The death penalty is a punishment process where a convict is executed death as punishment for crimes committed. It involves a legal process where the criminal goes through grueling court proceedings to determine whether their case warrants capital punishment. Confinement on death row for convicted capital offenders is mandatory as they await execution. A lot of controversy has surrounded the execution of criminals with for wrongs committed. Several states and countries have abolished the application of the death penalty in punishing criminals. There are many reasons for the abolition of capital punishment. Among the many arguments against the death penalty is the notion that the punishment has done very little to deter crime. Capital punishment however, also has several pros among its many advantages is its deterrence of serial criminals from further crime. There are many pros and cons regarding the applicability of the death penalty as a punishment measure but its effectiveness as a mode of punishment remains questionable.
Disadvantages of the Death Penalty
There are numerous arguments against the administration of the death penalty as a punishment method. The disadvantages concern the costs of the death penalty to the victims, the state and the public. These are the downsides undermining the effectiveness of capital punishment in the reform and rehabilitation process and in the determent of crime. These points also focus on the justification of the use of capital punishment, position of the death penalty victim in terms of legal representation and the fairness of the justice process in passing out capital punishment. Another issue is the availability of an alternative mode of punishment in life imprisonment without parole.
Death Penalty Financial Costs
Capital punishment cost the federal government a great deal of money and resources to facilitate (Bedau paragraph 5). Usually, the state funds the proceedings for death penalty criminals. Numerous appeals against court rulings for the death penalty cost the state a lot of money in terms of hiring legal counsel, judges and facilitating the entire trial process. It is also important to note that capital punishment proceedings are several times more expensive than other trials. The procedure used in executing criminal convicts is also an expensive venture with the state covering costs for the staff and equipment employed in the execution. The most significant factor however, is the fact that state money goes into covering the costs of capital punishment. Instead, offering the money to families suffering because of the convict’s actions will assist them cater for their basic needs. Thus, capital punishment is a costly undertaking that if abolished will save the involved states a lot of money.
Capital Punishment does not Deter Crime
It is difficult to quantify the rehabilitation and crime deterrence ability of the death penalty. Repeated application of the death penalty has not slowed down the rate of capital offences committed by perceived capital offenders. The purpose of the criminal system is to pass punishments that deter potential offenders from engaging in further related crime. However, while capital punishments have been present for many years, there is no likely end to the prevalence of capital offences. The punishment it seems, has failed to fulfill its main purpose (Bedau paragraph 15). It is thus imperative that the state seeks more comprehensive and effective methods of dealing with capital offenders rather than the death penalty. Sticking with a punishment method that is ineffective in fighting crime is unethical and shows laxity on the part of justice officials. The death punishment eliminates one criminal but does not deter other potential criminals from repeating similar crimes.
Innocence, Morality and Legal Representation
The execution of innocent individuals, the morality behind the practice of capital punishment and the inadequate legal representation are some of the factors showing the injustice in the application of capital punishment. Conviction and execution of many innocent people is not a new occurrence within the corridors of justice. The release of many innocent individuals minutes or hours before execution is evidence of the inefficiency of the criminal justice system in identifying individuals for death row. Wrongful conviction and execution of innocent individuals though rare is possible (Guernsey 68). Under usual circumstances, the indicted person does not have the resources to hire adequately qualified legal representation and the ones they get are not capable of presenting a good defense. Assurance of a just and fair outcome of the case is impossible even if the accused do not deserve capital punishment. The unfairness of the justice system therefore contributes to their conviction. There is a moral underpinning in these two cases. Executing innocent victims and charging victims with no access to quality representation is morally unacceptable (Bedau paragraph 17).
Life Imprisonment without Parole as an Alternative
In passing out the death sentence in a court of law, the jury chooses between the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole (Guernsey 41). Choosing life without parole as an alternative punishment method for capital offenders is cheaper and helps in confining serial offenders behind bars for the rest of their lives (Bedau paragraph 36). The administration of this sentence is much cheaper than capital punishment since its appeals period is much shorter. Life without parole will also assist the state in avoiding the issues regarding the execution of innocent people and the moral issues concerning the act of taking God-given life. Innocent individuals convicted of capital offences can challenge their conviction and if successful, gain their freedom. This also presents a similar situation for those with poor legal representation. Such people might not convince the court of their innocence but even so avoid unfair execution by the court (Bedau paragraph 56). Thus, life without parole is the choice alternative for the death penalty espousing all the salient characteristics of a just and fair justice system.
