Crime is everywhere. In our neighborhood, in the neighboring state, wherever we look, we find criminals and crime. Criminals have become a part of our daily lives. Does this mean we let them be the darkness of our society? No, definitely not. Eliminating crime and criminals is our duty, and we cannot ignore it. Getting the rightly accused to a just punishment is very important. Some criminals commit a crime because they have no other option to survive, but some do it for fun. I do not advocate death penalty for everybody. A person, who stole bread from a grocery store, definitely does not deserve death penalty. However, a serial killer, who kills people for fun or for his personal gain, definitely deserves death penalty. Death penalty should continue in order to eliminate the garbage of our society. Not everybody deserves to die, but some people definitely do. I support death penalty because of several reasons. Firstly, I believe that death penalty serves as a deterrent and helps in reducing crime. Secondly, it is true that death penalty is irreversible, but it is hard to kill a wrongly convicted person due to the several chances given to the convicted to prove his innocence. Thirdly, death penalty assures safety of the society by eliminating these criminals. Finally, I believe in "lex tallionis" - a life for a life.
Deterrence means to punish somebody as an example and to create fear in other people for the punishment. Death penalty is one of those extreme punishments that would create fear in the mind of any sane person. Ernest van den Haag, in his article "On Deterrence and the Death Penalty" mentions, "One abstains from dangerous acts because of vague, inchoate, habitual and, above all, preconscious fears" (193). Everybody fears death, even animals. Most criminals would think twice if they knew their own lives were at stake. Although there is no statistical evidence that death penalty deters crime, but we have to agree that most of us fear death. Suppose there is no death penalty in a state and life imprisonment without parole is the maximum punishment. What is stopping a prisoner who is facing a life imprisonment without parole to commit another murder in the prison? According to Paul Van Slambrouck, "Assaults in prisons all over US, both against fellow inmates and against staff, have more than doubled in the past decade, according to statistics gathered by the Criminal Justice Institute in Middletown, Connecticut" (Christian Science Monitor, Internet). There is no stopping these inmates from committing further crimes within the prison, if they are already facing the maximum punishment. Anti-death penalty advocates argue that imprisonment itself could deter criminals. They believe that we do not need to go to the extreme measure of killing the criminals to deter crime. Hugo Adam Bedau in his article, "Capital Punishment and Social Defense" mentions, "Crimes can be deterred only by making would-be criminals frightened of being arrested, convicted, and punished for crimes& " (301). Unfortunately, the ever-increasing population in the prisons proves otherwise. Somehow, just imprisonment is not enough for some people to stop them from committing a crime. The number of criminals is increasing every year. In 1990, there were 42,733 prisoners in Alaska, whereas in 1999 it increased to 68,599 (Death Penalty USA Pages, Internet). Some criminals may think that they would never be caught, and just keep committing crimes. The perfect example for this would be serial killers. For such people, death penalty should be there, so that others, who even think about committing such crimes, learn a lesson that every criminal is eventually caught.
Anti-death penalty advocates believe that death penalty is irreversible and may become a cause of irreversible mistakes. Once a person has been sentenced to death and thus death penalty practiced, there is nothing that can be done to undo the punishment if the accused turns out to be innocent. I agree that death penalty is irreversible, but the chance of making a mistake in death penalty is extremely low. Death penalty is considered an extreme punishment and the judicial system takes a lot of care in finalizing the decision. There are several safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. For example, "Capital punishment may be imposed only when guilt is determined by clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts", "Anyone sentenced to death shall receive the right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction", etc. (Capital Punishment: Life or Death, Internet). There are several other privileges provided to the convicted that assure that death penalty is given to the rightly accused person. According to Haag, "Trials are more likely to be fair when life is at stake - the death penalty is probably less often unjustly inflicted than others" (192). Statistics reveal that there is far less number of death sentences than life imprisonment sentences without parole given out every year. According to Federal Justice Statistics, in 1998, there were approximately 5000 criminals sentenced to life imprisonment as opposed to 74 criminals sentenced to death (Internet). This shows that judicial system itself is very careful with death sentences. Even if we assume that there are chances that an innocent person is executed, it is the problem with the trial, not the punishment. "It is not the penalty - whether death or prison - which is unjust when inflicted on the innocent, but its imposition on the innocent", writes Haag (192). When an innocent person is sentenced to death, it is not the fault of the punishment itself, but the trial that led to this punishment. There have been cases in which a person has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, and then after several years, it was revealed that the person was innocent. No court or compensation in this world can return the horrifying years spent in the prison by that innocent person. If we stop giving life imprisonment sentences to criminals on this ground, then probably most of the criminals would be walking around free on the streets within ten to fifteen years. The fear and trust that the society has in the judicial system would be lost. The judicial system has minimized the chances of mistakes. It is almost impossible to sentence a wrongly accused person. Then, why cause death of several innocent victims just on the bleak assumption that some day we might make a mistake?
