Should Capital Punishment Be Justified?


What is Capital punishment? Capital punishment is the death penalty. It is used today and was used in ancient times to punish a variety of offenses. Even the bible advocates death for murder and other crimes like kidnapping and witchcraft. According to Barbara in chapter 14 Legal punishment, “In 1992, Robert Alton Harrison was executed in San Quentin. Harris had been tried and convicted in 1979 for killing two San Diego teenage boys. He and his brother were planning a robbery and needed a getaway car. They saw the tow boys at a fast-food restaurant and forced them to drive to a deserted area. According to Harris’s brother, Robert resisted the teen’s pleas for mercy and shot them to death. Later he bragged and laughed about the killing and said that to finish things off he had eaten the boys’ hamburgers. The killings were especially gratuitous and heartless, and Harris seemed not to have any feeling for his victims. For proponents of the death penalty, he was a justifiable subject for execution, an irreformably vicious murderer” (Barbara). Is it justified to execute Robert Alton? Today, one of the most debated issues in the Criminal Justice System is the issue of capital punishment or the death penalty. Should capital punishment be justified? There are both strong points from the opposite sides between pro and con for capital punishment. To the people, who in favor of capital punishment based their principles on deterrence, retribution, cruelty of life imprisonment, economics, and so on. To those who are against death sentence, argued that the chance for criminal to pay back society; the violation of 8th amendment; possibility of innocent death, sign of racism and so forth.

One of the biggest reasons for capital punishment is its deterrence. Fear of death deters people from committing crimes. Human has the nature of protecting themselves from dying or getting killed. If capital punishment were carried out more, it would prove to be the crime deterrent. Most criminals probably would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives was at stake. Also, it eliminates some homicides who might repeat the same kind of crimes. It potentially deters the crimes from happening again. Theoretically, it has the affect deterring the crimes. However, many opponents of capital punishment argue that it is not a deterrent, because in some states where capital punishment is allowed the crime rate goes up. Should we therefore conclude that capital punishment is not a deterrent? No. First, we should recognize that crime rates have been increasing for some time. The United States is becoming a violent society as its social and moral fabric breaks down. So the increase in the crime rate is most likely due to many other factors and cannot be correlated with a death penalty that has been implemented sparingly and sporadically. Second, as it turns out though very few people are executed, so the death penalty is not a satisfactory deterrent. This is not death penalty’s fault. Because it is so hard to execute one criminal to death, it makes the capital punishment less effective (Anderson).There are some evidences that capital punishment is a deterrent. And even if we are not absolutely sure of its deterrent effect, the death penalty should be implemented. If capital punishment is even a potential deterrent, that is a significant enough social reason to implement it.

Another reason for capital punishment is retribution. The retributive notion of punishment in general as a foundational matter of justice, criminals deserve punishment. If criminals have cruelly killed someone with no reasons, they more than likely deserve

to get death punishment. They have caused a great deal of grief to the family and friends of the victim or victims, and it seems like the only way justice could be served is for the criminal to die. For the homicides to simply go to jail seems unfair to the victim. There they will eat three meals a day, get to watch cable TV, and befriend other inmates. They live a pretty decent life in prison even though they have limitation of freedom, but they don’t deserve it. It is a torture for victims’ family or friends to see that the criminal still happily living their lives. It is unfair for the victims at all. Capital punishment can settle the unfairness.
Another reason for capital punishment is it maximizes the public safety. Placing murderers in prison is not a tough enough punishment. In jail they would have a possible chance for parole. If they happen to make it back out to the world, who can say that he or she would not kill again. Abel Martinez states that “Of the 2,575 prisoners sentenced to death in 1992, 1 out of 11 had a prior conviction of homicide” (Martinez).This means additional people had to die before these murderers were sentenced to death. What kind of justice is that? If the murderers were sentenced to death the first time they were convicted, innocent lives would not have had to perish. By executing the murderers the first time a round, justice will be served. Thus, the punishment would fit the crime and the victims’ family and society would be helped knowing one less murderer is out in the streets. It will be ironic to see a murderer to escape or parole and then kill another innocent person. Capital punishment can maximize the public safety.

Capital punishment seems justified in a lot of ways; however, opponents have their strong sides to oppose the capital punishment too. The first reason for opposing capital punishment is criminals will have the chance to pay back society if they do not get executed. There is no doubt that someone can do more alive than dead. If a criminal gets executed, there is no chance for him to make up his or her mistake. A lot of opponents believe that the offender should be required to compensate the victim’s family with the offender’s own income from employment or community service. By working, the criminal inadvertently pays back society and also their victims. According to Leslie Cantu, there is one of the most well known examples of the criminal contributing to the betterment of society. “Leopold and Loeb were nineteen years old when they committed ‘The Crime of the Century’ In 1924 they kidnapped and murdered a fourteen year old boy just to see what it was like. They were both spared the death penalty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Together, their accomplishments include working at hospitals, teaching illiterates to read, creating a correspondence school, making significant developments in the World War II Malaria Project and writing a grammar book” (Cantu). This is a good example to show that the criminal can do a lot more contribution to society than they would have done if they got executed. Killing a murderer does not bring his victim back to life. It achieves nothing but the death of still another person.

Another reason for opposing capital punishment is it does not deter the crime from happening, instead, some evidence even prove that it increases the rate of crimes.