Advantages of the Death Penalty
Capital punishment has several advantages. Its advocates claim that through the severity of the punishment it deters potential criminals from engaging in capital offences. Thus, criminals who value their lives would desist from criminal activity that may lead to capital punishment. In addition, advocates claim that the punishment system only punishes atrocious crimes. Thus, there is assurance for offenders of less serious crimes of not getting the death penalty. There are many unexplored issues in these arguments putting their credibility to question.
Advocates of the death penalty claim that it deters crime. Administration of the death penalty to capital offenders deters other criminals from committing capital offences. Apparently, potential capital offenders are scared from committing crime when they see the execution of criminals (Guernsey 64). Thus, capital punishment serves to deter potential criminals. There is however very little detail as to how the death penalty deters criminal offenders from participating in crime. Proponents of this practice present no evidence showing the effects of the death penalty in deterring potential criminal practices. In fact, the crime rates in the past year have either stagnated or soared (Bedau paragraph 22). One may argue that the brutality of the punishment deters more criminals from engaging in crime. In addition, proponents argue that criminals might be convinced from engaging in crime after an evaluation of the value of life (Zhu paragraph 2). According to the American Civil Liberties Union (2012), the death penalty does not deter potential criminal offenders from engaging in criminal practices (Bedau paragraph 52). Bedau says, “A punishment can be an effective deterrent only if it is consistently and promptly employed” (paragraph 52). Thus, by virtue of its limited application and in view of the small number of first-degree murder, criminal homicide offenders and other capital offenders sentenced to death, the practice is an ineffective deterrent. These arguments however, do not consider that criminals are themselves brutal individuals and forms of brutality are insufficient in deterring then from their practice. The only solution therefore lies in seeking non-cruel methods of tackling these issues.
Punishing Atrocious Crimes
Advocates of the death penalty claim that the death penalty reserves punishment for such atrocious crimes as genocide and murder (Zhu paragraph 2). According to them, these crimes are cruel enough to warrant punishment by death (Guernsey 41). Administration of capital punishment as a commensurate severe method for perpetrators of heinous crimes is right and just. This argument by supporters of the death penalty fails to acknowledge the fact that the justice system is not perfect. There are therefore instances when the courts may fail to consider crucial leads in a case and thus form a wrongful opinion. In such cases, innocent victims might be accused of crimes they did not commit or non-commensurate punishment may be passed on an accused person. If this punishment is capital punishment and the court proceeds and executes the victim, then the moral and institutional values of the justice system stand violated. Using a severe measure to punish capital offenders is a gamble the courts cannot afford to make considering the vulnerability of the justice system. Thus, it is not morally right to support a system that risks the lives of innocent individuals.
The death penalty
has attracted many supporters and dissenters but remains morally and
functionally questionable. The purpose of the justice system of any country is
to deter crime and reform criminals. The death penalty has failed in its
attempts to fulfill these core objectives of the courts. Proponents of the
system claim that it deters offenders from taking part in crime that may
attract the death penalty and that it only applies to those criminals that
commit atrocities. These claims fail in various ways to consider the
limitations of the justice system in providing fair rulings and the
inefficiency of capital punishment in deterring crime. The administration of
the death penalty costs the federal government a lot of money. In addition, it
does not deter crime in other instances is unfair to victims who cannot afford
proper legal representation. Thus, the death penalty does more harm than good
to the criminal justice system. It undermines the credibility of the justice
and spoils the moral reputation of the courts. The existence of a more humane
and effective punishment for capital offenders in life without parole makes a
good case for the abolition of the practice. Capital punishment is thus, a mockery
of the justice system and a hindrance to the fair, just and efficient
administration of justice.
Bedau, Hugo and ACLU. “The Case Against the Death Penalty.” American Civil Liberties Union. (Dec 11, 2012). Web.
Guernsey, Joann B. Death Penalty: Fair Solution or Moral Failure? Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2009. Print.
Zhu, Xiaohua. “Death Penalty: Another View.” Economic and Political Weekly. 33.19 (1998): 1071. Web.