Incapacitating a person is "depriving s/he of the physical or intellectual power of natural il/legal qualifications" (Webster, 574). Death penalty is not advocated for all criminals. Those criminals, who commit murders during self-defense or during times of passion, do not deserve death penalty. However, those people who just do not seem to learn the lesson the first time, or those who kill for fun, definitely deserve death penalty. Defendants (murderers) are allowed to shield themselves from justice by pleading insanity. Insanity means a failure to respond to the usual sort of incentives in the usual ways. If insane people are completely unresponsive to incentives, then their profits serve no social purpose, thus leading to another beneficial factor of the death penalty. People who have no social purpose do not benefit society, culture of mankind, or the basic rules of humanity. For example: This drug related brain-damaged killer barely knew his own identity when he murdered a mother and her daughter in front of a 3 year old boy. When he was finished raping the females and performed their deaths, he move on to sexually molest the boy in which he then left him to die. The retarded man then pled insanity, got to stay in jail for 22 years, eating three square meals a day, sleeping on a mattress with a blanket in air conditioned comfort and having a roof over his head (Shapiro, 61). Where do we draw the line between mentally incapable and criminally insane? When are they going to learn to resume the responsibility for their actions? I am not saying that all mentally disabled people should be subject to death penalty because they are no good to the society. However, some people pose a great fatal danger to the society in such a cruel way as seen in the above example. In such cases, death penalty becomes crucial for the benefit of the society. I believe every criminal, no matter how cruel he is, should be given at least one chance to change himself/herself. Thus, I do not advocate death penalty for people who have performed only one murder. However, there have been cases in which people have committed several murders (e.g., serial killers), or have committed crime even after imprisonment. For such people, I advocate death penalty. There needs to be a limit to which society should put up to. If somebody does not understand that going around killing people is wrong, then I believe, that letting such people live is not only a great threat to the society, but also a great burden. Advocate of anti-death penalty, Adam Bedau, wrote, "Prevention by means of incapacitation occurs only if the executed criminal would have committed other crimes if he or she had not been executed and had been punished only in some less incapacitative way (e.g., by imprisonment)" (Capital Punishment and Social Defense, 301). If people commit a crime while facing an imprisonment sentence, then their sentence should be changed to death sentence, since it is evident that they are just habitual to committing crimes and are a constant threat to the society, including the other inmates.
Some people might think that death penalty is inhuman and barbarous, but ask those people who have lost their beloved or whose lives have been tied to a hospital bed because of some barbarous person. I am sure they would be very unhappy to see the person who ruined their lives just getting a few years of imprisonment or mere rehabilitation. Consider the example of the rapist and killer given above. Now, suppose the woman raped was your wife, sister, or daughter. How would you feel knowing that the person who ruined your family is calmly enjoying the benefits of an asylum and an air-conditioned room? Anti-death penalty supporters believe that death penalty is barbarous. Well! So is murder. Death penalty is not revenge. Rather, it is a matter of putting an end to a life that has no value for other human lives. Sentencing a murderer to death is in fact a favor to the society. Despite the moral argument concerning the inhumane treatment of the criminal, we return to the "nature" of the crime committed. Can society place an unequal weight on the tragically lost lives of murder victims and the criminal? This is not an exam question in a college philosophy course but a moral conundrum at the core of perhaps the most intriguing issue facing the U. S. Supreme Court today. Punishment is meted out because of the nature of the crime, devoid of any reference to the social identity of the victim. In "The Death Penalty in America", Adam Bedau wrote, "even in the tragedy of human death there are degrees, and that it is much more tragic for the innocent to lose his life than for the State to take the life of a criminal convicted of a capital offense" (308). I believe that if one cannot value the life of another human being, then one's own life has no value.
Death penalty is good and serves a definite purpose of reducing crime as well as bringing justice to the criminals and innocent. In order to serve its purpose, it must be adjusted and made more effective and efficient. The justice system has changed dramatically in the past thirty years in order to make sure that the rightly accused is brought to justice. I believe that death penalty should not be abolished, as it ensures the safety of the society, brings justice to those who have suffered and most importantly helps in reducing crime and criminals in our society. Death penalty is important to keep the brightness of justice and public safety shining brightly on our society.
Budau, Hugo Adam. "Capital Punishment and Social Defense." Reserved reading for Philosophy 203.
Bedau, Hugo Adam. " The Death Penalty in America." New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Browning, Tonya. "Capital Punishment: Life or Death." Computer Writing and Research Lab, University of Texas. Online. Internet. 27 April 2000.
Haag, Ernest van den. "On Deterrence and the Death Penalty." Reserved reading for Philosophy 203.
Shapiro, Walter. "What say should victims have?" AskJeeves.com. Online. Internet. 29 April 2000.
Slambrouck, Paul Van. "US Prisons - Under Pressure - Show Increase in Violence." The Christian Science Monitor Online. 6 August 1998. Internet.
"Incapacitation." "Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary." 1981.