In 1967, a study by Thorsten Sellin compared the homicide rates between neighboring states in which some had the death penalty, and others did not. Sellin also compared murder rates before and after states either abolished or reinstated the death penalty. He found no statistically valid difference in rates in both cases. These results were summarized in a book by J.Q. Wilson. The study might have been affected by the numbers of executions at the time; they had dropped to near zero in the U.S., so that even those states with death penalty laws on the books were not exercising them fully.” (Capital Punishment). This study shows that capital punishment has no effect on prevent crimes from happening. A 1995 study of the annual percentage increases in homicide rates in California showed that “murders increased 10% a year during 1952 to 1967 when the state was executing people. When the state performed no executions (1968-1991) the average rate of increase was less (4.8%)” (qtd. Capital Punishment). A report of the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that “during 1996, Southern states, where about 81% of the executions are performed, have an average murder rate of 9 per 100,000 population. States in the Northeast are responsible for 1% of the executions and have a murder rate of 5.4” (qtd. Capital Punishment) these two evidences show that capital punishment did not deter the crime, in stead, it increased the crimes. There are also a lot more evidences which can show the same result. Statistics clearly tells us that capital punishment at least has no effect on deterring crimes.

Another reason for opposing capital punishment is its economic costs are higher than life imprisonment. It seems to a lot of people that capital punishment cost less. Once a convicted murder is executed and buried, there are no further maintenance costs to the state. However, in fact this is not true. According to A Duke University study, it shows that “the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million per execution over the costs of a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of imprisonment for life.” (qut. The economics). A 1991 study of the Texas criminal justice system estimated that “the cost of appealing capital murder at $2,316,655. In contrast, the cost of housing a prisoner in a Texas maximum security prison single cell for 40 years is estimated at $750,000” (qut. The Economics). A study in Florida also shows that “each execution there costs some $3.18 million. If incarceration is estimated to cost $17000/year, a comparable statistic for life in prison of 40 years would be $680,000.” However, “Florida spent an estimated $57 million on the death penalty from 1973 to 1988 to achieve 18 executions – that is an average of $3.2 million per execution” (qut. the economics). A study from Kansas shows that “The investigation costs for death-sentence cases were about 3 times greater than for non-death cases. The trial costs for death cases were about 16 times greater than for non-death cases ($508,000 for death case; $32,000 for non-death case). The appeal costs for death cases were 21 times greater” (Costs of Death Penalty). All of the data above clearly shows that it cost more to execute a crime to death than life imprisonment. Much of the high costs of the death penalty are due to the procedural safeguards of the court system. At every step in the process, a capital defendant receives greater constitutional guarantees than non-capital defendants, which costs time and resources. As a result, total costs for each capital case run into the millions of dollars. In some cases, death penalty trials have nearly bankrupted local communities. From above we can see that capital punishment is too costly. It is not worthy to execute a criminal to death.

In my opinion, I am in favor of capital punishment, because it can increase the chance of saving innocent people. Life to everyone is only once. It will be unfair to see a killer still alive after he or she kills an innocent person. Imagine that if your beloved wife got killed brutally by a criminal by no reason. Can you accept that fact that the killer is watching TV, playing basketball, or doing some other things in jail to enjoy his or her life, while your wife is laying on the grave and you are suffering the loss of your wife? Plus the criminal always has chance to get paroled as long as he or she still alive. What if a criminal did not realize the mistake he has made before and go to kill another innocent person right after he get out of jail. It will be really ironic for a homicide to kill another innocent person after his or her parole. Anyway, I do not say that capital punishment is always good; however, it is good in some instance, like executing a cruel killer. Capital punishment might have mistakes, but after getting through so much hearing and other legal processes in court, the chance of executing an innocent person will be really small. Plus most of the criminal who is in the position of having the chance of capital punishment always have committed the felonies that involved with killing, kidnapping, or raping. Somebody might say that executing murderers will not restore the life of the victim, but only achieve the death of another life. I think this is not quite true. It does bring things at least to the friends or relatives of victims. The death of victims inevitably brings the sadness to their relatives, friends, and especially the people close to them. They will suffer a lot because of the death of their beloved ones. It will be unfair for them to see their beloved ones lying in the graves, while the killers are still enjoying their lives in jails. The execution of homicides at least will make them to feel justifiable because the evil gets his or her retribution that he or she deserves. It is also justified that everybody should be fair in front of the law. If criminal kills an innocent person intentionally, he deserves to die, which is fair to victims. Plus if the homicide does not get executed, it might encourage the killing since the cruelest punishment would only be life imprisonment. Somebody might still argue capital punishment violet the human rights. However, when the homicide kills a person, have he ever thought the rights that the victim has? In a word, I am in the position of capital punishment.

Works Cited

Anderson Kerby. “Capital Punishment”. Probe Ministry. 2 May 2005.>.

Cantu Leslie. “Chance for convict to “pay-back” society”. The University of Taxes in Austin. 2 May 2005. .

“Capital Punishment-The Death Penalty” Religious Tolerence.Org. 2 May 2005.

“Costs of Capital Penalty”. Death Penalty Information Center. 2 May 2005.

Mackinnon Barbara. “Legal Punishment”. Ethics. Fourth Edition. 2004 Wadsworth.

Martinez Abel. “Maximum public safety” The University of Taxes in Austin. 2 May 2005. <>.

“The Economics of Capital Punishment”. Earth Link. 1998. 2 May 2005.

Leave a Reply