Whether the death penalty, also known as capital punishment should be abolished or not from the United States penal system been the subject of debate for a long time now, ever since the early days of civilization. This debate remains controversial because of the diverse groups of stakeholders who hold very different if not directly opposite perspectives and points of views on the matter that all have perfectly logical support. Among these groups are religious, human rights activists, the law system and of course the victims of the crimes for which the persons facing the death penalties were charged. We shall analyze these stakeholders individually so as to get a background of the question.
The general perspective that is among the religious groups as far as the question of capital punishment is concerned is that is should not be allowed, based on the belief that the giver and therefore the only one who has the right to take life is the superior being (God) who is also the creator of all things. The argument is purely philosophical and has drawn a wide range of supporters which ahs led to such non-for profit organizations as People of Faith Against the death Penalty and Catholics Against Capital punishment. Another religious group religious organizations against death penalty, raises the question, what right does the state have in being the sole bearer of all human rights? All these point to the fact that religious groups are strong anti death penalty advocates, and they usually attack the arguments for the death penalty with the position of right i.e. who else has the right to take away the life of someone else save for he who gave it in the first place?
Human rights groups
These groups advocate for the rights of all human beings irrespective of their race, age, gender etc. The most fundamental human right is the right to life, since all other rights will cease to be relevant once a person has died. Human rights advocates therefore strongly oppose the death penalty as a means of administering justice. A particularly striking example that concerns the death penalty is from Amnesty international (2008) that states that, ‘The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice.’
The state (The penal system)
Being the agent responsible for the administration of the death penalty, the state is the chief proponent of the same as a form of punishment. It should however be mentioned that since a government is composed of a large group of individuals, there may well be persons within the group who are against it. The argument from the state is based on the definition of the relationship between a citizen and the state, which says that a citizen exchanges his autonomy, (he is a subject of the state) in exchange for protection. Once one person has violated the rights of another sufficiently, the state then takes upon the powers given to it by the relationship described above and decides whether the person lives or dies. When attacked on the possibility of killing an innocent person, the state argues that it has taken adequate steps to develop technologies such as DNA matching to eliminate or drastically reduce the chances of a mistake.
Families of the victims of the criminals
They argue from the point of view of restitution, although this is impossible in its strict sense in this context. They say that the only way that they can get closure and continue with their lives is if the perpetrators of the crime that deprived them of their loved one and caused so much pain is made to suffer the same fate as the victim. One such historical account is that of Melvin, Linda and their son Richard Lorenz, who were killed by Roger Stanford. One evening, a woman whose car had allegedly broken down stopped Melvin. Stanford and his brother then ambushed him. Later on that same month, six steak house employees were killed by the Stanford gang (Prodeathpenalty.com, 2008)
We shall now examine the arguments for and against the death penalty generally
Pro-death penalty arguments
The biggest bargaining chip for this group is the feelings of the families of the victims of the crimes that the criminals are being punished for as explained above. Besides this, it is argued that it is the ultimate deterrent, the logic being that once a person is executed he cannot kill anyone else, just as imprisonment of a robber prevents him from robbing anyone else. This argument is best put forward by John McAdams of Marquette University (2004) who says that, “If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.” (pordeathpenalty.com, 2004) Homicide, the taking of another human’s life is still present in prisons, especially among those prisoners serving a life sentence, because they see as that they do not have anything more to lose. The death penalty therefore serves to deter further incidents of inmate homicide. The penal system is already overcrowded and the demand for the more investment in the construction of prisons, and other corrective facilities cannot be satisfied since the state has more pressing matters to which funds should be allocated. The death penalty therefore presents a way through which the prisons may be decongested, thus saving the state much needed resources. Another argument is based on the principle retribution, which states that according to the rule of natural justice the punishment should be equal to the offense. Thus death after having killed is the most real form of retribution that can be administered.
Arguments against the death penalty
The arguments against the death penalty range from between chances of executing an innocent person to the emotional turmoil for the family of the criminal. The cost of trying to ‘humanize’ the execution, an attempt to placate the human rights activists is quite significant. Some arguments actually attack the very purpose of the capital punishment and ask why we kill people to show other people that killing people is bad. Another similar argument is that it does not bring the victim back to life and is to that extent useless.
The question of whether or not to abolish the death penalty is therefore quite cryptic and requires the input from a variety of sources to be effectively answered; if that is at all this is possible.
Amnesty international (2008). Abolish the death penalty. Retrieved from the World Wide.
Capital Punishment UK (2008). . World Wide.
Catholics against Capital punishment (2008). World Wide. Web.
People of Faith Against the death, (2008). Penalty.
Prodeathpenalty.com, (2004). John McAdams – Marquette University/Department of Political Science, on deterrence.