I agree with capital punishment because its advantages significantly outweigh the disadvantages. This paper discusses the positive effects of the death penalty on deterrence and retribution. It argues against typical criticism based on morality, constitutionality, and irrevocability of court mistakes. Undoubtedly, capital punishment has emerged as a major controversial topic in the American society but quite often the critics adopt a tunnel vision that does not let them see the rationale behind the death penalty.
The notion of deterrence is an integral part of the criminal justice system as a whole. Criminal laws exist to impose punishments on the offenders to discourage them from committing illegal acts. By making an offense punishable, the system aims to establish negative consequences that would outweigh any benefits gained from committed the crime. Therefore, the more severe the punishment is, the more likely it is to outweigh these benefits. Although some scholars criticize the measurable potential of the criminal punishments as such to deter future incidents, that argument is beyond the reach of this paper. In any event, the division into specific and general deterrence is widespread. Capital punishment is particularly effective in achieving the latter. Studies show the deterrence effect of the death penalty on specific violent crimes, such as murder. Moreover, the sociological research on the support of capital punishment has found that the majority of respondents expressed support exactly because of the deterrence effects. (Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert, 2004)
The hypothesis that the death penalty is a significant deterrent is based on the rational argument that people fear death much more than any other punishment, including life imprisonment. The logic is substantiated by the factual reality of convicts trying to substitute their death penalty sentences to a life behind bars. (Kennedy, 2009)
Retribution is another key idea of the very existence of the criminal justice system. Despite widespread misconceptions, retribution is not losing its significance as the foundation of the penal legal order. In contrast, there has been a rise in the public support of the notion as a proper response to criminal acts. The logic behind deterrence is fairly simple and sensible: the punishment must be proportionate to the offense and its harm to the victim and the society as a whole. The principle is supported by a long-standing punitive ideology the fundamentals of which can be found even in ancient religious texts such as the Bible. According to the idea of retribution, capital punishment is a natural response to the crime of murder. Indeed, there is a certain degree of an emotional argument in the public’s acceptance of retribution. But why shouldn’t the emotion play a role? The societal support of the notion can only indicate the moral basis of retribution, not its imperfection. (Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert, 2004)
Invoking arguments of unconstitutionality has become an increasingly popular way of criticizing the existence of the death penalty. The argument is very weak, as the capital punishment, albeit put under the careful procedural scrutiny, complies with the Constitution of the United States. Critics often confuse the issues of the execution method with the punishment as such. Indeed, the death penalty cannot be carried out in the way that would amount to cruel and unusual punishment. The criminal justice system has found ways to implement humane ways of execution and avoid any pain in the course of it. Moreover, there are significant procedural guarantees that help to delineate even those instances of the capital punishment use, which are permitted on the federal level. The list of offenses that make the imposition of capital punishment is quite limited and it predominantly related to homicide crimes. (Howe, 2014)
Moreover, the way that the imposition of the penalty is handled eliminates the risks of the arbitrariness of the capital punishment. In the last few decades, a comprehensive set of additional trial steps has been introduced in the criminal procedure to ensure transparency and objectivity. Thus, the due process is also ensured. Consequently, there are no compliance issues either with the 5th Amendment (due process) or the 8th Amendment (no cruel or unusual punishment). Finally, such additional limits as the insanity defense eliminate any other risks associated with the arbitrary application of the death penalty. (Howe, 2014)
The morality argument against capital punishment is largely a subjective speculation. The notion of human dignity, often used by the opponents, is not necessarily in conflict with the idea of execution. Certainly, cruel and unusual punishments are degrading and hurt human dignity, but this is simply not the case if the punishment is carried out in a humane way in accordance with the due process of law. Moreover, the ethics of retribution are the moral argument for the existence of capital punishment. (Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert, 2004)
Another argument put forward in the opposition to the death penalty is the idea of irrevocable mistakes. Indeed, there is no sense in denying the statistics that mistakes do occur in the criminal justice system. But it would be ludicrous to claim that these errors are limited to capital punishment cases. Our critics would point out the irrevocability of a mistake in the context of capital punishment. But the extraordinary due process developed in the framework of using the death penalty probably involves every instrument possible to minimize this risk. It is simply unfair to attribute the fallacies of the entire system to one particular punishment that is actually characterized by fewer errors and a much higher standard of scrutiny. (Lambert, Clarke, & Lambert, 2004)
All things considered, capital punishment has a firm basis in the notions of deterrence and retribution. There are morality arguments to support the death penalty. Moreover, the unprecedented high level of the due process standard makes the punishment entirely constitutional.
- Howe, S. (2014) The Federal Death Penalty and the Constitutionality of Capital Punishment. Criminal Law Bulletin, 1388, 50.
- Kennedy, D. (2009). Deterrence and crime prevention. London: Routledge.
- Lambert, E. G., Clarke, A., & Lambert, J. (2004). Reasons for Supporting and Opposing Capital Punishment in the USA. Internet Journal of Criminology, accessed at http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com/ on April 30, 2016.