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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Essay on Arguments in Favor of Capital Punishment

Capital punishment or death penalty is the penalty of death for a person convicted of a serious crime.  It is derived from the Latin word ‘capitalis’ which means ‘of the head.’ The penalty is so-called since centuries ago beheading was the most frequent form of punishment for serious crime.  Among the current methods of implementing capital punishment are firing squad, hanging, electrocution, gas chamber and lethal injection. 

Capital Punishment is still being imposed in some states.  Because we adhere to the federalism as a form of government, our Constitution gives sufficient freedom to the individual states to make to their own laws and to determine the proper imposable penalty for their violations.  Thus, some states allow capital punishment and still impose it depending on the nature of the crime committed. 

A review of the laws of the different states will reveal that 38 of these states still impose capital punishment.  On the other hand, 12 States and the District of Columbia have abolished the capital punishment.  (“US Supreme Court Rules on Death Penalty Sentencing” p.1)

It bears stressing that as early as 1976, no less than the highest court of this land, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that the imposition of capital punishment does not violate the constitution.  (Franklin E. Zimring, p. 143)  It is not a cruel and inhuman punishment as discussed in the case of Gregg v Georgia (428 US 153).  Any question therefore on the constitutionality of the capital punishment is already well-settled. 

The only change in the past years among the states which impose it is the movement towards a less painful and more humane executions.  Firing Squad, Hanging and Guillotine which were practiced before were gradually replaced by electrocution and gas chamber.  Now, most states use the method of lethal injection which is perceived as the quickest, least painful and most humane than the other methods of executions. 
Arguments in Favor of Capital Punishment
There are two opposing forces on the issue of capital punishment: a) the abolitionists or those who argue in favor of the rejection of capital punishment; b) the retentionists or those who argue in favor of the propriety of capital punishment.    

The Retentionists rely on two main theories as justification for the imposition of capital punishment: The Retributivism Theory and the Utilitarianism Theory.  According to the theory of Retributivism, the imposition of capital punishment for certain crimes is allowed because the convicted prisoner deserves it.  This is also known as the doctrine of ‘just desert’ which is founded on the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” philosophy.  When a person causes damage to another, an imbalance between the two parties is created and the imposition of capital punishment against the wrongdoer removes the unfair advantage and restores the balance. 

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The advocates of the Retributivism Theory argue that no less than God himself in the Old Testament institutionalized the legitimized the imposition of capital punishment against a criminal offender.  Consider also this biblical passage in the Book of Exodus which confirms that punishment is not immoral: “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”  (Exodus 21:22-25.)  This only confirms that there is a biblical foundation for the imposition of capital punishment. 

The advocates of capital punishment argue that their position on this issue is founded on the Utilitarian Theory.  They believe that we will have a better and peaceful society if capital punishment is imposed.  According to them, based on the principle of utility, we must first determine the consequences of carrying out the punishment.  If punishment will most likely produce benefit to the greater number of people then there is no reason for not imposing it.

In simpler terms, the idea is that if we are to weigh the positive effects of punishment as against its negative effects and the positive effects outweighs the negative ones then it has to be imposed.  This theory somewhat looks forward and considers the consequences of imprisonment to the society.  

Capital punishment is considered beneficial for the society because it deters and hinders the commission of more crimes by other persons.  The idea is that if the state imposes a stricter policy against crime it is a manner of showing to the future offenders the kind of punishment they will receive if they violate a certain law.  It is also a declaration on the part of the government that it is engaged in a war against crime and against the violators of the law.  Once the people who are contemplating on committing crimes see that the commission of a crime has serious consequences for him then this will have a positive effect of deterring criminality.  Although it may not altogether stop the crime of murder it will however reduce it.

The Utilitarians argue that the society will be benefited from the execution of convicted murderers of the convicted prisoner because executing a convicted offender will incapacitate him from further committing a crime.  When a person commits a crime, he is regarded as a danger to the society.  Thus he needs to be separated from the society in order to prevent him from committing another crime.  Capital punishment is imposed to protect other members of the society. 

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