capital offenses. Banner argues that for more than four centuries now, the administration of the death penalty has witnessed dramatic changes (3). Similar sentiments have also been echoed by Hodd (13), while Gottfried (23) explores the controversy that appears to surround the issue of the death penalty, in addition to how it has been impacted by public opinion. The death penalty has always been considered as the ultimate punishment for people deemed too dangerous to continue co-existing with others.
The first death penalty laws were in the Eighteenth Century B.C., in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon. He included 25 crimes as warranting the death penalty. Also in the Fifth Century B.C, the penalty was available under Roman law of the Twelve Tablets. Sentences were accomplished through drowning of the offenders, burning them alive, impalement, crucifixion, hanging, beheading, and even through beating, as well as boiling.
In Britain, hanging became the method of execution in the tenth century. It is estimated that about 72000 people were executed during the reign of Henry VIII. Punishment by death was done for such offenses as treason, not confessing to a crime, as well as marrying a Jew (History of the Death Penalty ¶1).
With the great migration to the new world (America), Britain greatly influenced the death penalty laws in the US. Captain George Kendall was the first to be executed in Virginia in 1608 for being a Spanish spy. In 1612, Sir Thomas Dale enacted the Devine, Moral and Martial laws which imposed death for petty crimes like killing a chicken, stealing grapes, and trading with Indians (History of the Death Penalty ¶2-3).
Arguments For The Death Penalty
Various authorities and people around the world have different views on the effectiveness and the fairness of punishing people by death. Some are based on religion, while others are based on the conscience.
John from Marquette University’s Department of Political Science advocates for the use of the death penalty as a deterrence measure. He says that if murderers are executed, people argue that there is no deterrent effect. The truth is that a murderer has been killed. Failure to kill murderers means they can continue to kill innocent people. It is better to risk killing murderers than to leave innocent people at the hands of murderers. He continues to argue that not much attention is given to the victims who suffered at the hands of offenders. He emphasizes that attention should actually shift from the execution to the victims. All victims killed have people close to them such as relatives, friends, colleagues, family, and neighbors; hence the losses incurred are simply enormous (¶1-6).
John continues by arguing that the horror stories of victims are endless and with an annual average of 15000 murders in the U.S, the 1000 executions reached in more than 30 years proves that the penalty has been reserved for the gravest offenses.
There is no end to horror stories like these. Jurors, who represent us, hear about horrific crimes and make tough but appropriate decisions. With a yearly average of 15,000 murders, the fact that the U.S is reaching 1,000 executions in a little more than 30 years is proof that capital punishment has been reserved for the worst of the crimes (¶7-8).
Wesley, a pro-death penalty campaigner, elaborates on the deterrence effect of the death penalty. He argues that dismissing executions on the basis that it does not deter people from committing crime means that even prisons should be eliminated as they too are not effective in deterring crime. He counters those arguing that the states which have the highest executions also have high crimes of murder. The reason for the high executions is to actually deal with the high crime rate. He continues to dismiss arguments that criminals do not fear death. If this were to be true then police officers would not arrest criminals without killing them. At gunpoint, a criminal will fully comply in most cases. They would never do this if they never feared death.
These two arguments primarily hinge upon the deterrence effect of the death penalty. However, just like this argument for the penalty, there also exist counter-arguments fully opposing the death penalty.
Arguments Against The Death Penalty
Hugo, a Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and a renowned writer on capital punishment issues oppose the death penalty on moral, constitutional, and practical grounds. He claims that executions are cruel and unusual and have no place in a civilized society. However, his opposition is not based on sympathy but lack of respect for human life and it is for the same reason that murder is immoral. He says that the penalty disregards the due process of law as its imposition is irrevocable. It is also applied randomly at best and discriminately at worst, mainly upon those whose victims are white (¶4-6).
Hugo continues to state that the penalty passes the message that human life does not deserve due respect and hence, murder is right when deemed to be justified. Also, relying on the death penalty distracts attention from the true causes of the heinous crimes which should be dealt with first (¶8).
Robert, an activist against the death penalty, interviewed death row prisoners and was shocked to learn that many innocent people are executed. He points out a case of Larry Griffins whose details emerged later pointing to his innocence. The prosecutor could only apologize. Still, Robert observes that death penalties are not applied fairly. His visit to prisons found out that 78% of those executed are blacks or Hispanics, pointing towards racial bias. Also, too much money seems to be used in prosecuting and gathering credible evidence against offenders liable to capital punishment. He concludes by arguing that the judicial system in relation to capital punishment is broken and the fact that it is driven by people, cannot be flawless hence should be abolished (pp1-2).
Considering the foregoing, the death penalty can well be seen as a cruel method of punishment. It is the position of the writer that offenders should instead be jailed for life as no human should have authority over the other’s life since none created the other. In a civilized society, the sanctity of life should be respected and the judicial system should lead from the front in this crusade. No one, including a judge, should be allowed to take the life of another under any circumstance. Life imprisonment is enough punishment for offenders and is effective in keeping the disgruntled people away to ensure the safety of others. Homicide and other capital offenses will surely never end hence killing the offenders may not be the solution. The focus should be on the underlying causes for the effectiveness and sustainability of the fight against crime.
Banner, Stuart. The death penalty: an American history. Harvard, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003. Print
Gottfried, Ted. The death penalty: justice or legalized murder? Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books, 2002. Print.
History of the Death Penalty. Death Penalty Information Centre.n.d. 2009
Hood, Roger. The death penalty: a worldwide perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.
Hugo A. The Case Against The Death Penalty. 1992.
John M. Who speaks for the victims of those we execute? Prodeath penalty.com. n. d. 2009. Web.
Robert B.The case against the death penalty. n.d. 2009. Web.
Wesley L. Pro Death Penalty Webpage. 2009.